Brighton Comedy Festival Gala 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

The gala opening the Brighton Comedy Festival has to be better than some of the guff surrounding it. The 16-day event might showcase some of Britain’s finest exponents of the comic arts, but the best the publicity blurb can come up with is the pitch: ‘It’s the festival accompanied by a health warning to watch out for juicy bits falling from the sky as the seagulls guffaw so much they drop their lollipops!’ FFS.

Thank God the opening-night show is not sold on the strength of such clunky prose, or the Sussex Beacon – the HIV charity which benefits from ticket sales – would have a very lean year indeed. Instead Alan Carr is the big draw, doing his first stand-up since last year’s Spexy Beast tour.

His role as host doesn’t demand too much material, though. He hits us quickly with an excellent Jimmy Savile joke (and then, in mock shock: ‘You shouldn’t! It’s a terrible thing’) and wins friends with some local references to the local pubs and cruising spots. There’s a nice joke about Trip Advisor reviewing a hill, but in most of his brief appearances, the Chatty Man is doing just that: mocking the big and vocal group of Sloaney PAs, the stag dressed as a nun, or Baldy in the front row as his affable over-the-top self.

His opening set is over far too soon; it seems like only a moment before he’s urging the sold-out Brighton Dome to ‘start spreading the clap’ (Carr’s not afraid of the odd bit of cheese) and welcome Terry Alderton.

The Essex lad offers an odd routine at the best of times, and especially at the start of a night when the audience hasn’t become sufficiently attuned to conventional stand-up which his subversive approach would kick against. His set leaps abruptly between disjointed ideas: ‘dad dancing’, the schizophrenic voices in his head, even performing flat on his back, making puppets our of his trainers. It’s comedy’s equivalent of being picked up by a hurricane … you end up bewildered and disorientated, unceremoniously dumped amid debris of eclectic but still-recognisable fragments of the familiar world. The audience didn’t always seem to know quite what to make of all this surreal clatter; but by the end they gave him an appreciative ovation, recognising they had seen something unique.

Slot two went to by far the least experienced performer of the night, Romesh Ranganathan – not that the casual observer would have been able to detect his relative inexperience. He amusingly teases us that he is going to bombard us with racially-based material then – for about half his ten-minute set, at least – does exactly that. His competitiveness with his white wife might be testing the boundaries of playfulness, but the boundaries is often where good comedy is found, and Ranganathan has the writing eloquence to explore that. The other section of his set described his adventures in parenthood, which are unlikely to win him any Father Of The Year nominations, but will chime with a hell of a lot of people.

Seann Walsh proved one of two stand-out performances on the night. He’s a local boy and affectionately mocked bohemian Brighton as a place with a coffee shop on every corner and a population without a real job between them. He also likes the place as it’s full of binge drinkers – his kind of people,though I bet he says that to all the towns. Walsh’s drinking routine is perfectly observed, and equally well-executed. The boozy night out might be a staple of stand-up, being so universally identifiable, but he proves that with a bit of style, there can be life in the oldest of dogs.

‘There are more Asians on stage tonight than there are in the audience,’ Paul Chowdhry dryly intones. He’s got a nice streak of sarcasm and revels in making white people feel uncomfortable – but while that sometimes produces cunning jokes, it can also be remarkably lazy. His last bit, for example, is entirely based on putting on a comedy Chinese accent, just like he earlier got laughs for his own father’s accent. But at best it’s dated; at worst offensive.

Big cheers greet Jo Brand’s entrance. Reviewing her set seems almost redundant; it’s the usual selection of dour jokes about her long-suffering husband that have kept her in cakes for 30 years. They’re usually pretty funny jibes, mixed with a couple of pub-style gags you can take away to keep. Kudos to her for writing a new payoff to the ‘laughter is the best medicine…’ cliché, though, which brought the house down as her opening line.

After the interval, a word from the charity beneficiary. ‘Well that’s killed the night,’ said Carr bluntly, and a little harshly were it not for the camp charm taking the sting out saying what shouldn’t be said. Still a cheerily self-deprecating routine about him being a chubby kid, wedged into a Tesco trolley got the night back on track.

At this very same show last year, Abandoman produced Ed Sheeran as a surprise guest; but this time around it was just the core of Rob Broderick and James Hancox, improvising raps about audience members and ‘what’s in your pocket’. One guy might have been expecting them, conveniently producing an orange, but Broderick nonetheless parried with a loose rhyme. They’ve been doing this long enough now, they must have seen almost everything. And their ad-libbed love story was a godsend, though, as they picked a man who turned out to be a Kleenex salesman, to pair with a woman who happened to have brought a whole box of the tissues to the front row,

The second stand-out came from another local, with Hove-based Simon Evans commenting on the city’s less salubrious side with an unrelenting supercilious cynicism. The disdainful sneer allows him to adopt an extreme intolerance of those who don’t live up to his exacting Upper-Middle-England standards; while the dry writing sparks with beautifully cruel turns of phrase. That one of the follow-spots failed, casting half his face in sinister shadow, underlined his position as the perfect controlled comedy villain.

We returned to the theme of terrible parenting with Kerry Godliman, bemoaning her lot as the mum of two very young kids. She portrays herself as lazy and a little feckless, happy to be out the house to bitch to the audience about her travails as if they were her best mates having a cheeky lunchtime wine. There’s not quite the killer line or committed attitude to make this a highlight on such an acclaimed bill, but everyone will be able to relate to her observational shtick – even the non-parents – as she can certainly craft a good gag.

You suspect the chaos of children will not sit well with the ultra-anal Jon Richardson, who’s finding it difficult enough to share a flat. He’s trying to curb the most extreme of his OCD tendencies, but why won’t they put the empty cereal box in the recycling? It’s like they’re out to get him.

He’s 30, going on 75, and still unhappy that he’s ‘going to be alive for fucking ages’, like it’s some terrible inconvenience. That said, he’s trying some new experiences, and even living in London isn’t as horrific as his worst fears. Thankfully, though, he hasn’t curbed all his neuroses, as this is fertile ground for comedy. It’s fun to hear him gripe for ten minutes, but you wouldn’t want to live with him.

Review date: 7 Oct 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Brighton Dome

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