Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 12th October 2018

Screaming Blue MurderAnother Friday night, another sold-out Screaming Blue Murder comedy club night. Last time, our genial host Dan Evans never made it to Northampton as his old jalopy gave up the ghost at Milton Keynes, and Meryl O’Rourke bravely stepped up to the mark. But lightning never strikes twice, etc, so surely he’d be there on time this week….surely…. But a 45-minute delay on the trains meant we were denied the pleasure of Dan’s company until the first interval. I dunno…. beginning to get a complex here.

Joe WellsInstead it fell to opening act and all-round political comedian par excellence, Joe Wells, to act as his own MC warm up before delivering his own 20-minute slot. With Mr Wells, you’re in a very safe pair of hands. We’ve seen him twice in Edinburgh, where you have to queue early to be sure of getting in, such is his word-of-mouth success. Us Northampton comedy crowds aren’t known for our fondness for political comedy, so I did wonder a little how well he would go down. I needn’t have worried. His brilliant political observations, as well as the other gems in his act were as well received as I have ever seen any Northampton audience respond to political comedy. What I love about his material, and his delivery, is the way he swipes the comedic rug from under your feet and sends you hurtling in directions you never foresaw. And hats off to Mr Wells for being complimentary about Northampton. Quite right too.

Dan EvansAfter the first interval Dan finally emerged out of the murkiness that is London Northwestern Railway to give us a slightly belated warm up. He had his hands full with front-row Angie, ebullient and no inhibitions, and they were a pretty good match for each other. There was also Architect Nick with his plans for a million-pound rugby club in Towcester. We weren’t impressed. But we were all aghast at Dan’s tale of the delay at Wolverton station being punctuated by the sight and sound of a guy opposite him in the train clipping his nails; not discreetly into a free newspaper but proudly on to the floor. We all retched.

Susan MurrayNext up was someone we’ve also seen before a few times, Susan Murray – something of a Screaming Blue regular, this was the sixth time we’ve seen her here! She delivers a lot of great material based on accents – as she herself confesses, her Brummie voice isn’t an accent that goes skiing – and there’s a lot of mileage to be gained from her relationship with her strongly Glaswegian parents. She delivered a suitably savage put down to front-row Angie which hit home perfectly. Always very funny and quirky.

Stefano PaoliniOur headline act was someone completely new to us – although he’s been on the circuit for yonks – Stefano Paolini. He truly does have a gift for accents and vocal gymnastics, and we loved his “foreign languages in British regional accents” section, as well as his reminiscences of his interview with the school careers adviser, which were every bit as useless as mine was all those years ago. And he beatboxes – but not just in a show-off way like every other beatboxer, but integrating it into comedy routines which works a treat. He brought the house down and I’d definitely look out for him in the future.

Next Screaming Blue in two weeks’ time. Two questions – will you be there? And will Dan?

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 28th April 2017

Dan EvansIf it feels like it was only last week that they had the last Screaming Blue Murder – you’re right! We hadn’t been able to get to one for ages and then along they all come like the proverbial No. 10 bus. However, this week Dan Evans was back in the hosting saddle, so I knew I was going to be safe unlike last week….! At Friday’s show, Dan’s challenges were provided by (as is often the case) members of the police force in the front row, an ebullient and uninhibited musician chap wearing a hat (it wasn’t raining, indoors or out) and an intimidatingly handsome man who sized golf clubs for a living. I guess someone must. Dan, as ever, on top form, rose to all these challenges and surpassed them.

Susan MurrayOur first act, and one we’ve seen no fewer than four times before at previous Screaming Blues, was Susan Murray. Always great value, and with an enjoyable mix of old and new stuff, she’s absolutely ace at creating really funny material out of her excellent range of regional accents – I particularly loved the Brummy skiing idea. She’s maturing up now, with excellent observations about sharing a bed with a cat, and the emotional torment that is replacing a boiler – having just done the same, Mrs Chrisparkle and I really felt her pain. She built to an inventive musical climax designed for householders bogged down with domestic admin – very clever. She was on great form and went down very well in the audience.

