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Funz And Gamez

Note: This review is from 2014

Review by Steve Bennett

He describes himself as North Manchester’s ‘most reliable’ comedian, but in Funz And Gamez, Phil Ellis could have finally found the key to much greater things after several Fringe visits. And he’s done it by going into the children’s section of the programme, rather than under ‘comedy’.

Despite that, it’s probably the most talked-about show of the Fringe among comics – and with good reason. There are two shows in one here: on one level it’s a serviceable kids’ show, with songs and games and free sweets. But on the other it’s a parody of poor children’s entertainers, more squarely aimed at adults.

The brilliance is in getting them to work together. You would never put awful creations like Jeremy Lion or Psychoville’s Mr Jelly in front of real children, but Ellis and his compadres entertain the first couple of rows of youngsters as well as the next 12 rows of stand-ups and other cognoscenti. There’s a bit of an imbalance in that respect, and at the start it’s feels annoying when the back rows start guffawing at in-jokes – the show is of the kind attracts a lot of repeat business – but soon everyone’s in on the funz.

Very occasionally the walls between the adult and juvenile sense of humour are breached, with absolutely hilarious effect – parents might need to offer a reassuring word for the most brutal of the ‘life lessons’ offered – but the weaknesses of Ellis’s character don’t bother the kids.

He’s a bitter divorcee who’s got the patter but not the love (nor a house, it appears). He acts as if children are irritants, gingerly throwing Curly Wurlies at them to keep them away once the games are over, like a aircraft emitting anti-missile chaff. He’s competitive too, not for him going easy so the youngsters get a self-esteem rush. Just a sugar one.

Ellis is aided by Bonzo The Dog, a failed actor in shabby dog outfit who provides keyboard accompaniment and sarcastic backchat, and Jim Elf, in a threadbare Christmas outfit, who exists primarily to get bullied by all concerned. And if Ellis is borderline inappropriate, the shifty, shambling, dipsomaniac vagrant Uncle Mick (Ferry) is the whole hog; as is the clown booked to boost proceedings.

There are loads of running gags, quick-witted improvisation and sly character quirks; while all concerned seemed to be having a great time, with a frequent threat of corpsing. It’s that sense of fun which appeals to the young audience, while the insincerity hits the cynical grown-ups, along with the savvy gags that sail right over little heads. The Knockabout jollies are both much cleverer and much more stupid than you might think.

Review date: 19 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Just the Tonic at The Mash House

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