Magus Betner plus supports

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

‘Anyone in from London?’ asks compere Kate Smurthwaite, to a small cheer. Unsurprising, really, given that we’re in a London venue. Her next gambit seems slightly more of a long shot: ‘Anyone in from Sweden?’ – but it gets a surprisingly huge cheer.

The reason that the capital’s Scandinavian community is out in force is tonight’s headliner, Magnus Betner; something of a comedy hero back home, but unknown in the UK, where he’s starting on the very bottom rung of the comedy ladder, relearning his craft in his second language.

But first, the support acts: starting off with rookie Rachel Anderson. She has a thoroughly engaging North-East charm to her, with an unaffected friendliness and naturally warm stage composure that means the audience want to listen. A strong opening gag underlines the potential, but as the set goes on, it becomes clear she hasn’t yet got the bite nor the distinctive content to properly capitalise on that appealing Everywoman presence. Hopefully time will allow the writing to flourish.

Posh-accented David Whitney’s delivery is entirely the opposite: a more actorly, hectoring style with every key syllable carefully emphasised. Chortle has previously compared his near-arrogant style to the forced brashness of Mitch Benn, and that certainly still stands. Whitney, now in his fourth year as a stand-up makes it work, though, with gags that are becoming as confident as his delivery.

There’s an efficiency to his jokes on such universal subjects as dating and religion, which often come dunked in a tongue-in-cheek laddishness that lends a playful spirit to the posturing. With bags of confidence and mainstream sensibilities, it probably won’t be too long before he’s a fixture on the bigger clubs where such qualities are vital.

Though a big success, tonight’s main attraction would never want to be described as mainstream, having established something of a reputation in Sweden for controversy. He certainly has the ice-cool bad-boy stance that would immediately demand attention even without the fan-worship from the Nordic element of the audience.

A hardcore atheist and agent provocateur, he takes all that uncompromising attitude and applies it to such contentious matters as Josef Fritzl, Michael Jackson, paedophilia and religious beliefs. But controversial as these topics are in the wider world, in comedy they’re almost conventional, and the material often doesn’t have the teeth it needs to stand out against more skilled exponents of such hard-edged social-commentary humour, from Doug Stanhope to Glenn Wool.

Tellingly, his act gets plenty of applause breaks as the audience shows approval for his sentiment; though gales of laughter are rarer. He’s preaching to the converted, not just because these Swedes already know him, but because, by and large, comedy audiences at this sort of gigs are already on-message with his point of view.

It helps that even in his second language, he’s a compelling orator, able to manipulate the latently sympathetic crowd. And he has a generally droll demeanour, ensuring that as he breezes through a 45-minute routine, he’s never less than an entertaining presence.

From time to time, an especially barbed comment will catch, or he’ll take a more unusual approach to the topic to make a segment stand out. But more often the material isn’t quite as sharp as it needs to be to make his mark. With 12 years of experience, his level of performance is much higher than others on the open-mic level gigs he’s cutting his British teeth on – but the jokes very often fall into a template. For example, his take on Michael Jackson can be summed up as ‘of course he’s a paedophile – he had a funfair in his garden’.

Betner’s certainly demonstrating most of the constituents of being good comedian, even if he doesn’t have the edge to be a great one. At least not in English. At least not yet.

Review date: 4 Nov 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: The Pipeline

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