Mike Epps | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hackney Empire
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Mike Epps

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hackney Empire

This is Mike Epps’s first visit to London, but it’s clear from the rapturous reception he receives from the Hackney Empire that his reputation, forged on films such as Next Friday and The Hangover, precedes him. There are die-hard fans here who go cuckoo when he drops in some catchphrases into his set, even if they are meaningless without context.

Although actually what immediately precedes him is a slightly shambolic first half of opening acts. First, Brit Marlon Davis, introduced with the obligatory: ‘You know him from….’ before a seemingly endless pause until ‘Live At The Apollo’ was offered up. 

Then – after his set of amusing observations about his high-pitched voice making him unsuitable for any position of authority and about his apparent quest to find much older women to date – Davis forgot to introduce the other support act, Royale Watkins, and had to skulk back on to do so. 

And even then the American was so put off by not having HIS list of credits of shows few Brits would have seen, he went off and started again, insisting we hear his CV.

After some very lacklustre opening banter of the type you might hear in a bus queue - it was warm in the day today then got too cold for him come nightfall, apparently - Walters launched into a sex-dominated routine, during which he noted his partner’s complaint: ‘I made her come too hard’ – which has to be one of the most arrogant humblebrags ever.

Watkins’ biggest laugh, though, came when he revealed that Epps would be happy to pose for photographs afterwards – priced £15, cash-in-hand only. The reaction immediately forced him to lower the price to £10, yet the star has surely got enough die-hard fans here who would happily pay that. 

He’s certainly a supremely charismatic performer who electrifies his audience. He speaks in short, urgent sentences with a heightened sense of drama – amplifying normal responses into potent shots of comedy. There’s an agitated physicality to match that delivery too. He’s always moving, and he explodes into cartoonish life when the acting-out of a scenario demands it. There’s a silly walk, for example, that rivals John Cleese’s.

All this gives a hard sell to material that’s inconsistent but zings in its portrayal of his early years, condemned to a remedial class at school and growing up in a dubious neighbourhood. The picture of the euphemistically named ‘ice-cream vans’ coming around with two-bit entrepreneurs supplying anything you could need, is vivid and authentic. Strong, too, are his tales of being 

squirrelled away with his many siblings whenever Mamma was on a date - and the hilarious image of all the various Baby Papas lining up to collect their offspring for weekend visiting rights, like so many shady minicabs touting for business.

Sex talk is a little cheaper, going for outrageousness when he talks about ‘sucking your girl’s titty’ or calling out to the theatre, ‘Where the big girls at?’ He’s got quite a reductive approach to women, even his own daughters when he laments that he must have done something wrong to have had no sons. But overall it’s not especially offensive, just dumb, and played from the status of someone who considers himself under the thumb in his own home. 

He’s keen to endear himself to his audience, though it sometimes backfires. The impressions of Jamaicans and Africans bond him with those segments in the room, happy to be mocked by a hero. Though trying to ingratiate himself by his professed love of Benny Hill and Anthony Johnson don’t exactly land… not least because he meant to say Anthony Joshua.

Meanwhile, tales of being recognised are entertaining, if not comedy gold, with one story about using his fame to get out of a tight spot clearly being little more than a thinly-veiled excuse to break out into one of those crowd-pleasing impressions.

And that’s what he does time and again: gives his fans precisely what they want. But there are rewards for less invested observers, too, all brought to energetic life by an A-grade performance.

Review date: 27 Sep 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Hackney Empire

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