Jason Manford at the Hammersmith Apollo

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

The heckles began before Jason Manford had even removed his microphone from its stand. ‘You dirty bastard!’ boomed across the Hammersmith Apollo.

The front-page revelations that caused him to quit the One Show just days ago made such interruptions inevitable, and Manford came prepared with his putdown: ‘Literally nothing you can say can possibly embarrass me more than last week, when seven million people essentially caught me wanking – it's bad enough when your mum walks in.’

But it was only partially successful in defusing the tension, and Manford had to turn off his Mr Nice Guy persona to warn anyone else who tried anything that he would ‘make you cry in front of your mates’. Yet still they came.

Later, when he began a set-up with ‘There's this product that's quite dangerous...’ one punter interrupted with perfect timing: ‘Twitter!’

Not a bad quip, but Manford was having none of it, resorting to headmasters’ trick of asking the culprit to repeat it to the whole room, once the moment has passed. It is the comedian’s antagonistic equivalent of taunting someone to ‘come over here and say that’ – a stance further highlighted when he asked for the house lights to come up, saying it was all-too easy to heckle from the darkness. All very awkward, and sensibly the lighting desk chose to ignore him.

In Manford’s defence, however, most of the interjections were devoid of wit, just the loutish shouting out of random words connected to the story. Manford clearly wasn’t too comfortable with it – he’s no Russell Brand revelling in notoriety – but he fronted it out.

Alhough you shouldn’t expect him to pop up on prime-time TV anytime soon, it’s unlikely the tabloid stories will derail Manford’s stand-up career – as this week’s announcement of a raft of arena dates testify.

What might be more subtly damaging is if Manford has to play the tough guy too often to control the hecklers. His career has been built on the persona of the warm, affable, chipper Northern, a fan of the cheeky wind-up, but never harsh or offensive. That can be hard to pull off when you’re slapping down relentless heckles with thinly veiled aggression, rather than charm, but maybe this will ease once the hurt is less raw.

For the vast majority of the show, however, Manford managed to make us forget his high-profile transgressions – even though stories of being caught watching porn as a teenager or about the Twitter joke trial accidentally trigger reminders of what got him into trouble.

Largely, though, this was 90 or so minutes of typically accessible, easy-going humour from an affable, fallible Everyman. Observations about sat navs, changing nappies, supermarket checkouts and just what is the deal with women buying all those beauty products are never going to be ambitious, but they strike a chord and Manford handles them deftly.

He’s got an ear for a nifty turn of phrase and the attention to detail in the asides adds appealing garnish. That’s not to say he hasn’t got some nice gags – a line about his parents’ 35th anniversary was a particular stand-out – although he’s on shakier ground with his malapropisms. Having his mother say ‘I’m just going into town, want anything from HIV?’ are too close to Peter Kay’s material, just when Manford was starting to avoid comparisons with his near-neighbour.

When he doesn’t need to bare his teeth at hecklers, Manford retains an affably joival demeanour that makes him warmly enjoyable company. That alone should act as an effective umbrella as he walks boldly through the tabloid shitstorm.

Review date: 25 Nov 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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