James SherwoodSecond up, and someone we’ve seen twice before, once as a comic and once as a host, was the excellent James Sherwood. I think this was the best we’ve seen him; he was at his most relaxed, so when his opening remarks were completely overshadowed by some nitwit comment from the audience, he completely went with the flow which meant he spent the first five minutes talking, totally at random – but absolutely hilariously – about socks. He’s at his best when, perched aside his keyboard, he reduces song lyrics to the absurd: I particularly enjoyed his version of Sly and the Family Stone’s Family Affair. He had some great material involving sexually transmitted diseases (as you do), including the story of the guy at a clinic who had five hundred sexual partners a year and his somewhat unique discharge. He looks a little like a poor man’s David Mitchell but is probably funnier. Absolutely brilliant set.

Daliso-ChapondaAs if we hadn’t already had a great night, our headline act was the new to us – and absolutely astounding – Daliso Chaponda. Malawi’s greatest export after tobacco, Mr Chaponda has an infectious smile and delivers his thought-provoking and cheeky material at a cracking pace; and Mrs C and I did not stop laughing our heads off for the full half hour. “Five hundred years ago, this would have been an auction” he says, which absolutely nails his whole irreverent but very revealing attitude to comedy. If we’re unhappy at levels of immigration in the UK, he says, it’s our fault because all his history lessons at school in Malawi were about King Henry VIII, so of course he had to come here! He mocks us for being fed up at the prospect of a third general election/referendum in three years, with our revelling in the kind of “gratuitous democracy” that he could only dream of in Malawi. It’s not only political awareness comedy though – as his visual demonstration of enjoying a 69 when you’re a lot shorter than your partner testified. An absolutely superb set of varied comedy that we really didn’t want to end, and he got one of the best receptions I can remember at a Screaming Blue in all the eight years we’ve been coming. Just brilliant – and definitely a contender for January’s Chrisparkle Awards.

Two more Screaming Blues coming up this Spring, and after that you’ll have to wait till Autumn. Why wait? The next one’s in two weeks!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 27th February 2015

Screaming Blue MurderOnce again it was a full house at the Screaming Blue Murder, with Lady Duncansby procuring the last available ticket just a couple of days ago. Regular host Dan Evans had his work cut out to keep order at first, with a number of late arrivals, some of which were rather on the noisy side; some chatty ladies in the front row, some older blokes who carried their years well, a couple who brought their own curry takeaway, a rather vague student from Liverpool University, and, in comparison, the most demure and elegantly well behaved hen party imaginable. But Dan was on excellent form as usual, with an engaging mixture of new and old material that went down a treat. As proof of how good he was, he even sold a few copies of his book.

Susan MurrayThere was a little uncertainty before our first act appeared, because she should have been our second. Our original first was apparently suffering from something icky in the stomach department and couldn’t be prised out of the loo. Nice way of announcing the guests! So we stared off with Susan Murray, a somewhat regular comic here as this was the fourth time we’d seen her! She’s always good for a laugh, with less accent-based material than usual and more about, well, sex. With jokes about vaginas being too big and the positioning of a six-inch tattoo on her thigh, there was more than enough to get your teeth into, so to speak. By bouncing off the Liverpool student, she did quite a lot of scouse jokes, which rather alienated Lady D – pick on any part of the country and you’re bound to offend someone somewhere.

Paul T EyresOur second act, who should have been our first, was Paul T Eyres, who was new to us, a bright, entertaining young chap with lots of good material about class, relationships and kids. I enjoyed his confident delivery and easy style with the audience. A superb performance if he was actually suffering from a dicky tummy. One to watch, methinks.

