We Are Not Amused 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

There were moments in the first half of the Prince’s Trust star-studded We Are Most Amused fundraiser where simply watching the performance seemed like an act of charity, with a series of ill-judged ideas casting a pall over the night that the real stand-ups had to battle to overturn.

Compere Ben Elton was one such mood-killer. He’s a patron of the charity and tonight’s creative director – and treated us to the coup of a Blackadder comeback sketch to close the night. But for all the brilliant work he put into the night, he’s no stand-up any more, and his opening monologue came within a whisker of dying completely, with long rants playing to silence.

Just moaning about Starbucks calling their small coffees ‘tall’ or whining about being put on hold doesn’t really cut it, and sound more like the grumblings of an out-of-touch old man – however structurally sound the routines, or how much incredulous emphasis he puts into delivering his complaints. Occasionally a well-drawn image would break the dreariness – such as his descriptions of the massive popcorn and drinks containers sold in cinemas – but he set the bar low.

Opening act Stephen K Amos would surely have been a better host. He might not be as famous as Elton, but he’s got a friendliness people warm to, and a few cracking lines – even if the best, about him being one of Twins, comes courtesy of his blunt-speaking mother. Amos is no stranger to performing to royals, of course, and when he played this very benefit in 2008, Prince Harry infamously told him afterwards: ‘You don't sound like a black chap.’ Perhaps wisely, that story didn’t make his routine tonight – although an even more racist comment from an Adelaide radio DJ did.

Next up a truly dismal sketch, in which Sanjeev Bhaskar and Helen Lederer played a wine-chugging middle-class couple feigning concern for the education system while really being self-serving and callous. The premise might have been OK, but the script was laugh-free – so imagine the audience’s indifference when it turned out this would be a recurring scenario over the night. By the third time they reappeared, the disappointment was actually audible.

Another misfire quickly followed, with Jon Culshaw appearing as Simon Cowell and ‘singing’ what allegedly could have been his X Factor song – just a list of words associated with him, like ‘high trousers’ and ‘Sinitta’ listed in the style of Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire. Sorry, Jon, you shouldn’t go through to the next round.

Bhaskar returned for a brief, inconsequential linking slot when he imagined the Royal Albert Hall as an intimate Indian wedding venue, then it was left to Patrick Kielty to try to get the audience properly laughing again. He had something of a fight on his hand, from such a cold start, and after a hit-and-miss routine discovered that the harsh jokes were what the crowd wanted, regardless of whether they were really the sort of gags you should be telling in front of Charles and Camilla.

But if Kielty was rude, it was a mere hors d’oeuvre for the unashamedly vulgar Joan Rivers, in true bilious mood, bitching about how old people depress her and how she hates handicapped people – a feeling born from having to look after one. Shocked laughs came from her discussing her 79-year-old vagina... and even her unreconstructed racist material about all Mexicans being ugly and the Chinese eating dogs, even though it’s not to be encouraged. Still, the passion of her performance filled the space like no one else could.

Culshaw partially redeemed himself in his second appearance of the night, showing his considerable talents for mimicry of various characters... which makes you wonder why he insists on having each of them say their name rather than allowing the audience to figure it out for themselves. Material-wise, his jokes about George Bush’s linguistic atrocities are well beyond their tell-by date, but his brisk and entertaining round-up of some telly comedians could save you a fortune on DVDs this Christmas.

He came back after the interval as Boris Johnson, for no good reason, to introduce comedy band The Midnight Beast, for the kids. At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, though, a combination of poor acoustics and poor diction made it very difficult to discern any of their lyrics - which is something of a drawback if that’s where the jokes lie. Still, the music of Medium Pimpin' and Just Another Boyband got the section off to an energetic start.

After Elton returned, Milton Jones took to the stage with his deliciously eccentric one-liners, most of which took a second or two for the penny to drop. Skilful writing, including an imaginative callback to someone else’s earlier material, made him one of the strongest acts on the bill – and kicked off a run of stand-ups who knew what they were doing.

Omid Djalili went down well, too, with his silly mix of ethnic piss-taking and Godzilla impressions, and showed a flash of treasonable insubordination with a very funny line about the work the Prince’s Trust does. There’s a bit too heavy a reliance on funny accents in some of his older material that got an airing tonight, but in the style of a slightly old-fashioned entertainer, entertain is what he did.

Observational Ed Byrne kicked off with some cliched material about airline travel - the dumb questions at check-in, the confiscation of tweezers as if you could bring a jet down with grooming products etc – before moving on to more distinctive, and funnier, observations on the same subject, which turned out to need at least a bit of that earlier, hackier stuff to work. And he has the best ‘bathroom scales’ routine in the business.

Almost finally, Jimmy Carr doing something good for Britain’s underprivileged. No, not pay his taxes - but deliver for charity his usual stream of slick one-liners, starting with the silly and moving into increasingly dark territory about shagging around and non-consensual sex. But it’s not about morals, it’s about wordplay – at which he is a master engineer.

Then came that Blackadder sketch – which started rather clunkily (and even managed a ‘what about her knockers?’ joke which would have been dated by the end of Seventies) despite Miranda Hart's best efforts. But it burst into life when Rowan Atkinson made his surprise appearance, proving his comic genius at infusing every line with wit that even the writer might not have seen. The script got sharper and more satirical too, andTony Robinson’s Baldrick completing the double-act made the scene even more special... giving punters who paid up to £125 a ticket something memorable for their money.

Review date: 29 Nov 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Royal Albert Hall

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