Stand Up For Palestine

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Given that Frankie Boyle’s threatened to give up stand-up imminently, the prospect of his only gig this year – and on home turf, too – easily filled The King’s Theatre in Glasgow. If anyone was here for the cause, the Palestinian Legal Aid Fund, it was barely mentioned until the charity rep came to the stage at the end. A political rallying cry, it most certainly was not.

Boyle put together the bill himself, a collection of circuit mates and Scottish comedy luminaries, starting with his stylistic opposite, the erudite Miles Jupp, who turned his poshness up to maximum for the occasion. His haughty received pronunciation suggests a sense of entitlement you really ought to hate. But unlike old Etonian politicians pretending to be men of the people, Jupp is so secure in his well-heeled persona that he milks the antagonism, and curiously we love him all the more for it.

For although he is intolerant of feckless youths and corporate bullshit, he is driven by a righteous common-sense that it’s easy to get behind which, when delivered with such assumed authority, demonstrates why the upper classes managed to rule Britain for so long. The wit is withering, and although his mild-mannered delivery suffered from the distracting stream of latecomers being admitted just as he started his set, his sardonic arrogance proved a quiet delight.

Mark Nelson joked that few in the audience would know who he was – but he shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t pick up a few more fans on the strength of tonight’s assured performance. His starting points may be unoriginal – rowdy hen nights, celebrity perfumes, the sheep-shagger epithet levelled at him for coming from Dumfries or the Scottish propensity for drinking – but there’s no doubt his powerful punchlines hit the spot.

If he’s not memorable, it would be for the topics tackled, not for the quality of the writing or delivery; and when he strikes an original seam – the notes he leaves for his sober self while in a drunken stupor, for example – he really shines. But this set left no doubt he is a robust club comic, broad but devastatingly effective.

Fred MacAulay is a 54-year-old ex-accountant and former rector of the University of Dundee. Still, that doesn’t stop him affecting the demeanour of a drug-addled Govan ned, lolloping around the stage, imaginary baseball hat on head, nasally squeaking: ‘Alright big man?’ The character’s over-done in comedy, but there can be no denying the charm of seeing a middle-aged man do it, and so effectively too.

In fact, MacAulay’s relaxed confidence plays no small role in bringing out the best in his dry observational routines. There’s nothing earth-shaking in his set, but it is elegantly and entertainingly executed. But can we now have a moratorium on jokes about the attempted terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport? It was four years ago now, and all the obvious gags were cracked in the first ten minutes.

The second half of the show seemed to be programmed backwards, starting – unconventionally – with the night’s undoubted headliner, Mr Boyle. The ovation that greeted him was testament to how much this audience love him, and he gave them exactly the sort of vicious, depth-plumbing comedy they wanted. ‘Say what you like about the Yorkshire Ripper…’ goes a typical feedline – and the payoff is worse than you could possibly imagine.

That depravity is key to his appeal, of course, but more easily overlooked is the sheer quality of the writing. Gags are not only ruthlessly brief, but involve a precision of language that goes well beyond the average shock-jock. There’s a poetry to his brutality, even more evident on the rare occasions he stays away from the unpalatable. Describing Boris Johnson, for example, as having the demeanour of a man ‘caught using a trouser press to heat up a meat pie’ is as elegant as it is evocative.

There was quite a chunk of new material here, suggesting claims of his imminent retirement may be wide of the mark. But don’t expect him to mellow in middle-age – aside from a charming but out-of-character ‘kids say the funniest things’ anecdote – this was the festering Boyle on top, corrosive form; and all the better for it.

Who could possibly follow such a powerhouse? Turns out it’s a mild-mannered, dim, and slightly camp soldier. Gary Tank Commander raised the Roof simply from walking on stage, while simply announcing his name as ‘Gurry’ or mentioning cheesy pasta elicits roars of approval.

Greg McHugh’s endearing creation is probably a better TV character than he is a live one, though, and this set had a dated feel. ‘Remember him?’ looked like joining his arsenal of catchphrases as he discussed the simple-mindedness of George Bush, compared the war on terror with a playground fight with Blair the pipsqueak backing up bully Bush, or suggested Osama Bin Laden lived in a cave ‘like Batman’.

Away from such well-worn ideas, McHugh has an undoubted skill at making the mundane funny, and a domestic scene as simple as shopping for his favourite food is given impetus by his precise mannerisms and timings. That his character is so well-known from the box – at least north of the border, while the English BBC channels steadfastly refuse to network it – only makes his shtick stronger.

When MC Susan Calman – efficiently compering with that distinctively Glaswegian mix of impish charm and implied menace – announced final act Tom Stade, I distinctly heard a loud whisper behind me ask: ‘Who?’

Indeed, Boyle’s frequent co-writer was one of the less well-known turns on the bill, and his turn tonight, although solidly funny, lacked some of the spark of others, especially in an extended segment about terrorism, which involved a chunk about unattended baggage unfortunately similar to a much tighter Andy Parsons routine.

Stade has a few neat lines about his native Canada and his drug use – but his coup de grace is an inspired bit of crowd work, dubbing one unsuspected punter ‘Heroin Jimmy’ and making him unwitting accomplice in many of his fantastical yarns, as well as displacing any beyond-the-pale gags in his set on to this hapless stooge. This extended joke was a definite shot in the arm to this closing routine, which although fine wasn’t quite Stade at his best.

Review date: 22 Mar 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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