The Comedy Happening | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Albany, London

The Comedy Happening

Note: This review is from 2017

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Albany, London

Phil Nichol was the headliner, and Bobby Davro was the most famous name on the bill. But the comedian who’ll be best remembered from this Comedy Happening gig was the relatively unknown Chris McGlade. ‘Relatively unknown’ for not much longer, I’d wager.

Even in an evening rich with intensely vigorous performances, this Middlesbrough-based comic stood out for the mesmerising passion with which he delivered his eloquent, poetic and piercing diatribe against metropolitan liberal elite before him. 

With his urgent spiel, this working-class preacher-poet-comedian has a compelling relevance. As society fragments with dangerous consequences, his lively wit is here to puncture some of the bubbles, gleefully tearing into his audience as idiots.

He honed his craft on the Northern working men’s club circuit, but McGlade is as far from the Bernard Manning mould as you could expect. Well, he does tell a joke about ‘Pakis’ but couches it in such a robust argument that justifies the offensive term. 

McGlade later states that political correctness has killed comedy – an uncharacteristically bland simplification that makes him seem way more reactionary than he otherwise comes across – but there’s much to credit in the way he challenges the smug certainties of the progressives. His rants could perhaps do with a few more gags, but the tone and theatrical performance are perfect.

It was a night of loud comic voices, even more metaphorically than literally. Agent Mike Leigh has set up the Comedy Happenings in the intimate basement of The Albany pub in central London with the aim of recreating the anarchic, ‘anything goes’ vibe of the early alternative comedy clubs. Judging from the middle-aged men who dominated the audience, many remember those days.

Compere Quint Fontana set the tone with his hard-drinking, medallion-man shtick, interacting with the audience via a cheesy lounge song about mingling. The washed-up entertainer is something of a dependable old trope – and Andy Davies’ alter-ego might forever be in the shadow of Nick Helm’s similar, but even more desperate persona – but Fontana lubricates the gig as much as he does his own throat.

Opening act Peter Bazely didn’t immediately add a huge amount to the nervously deadpan, delivering-to-the-floor style of low-energy comedy, singing and talking dryly about loneliness, although towards the end of his short set, a one-man sketch about white van men punctured through the pallor of awkwardness.

An exponential leap in energy as Candy Gigi Markham took to the stage as an intense, spoilt Jewish princess at her bat mitzvah, ceaselessly demanding on her big day – to the extent that no one she ordered on stage would dare question her command – and with a creepy take on the burgeoning sexuality she’s just starting to experience. With some anatomically explicit costumes, her full-on song-and-dance numbers are not to be forgotten, even if they make very little sense.

Davro was clearly the odd booking for any night embracing the alternative, and any suggestion he might be reinventing himself for a new generation was dispelled with a set crammed with geriatric gags. There’s a slight desperation to his old-school shtick, even before we get on to the problematic obsession with jokes about ‘ugly birds’, more tedious for their laziness than any PC concerns.

He’s a talented mimic, though, and we got glimpses of brilliant impersonations of the likes of Robin Williams and Michael McIntyre. He was here, though, to try out his Stephen Hawking. He looked the part, but the voice - that almost every comic copies nowadays – was surprisingly off the mark. ’Was that offensive?’ he fretted. ‘Or was that funny?’ Talk about a false binary, as it wasn’t really either - and certainly went on way too long.

After a newbie open spot clearly way too inexperienced to be reviewed came the brilliance of McGlade, which was a tall order for Nichol to follow. But even if the Canadian livewire sometimes seemed unsure if his mad scenes were landing, they certainly were. 

Skits include repurposing his old dumb redneck George Bush voter as a Trump one, considering a backwards voyage through evolution the deeper into Essex you plunge, and the childish snigger factor of a doctor’s name. His song You Can't Say That To Me echoed the ideas of McGlade, and as well as the physical insanity, Nichol has a barrage of fine verbal jokes, with which he ended his set, and a great night of comedy.

Review date: 26 Apr 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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