Markus BirdmanOur headline act was someone we’ve seen twice before, the splendid Markus Birdman. Winner of the Chrisparkle award for Best Screaming Blue Murder Standup in 2013, he has an amazing lightness of touch combined with genuinely fantastic material. There was a fair deal of repetition from his act a couple of years ago, but like New York, it’s so good you can hear it twice. There’s no finer joke to be heard than his one about the “speed of ejaculate”, trust me on this one. Since we last saw him he’s now coping with having a ten-year-old daughter and a marriage breakup, which in typical Birdman fashion becomes the springboard for lots of brilliant observational comedy. I admit it, I’m a fan.

Next show is in two weeks. You’d better book up quickly!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground at the Derngate, Northampton, 17th January 2014

Screaming Blue MurderA New Year means a new year’s regular supply of Screaming Blue Murders at the Derngate, where, for a (relative) pittance, you can have a Friday night fix of three great comic acts, two super intervals and one humdinger of a host. On our recommendation, not only did we also have with us Lady Duncansby and her butler William, but also the Duchess of Dallington together with her Estates Manager ghillie “Mr Brown”. A disappointing show could have led to our being blacklisted by Debretts, so there was a lot at stake.

Dan EvansDan Evans is back hosting, still wearing his lucky pinstripe suit which now has got so old that it has a permanently open fly; cue for some entertaining material about its contents. Dan is still magic at warming up the audience, eliciting dubious job backgrounds from the punters in the front rows, breaking down the barriers and getting us all in the mood. And with some excellent new material too!

Larry DeanFirst up was someone new to us, Larry Dean. A naturally funny guy, Scottish but with a hilarious “Chelsea” English accent when he chose to use it, he was cheeky and engaging and had some great material. He bases some of his act on the fact that he is gay, some of which worked brilliantly – like the possibly less obvious uses for installing Grindr on your phone – but some of which were a bit Neanderthal, like doing physical impersonations of “typical gays”, whatever that might be, and also committing the cardinal sin of using the word “gay” to mean “bad”, “like straight people do”. Errr, not all straight people, Larry. But he was bright and likeable, and on the whole we really enjoyed his set. His linking his sexuality with his parents’ enjoyment of betting was fantastic.

Susan MurraySecond was Susan Murray, whom we have seen twice before and is always good for a laugh regarding dealing with your mother on the phone and funny accents. However, this time round she seemed slightly underprepared – there wasn’t an awful lot of material, it was just general friendly (and amusing, don’t get me wrong) chatting. It felt a little like she was just coasting through this one.

Anthony KingThe headline act was Anthony King who we saw back in 2010, who was ok on that occasion but this time round his act worked really well. He’s a lugubrious character who performs comedy songs with his guitar that have an edge of psychosis to them. He has the kind of persona that makes you suspect he just might gently slaughter you while you’re laughing, given half the chance. Very funny throughout, and despite his quiet laid back delivery you never doubted for a moment that he was in total control.

It’s a great night out, and we could do with a few more people attending. Come on Northampton, where else are you going to get entertainment like this for 12 quid?

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Underground, Derngate, Northampton, 20th January 2012

Screaming Blue MurderA funny thing happened at the Screaming Blue Murder last Friday night, which is no less than you would expect with a great compere, three excellent acts and two alcohol-fuelled intervals. We’ve not been able to attend the last couple of shows so it was with some surprise that Dan Evans, compering, said he was still on the search for “the man who has been writing about him on the internet”. Mrs Chrisparkle’s penny dropped as she shuddered and whispered “keep quiet!” “So where is this Chris Sparkle?” Dan continued. It was The Moment of Outing. “It’s me!” came my voice from the third row. “You? At last I meet my nemesis!” shrieked Dan as his body contorted in a combination of victory and agony. Aaargh, I thought, this could be a very bumpy ride. But there’s no free speech without responsibility, so I faced it head on. I admit, I have been guilty of whingeing about Dan’s repeating the same jokes time and again in this blog, but then not quite as much as Dan is guilty of the afore-mentioned repeatings.

