Doc Brown at the Royal Albert Hall

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

It must be every performer’s dream to play the Royal Albert Hall. And now a lot more will fulfil that ambition… albeit with the words Elgar Room in parenthesis.

The iconic venue has converted one of its restaurants into a comedy venue for a short series of monthly gigs, which inevitably come imbued with a touch of class that your average room-above-a-pub or municipal arts centre cannot hope to match. The audience mingles with classical concert-goers amid elegant Victorian architecture before the show – and even inside you can never quite forget where you are.

‘What do you do for a living?’ support act Naz Osmanoglu asked the big bloke at the front table. ‘I’m a butler.’ You don’t get that often. The servant concerned, Adam was his name, inevitably became a prominent feature of the ensuing banter, exerting a fascination the young comic couldn’t quite resist. But he judged it right, the audience were as rapt as he was by this upstairs, downstairs world.

Osmanoglu fluidly incorporated the chat with his prepared material, which often revolve around the ideas of masculinity. His memorable gags about the ruggedness of survival expert Bear Grylls form a signature routine, while he is robustly entertaining in describing his Turkish father’s precise and inflexible ideals of manliness. Possession of a beard is nine-tenths of it.

The material is delivered with rambunctious energy and bold, exaggerated moves. Such powerhouse performance skills are undoubtedly what makes the set, but there’s decent material behind it, too.

A routine about a visit to the dentist is a solid piece of observational comedy, supercharged by the animated approach; while an anecdote about a trip to Amsterdam is as sordid as you might expect, but defanged by his reluctance to participate in the incident he describes, making it strangely endearing. Still a relative newcomer, Osmanoglu’s already been much-tipped as one to watch – and tonight’s performance only underlined that potential.

Headliner Doc Brown has already supped at the teat of fame, but as a rapper. His autobiographical full-length show Unfamous (pronounced to rhyme with ‘infamous’) which he performed tonight, explains how that happened.

Describing himself as a ‘washed-up rapper with a social studies degree acquired from the University Of Norwich’ sets the tone for the hour. The middle-class bloke incorporating hip-hop ironically into their shtick is almost a cliché of stand-up, but Brown is the real deal – and that certainly sets him apart.

He’s happy to show his skills in set pieces guaranteed to entertain. However, the rap here is no prop or gimmick, but an integral part a life story told with eloquence and an unfailing wit. The language and tricks of his former trade are demonstrated with a light touch, and while he once was part of the underground urban music scene, it’s clear that today’s more well-to-do Royal Albert Hall demographic is closer to where his life is now

It was while running an open-mic rap night in Soho that Brown – whose real name is the markedly less showbiz Ben Smith – started mixing with future megastars such as the Black Eyed Peas and Mark Ronson, He wound up on tour with the latter, ‘jumping around lie a hip-hop Bez’.

It led to a lot of drug-taking, which, in his own words, turned him into a 24-carat wanker, and eventually he walked off the tour in an arrogant strop. But old rappers never die, they just become deadbeats; and Brown – by now a father – turned into a waster; until, that is, comedy saved him.

This story is recounted with an engaging self-deprecating touch, and the charismatic Brown has put the command of language and rhythm that stood him in such good stead as a rapper to equally effective use as a stand-up. He’s disarmingly charming, and can pull the rug away from the occasionally serious tone of his story with a deft touch, ensuring you’re never far form a laugh.

The redemptive ending gives an upbeat climax, and the ups and downs of the story keep you interested. But these narrative treats are secondary to the comedy, as Brown incorporates more obvious stand-up segments – such as his admiration of Richard Attenborough’s communication skills or him screwing up a schoolboy appearance on TV – into his show.

It is an slick, assured and funny debut. Totally nang, in the language he once spoke.

Review date: 17 Mar 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Royal Albert Hall

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