Leicester Comedy Festival Preview Show 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

The Leicester Comedy Festival normally pick a familiar name to front their gala Preview Show, using their celebrity to drum up that all-important publicity. But this year organisers played their cards close to their chest, not publicising the line-up of noted, but not famous, comedians until the last minute.

In fact, they needn’t have been so coy, as the result was a consistently strong, if unarguably over-long, showcase of the best of today’s live comedy.

One stroke of inspiration was to open with a contemporary dance troupe – not a sentence I’d expect to write in a comedy review. The audience sat politely, perhaps thinking this wasn’t what they’d paid to see… until, that is, MC Jarred Christmas joined them in shocking-blue leotard (and that hyphen is optional) for some of his own inelegant moves. The stunt – redolent of Morecambe and Wise undermining their celebrity guests – kicked the night off memorably, and provided a running in-joke for Christmas to mine throughout the night.

Not that it was the only string to his bow, as this childishly lively Kiwi was on top form with effortless banter, witty set pieces, and a puppy-dog enthusiasm that’s impossible to resist. You can see why he won Chortle’s best compere award last year.

First up was the TV bookers’ favourite, Andi Osho, with an assured and charming set. She isn’t always the most ambitious comic when it comes to the scope of her material, with grumbles about ‘political correctness’, broad assertions of how black people are said to behave and pot-shots at easy topical(ish) targets – but she does so with style, and enough of a twist to stamp her personality on the subject matter. In many ways, she’s the perfect opener: a charismatic, rock-solid act with broad appeal and dependable punchlines to ease an audience into the night.

Miles Jupp is a more refined taste, and it takes a little time for the palate to become accustomed to his aloof dismay at the world, but the rewards are richer. He has the erudite, educated manner of a minor PG Wodehouse character, exasperated by declining standards. ‘What on earth’s going on?’ he ponders with plummy-mouthed disdain. ‘It’s utterly extraordinary behaviour.’ Seemingly mundane gripes such as the state of the rail network become symptomatic of a decline in old-school values, and elevated though his distinctive persona and keen writing into fine comic routines. An undeniable victory for the posh boy.

Well-practised sketches from the playful four-man Idiots Of Ants troupe provided something of a change of pace. Their skit about bad ‘dad jokes’ hit a clear seam of recognition in the audience, while their ‘Just You And Me’ serenade of a semi-reluctant punter brought the audience in on the fun, and injected a welcome looseness to the performance.

Against stiff competition, the fresh-faced Josh Widdicombe was probably the star of the first half, if not the show. He has some lovely, original material about High Street shopping and common sayings we don’t think much about, which takes its cue from universal observations but approached from a refreshingly fresh angle. And it’s all delivered with rare flair, with Widdicombe having the gift of being able to simply repeat a fact with just the right comic emphasis to make the audience suddenly realise how ridiculous it is. Yet his routine doesn’t rely just on that, there’s a sly wit running through all his writing.

The section closed with impressionist Anil Desai attempting his party piece of doing 52 impressions in five minutes. However, a clock counting down the seconds – which he doesn’t usually have – proved he was some way from hitting the target, something of a flaw in the boast. Nonetheless, this is probably the way forward for impersonations, which too often offer no comic backup beyond the vocal trickery, so paring it down to a barrage of one-liners gets to the point much quicker – Desai is an accomplished mimic.

After the interval, affable Andrew Bird delivered a slightly vanilla set on bad train journeys and the sign-language interpreters on late-night TV, but with enough grace to make for an affably enjoyable few minutes. While mostly relying on his keen storytelling skills to keep an anecdote rattling along, he’ll own and again insert a delightful image or wry turn of phrase into his conversational shtick – such as his imagined reaction to the very first Page 3 girl – to anchor the set around reliable laughs.

The sold-out audience of 1,600 or so weren’t quite sure what to make of Ian D Montfort initially, though they gradually brought into the joke. The idea that Montfort – the latest character from Ivan Brackenbury creator Tom Binns, – is a spoof psychic is simple enough, and he has a small arsenal of cracking one-liners to establish the fact. But then the phoney Mackem can also do cold reading; the Derren-Brown-style psychological trickery that supposedly ‘real’ psychics use to exploit the grieving. The sharp skill of guessing what people are thinking is somewhat compromised by the gags, and vice-versa – though both sides of the act are impressive indeed.

Hero of the second half – or should that be anti-hero – was the magnificently embittered Andrew Lawrence, spouting out more crude material than a BP pipeline. In a dazzling display of verbal agility, his dense insults and fierce polemic are an dazzling example of the power of excoriating vitriol; the savage distain he imagines firing at a sarcastic jobsworth traffic cop on the outskirts of Leicester is the Sagrada Familia of swearing – an impressive, intricate gothic tower of bile, and beautifully funny with it.

It’s a hard act to follow – as Terry Alderton found, despite all his pumping music and forceful performance skills. Perhaps it was the early line ‘Hello, Poland!’, causing liberal nervousness in this most multicultural of cities, but the audience never really warmed to his barrage of vocal tricks, audible inner monologues, disjointed snatches of stand-up and character work and straight-out odd behaviour: observing 30-seconds silence and barking like a dog.

Such a bizarre onslaught could well have made him the most memorable act on the bill – if not necessarily for all the right reasons. Accidentally falling headfirst over the 6ft stage, awkwardly caught by an uncooperative punter would have seen to that alone. There is some good material amid the blitz, and the performance is certainly a force of nature, but at the end of a long night, Alderton tried the audience’s patience – going on for around half an hour in an attempt to get at least the majority of the divided room on his side so he could have a decent send-off. It didn’t quite work out like that, but there’s certainly the spirit of alternative in Alderton’s cacophony of comedy.

Review date: 16 Jan 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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