The very first comedy gig of 2021 | Steve Bennett joins Angel Comedy's cheeky midnight gig as lockdown eases © Christian Sayers

The very first comedy gig of 2021

Steve Bennett joins Angel Comedy's cheeky midnight gig as lockdown eases

Comedy’s often best when it feels illicit – and gathering at midnight to partake of an activity banned by the government for the past five months certainly seems rebellious.

But it was  a speakeasy, London’s Bill Murray venue was a very compliant one, with all the sadly familiar faff of socially distanced queues and seating, app check-ins, masks when moving around, and so on. Pity the couple who turned up on spec without tickets: the world is currently stacked against such reckless spontaneity. 

In sticking to the rules, doors could only open at one minute past midnight as May 16 turned into May 17, but in doing so the Islington venue cheekily achieved the first indoor comedy gig this year.

Masked crowd at angel

Much was made of us all, acts and audience alike, trying to call upon ancient memories of how to react in social situations, mixed with a certain giddiness that we made it through the crisis are now finally allowed out to play. Even if terms and conditions apply.

‘Lockdown has not been kind to me,’ said host – and venue co-owner – Barry Ferns as he took to the stage with the sort of unruly facial hair growth that suggested he’d spent the last five months in his isolated forest shack working on his manifesto linking 5G to Covid.

The banter has certainly changed. ‘Who here’s drinking?’ used to be the go-to question for a compere wanting a cheer. Now the audience are asked if they’ve had two jabs, one or none. ‘I got Pfizer,’ said one punter with a smugness that became a running joke. 

Barry on stage

At one point, Ferns made a familiar aside about ‘dividing the room’ - only to quip that there was already a perspex fence literally doing just that, in a bid to make the intimate room a little closer to being financially viable with distancing diktats.

Starved of stage time, he probably spent a little too long introducing acts and plunging into conversational black holes - but no one minds him relishing the moments back with the mic. After so long being stuck on Zoom, or ‘fucking Zoom’ to use its proper title, the audience are forgiving and generous about any rustiness. Not that they needed to be, as Angel Comedy had served up a strong line-up to welcome live comedy back.

The first comedian to perform a full set in the whole of 2021 was Sikisa with a lively routine about her lockdown laziness, dating and preconceptions, underscoring the celebratory tone Ferns had established. 

Erik on stage

Australian Erik Pohl, a new act to me, had a delightfully bonkers energy as he extrapolated off-kilter observations into quirky verbal sketches from an appealing outsider standpoint. Then Helen Bauer brought all her comically intimidating, aggressively confident intensity to bear on the gig. ‘God, I’ve missed nervous men,’ she growled. But her trick is that the brassy over-sharing is a defence against insecurities, giving a winningly double-edged persona.

Helen on stage

After the interval, and well into the wee hours, came the more laid-back offerings of Dinesh Nathan, musing amiably on topics of class, long-term marriage and the pitfalls of keeping a fox as a pet. He offered nothing more controversial than a dislike of cats, instead striving for - and achieving -  a warm, self-deprecating set.

Dinesh on stage

Equally chilled Jason Patterson also evoked class – albeit in the rather less conventional context of ghosts – before regaling the room with anecdotes of attending the Black Lives Matter march and finding himself out of his depth with more hardcore protesters. This engaging storyteller barely seemed to get going before his time was up… but always leave ‘em wanting more has long been a showbiz mantra.

Patterson on stage

And  after this first, welcome, return to something approaching the normality of a comedy gig, the hunger for more is palpable. Live comedy’s back, folks, and how!

Review date: 17 May 2021
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: The Bill Murray

What do you think?

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.