Glasgow International Comedy Festival Closing Gala | Review by Jay Richardson
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Glasgow International Comedy Festival Closing Gala

Review by Jay Richardson

Glasgow's comedy festival has always attracted a wealth of great acts and been a strong showcase for upcoming local comics.  But it's arguably never had the defining tentpole events of a festival like Leicester. Or the close, distilled festival spirit of much smaller rivals such as Machynlleth or the Cat Laughs in Kilkenny.

Under new management and for its first full programme since the pandemic, the  addition of this celebratory closing gala, culminating with the presentation of the Sir Billy Connolly Spirit of Glasgow Award for the act most embodying the city's sense of humour, goes some way to addressing that.

Speaking proudly of Glasgow being the cradle of 'Connolly, Bridges and Boyle', compere Susie McCabe noted the festival's role in her own development since her first GICF show a decade ago and spoke of the springboard it offered to newer acts. Some, like Marc Jennings and Chris Forbes, have graduated to playing rooms like this very venue, the King's Theatre.


Yet irrespective of the festival's impact, there's no denying that there's an exciting crop of youngish acts plying their trade in Scotland just now and pushing to become household names, as this show demonstrated.

Handed the unenviable opening spot, Liam Farrelly grasped his opportunity. Becoming a father at 21 has bestowed the Paisley native with plenty of material about raising a child while still a manchild himself, not least in the unsuitability of his scally mates for babysitting.


Yet from the modest premise of getting press-ganged into acquiring guinea pigs by his partner, Farrelly spins a winning yarn of escalating problems, as he's hoodwinked by successive pet shop owners and thwarted by his own grudging compassion towards these over-sensitive, furry additions to his family. Though still young, Farrelly's evolving sophistication as a storyteller belies his years.

With only a few minutes to play with, Shetland comic Marjolein Robertson stuck to playing up the isolation and inbreeding of her islands and not-so-extended family. And although this almost reduced herself to a hick caricature, it was still a very funny, very polished showing with enough twists to surprise. Besides that, there was a defiant riposte for the Londoners who attend the Edinburgh Fringe and find her eccentric stories far-fetched.


In a snappy suit and with the confidence to note that he shares eyewear fashion with a notorious killer, Jennings assumed a relaxed, understatedly cocksure vibe. And why not?


Discovering that he owns the same smartphone model as King Charles brings the Royal Family down to his level. And he amusingly imagines the monarch struggling with his tech like a pleb, the issue of insufficient iPhone memory the chance for a few cheeky satirical swipes at the soap opera that is the Windsors.

Rinsing the Conservative Party for their crocodile tears over cuts, he's a nimble if not deep observer of politics and follows it with silliness for silliness' sake, claiming Ru Paul's Drag Race for Glasgow in an amusing, tongue-in-cheek grab of cultural misappropriation.

From Jennings' easy suavity to Forbes’s puppyish eagerness to please. The Scot Squad star has developed an unlikely but successful double-act with Judy Murray, mother of tennis stars Andy and Jamie, to the extent of the pair having performed their own show together at the King's earlier in the festival.

Fully goofing it up, Forbes's lanky frame affords him passing credibility as 'Duncan', the useless third Murray brother. And Judy is absolutely game, portraying the perennially disappointed parent with stern, reproving glances and better comic timing than she needs.

The Murrays

Quite how they stretch this 'relationship' to a full show intrigues me. Yet they made a virtue of their shortcomings here, dismissing various acts they could get away with, before alighting on Duncan sharing his self-penned children story, a naked plea for maternal acceptance. Sporadically corpsing and acknowledging the ridiculousness of the enterprise, the partnership is a lot of fun and long may it continue.

With this afternoon crowd seeming to skew older, Jay Lafferty had to work a little harder than some on the bill to get sympathy for having turned 40, persecuted less by the impending peri-menopause than her relatives predicting it for her.

Without much introduction, her matter-of-fact account of pole dancing for fitness took some time to tune into too. But her conversational style of stand-up seldom fails to endear. And by the time she was animatedly bemoaning the change in the targeted advertising for underwear that she now receives online, the crowd were eating out of her hand.