Dan Evans But actually Dan turned this very much to his advantage and was able to frame the compering of the show around my impertinent requirement for fresh material, which very nicely took the mick out of both of us. There was a great moment during one of his sessions when a lady from the front row suggested he did his joke about Luton and the book. A two-pronged attack! In response to which he did a great routine about why doing that joke would not work – and it was very funny. Maybe that should be a regular feature when Dan is compering in future – a request slot? Someone could ask for their favourite Old-Tyme Dan joke. Might go down a storm. As a peace-offering, at the end he gave me a copy of his book, which was very kind. But I had to return it after the show as I already bought a copy over a year ago.

Colin OwensAnyway, to the acts, and they were really great this week. First was Colin Owens, who had very funny insights into bad sex experiences and a nice line in combining this with his progression to baldness; very bright and inclusive, perhaps with just slightly too long a pause between some of his deliveries that made me think “oh no, please don’t lose it, it’s going really well”; but he didn’t, and it did. I loved his observations about having a Bar Mitzvah at Madame Tussauds.

Susan MurraySecond was Susan Murray, who we had seen here before doing a lot of accent-based gags, but who did largely new material (take note!) and handled a heckler very amusingly. Mrs C appreciated her observation that you only have a landline so your mother can ring it. Good stuff, and she kept the act moving really well.

Andrew BirdHeadline act was local lad Andrew Bird. What a discovery! I don’t think any of the comics who have entertained us over the three years we’ve been coming to Screaming Blue Murder have achieved such gold-standard delivery. His timing was immaculate, pacey and flowing but never rushed, giving just the right window to appreciate the now before moving on to the next; his self-confidence meant you never had a moment’s concern for how he would structure the act although this didn’t mean he was in any way big-headed but instead was immensely likeable; and you really identified with him in the comic situations he described, because his observations were so spot-on. Mrs C and I had a prolonged good laugh walking home as we remembered his account of putting the baby in the dishwasher. It’ll have to be a very special performance that snatches this year’s Chrisparkle award from Mr Bird.

So a great night, with a huge and appreciative crowd, slightly weird for me with my unexpected role in the evening’s entertainment, but we’re really looking forward to the next one!

Review – Screaming Blue Murder, Derngate, Northampton, 4th February

I’m sensing there’s going to be a downside to having changed the Screaming Blue Murder nights to a Friday. Yes, it’s nearly always a sell-out now, which is good – and they make loads of sales at the bar, which is also good – but the combination of the two is that we’re starting to hear more heckling nowadays. A heckle is fine if a) it’s deserved and b) it’s funnier than the comedian. Unfortunately the young drinkers of Northampton haven’t quite yet mastered that art.

However, I’m talking non-chronologically. Dan was host again, still effortless at connecting with the audience and getting things off to a relaxed and funny start, but if he does that Travelodge routine again I think I might scream.

Paul KerensaThe first act was Paul Kerensa. He was very good, had nice lines about Cornish incest, was quite mainstream in his subject matter but occasionally trod very near the knuckle, and most impressively, as though he was live on Channel 4 with Davina, he did not swear. I think that he’s actually the first comedian we have seen at Northampton who did not use one swear word. And interestingly, he didn’t come across as staid or untrendy as a result. Good on him!

Susan Murray Second was Susan Murray. She unfortunately got the worst of the heckling but she handled it excellently. She did a lot of material about accents which is always entertaining, but did other stuff too, including Mrs Chrisparkle’s favourite comedy line of the year so far – “My parents never smacked me as a child. Well, maybe the occasional few grams to get me to sleep…”

Andrew O'NeillLast up was Andrew O’Neill, who makes an interesting presence as he was semi “en travestie” and slightly made up but still with a very blokey face. Very inventive and funny material, also in receipt of some heckling but only minor stuff; full of attack and extremely confident, which was just what the club needed for its final act. Enjoyed them all very much.

Don’t think the Derngate’s “Curry and a comic” thing is working well. You pay £6.50 (I think – don’t quote me) for a curry before the show. I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea simply to allow people to pre-order a curry type snack at the bar just like you do with the drinks and then have it at the first interval, even if it means having to extend the interval by five minutes or so. Just a thought.