Channel 4 Comedy Gala 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

This is comedy as an endurance event – the sort of night that would do Ken Dodd proud. It’s hard enough to build an atmosphere for stand-up in the vast O2, add the fact that the show, with interval, is three-and-a-half hours long, and comics have just a few short minutes to make their mark, and it’s not the most conducive of environments.

Still it’ll look good on telly – which means, idiot O2 punters, you don’t have to struggle to record it on your camera from an eighth of a mile away. And last year’s event raised around £800,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital, so let’s not be too churlish about what will be achieved. But, good work aside, this is no way to watch stand-up.

In fact, it’s a brutally tough way to judge a comic’s standing, with 21 the top names in the business almost going back to the days of Comedy Store’s gong show– impress or die, and do it quickly.

Closing the first half with a routine longer than most were allowed, Michael McIntyre was probably the biggest draw; and proved his worth with a typically assured observational set. Post-Britain’s Got Talent, he’s not pretending he’s one of us any more (‘I quite like being famous, it’s awesome!’) and has some entertaining yarns about being recognised that nonetheless have a self-deprecating edge. Chuck in some relatable anecdotes about his cheese-obsessed child and that trademark strut that keeps the cameramen on their toes, and you have a success.

Proof that quality will out came earlier on with Sean Lock, with probably the best material of the night, including some ultra-topical material about the new Icelandic volcano on a night when most acts, understandably, played it safe with their greatest hits. He’s evidence that you don’t need a supercharged performance to engage a venue this size if the jokes are strong enough.

On the flipside, Lee Evans, with another longer slot, won over the room midway through the first half with a combination of his fame and his energy. ‘What a big place,’ he gasped at the site of the room, slightly disingenuously since he’s a regular performer here. Some of his routines are so old hat they could be a metaphorical tricorne – getting stuck behind a caravan on a country road or the subtext when meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time. But there are some more inventive lines and in a short set his physicality is a welcome adrenaline shot.

Rewind to the start, and one of a couple of odd turns that didn’t quite belong: Ndubz – though their uninspired music was eventually interrupted by an Alan Carr stunt. We were given no such respite from he later interloper, Chris Moyles, who dressed as Freddie Mercury and engaged a reluctant audience in a bout of call and response. Pointless.

So on through the comics. Dara O Briain started strong with conversational but gaggy material about guilty pleasures and of being the daytime dad. Perhaps it was the child-related charity beneficiaries – or the fact that lots of comics at this level are of a certain age – but parenthood was to be a recurring theme of the night. It was good stuff, but the audience were cold (though not weary as they would later be) and being the first of so many means he’d be hard to recall by the end.

Mark Watson’s wonderfully unaffected demeanour proved engaging, and means that when punchlines such as ‘minge of steel’ come, they have extra impact for seeming so natural. More laughs of recognition came from Alan Carr with tales of the after-effects of drinking told with usual high camp.

Jo Brand received a more muted response, her grumpy demeanour perhaps over-familiar now, despite a tale of abduction that’s got quite an edge. But she was certainly a contrast to the following comedian, Lee Evans.

Hosting a few acts, Jonathan Ross made a decent fist of turning his obvious comic sensibilities into stand-up – which is not always an easy transition. His story about visiting Great Ormond Street was natural and entertaining, those of his beloved pet dogs interrupting his sexual congresses were more forced, but not without charm.

Deprived in this venue of his usual forte of messing with the audience, Jason Byrne initially struggled to make an impact with his battle of the sexes material – but a suggestion of a cheeky and childish bedroom game won them round, and he came good in the end.

Sandwiched between Sean Lock and Chris Moyles was the warm domesticity of Sarah Millican. A great opening line leads into a lazy gag or two about underwear carrying slogans, but then a story of her parents and a suicide pact was irresistibly charming.

Next up, Glasgow lad Kevin Bridges had some cheeky appeal – such as calling London home – but didn’t really sparkle after so many other acts, and no interval yet in sight. Routines about driving tests and learning Spanish just seemed a little too familiar.

Jon Richardson’s stint on Stand Up For The Week and as new team captain on 8 Out Of 10 Cats makes it look like he’s being groomed as one of the comedy faces of Channel 4. But his main story of an odd local newspaper story never really took off. His comedy is better looking inward at his own OCD tendencies, but this came too late in this short set.

Finally the Michael McIntyre, and then that long-awaited interval. After which came Rich Hall, who protested: ‘I’ve been thrown to the wolves here.’ The show – obviously over-running - restarted far too quickly, and he had to perform to thousands of people streaming into the auditorium, and shuffling past others into their seat. If they missed any of his set, it was their loss, as he doled out some great lines – especially about Osama Bin Laden’s death and the ‘dignified burial at sea’ before performing a witty and surprisingly tender love ballad to a Ku Klux Klan member, backed by a full backing section.

Jack Dee might have been one of the more established stars of a show not short on familiar faces, but he seemed to phone in his routine about the health service. Taking those annual lists of accident statistics and sneering at the people who hurt themselves on swing bins or cruet set seems easy, and his deadpan slipped into lacklustre.

Rhod Gilbert reinvigorated things with a typical lively rant about his misadventures in retail. This time the thing he got annoyed trying to buy was a hoover – his sharp anti-bullshit rage spilling over to the ridiculous when it comes to the anthropomorphic Henry; but the audience go with him, just to see how it all turns out.

Micky Flanagan was another highlight of the night, with a rather bottom-centric set, but the cheerily matter-of-fact way he described his bout of Delhi belly proved a definite winner from this charismatic working-class everyman.

A lull started to kick in around now, which Andi Osho didn’t really have the material to overcome – charisma and likability proving not enough on their own as her ideas about the Olympics lacked killer lines, the odd nicely descriptive phrase not withstanding.

Her Stand Up For The Week co-star Jack Whitehall pulled things around. As always, much of his material didn’t stand out – though his take on the Midsomer Murders racism row is sharp – but it was delivered with real aplomb. Never was this more evident in his confession to ‘posh shame’ when he disguised his roots by talking like a youth from the ghetto. Such patois is probably the most hackneyed topic among modern comics, but he did his set piece with an impressive comic rhythm that guaranteed a round of applause.

Shappi Khorsandi didn’t have a good gig, with thousands of people falling largely silent during her set. The material, largely about being a single mum, was bitty, not building enough momentum to get us on board, while her punchlines were not strong enough for this not to matter. Her timing seemed off, too, as she rushed too quickly from one gag to the next.

Penultimately – yes, the acts still came – Jason Manford brought his winning ways to the stage, starting off with a knowing nod to his own infamy when he said of Andy Gray: ‘Imagine losing your job for something you did off air…’ His suggestion that all football officials be female was a cunning way into some old clichés, and actually gave them some new life. That and his instant affability.

A small but continuous stream of people left the show throughout John Bishop’s routine, which began after 11pm (the show had started at 7.30pm). And I’m not convinced he really gave them much to stay for. His chit-chat about parenthood was wordy and longwinded, with an obsession with the phrase ‘wank off a tramp’ the audience didn’t share. His style has always been such, but we all needed something punchy after so long a night, and he wasn’t the man to deliver that.

  • The Channel 4 Comedy Gala airs on June 10 from 9pm.

Review date: 25 May 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: The O2

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