Carlsberg Comedy Carnival 2009, Day 1

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Jay Richardson

Only in Ireland could a comedy festival open on the day the government made blasphemy illegal. Under the 2009 Defamation Bill, anyone caught insulting another person over a matter sacred to their religion can theoretically be fined €25,000. So I’ve been wondering if Dublin’s Carlsberg Comedy Carnival isn’t just some elaborate communal swearbox staged to swell the coffers of an economy on its knees. And whether the likes of Neil Hamburger won’t blaspheme all of us out of global recession this weekend.

The Iveagh Gardens are a charming patch of greenery hidden in the heart of the city, just off St Stephen’s Green and behind a row of Georgian office buildings. In keeping with the carnival theme, stilt walkers, ah, a zombie and a caveman swarm to greet you as you enter but they’re not the irritations they initially appear and a lively band keeps the mood buoyant between gigs and the sporadic showers. Comics mill about and you can spot say, Jarlath Regan, having a feeble attempt at the coconut shy. The alluring waft of €8 burger follows you everywhere and Carlsberg employees kitted out Ghostbuster-style squirt the sponsor’s product into beakers from backpacks.

Venues are four large tents about 100 metres apart and over as many days the festival boasts Irish stars like Jason Byrne, Des Bishop, Andrew Maxwell and David O’Doherty with an international contingent that includes Bo Burnham, Sean Lock, Maria Bamford, Todd Barry and the League of Gentleman’s Jeremy Dyson.

I begin my carnival inside the velvet-lined, stained glass of the Magic Mirrors Palace with Damian Clark, Bamford and O’Doherty. The early evening start meant Clark had to work hard as compere, but the adopted Australian got an enthusiastic response as he raised energy levels in this glorified ‘burlesque house’ with none-too-original but effective musings on the versatility of the word ‘fuck’, and the sordid account of how a toilet-blocking incident led his girlfriend’s parents to witness a slideshow of his faeces.  

It’s been several years since I last saw Maria Bamford and I confess to being impressed all over again with her incredible ability to conjure forth fully rounded characters, usually her dysfunctional family, with just her exceptional gift for mimicry and an economical number of physical quirks and ticks. The Minnesotan’s sketchy comprehension of world geography – presented through the bickering personalities of a dozen countries – was delightful and virtually devoid of stereotype.

Whether parodying an inane radio station dedicated to love songs or mocking aspirational Oprah-speak, there’s a rich seam of psychological desperation underlying everything Bamford does. Although some bits simply fizzle out for want of a punchline, she successfully mocks the whole edifice of slick routines with her delicious, dying inside portrayal of a hack, touring stand-up.

Opening with a request for the audience to lower their expectations, both at this gig and in life generally, David O’Doherty rattled through bits of his if.comedy-winning show Let’s Comedy interspersed with fresher material, including a brush with pet murder and thoughts on the pervy agenda of his sat nav. Few comics have captured the joy and frustration of mobile phone technology better than O’Doherty and he offers a typically astute ditty about cycling through his address book to reject accomplices for a night out, before failing to slap down faceless corporations with his impotent efforts to outsmart Vodafone. He closed with an updated instalment of his vexations and petty gripes, My Beefs 2009.

On to the Iveagh Theatre and the chance to catch a rare performance by Après Match. As an Englishman, I can’t claim to wholly comprehend the nuances of Barry Murphy, Risteárd Cooper and Gary Clarke’s take on Irish politics, but a loathing of their buffoonish overlords was fairly self-evident.

Nevertheless, as a football fan I could certainly appreciate the sending up of Eamon Dunphy and Frank Stapleton, though the real crowd pleasers proved to be Cooper’s eerily note-perfect Chris De Burgh and the trio’s homage to another big gig in town this weekend, U2, with Murphy’s Larry Mullen Jr consistently deflating Clarke’s posturing as Bono. The most fun, though, was the group’s appearance as The River Tenors, operatically interpreting topical football stories through choruses modelled on terrace chants.

Sadly, all warmth in the big top quickly escaped, along with countless punters, with the appearance of Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds. An acquired taste at any time, the best you can say for the Dok this evening was that his grotesquely despairing clown make-up seemed apposite. After a few isolated, confused titters for a deliberately dire keyboard rendition of Wham’s Last Christmas, the rest of his act was greeted with virtual silence. Naked save for tie and underpants, he started begging for love and stole the only big laugh of his set by complaining that he’d lost his passport and was doomed to stay in a country that hated him.

His legacy was a tent-wide, palpable wariness for the slow-burning philosophy of country troubadour Wilson Dixon. But Jesse Griffin’s creation soon won the crowd with his challenging of platitudes and clichés through homespun numbers like Life and Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, You Do. Whether Griffin has the capacity to develop Dixon far beyond the framework of gentle aphorisms and strumming he’s established over the last few years is questionable, but for a late-night, midsummer gig he was a popular booking.

Review date: 24 Jul 2009
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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