Closing the first half, Rich Hall brought a welcome palate-cleanser of internationalism and grouchiness, barking his incredulity at what passes for direct action protest in the UK. If his growling mutterings weren't always fully comprehensible, the American has an eye for pinpointing both the nobility and ludicrousness of the Insulate Britain movement and his sweary energy was infectious.

Doomongering about the rise of AI, he opined on the wrongheadedness of introducing a self-driving pickup truck in his native Montana, before his crowd-pleasing, phglem-soaked, guitar tribute to the capricious-sounding pronunciation of Scottish place names, The Rose of Hawick.

Returning after the interval, as himself this time, Forbes probably delivered the standout spot of the show, teasing the audience as to what his favourite sound is. Initially, this seemed likely to emanate from his newborn daughter. But he devoted his seven or so minutes to her self-appointed guardian, his cockapoo.

Reminiscent of a classic Gary Larson Far Side cartoon about the inner thoughts of dogs, his exploration of canine psychology was presented with ebullient physicality, getting big laughs for the initial performance as his indefatigable hound and even bigger when he recreated it with English translation. Lovely stuff.

Curiously perhaps, online viral sensation Paul Black – who impressed at this venue with his own show last week (review) – didn’t thrive so much in a condensed appearance, robbed of some of the chance to establish his warm, engaging persona.


Nevertheless, his account of discovering his sexuality at 12 is a compelling one of stumbles and self-deception, a necessary watershed for the current Black to proudly put in his place a relative who struggles to disguise his difficulties with gay people and fatphobia. There was also a marked bit of generational microphone and torch passing, as McCabe grumbled about having marched for younger gays such as Black, affecting a headshake at his sartorial choices.

Musical sketch trio Weegie Hink Ae That? are an acquired taste, sporting their parochialism on their shell-suited sleeves and their defiantly proud tunes about all things stereotypically Glaswegian and Scottish, even as they acknowledge the cultural cringe themselves.

Opening with a number about the gargantuan seagulls in Aberdeen, Gregor Mackay, Conor Hardie and Elliot Hannigan really sell what's often pretty lyrically thin material and croon about Irn-Bru and Highland coos with appealing tunefulness, the stagecraft Present and Correct even if the writing isn't so much.

Crouching down on his haunches to take the microphone from where the diminutive McCabe left it, Scott Agnew swiftly addresses the elephant in the room - himself. Before Brendan Fraser was earning plaudits for The Whale, the already big, 6ft 5in Glaswegian ballooned from 17 stone pre-lockdown to 25 stone post pandemic. That follows health issues, coping with a heart attack and HIV.


But with an exasperated tone and considerable self-deprecation, he very swiftly gets the crowd laughing with him. Rather more impressively though, during a show of mutual back-slapping and civic pride, the often spiky stand-up was right up for a rammy, berating the right-wing press for its transphobic obsessions in no-nonsense terms, defending his LGBTQI+ comrades with vigour and no small amount of wit.

Ever the twinkling pro, alive to the freshly energised atmosphere he'd inherited, Fred MacAulay protested that Agnew's routines had anticipated his own. You could drop the veteran comic anywhere into a bill like this and he'd still flourish, with wry, accessible gags about growing old disgracefully, albeit with just enough sauce, mischief and invention to confirm that he's still a proper stand-up, rather than simply a broadcaster keeping his toe dipped in for old time's sake.

Just before she was handed the Billy Connolly trophy, it was Janey Godley who closed the show, though in reality no one could have followed her. Even the Scottish comedy royalty of the Big Yin on video and Elaine C. Smith presenting the award were reduced to supporting cast in the latest chapter in her remarkable recent triumph over adversity.

Like Black, Godley isn't well served by a short spot, when her vivid, detailed stories are boiled down, crammed together and not given sufficient time to take flight. Yet from the moment McCabe brought her on with affectionate words about how she'd fought (almost literally) to get the younger comic stage time, Godley simply couldn't fail. Still, her droll account of how she's managed her treatment for cancer is a textbook example of how to wring humour from a terrible situation without excessive recourse to sympathy.

A standing ovation accompanied her receiving the award. And the Glasgow International Comedy Festival organisers should applaud themselves as well for a show that really felt like a communal event and one that's certain to have established itself now in the calendar.

• The Glasgow International Comedy Festival will return from  March 13 to 31, 2024. 

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Review date: 3 Apr 2023
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson

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