Fat Tuesday, London, May 31

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

A remarkably good turn-out for the day after a bank holiday shows the pulling power a strong local club like Fat Tuesday can build up. And the promoter who achieved that, Tiernan Douieb, also did a sterling job as MC tonight. After a few standard lines he built up an excellent rapport and some nifty running jokes from his effortless audience interaction.

Opening act Tim FitzHigham doesn't perform stand-up sets that often usually confining his eccentric, aristocratic self to Edinburgh shows about his adventures and derring-do. He has the sort of affable upper-class demeanour that built an empire, so conquering a comedy gig should be a breeze – as, indeed, he proved.

He seemed to have an anecdote about every corner of the UK, parrying every place name with an incident from tour. Much of this is 'found comedy' - repeating silly local newspaper stories or snippets of partially-overheard conversations. But although the wit originated elsewhere, he sold it on spontaneity and bumbling good humour. Occasionally a joke wouldn’t land, and he’d just shrug it off and continue.

There’s some observational shtick about zebra crossings, of all things, but yarns are his forte and he regaled us with several, including the awkward tongue-tied first encounter with the girl who would become his wife. And when the stories demand, his easy-going affability makes way for some passionate performance, underlining his status as a master raconteur with a tale for most every occasion.

Ray Peacock took the relaxed vibe, and made it his own, willing, as he is, to allow the gig to career apparently out of control, making hilarious, unrepeatable comic capital from what's going on in the here and now. Such abilities to riff off-the-cuff about everything from the decor to an ill-judged comment from the audience puts him in great demand as a compere and a TV warm-up man, and it’s easy to see why.

His scruffy low-status but over-friendly position allows him to build easy banter, seeing every minor interruption as a threat to his apparently precarious standing, having to reassure us that he does, really, know what he doing. In truth, there's never any question about it. And when the spontaneous high jinks subside, he puts a subtle nudge on the controls of his runaway gig to steer it back on course for the stories of mischief he wanted to share.

Such anecdotes are full of puppyish excitement – ‘giddy’ is a word that crops up a lot – before he moves on to material in the ‘shit my dad (and mum) says’ mould. His parents provide him with comedy manna, indeed, but it’s the way he sets it up, heightening their faux pas, which makes it funnier.

After the interval, Canadian émigré Pat Burtscher shambles on with a shabbiness, swaying movement and apparent lack of focus that you might more usually associate with your local junkie. This out-of-it persona allows him to present some imaginatively off-beat ideas from an obviously alternative, outsiders’ point of view that adds to their eccentric appeal.

The second part of his set, though, is rather too ‘vagina-heavy, as he imagined them detached from their owners, as scary, destructive entities in their own right. You don’t need to be Freud to conclude he’s he’s got issues… but more pertinently it felt cheap and gratuitous, no matter how surreal the imagery.

Closing with some obvious work in progress towards Edinburgh was Robin Ince, most of whose jokes come from the fact his isn’t the usual comedy fodder. If ever they make a series called Grumpy Old Men With The Demeanour Of Left-Wing University Lecturers, Ince would be a shoo-in. At 42, he embraces the fact he’s drifted away from normal society, preferring a Kafka novel to human company and regaling total strangers with the sexual antics of the bonobo monkey, oblivious to conversational norms.

It is, inevitably, a set of great ups and downs. Sometimes he goes into great detail about why he’s out of step with the world, which, by definition, doesn’t widely resonate with the room, leaving the audience as nothing but benignly baffled spectators.

But then he’ll underscore that with a self-deprecating tale or two and we’re back on side. He occasionally writes a splendid joke, but that’s not really his thing: he’d rather pontificate about Schrodinger’s cat, the futility of existence or the loss of civilisation’s ambitions than pander to the expectations of gags – with the self-aware commentary providing the entertaining light relief.

Review date: 2 Jun 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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