Review – Tez Ilyas, Made in Britain, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 20th May 2017

Made in BritainWe have a specific spot we like to sit for the comedy shows at the Underground, gentle reader. They normally have two banks of chairs – three or four rows at the front, then a gap, then the seats at the back. I like to take the back row of the front bank – and sit on the aisle – that way you’re close enough to the action to feel involved but sufficiently far away not to get roped in. Usually. Imagine my disappointment on entering the Underground for Saturday night’s Tez Ilyas show to discover the front bank of chairs was just one row deep. A front row glistening in glamorous isolation. No chance. We instinctively sat on the front row of the back seats. No one sat in front of us.

Enter Mr Ilyas for his welcoming introduction. I knew what he was going to say. Our seating positions as a group were not acceptable. He said he’d turn his back and count from 1 – 10 in Urdu and when he turned around he expected everyone to have moved one row forward. He did so. And so did we! It was a very nice start to our audience/performer relationship: he delivered, we responded. One thing though – it meant we were catapulted to the front row. Dang my breeches!

Tez-Test-Card-We saw Tez when he did Screaming Blue Murder here last October, when he mistook Northampton for Peterborough (ouch!) and then slagged off our cricket team (double ouch!!) – and it’s fascinating to discover that he remembered those schoolboy errors, as though they keep coming back like a nightmare. I reckon Mr I probably keeps a collection of his faux pas in a box under the stairs and takes them out every so often for a happy reminisce – he strikes me as that kind of guy.

But that’s probably at the heart of why his stand-up is so endearing. He comes across as just a regular guy; no airs or graces, no persona he’s hiding behind – just the real him and as a result you feel as though you really understand him and his life after an hour and a half in his presence. Most other comedians I’ve seen and enjoyed weave imaginary material into their real-life experience to create a funnier version of the truth. But you get the feeling that absolutely everything Mr I says is the truth, and nothing but. Even if it isn’t, and he’s pulling the wool over our eyes, that’s a real gift.

TezI use the word “welcoming” in the second paragraph in two ways; first, it was a general welcome as we’d just arrived, none of us had met and he was being polite and offering the comic equivalent of canapes and cocktails. (No cocktails; alcohol has never passed his lips. Well, almost never…) But his style is also welcoming; he doesn’t ever make you feel uncomfortable, even when he’s talking directly to you (who’s my MP? What am I drinking? What’s my favourite Disney film? Where do I rank ISIS on the scale of despicability? I confessed all) You imagine at home he’d be the most gracious host. He seems genuinely chuffed that we came out to see him.

guz-khanAfter he’d got us at our ease – and we’d played musical chairs – he introduced us to his support act, the fantastic Guz Khan. We’d seen Mr Khan with Johnny Vegas at the Leicester Comedy Festival earlier in the year and he’s a revelation. An ex-teacher, you know with that commanding presence the kids would have sat up and listened (well, I would have). He has brilliant material harking back to his school teaching days; but also really clever edgy observations such as the surprise use for a WhatsApp group and also his unconditional love for all his children. Mrs Chrisparkle and I were genuinely delighted when we realised he was coming on, and he went down a storm. Even if he did say I laughed like Jimmy Savile. (I don’t.)

tez-ilyas-againThe second part of the show was solo Tez, taking us through his life and experiences and opening up a whole new understanding between different racial backgrounds and cultural practices – but underlining that we’re all Made in Britain. He plays with his name; we are his Tezbians, even though at home he is not Tehzeeb; he said it meant the Scourge of Beelzebub or something like that but I Googled it and what he didn’t say is that it’s a girl’s name, so no wonder. He has telling, competitive material about not being mistaken for an Indian – catering industry observations aside. He points out the nonsense (that I’d never considered) that the Jungle Book characters are all voiced with classical western accents (viz. “Shere Khan: How delightful”) – how stupid is that? He talks about his unlikely but ultimately disappointing experience with Tinder and I absolutely get where he’s coming from. And there’s so much more. Primarily you come away with an understanding of how the openly Asian Tez has precisely the same aspirations, foibles and concerns as anyone else – including that tricky subject of how you refer to another race. Personally, I really don’t like the phrase “people of colour” because we’ve all got a colour of sorts, so what the hell does that mean? Tez has his own observations on this and some rather delectably embarrassing examples. But I’m not going to tell you about all his material because a) I can’t remember it, b) it’s not mine to tell and c) it’ll ruin it for the rest of you. Trust me though that the time flies by.

Very likeable, very funny and with instantly recognisable observations about how we all rub along together – or not. Truly the comedy of revelation; you may well come out of this show a different person from the one who went in, and there is no finer compliment I can pay to a performer! There are only a few more dates left in his tour but he’s got a new show coming up in Edinburgh this summer and I’m pretty sure we’ll be catching it. Highly recommended!

