Review – Pick of the Fest, Leicester Comedy Festival, Curve Studio, Leicester, 10th February 2017

leicester-comedy-festival-logoI think we can all agree that festivals are fun. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Whether it’s something massive like Edinburgh, or something tiny like the Northampton Flash Festival, the idea is that you go and see shows that may be quite short (so you can see lots in a day), financed on a shoestring, possibly for low ticket prices, at no frills venues. We’d only dipped our toe into the Leicester Comedy Festival once before, three years ago when we were amongst a lucky few to see Kevin Dewsbury’s final outing (no pun intended) of his one man show Out Now, in a back room at the Belmont Hotel. For me that was what “festival” was all about – intimate and informal, with “backstage” just as clearly visible as “stage”.

And I wonder if that’s why last Friday’s Pick of the Fest show at the Leicester Curve Studio didn’t quite work for me as a whole. We’ve seen several productions at the Studio and I’ve always really liked it as a venue – especially when we sit in the front row, because you really feel at the heart of the action. But for this show we were seated in row I (no idea why we were so far back because I’m sure I booked the tickets on the first day they became available), and the stage seemed an awfully long way away (even though it wasn’t), and that comedy club atmosphere just didn’t reach as far back as our row. Perhaps the staging was too formal, too theatre-y, and insufficiently festival-y. It just didn’t feel very relaxed.

carly-smallmanThis is one of those “compilation” shows when a number of performers come along and do some material as a promotion for their own shows on elsewhere at the festival. It’s a tried and tested formula which works well – especially with our favourite Edinburgh comedy ritual, Spank. Our host was the ebullient Carly Smallman, whom we have seen many times before and is always good value. She excels at getting to know the front few rows and poking kindly fun at their weird little ways – never cruel, unless it’s against herself, when she can indulge in devastating self-deprecation. Carly has two more shows in the festival coming up on the 17th February and the 26th February.

elf-lyons-2Our first act was someone completely new to us – Elf Lyons. She comes across as a posh girl obsessed with how she interacts with her even posher mother, who, I think we can all agree, sounds a bit of a nightmare. I enjoyed her act and she had lots of good material, although I confess I didn’t always catch all the punchlines – because I was sitting too far away, I expect. She gave us twenty minutes or so of neurotic insecurities and built up a nice rapport with the audience. Her show, Pelican, was on later that night, so if you missed it, you missed it. However, you can see what other shows she’s doing here.

paul-sinhaOur next act was an old favourite – and I hope he’ll forgive the use of the word “old”. It’s Paul Sinha, whom we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder shows before and he’s always a joy. I’d forgotten quite how dour and laconic his delivery can be; it’s almost as though the backstory to every line he says is “I know I’m a failure, but I’m surviving nonetheless”. He tells of the trials and tribulations of being a gay British Asian man who doesn’t bake, and how thrilled his parents were when he gave up his medical career to follow comedy. His material is both funny and telling in the way it challenges preconceptions and stereotypes. Of course, he has a lot to say about his appearances on TV’s The Chase; but I preferred his general observations of life, including discovering the best App to meet Asian men, and his alarming but hilarious account of being out on the loose in Barnsley. He’s a top class comic and he has a new work in progress show at the festival on Saturday 18th February.

Dane BaptisteIf Paul Sinha’s an old favourite, our next act, after the interval, was a new favourite – Dane Baptiste, whose Reasonable Doubts show we saw last year and really loved. I’m completely taken in by his slightly reserved, slightly authoritarian, slightly controlling style; the emphasis of his act is on quiet observation and making ridiculous contrasts, like when he is jealous of girls for having “gay best friends”, and wishes he could have a “lesbian best friend” as well. He, too, can make you challenge yourself on your preconceptions, and his humour also appeals to your own sense of intelligence – which it’s always nice to recognise. I can’t recall many of the ins and outs of his routine, I just let them wash over me. I’m sure he’s going to be a really big star one day. His Work in Progress show took place last Saturday, but he’s doing many more gigs over the next few weeks as you can see here.

