Carlsberg Comedy Carnival 2009, Day 4

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Jay Richardson

The final day of the carnival began for me with one of the most eagerly awaited shows of the festival for most people, Tim Minchin supporting Des Bishop.

As a ridiculously skinny, youthful looking 40-year-old, humble Michael Mee initially seemed to know his place, though the host subsequently found himself apologising for his woeful impression of an Australian to his guest.

Opening with some surprisingly durable variations on possible Christian names for his fits-all surname, the apologetic Corkman personifies low status role-playing, masochistically evoking his singledom at every turn and offering a smart subversion of the age-old problem of finding the clitoris. Such clever twists framed his set, suggesting he’s not quite the loser he makes out.

Minchin seemed better known by reputation than direct experience from the Irish punters I spoke to, but there was a palpable expectation for his arrival at the piano stool in the Iveagh Theatre. That tension grew as he played through the initial, racially risqué verses of Prejudice, eventually punctured with the dramatic pull back and reveal of the chorus.

If I Didn’t Have You did likewise for any sentimental reactions to him marrying his high school sweetheart, and after a little stand-up, the avowedly atheistic pianist vowed to test Ireland’s new blasphemy laws with the lyrically intricate but bludgeoning Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins. Finishing to deafening applause with the recurring gag of his Confessions (In Three Parts), it would be an understatement to describe this an effective advert for his Vicar Street gigs in Dublin in September

I’ve seen Des Bishop live on numerous occasions, but always in Ireland, so in recent years have resigned myself to being unable to follow at least 50% of his material, so bound up is it with the national culture and so much underpinned on speaking Irish. I can only report that the vast majority of his audiences with only the most rudimentary grasp of their native language really seem to love it, and that the native New Yorker, who seems to exist in his own superleague of Irish stand-ups with Tommy Tiernan, invariably responds to his countrymen, and countrywomen especially, with self-deprecation, serious point-making verve and well-timed knob jokes. And so it was again here.  

Next up was Not Also, But Only, the regular literary comedy gathering curated by Diet of Worms’s Shane Langan. Essentially a Celtic version of Robin Ince’s Book Club, though arguably with a more strictly defined literary agenda and sustained plugging of forthcoming tomes from the performers, it afforded a welcome change of pace and proved absorbing virtually throughout.

Langan dominated proceedings, perhaps overly so, reading from his fitfully amusing Blade Runner parody novel and agitatedly funny poetry about his malevolent cat, but he kept the show ticking along nicely. Jarlath Regan gave an amusing account of the rise and fall of Spicy the Wedge on the McDonalds’ Euro Saver menu, as well as showcasing some of his diabolically witty greetings cards. David O’Doherty enthusiastically recited some of his more outlandish lies about pandas, while Kevin Gildea waxed lyrical about standing in the shadows of an infinitely more blessed individual. Barry Murphy and Ian Coppinger tried to create poetry by reciting alternate words of the top of their heads, every bit as abject and as corpsing a display as you might imagine, but Murphy redeemed himself by reappearing as an embittered poet ranting vicious bursts of verse at the crowd.

The headline act was the League of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, a curious booking as he himself remarked because as his new collection of short stories, The Cranes That Build Cranes, are not exclusively comic. And despite some initial laughs in his tale of a Yorkshire prostitute blessed with a transcendental gift for performing fellatio, it was the gripping weirdness of the story that kept you listening. Star turns of the afternoon though were Mark Doherty, who read a genuinely hilarious, Milliganesque passage from his play Trad, about a man ploughing himself to death and Maeve Higgins. I watched Higgins completely bomb a few weeks ago, completely failing to engage the crowd in her gossipy universe, so it was great to see her here hold a sizeable audience spellbound with an ostensibly simple tale about her first kiss. Suffused with inventive imagery, loaded with fine turns of phrase and narrated with an infectious joy, it was tremendous to hear.

After this, the laconic self-regard of Todd Barry could only be a letdown. Compering, Barry Murphy gamely tried to get the story of how he’d just tried to halt a tram with only a suit jacket and shirt to take flight, but it was an ill-conceived pitch tossed idly at the final gig of the weekend.

A significant percentage of Barry’s set consists of belittling his previous audiences, ensuring that his claims to love the one before him never quite convince. He’s an assured performer, sarcastic to the nth degree and can be brutally effective in ridiculing the marks of his derision. He left me slightly cold though, a proficient observer of others foibles but a little too relentless in his cynicism for the final gig of an intense weekend.

You can have too much of a good thing too, and rather than watch David O’Doherty for the fourth time in as many days, I waved goodbye to the circus.

Review date: 27 Jul 2009
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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