Comedy International Showcase | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Pleasance, Islington

Comedy International Showcase

Note: This review is from 2014

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Pleasance, Islington

A sort of Eurovision for comedy, this showcase in front of an industry crowd from the Comedy International Conference offers anglophone comics from across the continent a chance to impress. And also to prove that performing in a second language, and coming from countries without an established stand-up scene on which to hone their craft, need not be a barrier to funny.

Greece’s Katerina Vrana has been in the UK for 14 years, however, in which time she’s developed a ballsy, effusive delivery that injects her material with energy. After explaining her ‘awesome’ received-pronunciation British accent, she vigorously launched into material that’s just the cheeky side of dirty, with a lust for Prince Harry, silly takes on the pelvic trust, and the most adorable dick jokes. She must be one of her nation’s top comedic exports… although there are, she says, only seven stand-ups in Greece as her competition.

From Malawi, Daliso Chaponda has spent his fair share of time on the British comedy circuit, too. A wry opening line mocking our idea of economic catastrophe leads to some amusing material about the differences between the two countries and on to his nagging ex-girlfriend, possibly fairly safe material but delivered with skill. The set takes a quantum leap forward, though, when he speaks vividly and hilariously of being exorcised as a child. That old chestnut…

Unfortunately, Macedonia’s Nikola Todoroski demonstrated a lack of creative maturity in his set, which simply ran through a series of national stereotypes and accents: the harsh German (including what was probably a Holocaust joke, but a little unclear), the dope-smoking Jamaicans or the giggling Japanese.

Todoroski might have had the excuse that there’s not much comedy in his homeland to encourage more imaginative material, had it not been for the wonderful Finn Ismo Leikola, pictured, bringing the house down with his daft ‘foreigner abroad’ shtick. Even something as apparently obvious as us Brits using pounds for currency and for weight was given unexpected twists, and delivered with the delightful naivety of the idiot savant. He’s got an entertaining off-kilter mind and a gift for comic misunderstanding which probably made him the hit of the night.

Romania’s Radu Isac had a quirky sensibility, too, turning the Transyvlanian stereotype on his head before musing wittily on his time working as a car-park valet in the States, living off tips, dumb-ass questions and the chance to leer at his customers. He nicely treads the line between weird and relatable, even in a language he admits he can only speak when committed to a script. Nice work.

Next we travel to the far-flung exotic republic of Scotland – still not an independent state despite what bookers might have hoped when initially putting together an international line-up. But Larry Dean – winner of 2013’s Scottish Comedian Of The Year title and swigging from an Irn-Bru can on stage – pulls of a very convincing English accent, too. The cornerstone of his upbeat act is about being an atypical gay man, but this promising comic has plenty more to offer in his engaging, fun set.

Finally Belgium’s Alex Agnew who, bafflingly, was given an extended closing set which only served to reduce the audience to bored silence. He started reasonably enough, with a lot of musical impersonations – since he can do everything from Tom Jones to MC Hammer, Cypress Hill to the vocoder-enhanced Cher. There’s not much comedy meat to this, but it’s entertaining  until, just at the point when the audience were already starting to weary of the lack of substance, he took a wrong turn into a bad-taste joke about the domestic abuse Tina Turner suffered.

Controversy is not this half-Geordie comic’s strong suit. Adopting a rebellious tone he unconvincingly stated that he was banned from making jokes on this stage about Islamic State terrorists - but argued that by mocking them, we weaken them. A fine sentiment, as proved by the satirical sitcom coming out of Baghdad reported this week. But when you follow that up with a cheap, sick gag targeting the man they beheaded, the argument goes up in smoke.

He retreated into pseudo-surrealism about potatoes with Irish accents and surrendering French aubergines and about having sex on drugs, which was not especially funny but he might have made it serviceable had he not long lost the audience. With every line there was an almost tangible atmosphere of: ‘Why isn’t he ending this?’ as he dug himself a ever-deepening grave. Oh dear.

Compelling ‘French’ compere Marcel Lucont, who had most ably held the show together with his withering Gallic distain and sharp-witted audience badinage could only end by deriding the inferior Belgian daring to mock his proud homeland, yet again perfectly riding the mood of the room.

Review date: 3 Oct 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Islington

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