Over the past couple of months my pal the Squire of Sidcup and I have attended three comedy nights in various locations round London. I probably should have reviewed them individually earlier, but for some weird reason I haven’t found them that easy to write about. Was it the perplexity of the venues? The quality of the comedy? The level of alcohol consumed? I couldn’t possibly comment.
Our first event was on 4th December last year when we went to the Rose and Crown in Kentish Town, home of the Pegasus Comedy Club. The Rose and Crown is a rather nice pub and the comedy club is held in its basement. It doesn’t seat many people, and we were quite surprised to be two of about fifteen people in attendance – I thought that was quite good for a little place and for a Monday night of comics giving us some Work In Progress sessions. What we were most surprised to discover was that of those fifteen people we were the only ones not appearing on stage! So in fact it was a cast of thirteen each doing about five minutes’ material to an audience of two. Still, it was free to get in, so I’m certainly not complaining.
One consequence of that is that the host, Richard, didn’t always make the names of all the performers clear, as they were basically all friends together. As a result, I don’t have many of the names to hand. Two of the performers – and probably the two with the best delivery and material – were comics I had seen before (the Squire didn’t know any of them at all.) James Loveridge, of Edinburgh Spank (you love it!) fame, had some excellent new stuff about spending time with his fiancée; and Darren Walsh (whom Mrs Chrisparkle and I had also seen in Edinburgh) had another punful bundle of one-liners that made his five minutes fly by. We’re seeing him at the Leicester Comedy Festival next month and the omens are looking good.
There was one other comic who was new to me but who impressed – Alex Martini; a naturally very funny man with a very engaging personality. Of the rest, there were plenty who raised a number of smiles and only one who was absolutely dire.
Fast forward through the Christmas period and the Squire and I had another foray in the world of London Comedy, this time at the Top Secret Club in Drury Lane on 16th January. I could give you more information as to where it is, but then I’d have to kill you and I don’t want to risk losing my readership. Another basement affair, but this time in a room that grows and grows the more people arrive. The Squire and I sat in the front row and paid the penalty with some joshing from the excellent compere, Nico Yearwood, and also one of the comics, Leo Kearse, who challenged me to think of my chat-up tactics; as I said on the night, but it’s been so long… We also enjoyed Stephen Carlin, who had good material but lacked a little warmth, I felt; the amazing Russell Hicks, who just went off on a tangent as he always does, with fantastic consequences; and headliner Tim Renkow, who brilliantly converts his cerebral palsy into comedy gold, and if you think that sounds inappropriate, well, you obviously haven’t seen his act. A very comfortable and enjoyable venue, and a really great show. Entry was only £1, but getting out was more expensive.
Then last night the Squire and I met up with his beloved, the Wise Woman of Wembley, and, after a dreadful meal at Café Rouge (they should be ashamed of themselves) we hit the 99 Club at the Ruby Blue, just off Leicester Square. Instead of descending into a bunker we ascended up the stairs into a bright and pizzazzy bar area, with a comedy room off to the left. A rather strange set up, because it was very wide and very shallow, probably only about five rows deep but extending way out to the side, where I’m sure you would feel thoroughly distanced from the comedy vibe.
Comedically, this was a game of two halves, as we were lulled into a false sense of security by our excellent compere Tom Webb, whose welcome is genial and who plays off the audience really well. He established, for example, that Trev, who was celebrating his 55th birthday, who was provocatively seated in the front row, was an Elvis Impersonator by trade. That was bold. Having set us up nicely, Mr Webb introduced first act, Mike Gunn, and I’m afraid we all agreed that he didn’t tickle our funnybones at all. A few uncomfortable silences and half-hearted responses suggested we weren’t the only ones; although I sensed there was a language problem in the audience – one of the downsides of a comedy club in a very touristy area is that you will have a number of punters for whom English is not their first language and who don’t always get the nuances. Never mind, we knew that the excellent Athena Kugblenu, who was brilliant when we saw her at the Ark, would lift the mood. But no, she too struggled to get us difficult crowd to raise a smile.
I was beginning to feel guilty at having asked my friends out to see this disappointing show. Fortunately our headline act was the National Treasure-In-Waiting, Dane Baptiste. I’ve seen Monsieur Baptiste a few times, including his Gold Oil Drugs show in Edinburgh last summer, which he is still touring – and I was delighted to see that it was all new material last night. He smashed it out of court, to use the vernacular, and went down a storm. As an encore, Tom Webb got Trev to get up and do an Elvis playout and the good chap obliged, so more power to his elbow. But I didn’t feel that the layout worked at all for this little stage area and at £9 a ticket plus booking fee, for what was only a little over an hour-and-a-half’s show, (and distinctly London prices for the drinks) this was the most expensive of the three comedy nights.
I’m sure the Squire and I will do this again, and it’s fascinating to see the variety of comedy venues available in the capital. Even if some acts flop and others just aren’t your cup of tea, live comedy is a thing of beauty to be nurtured and cherished. If you haven’t tried it before, you really should!