Josh HowieOur final act is someone we’ve seen twice at Screaming Blue Murder clubs and both times I’m afraid I can’t pretend to have enjoyed his act much. This is Josh Howie – and there’s something about him that brings out the politically correct in me, as I bridle at his material that challenges the PC brigade. So if you like your comedy un-PC, you’ll probably love him. In fact, I was enjoying his routine (up to a point) until he started his material about hoping that his two-year-old son won’t turn out to be gay. And if he is gay, he’ll tell him how it’s particularly wrong to be a bottom. In fact, he’ll watch porn videos with him in order to point out which sex practices and roles are acceptable, and which aren’t. I know this is a ridiculous subject, and one which he hopes will be funny; and, to be honest, I wish I liked him more, but I found him borderline homophobic and, anyway, I just don’t get humour that hates people. His solo show was on the previous night, so again if you want to catch him, he still has some dates elsewhere on his UK tour.

So something of a mixed bag for our first venture into this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival, but I have very high hopes for the four shows we’re still to see… watch this space!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 4th November 2016

Screaming Blue MurderBack again to the Underground at the Derngate for yet another fun-filled night of stand-uppers at the Screaming Blue Murder club. Every so often, our usual host Dan finds something else to do on an autumnal Friday night and so we have a stand-in host. According to the website it was going to be the excellent Andrew Bird, but instead we had the also excellent Carly Smallman! We’ve seen Ms Smallman a few times before; on the last occasion she caused something of a stir when she encouraged our friend HRH The Crown Prince of Bedford to go out with one of the girls in the front row, and they got offended when he refused. Well he is gay after all.

Carly SmallmanThis time she was once again delving deep into the relationships in the front rows. She got into conversation with Farmer Tristan, who met his wife when she came to shove her hand up one of his sheep’s bottoms. Allegedly she’s a vet. Carly also discovered that one of the girls in the front row worked in mental health with children – comedy gold, as she pointed out, not. At least she could always fall back on her impersonations of penises – which she did very well. In fact, she was absolutely great and we both really enjoyed her MCing throughout the night. She really kept the energy and enthusiasm up and was a most excellent replacement for Dan!

Stephen BaileyOur first act was Stephen Bailey, whom we saw earlier this year as the support act for Katherine Ryan. Now here’s a comic who hits the ground running. With his reasonably outrageous camp style, he’s impossible not to like and his rapport with the audience is just instant and winning. It wasn’t long before he was making Sam, the front row policeman, squirm with embarrassment. As before, he has lots of scurrilous material regarding dating websites; his infamously bad impression of a straight man; and numerous, off the cuff jokes about anything to do with sex that pops into his head. He’s a complete star – and had the full house in hysterics. Absolutely brilliant.

Fern BradySecond up was Fern Brady, whom we have seen here once before; she still has that slightly laconic style that takes a little bit of getting used to, particularly after the high energy of Mr Bailey and Ms Smallman. But her material is great and her observations are spot on. She has a very nice sense of self-deprecation, and a wickedly funny understanding of how best to market herself on a dating website. She went down really well.

gordon-southernFinal act was someone new to us – Gordon Southern. A brilliantly funny guy who again struck up an instant rapport with the audience and whose act developed into a nostalgia trip where the older members of the audience look back at those funny things we used to do in the good old days and the youngsters in the audience haven’t a clue what we’re talking about. All this is interspersed with nonsensical electronic jingles from his keyboard – fun facts. We both thought he was outstanding and his act seemed to fly by.

One of those glorious Screaming Blue nights where no one put a foot wrong and it was wall to wall laughter for two and a half hours. Sadly, we can’t make the final SBM of the year in two weeks’ time – but maybe you can?

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 9th October 2015

Screaming Blue MurderBack again at the Derngate for another lively line-up of comedians at the Screaming Blue Murder night. A very full audience, which is great news for everyone; and we were accompanied by HRH the Crown Prince of Bedford who has a penchant for sitting in the front row at comedy gigs. For some reason we’re fine with front row with Edinburgh comedy stand-ups, but at Screaming Blue we feel somewhat…exposed. So we compromised – second row. I think that’s fair.

