Review – Tez Ilyas – Vicked, Underground at the Derngate, 5th November 2021

Tez Ilyas LiveThis was another show that we’d booked so long ago that it changed its name in the meantime. Two years elapsed between the initial booking and the actual event! And what was originally Populist became Vicked – although the title is only a serving suggestion of what the show contains – which is Another Evening in the Company of Tez Ilyas Doing his Thing. And a very funny Thing it is.

Tez IlyasTez Ilyas is one of the few performers that I feel comfortable referring to by their first name. Not Mr Ilyas, nor Mr I (which is how I normally refer to comics when I’ve already mentioned their name a few times), but Tez. And that’s because he forms such a sincere connection with his audience that you really feel like you and he are old mates. It’s partly the courtesy that he extends by always coming out on to the stage first for a little chat with us all before introducing his support act; it’s partly the fact that stays behind after the show for a photo and a chat; it’s partly that his delivery is so fluent and genuine that everything he says you believe is true. He refers to us as his Tezbians, which also grants us some familiarity rights. Within a few seconds of coming on stage, he’s brought up two lads from the front row who are from different groups but for all the world look like they’re brothers (and they really did). In that simple act, he brought us all together, united in one purpose, to make a judgment call on these two lads – and we remain united throughout the rest of the show. The audience becomes a very comfortable, safe place, and you just know you’re in for a good time.

Kate LucasAnd yes, we did indeed have an excellent support act in the capable hands (and plectrum) of comedy-musician Kate Lucas, whom we saw at a Screaming Blue Murder a few years ago. She’s like a coiled serpent with her easy, gentle appearance, delicately beautiful voice, and viperous lyrics to her brilliant songs. She sings us songs of acerbity and Schadenfreude, of revenge and malice, and the audience loves her for it. She even gets us to join in a singalong of dubious taste. It’s all very inventive and very funny, and it was great to see her again.

TezAfter the interval, Tez returned to the stage and gave us a good hour-and-three-quarters of top quality material, expertly delivered. This was the fourth time we’ve seen him live – the last time was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 – and he’s truly evolved as a stand-up of immense confidence, linguistic skill and an enviable ability to trade good-hearted banter with anyone and everyone. One minute he hits just the perfect note of self-deprecation, the next he’s on an outrageous attack against someone else and it’s such a cunning blend of humour that you never know what’s coming next. I loved his segment when he played NHS Top Trumps – identifying all the audience members who work for the NHS (there were five) and working out which one most deserved the Thursday Night Minute of Applause. Not only does this allow him to gently tease the audience, and himself, it also opens up the field of political satire, at which Tez excels.

Tez IAnd then, of course, there’s the whole subject of racism, which constantly crops up in his material somehow or another, and he plays it perfectly, using humour not only to show its ridiculousness and cruelty, but also how easy it can be to fall foul of it oneself. He does a wonderful deconstruction of the terms BAME and POC – no matter how politically correct those terms may be, they’re pretty awful. He jests of cultural appropriation when any other ethnic group is involved in terrorism; and he admits to being stumped when it comes to dealing with a cis straight white male who’s neither fat nor ginger. He has a brilliant way of turning prejudice on its head, that not only reveals so much about the human condition but also is just so bloody funny.

There are just a few more dates remaining on this tour – if you’re in any doubt about whether to go – OMA! It’s a humdinger of a show and seventy-two hours later I’m still laughing at it. Fantastic!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 16th February 2018

Screaming Blue MurderIt was a welcome return last Friday to the effervescent Dan Evans hosting another Screaming Blue Murder with three wonderful acts and two delightful intervals. Another packed house – aren’t they all nowadays? – but with a really strange crowd. I think there was a large party that arrived quite late so they couldn’t all sit together; therefore the room was scattered with people who knew each other very well – which was perplexing to some of the comics but comedy gold too – as you will see…

Dan EvansAmongst the crowd were three baby-faced youths on the front row who admitted to being 19 years old, but I’m not so sure; but they were very good sports as almost everyone picked on them at some point. There was also a lady who worked at John Lewis’; Dan got very excited about the prospects for wheedling discounts out of her until he discovered she worked at the warehouse. Dan was on great form as always and got us in the perfect mood for an anarchic night.

James DowdeswellOur first act was James Dowdeswell, whom we’ve seen here three times before, but there’s been a goodly gap since the last time, so his act was fresh as a daisy to us. With an IT geeky face and a certain degree of west country poshness, he delivers a range of very funny and frequently self-deprecating humour, and struck up an excellent rapport with the audience. He has some great stag-do material, and gets a lot of mileage out of his recent engagement and arrangements for his forthcoming nuptuals. All very enjoyable stuff.

And at some point during James’ routine, at the back of the room, and more vocal than was good for him, came the voice of Reg. Reg is a lorry driver. What kind of goods does he transport? White Goods. Cocaine! shouted half the people who knew him. It wasn’t long before Reg was “the supplier” to the whole audience. Nice work if you can get it. Little did we know how Reg would feature later on.

Kate LucasOur second act, and a change to the advertised programme, was Kate Lucas, who was new to us. Where has she been hiding all this time? Kate’s speciality is comedy songs with a twist – a twist of a neck, that is, as she gets so angry during her songs. They’re really funny and inventive – and because she has the voice of an angel and the charm of a Swiss Finishing School Product, her venom is all the more surprising and effective. She has songs that express the disappointment of how ugly a baby can be; a typical argument between husband and wife; and where you can choose to go to Heaven or to Hell. They’re all super-savage and absolutely brilliant. We even joined in. Everybody loved her!

Russell HicksOur headline act, and someone you can always trust to react to the room, was Russell Hicks. The first time I saw him I was disappointed that he went off tangent so much to react to what was going on around him that I felt like I missed out on his act “proper”. Now I know going off on one is his raison de comédie. He was wearing a rather flash sheepskin coat, of which he was clearly proud until someone said he looked like John Motson. Mr Hicks’ American upbringing meant he never got to watch the beloved Motty on Match of the Day, so he insisted on someone Googling his photo for him. One look at the picture and he threw the coat on to the floor in disgust and declared war on us.

But we had Reg as part of our ammunition, who, as I intimated earlier, wasn’t backward in coming forward. Mr Hicks unearthed him from the back of the room, made him swap places with Ravi (the most amenable of the 19 year olds) but then Ravi started kicking off. Mr H was clearly beguiled by a lady in an orange dress and spoke of his admiration for her primary colours when we all shouted back that orange isn’t a primary colour (because you can make if from mix red and yellow of course!) Flummoxed that we all knew our primary colours – but having whipped the room into a frenzy of enjoyment – all Mr H had to do was keep jabbing away at our idiosyncrasies and oddities, and his forty minutes just flew by. As he said at the end, this was one of the absolute weirdest sets he’d done but also one of the funniest. An absolute master at running with whatever the crowd chuck at him, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite so in control.

A genuinely hilarious night’s comedy. Next Screaming Blue is on 9th March. Don’t miss it!