Review – Just The Tonic Comedy Club with Johnny Vegas, Leicester Comedy Festival, Hansom Hall, Leicester, 25th February 2017

johnny-vegasFor our final splurge on Comedy Saturday we thought we’d go for broke and see Johnny Vegas fronting a Comedy Club special, with him as the compere and three or four acts all doing their own thing. None of us had ever seen Johnny Vegas live before and didn’t know quite what to expect. I’d seen him on TV of course – guesting on panel shows, being one of the best things about Benidorm, and playing a surprisingly effective self-combustible Krook in the BBC’s Bleak House 12 years ago. I don’t think I was prepared for someone so eloquent, creative, unpredictable and thoroughly naughty as he proved himself to be on Saturday night!

kevin-dHe told us that he’d already done an earlier show – not compering but proper stand-up – which had gone off at a tangent because of one particular audience member, but which hadn’t really gone well because the audience didn’t come with him on his flights of fancy. That must be a really awkward situation; because just ten minutes in the company of Mr Vegas tells you that flights of fancy are the order of the day, and any pre-prepared material is probably there just as a backup if all else fails. He’d barely been on a few seconds when he started picking his way through the front row looking for suitable quarry – and there were two guys. The first guy started to bat back the questions in that semi-confident, taciturn but I can handle this way; and then he caught sight of his mate. 99% of the audience didn’t get a look at this guy because we were all sitting behind him. But he obviously appealed to Mr Vegas’ sense of nurturing the oppressed, because this guy had obviously allowed himself to grow the most appalling, all-over-the-place apology for a beard, so that he looked a disgrace and Mr Vegas was not going to let him get away with it.

guz-khanWhilst this was not Mr Vegas’ only comic tack of the evening, everything did seem to revolve around Useless Beardy Guy. There was no end to the gentle humiliation heading his way during the course of the night, which grew in complexity and status as Mr Vegas ended up encouraging a member of the audience – a rather mouthy lady (perhaps not inappropriately) – to (and I quote) w*nk him off for £500. Others, not all of them with female voices, attempted to undercut this offer, but Mr Vegas wasn’t holding a Dutch Auction. After the next act, the original volunteer had slumped forward in her seat in a paralytic stupor** but Mr Vegas had made an onstage promise that the w*nking would take place. Naturally troubled by this, it culminated in Mr Vegas holding an uncomfortable phone call with his late-night lawyer, where he was concerned that he might now be contractually obliged to cause Beardy Guy to climax in his (Mr Vegas’) hand, in a council-run property (and he admitted sotto voce that he didn’t really want to) and would he need a licence for this? The whole thing was absolutely hilarious and I was shaking with laughter.

paul-mccaffreyIn amongst all that shenanigans Johnny Vegas introduced three special guests, all of whom were on absolutely top form. First up was Kevin Dewsbury, whom we have seen many times before, most recently about four hours earlier as the TV chef-cum-walking disaster in Kev’s Komedy Kitchen. Mr Dewsbury took us through his embarrassing St Patrick’s Day moment and his marvellous routine about enunciating foreign words perfectly – I’m so guilty of that myself. He had a whole load of new material as well, perfectly suiting his matey, blokey persona and he got a great reception from the audience. Our second guest was new to us, Guz Khan, still a teacher until two years ago. He is a real find, with a superbly confident stage presence (I bet his kids paid attention to his lessons) and great material that didn’t shy away from the tough subjects like ISIS and Morning Assembly. He absolutely aced the crowd. Our final act, also new to us, was Paul McCaffrey, with some great observations on the wisdom of the fitness guru who recommends replacing chocolate with raw veg, and, whilst on holiday, eschewing licking shots from a nymphette’s belly button in Ibiza in preference to playing cards on the balcony with the wife (“after all, we went to the pub last night…”)

heres-johnnyBut it really was Mr Vegas’ night. He has such a quick mind and the ability to winkle something humorously ridiculous from the most banal of situations. He’d have you believe he was raising money for some spurious charity, or that he needed to quickly nip backstage to check he hadn’t left a camp stove on whilst leaving Useless Beardy Guy singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for our amusement. He created a wonderful visual image of applying his backside to the TV screen during This Morning so that it looked like Piers Morgan was rimming him; and he had a battle with his braces, before the third act, causing slowly descending trousers, from which he produced tons of hilarious physical comedy. The next morning all six of us kept on remembering varied elements of his reckless night’s entertainment; it was officially fabulous. As was our entire Leicester Comedy Festival experience, and we’re hoping to make it an annual event, when we all return and throw ourselves at the festival for an entire weekend. Here’s to 2018!

**She said she was a teacher so Mr Vegas wondered if it was the SATs and not the alcohol that had sent her off to sleep.

P. S. I discovered later that Mr Vegas doesn’t really have a late-night lawyer with whom he can discuss such delicate topics – it was Kevin Dewsbury on the other end of the phone. I’m embarrassed to say though that it didn’t occur to me that this was a stunt; if anyone is going to have resort to a late-night Comedy Lawyers 4U contact it would be Johnny Vegas. He must need this kind of advice all the time.

P. P. S. The show started at 8.30pm and was due to finish at 10.30pm. Shortly before midnight you could see the promoter agitatedly standing near the stage trying to get Johnny Vegas’ attention so that he would wrap it all up. I did tell you he was unpredictable.