Aristocrats night

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

‘So this family walks into a talent agency: a father, mother, son, daughter and dog. The father says to the agent: ‘We have a really amazing act. You should represent us.’ The agent says: ‘Sorry, I don't represent family acts. They're a little too cute.’ ‘Sir, if you just see our act, we know you would want to represent us.’ The agent says, ‘OK. Show me what you do…’

That is, of course, the set-up for the infamous Aristocrats joke, which allows comics to fill in their own sordid details of the debased act. So what a fine idea to invite a string of stand-ups to add to their usual sets their own versions of the in-joke, with their own spin, in the style of Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette’s illuminating 2005 documentary.

Unfortunately this, the middle of three nights on this theme, turned out to be a real upuill struggle. Not because of the obnoxious material, but because the agonising first half was mostly a succession of struggling open spots; one of those experiences that punishes those in search of a laugh by subjecting them to comic after clueless comic practising – and charging £8 for the experience. Frustratingly, there was also plenty of confusion about the ethos of the evening, with half the acts, and half the audience, unaware of the planned theme.

As anyone who’s seen the film knows, it’s not the depths of filthy depravity that makes the Aristoctats joke funny, but the way it’s told. Sadly many of the comedians here were too unsure of their own material and persona to do it justice. The succession of gaping orifices, bodily emissions, paedophilic incest and supposedly sickening gore produced a deadening effect. It’s easy to string grotesque images together, much harder to give it enough personality to be genuinely funny.

The only comic to really nail it was pro headliner George Ryegold, the ‘doctor’ who has forged quite a reputation for his anatomically ferocious set. His pseudo-academic aloofness and deliciously detailed urn of phrase adds witty flourish to the monstrous. Even a relatively well-worn idea such as postnatal abortions gets new laughs from his casual brutality.

After a preamble about intimate cosmetic procedures, killer doctors and breaking bad news, Ryegold’s Aristocrats joke was not just deliciously graphic, but full of quirky asides that elevate the material from the mere gratuitous.

It was a far cry from the dull early stages of the gig, where the audience had to endure rather too many acts who didn’t really know what they were doing.

Half-Swedish, half-Korean Linus Lee offered a reasonable start to the show, for although the writing was hit and miss he had the air of someone who knew what he was doing. Bad-taste puns were a rather odd mix of the childish and the horrific, but he could tackle tricky subjects such as 9/11 with a smart agenda. Even when on wobbly material, his self-deprecating stance stood him in good stead.

Then a cavalcade of the weak: Nervously deadpan Stephen Coda felt the occasion too much for him, and left after a few short, faltering minutes; Sarah Archer’s routine was a mess, with an unbelievable and unfunny story of losing her keys in a drain with an offensively bad Irish accent thrown in for good measure; Nelson de Gouveia had just two jokes – a tedious shaggy dog story with the lamest of not-worth-the-wait payoffs and a soulless version of the Aristocrats; while Richard Massara had the ease and control of a TV presenter, but also had the comic material of… a TV presenter – rather bland. And, really, don’t complain that the press are obsessed with trivia when there’s real tragedy in the world – then base your set on how pissed off you are with reality TV.

The first half was closed with closed with the more experienced Tania Edwards, who has a nicely relaxed style and gently amusing material about turning 30 and her disdain for friends’ babies. You wouldn’t say she nailed it – especially with a work-in-progress routine about a rough pub near her – but it was ten minutes in personable company.

Still, it was a fairly gruelling first half, and some punters, left at half time, perhaps not entirely encouraged by compere David Whitney’s constant remonstrations about the quality of the audience. To be fair, they weren’t brilliant, but there wasn’t all that much to laugh at either…

The second half was a little more assured; for while Patrick Lappin’s material did little to stand out, he does have a distinctive bit of business where he pretends to channel the thoughts of the front row. This was followed by Sanderson Jones, who only did a version of the Aristocrats, successfully injecting a healthy dose of his own personality into the gag where others had failed. Australian metalhead Jackson Voorhaar was equally engaging, with a few decent lines and a few not-so good – again, not the finished article, but at least a newish act with some sense of persona and direction.

Before the headliner, Catie Wilkins proved wonderfully funny. One part of this was her strong ‘saying the wrong things during sex’ routine, but about five parts was her high-pitched, breaking voice. The flu had left her talking like a cartoon squirrel; which is hilarious in itself, more so when trying to tackle a version of the Aristocrats. What a gimmick, however unintentional.

Review date: 24 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: New Red Lion Theatre

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