Comedy Of Ashes

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Even with the very saleable England versus Australia angle, it was a big ask to fill London’s potential 2,000-capacity HMV Forum on the strength what amounted to a normal comedy-club line-up. And, indeed, the first Comedy Of Ashes night had more empty seats than the MCG in the middle of an Australian losing streak.

As if that wasn’t obstacle enough, the venue’s arctic temperature was another googly for the comics to face. But, against the odds, the good-natured patriotism of the bipartisan crowd – many in silly hats – helped generate a convivial, spirited, and more than a little tipsy, atmosphere. Host Rufus Hound mocked the very mockable idea of that ‘people shouting yes or no’ would produce a meaningful verdict on which nation was funniest, but still everyone was willing to buy into the preposterous premise, up to a point.

Opening the batting for the Brits was Gordon Southern – something of a Fifth Columnist since he’s married to an Australian and spends plenty of time over there. Indeed, much of his good-natured set was concerned with his travels, with light but witty observations on various stopover destinations, likely to be familiar to both sides of the audience.

He had the dubious honour of being the first and only comic to do the obvious: ‘You’re Australian? So what bar do you work in?’ banter, and a longish tale about trying to extract a free poppadom from his local curry house wasn’t quite worth the journey. But Southern is jovial company and most of his plentiful supply of good-natured quips hit the mark.

Sporting a waistcoat made from his national flag, Australia’s Matthew Hardy started strangely, spotting a sponsor’s poster featuring a girl emerging from a pothole, he made some ill-judged jokes to the effect that he’d like to rape her as she was unable to escape – then moved on to some old stock gags about the Aussie kiss being ‘like a French kiss but down under’ and a forced putdown: ‘What’s your names? Neil and Bob? Or is that what you do’ – without actually bothering to establish that those were, indeed, the randomly targeted punters’ names.

The bulk of his set was rather jumbled, circuitous anecdotes, with payoffs that were more often than not based on repeating something funny someone else had said – whether it be a sharp-witted heckler at a Russell Crowe music concert or an Aussie backpacker caught in flagrante. To close, he reads verbatim the lyrics of a dirty rap song by Riskay called Smell Yo Dick because, guess what?, they are not very romantic. Disingenuously, he claims the song is currently high in the charts, when it’s actually a few years old.

Still at least Riskay gets straight to the point. Economy of thought is not Hardy’s strong suit – another long-winded build-up about trying to woo back a disgruntled girlfriend was a setup for a laboured joke about Sex And The City – while he peppers his speech with expletives, which in his hands seem a restless way of trying to spice up the bland.

So England lead after the first innings.

With his frantic nervous energy and often obtuse approach, Adam Bloom isn’t the most instantly accessible comedian, and the audience were initially unsure of his offbeat musings on fatherhood and marriage. But the precision, the sharpness and the originality of the gags melts any resistance. One predominantly Aussie group seemed typical, laughing heartily at the jokes despite apparently disliking his presence on stage. That’s how good the writing is.

Colin Cole, in complete contrast, went down extremely well. Depressingly so, in fact, because, although technically assured, he’s a comedy dinosaur – and not because of his imposing size.

Some of his tedious set is lazy rabble-rousing ‘Who hates Americans?’ type stuff, although the xenophobia is often more insidious than this. Here’s one line: ‘The Croatians are the ugliest race of people…’ Add to that appalling observations about how all Japanese people look the same, how he hates midgets with big heads or how air stewards are ‘poofs’ who ‘want to be women’ and ‘don’t have the strength’ to push the trolleys and you have a horribly reactionary comic Richard Littlejohn would champion. And that’s even without mentioning the ‘my wife’s so ugly’ material that wouldn’t be out of place in 1972. Yet nothing could be as ugly as his set.

There’s some even more ancient material about air travel, including a practical joke involving the sick bags that his compatriot Barry Humphries used to do as a student – which makes it 50 years old if it’s a day, and certainly not his own material. Still, he brings his set up to date with observations about ITV’s Blind Date – which hasn’t been on air for eight years. In mitigation, some of his jokes, in isolation, are pretty decent, but not enough to wash away the unpleasant taste of his worst material.

After the sets, a contrived finale in which all the comedians returned to the stage for an ill-thought-through ‘battle’ to decide which nationality was the funniest. It was a mix of compere Hound asking leading questions to prompt a bit of prepared material from each of the combatants; and some more spontaneous panel-show type ribbing. Bloom and Southern proved the most quick-witted here, but no one in the audience would be swayed from their national bias, so in the end the first Comedy Of Ashes was declared a draw. How very like cricket not to get a definitive result at the end of play.

Review date: 24 Jan 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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