Teenage Cancer Trust comedy night 2019 | Gig review by Alex Bruce at the Royal Albert Hall

Teenage Cancer Trust comedy night 2019

Note: This review is from 2019

Gig review by Alex Bruce at the Royal Albert Hall

Featuring mainstream big-hitter John Bishop, the relatively unknown Susie McCabe and the energetic Seann Walsh and world-weary Romesh Ranganathan, this year’s Teenage Cancer Trust benefit at the Royal Albert Hall was a night of gentle, lukewarm ‘modern life’ comedy, occasionally punctuated by energy and uproar.

Host Kevin Bridges kicked off with a foul-mouthed first five minutes on Brexit, joking: ‘I watched the first two seasons before it got fucking boring’ – eliciting a big, exasperated laugh. His cynically-upbeat blend soothes Britain’s political mood.

Bridges, though engaging, takes a while to warm a large, mis-matched crowd, demonstrated by his calling e-cigarette users ‘vapists’ taking time and repetition to land. This is an audience of on-a-night-out armchair enthusiasts, all in attendance for different acts. 

He opens the second half far stronger, slamming the state of the world, re-framing the dance craze of ‘dabbing’ as ‘A Nazi checking for BO’ and dismantling America’s ‘arm the teachers’ campaign with a great routine retrospectively (and terrifyingly) imagining a gun in the hands of his elderly alcoholic woodwork teacher.

Bridges wins the audience round, and certainly has the front and sweary lyrical rhythms to hold the considerable room. 

The first act he introduces, Kerry Godliman, brings a gossiping-Essex-mum tone that engages and appeals despite at times gentle material. 

She offers a dose of fairly standard ‘modern life’ observations, targeting common gripes - health fads, fruit and yoga. The edge within a rant on regretting dog ownership due to tedious encounters with other pet-owners appears too infrequently. However she’s largely carried by her relentless energy in spite of illness meaning she’s lost her voice. Routines on adult colouring-in and Londoners going on RightMove for a fix of poverty porn earn her best response. 

The deeper Godliman explores a topic, the better she gets, but somehow also the less well-received by a crowd not comprising comedy purists. Her most simplistic material works best by far, as a joke on Jesus in a nail salon only pleases the audience in so far as they’re pleased with themselves for getting it. But a routine on threatening her kids with voodoo is a bridge too far.

Walsh is the injection the show craves, and easily the best act on the night. His opener: ‘So…I was in a relationship’ is a bolt of truthful relief from a darker, livelier side. 

His confessional act stands undiluted by the charitable occasion as he plunges into his Strictly scandal. After 12 days on the front pages, he says, he knew for sure he’d done wrong when Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan jumped to his defence.

He covers some of the same ground as the other acts, including Brexit and immigration. The difference is his genuine energy, anger and excitement. His childhood stories accidentally-on-purpose betray naive character flaws and his physical routine around kicking footballs at an elderly neighbour’s fence is the night’s highlight. It feels like a proper comedy show.

First half closer Tommy Tiernan brings his sullen, wisened storyteller act onstage, strolling out and condemning the audience for ‘needing some big hullabaloo - couldn’t you have just given the money? Why do you need a show?!’

Tiernan rakes the now extremely familiar ground - Brexit, technology, modern life. The audience response perceptibly weakens as the night progresses and the topics grow tiresome. 

His downbeat, confessional style is welcome, however some great subtle throwaways (like feeling he needs written permission from a priest to enter a Soho sex shop) don’t get the response they might. Not because they’re not funny, just they’re not what the audience wants.

Fortunately, Tiernan also gives them plenty of what they do want - the crowd laps up the physical demonstrations and relentlessly visceral descriptions of his more grossly sexualised gags. Another stand-out feature is Tiernan’s highly convincing false naivety. His apparent ignorance about how crude he’s being is exactly what (very effectively) allows him to do so. 

McCabe, the first act after the interval, is completely at home despite being an Albert Hall debutant among considerably bigger names. She’s focused and engaging, and her consistently self-deprecating act, though at times soft, is other times dark and biting.

She is an engaging natural storyteller with promise. But it feels as though she’s restraining her dark side, which, when released, is probably her most intriguing element. Some stories need editing as often her punchlines don’t justify their set-up’s length. Her act, punctuated by few real laugh-out-loud moments, isn’t yet as developed as those of the bill’s bigger names, although she’s getting close.

Ranganathan’s set is one of two halves. He’s the second-best act on the night, but he tails off after an extremely strong start. 

He announces: ‘I’m not doing my best shit for you at a charity gig’ before in fact doing exactly that - tackling race relations and social media via Liam Neeson and Millwall FC with exposing, delicate material with consistently strong punchlines meeting big laughs. 

Ranganathan delves deeper into fewer subjects than the other acts on the bill and that works in his favour. However, his subsequent stories of taking the kids on holiday stories feel tepid, even if they are well-well-received thanks to the favour garnered by his fantastic first ten minutes than the gags themselves. His cynical attitude suits his social, political and racial tones far better.

Superstar headliner Bishop’s best joke is his spontaneous opener - a superb callback to one of Ranganathan’s bits comparing and contrasting Pakistanis and Scousers. But when settling into honed routines, his material drags and the energy begins to leave the room in advance, despite it being clear the audience is in a consummate pro’s hands.

Again we hear ‘modern life’ material - phones, the internet, technology and how things have changed. While the out-of-touch-dinosaur angle presented by Bishop (and others) offers a relatable, satisfying perspective, what it crucially lacks is the awareness that this ‘modern world’, particularly on social media, has already discussed these subjects, shared articles and retweeted jokes ad infinitum. Therefore an out-of-touch comedian’s perfectly original material may not be very original thought.

Bishop does deliver solid lines, capable of piercing through, but often following such lengthy set-ups that they lack emphasis and energy.

Review date: 27 Mar 2019
Reviewed by: Alex Bruce
Reviewed at: Royal Albert Hall

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