Thursday at the Backyard | Steve Bennett reviews an international bill

Thursday at the Backyard

Note: This review is from 2016

Steve Bennett reviews an international bill

The Backyard’s weekly new act and new material night has an international feel tonight, with 11 nationalities represented in one way or another among the 10 acts. One more if you count Scottish host David Whitney, though his public-school brogue belies his Caledonian roots.

He does a good job setting up the terms of engagement, acknowledging that some acts might bomb – but isn’t that half the fun? – and emphasising that the best comedy thrives on taking risks on nights like this.

Despite his note of caution, Whitney himself proves a safe pair of hands, with impertinent questions about the relationship status of many in the audience providing dependable laughs for their bare-faced cheek. There can’t have been many women in the first couple of rows he didn’t come on to in one way or another…

First up was Mark Pengilly, from Australia but looking like a Ukipper in his blue shirt, cream blazer and old-school tie, albeit inexpertly tied. He’s by no means a new act, having performed down under since 1982 and even being part of a Barry-award winning sketch show back in 2001.

As a performer of more senior years, it may be appropriate that he deals in ‘dad jokes’ – sprawlingly contrived puns, occasionally with props, that are usually more painful than funny… and that are sometimes generic old favourites. But just when you’re prepared to groan again, he’ll surprise with a genuinely nifty bit of wordplay. After more than 30 years, he still appears a stiff and unconfident performer, and despite his defiant catchphrase – ‘jokes? You want jokes? I got jokes! Cop this!’ – doesn’t really do much to sell his gags, either in terms of energy or acknowledging the cheesiness of the material, so there’s little momentum to see him through.

Next, Steve Bugeja working up some material for the follow-up to last year’s impressive solo debut, Day Release. After a little groundwork about his Maltese surname, he channelled his nervousness and social inadequacies into a low-status routine about the putative girlfriend that never quite was. The set had a rough-around-the-edges feel appropriate to the night, but the material about border staff should definitely be worth keeping, given its original angle.

Kiwi Richard Lindesay, has an expressive, Billy Bunterish comedy face, but unfortunately was otherwise forgettable in terms of material or persona. Wordplay is again his stock in trade, with some of his more agonising puns illustrated with pictures, for example: ‘Here’s me in Brussels’ is an ineptly Photoshopped image of him amid sprouts. He’ll probably have to work harder than this if he’s to pull people away from similar streams of gags on social media.

In stark contrast, Sean Sellers cuts a very distinctive figure: A camp, intense American in an untied cravat and with a thick mop of hair that had such a mind of its own it deserves its own agent. He speaks in short, sharp sentences as he agitatedly expresses his hefty catalogue of peeves. The gags and observations range from the good to the ‘meh’, but it’s all about attitude. You’ve got to admire his angsty, agitated style, which makes him very watchable.

Israeli expat Daphna Baram led us through the Life In The UK quiz that every would-be British citizen must pass before getting their passport. She has the air of a slightly batty aunt, gabbling away and easily distracted into tangents. The routine is sporadically amusing on the mores of British behaviour and the bureaucrats’ idea of it –  but this routine needs a lot of tightening up if it’s to be a bedrock of her work. However, she doesn’t seem the most disciplined of performers.

An experienced hand next, with Eleanor Tiernan opening with a couple of greatest hits, including her priceless re-creation of a supermodel’s catwalk strut, while newer material revolved around the engineering marvel that is the Dyson Airblade  She has a peculiarly dry style, slightly cold and over-studied, with each punchline softened by a self-conscious smile. Though her deadpan and jaded delivery requires some audience investment to cut through, there are amusing thoughts in her head.

Andrew Watts flaunted the ‘new material’ ethos altogether, for a Tight Ten minutes of his most tried-and-tested material. He plays up the upper-middle-class duffer, trying to understand women through a cricket analogy, or adopting a barrister-like position as he cites chapter and verse of the legislation prohibiting necrophilia in the exposure of a loophole. It’s classy stuff, as you’ll know if you’ve seen it over the decade or so that he’s been doing it.

Dimitri Bakanov also offers a tight, slick routine, giving the impression that every line has been highly polished. It’s an effective style, but probably a little too much so, as there’s a lack of spontaneity or real character behind his quips about being half-Russian, half-Ukranian, or the observations he has about his relationships. The jokes are empirically decent ones, and you would be happy to hear them, if not that excited.

Romanian  Radu Isac, pictured,  plays up his outsider status, the accent somewhere between Borat and Grand Theft Auto gangster adds to his grisled appearance to convey a man trying to cope with the vagaries of life in a foreign land. We feel his struggle, while his attempts to understand throw up some quirky observations along the way. He was a pro comic back home, and there are still creases in the material on display tonight, but you certainly warm to his weirdness.

After that intriguing act, the night ended on a more subdued note with South African Mark Palmer, with a rather forgettable observational routine on all-too-familiar subjects, from emoticons to the perils of googling your health symptoms. He’s got the rhythms and the pacing down to pat, but it feels rote, with content that doesn’t hold much interest. Palmer’s website makes much of the fact he’s a clean comedian, but on the strength of this, he needs more of a selling point than the lack of naughty words. 

Though as with every comedian tonight, there’s the disclaimer that any gags-in-progress might not reflect the finished set.

Review date: 6 Jun 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Backyard Comedy Club

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