Dan EvansOur host again was the inestimable Dan Evans, and it was something of a shock to see him out of uniform – I trust standards aren’t slipping. Mind you, how anyone could wear a suit in that sauna beats me. He got his usual good value out of the front row, which this time featured two lads who admitted to being 17 so that dad could reasonably buy them a pint, but from the look of them I’d have been surprised if one of them was barely 14 – cue lots of inappropriate masturbation gags that hit home with them with all too telling accuracy.

Jarlath ReganOur first act was Jarlath Regan, new to us, and I expect new to the venue too, as he cursed himself for the schoolboy error of wearing a warm woolly jumper beneath those bright glamorous lights. He has a marvellous, confident, gentle pace of delivery and some excellent material. We particularly liked his routine about talking to your printer as though it were a delinquent member of staff – I think Mrs Chrisparkle might use some of those lines at work. He also offers a useful self-help test to see if you’re part-Irish, even if you know you’re not. If you answered yes to any of the questions – you’re part-Irish. I answered yes to them all. A very funny start.

Carly SmallmanOur second act, and a replacement to the advertised programme, was Carly Smallman, whom we have seen twice before and who always delivers a sharp, punchy routine, mainly about sex. This time she concentrated on the internet dating side of sex, particularly as there was a clearly sex-starved woman at the back who regarded dickpics as an honourable stage in the quest for matrimony. At one point Carly challenged HRH to chat up a lovely young lady in the front row, who looked decidedly put out when he declined; however, once Carly had established that he does indeed bat for the other team, the young lady looked decidedly relieved. When we last saw her, Carly gave us a song about meeting the boyfriend’s parents for the first time; this time she sang us a song about finding out he was gay, so I’m guessing the wedding’s off. A very funny and pacey routine.

Paddy LennoxOur headline act was someone else we’d seen before, though as a compere not a comic per se, Paddy Lennox. He really kept the energy up with some cracking material about class, relationships… and cats and dogs. He did a survey of the audience to find out how many men knew what a pelvic floor was – no surprise at our general ignorance, but at least using the word “fanny” a lot delighted the two lads at the front. All in all, a first rate set.

One of those brilliant occasions were all four of our entertainers were on top form and tapped precisely into the kind of things the audience wanted to hear. A great night! Looking forward to the next!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, 11th April 2014

Screaming Blue MurderIt’s always great to see a packed house at our beloved comedy club nights here at the Derngate in Northampton, but sometimes things can just a tiny bit out of hand. I could foresee this at the bar before the show started as I was getting the drinks in for Mrs Chrisparkle, Lady Duncansby, her butler William, her lady’s maid the Belle of Great Billing, and the Duchess of Dallington – just a sweet sherry and five straws. As I was being served, a group of (already quite boisterous) guys came in and asked if they could set up a tab. “They’re planning a good night” I thought to myself. Sadly for them, tabs weren’t available, and they advised the bar staff that, in that case, it would make it very hard work for them throughout the evening with all the drinks they were planning to buy. Anyway, I gave it no more thought.

Dan EvansUntil, that is, the chattering and general noise level from the back of the room made it hard for us to hear the ever effervescent Dan Evans getting procedures underway. “I hope those drunks shut up” I confided to Mrs C. They did for a bit – and then they didn’t again. Compere Dan manfully gave us his usual cheeky welcome and great badinage with the front rows and a nice blend of old and new material, some of which the people at the back listened to. Dan noted that the audience was very blokey this week – women seemed to be in reasonably short supply. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Anyway, for those who paid attention to Dan – he was as masterful as usual.

