Upstream Comedy | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the 100 Club, London

Upstream Comedy

Note: This review is from 2017

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the 100 Club, London

This was the first show of what’s planned to be regular new alternative comedy night… though few in the audience seemed aware that weird is what they’d signed up for. The 100 Club is a pretty big room – though sparsely filled here – and probably ill-suited to experimental work, despite its place in history as one of the birthplaces of punk.

And if the strange comedy sailed over the heads of the majority, a tiny enclave were so rude and/or ‘out of it’ not to comprehend the basics of etiquette, talking loudly to each other and the acts, oblivious to there might be other people there whose night they were ruining, not least the comedians’.

The worst offender was thrown out… eventually. In fact, just as headliner John Kearns said: ‘I’ll just end with this’ to signal the end of the night. The bouncer’s tardiness did not go unremarked from the stage.

Even for a cult underground night, the evening would have been patchy. Things started haphazardly and low-key, as host Jayde Adams sauntered on with no fanfare to pick a suitable opening track from her laptop onstage… although hiding her considerable frame under a grand piano ready for the proper start was a nice touch. However, it was only her later revelation of her impressive opera-singing voice which really turned things around. Such talent hits the audience by surprise compared to the image she projects (aided by her West Country accent) of being friendly, working-class and slightly scatterbrained.

Opener Ben Target doesn’t offer the casual comedy viewer an easy way into his act – though he makes quite the first impression with his clobber, as he’s dressed entirely in white, save for the spangly silver high-heeled boots, and brandishing a mug tree. Chewing insouciantly, he has an air of arrogance, defying you to laugh at his poor puns and odd but insistent visual skits. Occasionally the audience were bold enough to do so, but his main achievement was to amplify an already strange atmosphere.

Two Plus Ones bound on to the stage with the jaunty theatrical bonhomie of so many sketch trios, immediately suggesting they are going to be irritating. That drama-school image is subverted (though also slightly reinforced)  with their best sketch, satirising thespian earnestness. Otherwise, their routine was patchy: rapping about very modest things is a well-worn idea, though executed well. However at least a song offers a definitive ending, something other skits struggled to find. Although good-natured and amusing Joshan Chana, Archie Henderson and Luke Sumner might struggle to stand out from the sketch crowd.

No such issue for Lucy Pearman, as there are not many comedians who perform in the costume of a 17th century maiden, handing out Brussels sprouts before trying to woo a gentleman with the lyrics to ‘soldier, soldier won't you marry me with your musket, fife and drum?’ – all the while trying to keep her ‘bad side’ repressed. Although the comedy is based on strangeness, it has internal logic – and a great reveal as her veneer slips – and is performed with admirable commitment to the abstract.

That said, only Kearns really grabbed the difficult gig by the scruff of his neck, even risking engagement with the troublesome corner as part of the low-status/high-status tightrope he walks. He mostly triumphed over them, since they didn’t know quite what to make of this strange man. 

Kearns is the ultimate idiot savant. Though appearing as an oddball in fake teeth and tonsure wig and exaggerating his put-upon existence (he even thinks a mouse is getting the better of him), he’s in fact insightfully funny about the drudgery of life and the peculiarities he affects on stage to give him a point of difference. ’Build the bubble, then pop it,’ is how he describes his own act, and its relationship with reality. Though actually the way he moves in and out of that still-intact bubble of his odd world and ours is the charm. 

He’d intended to perform some ‘greatest hits’, which he partially did – but it was his successful interactions with a room that was as strange as any act that was on stage that earmarks him as an excellent comedy performer.

Review date: 24 Apr 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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