The Invisible Dot's Big Birthday Bash | Review by Steve Bennett

The Invisible Dot's Big Birthday Bash

Note: This review is from 2016

Review by Steve Bennett

They are the producers who have latched on to the more commercially viable, middle-class end of the alternative better than probably anybody else. And to celebrate how far they’ve come in seven years, The Invisible Dot have moved from their bijou studio home a Guardian’s throw from Kings Cross to the 3,500+ seater Hammersmith Apollo for a Big Birthday Bash.

The venue may be the spiritual home of the polished mainstream stand-up of near-primetime BBC One, but the Dotty acts maintain a taste of the distinctive that has come to define the ‘brand’. Alex Horne is the ideal host – quirky but with old-fashioned pun-driven jokes at its heart (seven of them, he boasts, two of which he tongue-in-cheek confesses are sub-par, ‘more a crossword clue than a joke’). And the support of his Horne Section band makes this feel like a proper birthday party.

Opener Sara Pascoe jokes that she’s a ‘pretty big deal’ having been recognised a grand total of twice – a number that must have grown since she wrote the routine, given her fast-expanding profile. She’s been on QI, don’t you know, as she cunningly reminds us in a signature routine, which takes a none-too-subtle dig at friends forever reminding her of her childless status at 34.

Pascoe’s smart but plays it bewildered. ‘Everybody gets it but me,’ she sighs as she leads into a political section. Let’s end war! she proclaims to audience applause. Let’s make nurses rich! Hoorah! But then momentarily, astutely, ponders the pragmatism of the naive crowd-pleasing propositions. Ending with another fine routine, this one on Uber, she packs a lot of gags into her short set.

Noting that this is ‘the most vegan bill I have ever been on’, Jon Richardson takes to the stage and immediately starts picking up the tissue-paper debris of the party poppers that saluted his entry. You couldn’t want for a more apt talisman for his obsessive-compulsive act, putting tidiness over fun. Now married to fellow comic Lucy Beaumont, his peculiarities are only amplified though the negotiations of a relationship. On the packing of the dishwasher, he will not compromise – and the conflicting marital attitudes to the Sky+ box are explored in an hilarious routine given impetus from being so close to home.

Whereas most observational comics seek to exploit the universality of experience, Richardson wants the opposite. When he mentions he saw ladybirds in the toilet, he gets comically tetchy that others in the audience have witnessed the same. It’s a rare moment when he’s not different from the rest of us.

You might think it disrespectful that Simon Amstell chose to use this gig as a warm-up for his corporate job next month, hosting the London Evening Standard British Film Awards. A few thousand mere mortals being guinea pigs for the select industry few. But the monologue the great and the good will hear is so funny no one in the Apollo could have minded: Brutally withering, near-the-knuckle and ultimately nihilistic about the whole hoopla, Amstell will be giving Ricky Gervais’s Golden Globes intros a run for their money.

Headlining the first half was the show’s biggest name, Harry Hill, still buzzing with bizarrely creative ideas 25 years into his comedy career, with unlikely props, raps about major retail chains and an expose of the Nazi propaganda subliminally broadcast by Morecambe and Wise. The audience gets involved with a sing-song, while Hill’s happy to roll around the dusty stage in the cause of one stupid joke.

‘I can guarantee you won’t see that anywhere else on a Monday night,’ he assures us after one bit of nonsense, and you won’t find much arguing with that, as his relentless tirade of silliness makes its impact.

The Horne Section open the second half with the second Macarena gag of the night – who knew the 1994 hit would remain such a pertinent comedy topic – before introducing another surreal HH: Henry Hoover. A man with his head covered, unblinking painted eyes staring forward, and singing a jaunty song is always going to evoke Frank Sidebottom, but this toe-tapper about the horrors of a global pandemic is brilliantly, inappropriately silly in its own right. A change of tone next for Josie Long, performing her first gig of 2016, and proclaiming herself ‘full of optimism’. You might think she is rarely anything but – however she confesses that last year’s election result, unsurprisingly, knocked the wind out of her upbeat sails.

But she is always more silver lining than cloud; and hopes those Evil Tories will herald a new wave of political activism, just as she discovered her strident voice five years ago.

This is all a scene-setter for an extended story set on the evening of the polls. It starts out as her being stuck in traffic, but through evocative telling, becomes a triumphant metaphor for positive political action. If anything could mobilise the masses, it’s her enthusiasm and cheery humour.

Speaking of evocative, the poetry of Tim Key came next, his stanzas encapsulating a mood in a few brief, expertly chosen words; their impact magnified by his performance of a superficially polite everyman barely keeping it together. Like the suit jacket behind which he desperately tries to conceal his overflowing can of cheap lager, middle-class social niceties barely keeps his passive-aggressive frustrations in check. Excellent, as always. After the gig a ‘poetry on the underground’ panel in my Tube carriage home seems flat and uninspiring after Key’s captured fragments of futile humanity.

Finally ‘internet comment guy’ Adam Buxton used some Photoshop mock-ups to, well, mock – puncturing the artifice of chummy marketing that corporations use to convince us all we are not faceless consumer drones. Buxton defines his own demographic as ‘middle-premium’ – a classification that surely applies to most of the Apollo tonight.

His fortes, though, are plunging into the bottom half of the internet, and manipulating video footage. First he takes on the John Lewis Christmas ad, but not as you might expect: ‘I’m the only person on the internet not to have fucked around with it.’ Instead he takes the comments, making expected points about the scientific accuracy of the man in the Moon… but read out in random Nordic accents or with peculiar stresses on the punctuation elevates them into the realm of the absurd. But Buxton left the best to last, re-dubbing a Beach Boys appearance on Jools Holland that will mean no one in the room will ever ever hear the ageing group’s close harmonies in quite the same way ever again.

A possibly ill-advised Zumba skit from the Horne Section proves the cue for many in the crowd to file out of the inevitably-overrunning show, missing the giant birthday cake finale. But never mind that, the feast before the cake was excellent.

Review date: 26 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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