Carly SmallmanThen it was time for our three acts. First on was Carly Smallman who we enjoyed very much last time we saw her. She comes across as a very bright, happy, friendly kind of girl, who did a lot of “I’ve finally got a boyfriend” material, which works very well with her slightly self-deprecating image. She did struggle against the noisy blokes at the back though. She gave as good as she got (much better actually) but they did their damnedest to make her inaudible – and if you’ve seen Carly before you’ll know that’s quite a challenge. Nevertheless I really enjoyed her song about meeting the boyfriend’s parents for the first time – that’s the kind of thing that can bring back squirmy memories for many. And there was some fun banter between her and some guys in the front row whom she clearly fancied, but they were gay and so she realised was working overtime for little gain.

Russell HicksSecond up was a change to the published programme – Russell Hicks. Mr Hicks was new to us but what a discovery! I do like it when a comic has the guts to do away with what they’ve prepared and just go with the flow – and as our flow was generally all over the place, he just went with it and was amazing. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cope with everything an audience threw at him quite as well as he did. People from Crick, sarcastic applauders, a man with a ZZ Top beard, and Frank in the front row trying to get a word in edgeways, he gave them all just the funniest exchanges which did no end of good to smooth out the ruffled atmosphere caused by the noisy drunken lads. If anything, his style and approachable persona required us as an audience to “up” our creative game to match his parry-ripostes. He comes across as a delightfully laconic everyman figure, with whom you can really identify. We loved him and definitely want him back – whether it’s to do more of his usual act or just argue the toss with the audience, we don’t mind!

Pete CainOur headline act was Pete Cain, who I feared at first might be a bit fascist, and I thought I wasn’t going to be to my taste; but then he turned out to have a brilliant routine about how to improve the UK. No matter your politics, he gave us all a hilarious lecture on where the country has gone wrong and where we should concentrate our efforts on putting it right again. Basically, we’re all going to have to leave and be let back in one by one if we merit it. Who would be in and who out of his new improved UK? You have to see his act. He also had some great material ridiculing those posh people where he lives in Richmond who talk French in their local French patisserie – imagine a Greggs in the Dordogne – “gorra pasty m’sieur?” Very funny indeed; and he figuratively kept running with the baton of comic momentum that Russell Hicks had handed him.

So despite the tedium of the behaviour of some of our fellow audience members, this actually ended up being one of the best Screaming Blues ever. Can’t wait for the next one!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Derngate, Northampton, 19th October 2012

Dan EvansA full house at the Underground for this week’s Screaming Blue Murder – that’s what we like to see! There’s nothing like lots of people laughing to make the humour even more infectious. Dan Evans was once again our compere and he did his usual excellent job of comic meet and greet, including dealing with a rather frosty lady in the front row who would clearly not be trifled with. He’s still having a crise de conscience with the new material, which created a lively encounter with a guy at the back who pleaded with him not to do his old stuff again. I got a name check in that little contretemps – to think that I might have spurred Dan on to write some new stuff!

Andrew WattsDan promised three great acts and two marvellous intervals and he did not disappoint. Our first act was Andrew Watts, new to us, who has a rather entertaining persona of an older, slightly posher, very unladdish gentleman, and who bestows his advice to us all about dealing with women. Very funny material, with nice use of cricketing imagery for batting away difficult questions, and I loved his stuff about being asked to give his girlfriend a mediocre night in bed; definitely worth catching his act.

Carly SmallmanNext up was Carly Smallman, again an act we hadn’t seen before – a girl with a guitar, which is almost always a winning formula for Mrs Chrisparkle and me. She had some good near the knuckle songs, starting with her brotherly incest song that Mrs C and I thought was brilliant but Lady Duncansby, also in attendance, thought was the height of bad taste. It was an entertaining act about being both a slut and unsuccessful with boys, and she had some very good audience interaction with Carl at the back, to whom she directed her amorous attentions. Again, a very funny act.

Nick WiltyHeadline act was Nick Wilty, who we had seen about 18 months ago, whose material involves lots of fast-paced one-liners, many of which were very clever indeed. He bases a lot of the act on his observations during a considerable amount of world travel and is very funny in a sarf Lahndahn sort of way; in many respects he’s the antithesis to Andrew Watts. The whole programme was a very successful combination of comics; they were all sufficiently different to make each one stand out in their own way. Book early for the next show!