Review – Upfront Comedy, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 4th November 2018

UpfrontHaving basked in the glow of so many happy Screaming Blue Murder nights at the Royal and Derngate, it took us a surprisingly long time to dip our toes into the fun that is the Upfront Comedy shows, set in the perfect intimate atmosphere of the Victorian Royal theatre. Sadly we missed the last one, but we made up for it last Sunday night. The great thing about the Upfront Comedy nights is that you get such a range of audience members, all ages and all ethnicities, and it’s a wonderful melting pot that breaks down barriers by means of comedy.

John SimmitOur host, as usual, was the warm and welcoming John Simmit, who put us at ease with tales of love and affection, Handsworth style. He had a brilliant story about the time when, dressed as Dipsy – for yes, indeed, he did play that particular Teletubby – in Paris, some Smart Alec thought it would be a good idea to give Dipsy a piece of his mind; a typical Rue de Remarques joke really. It sounds as though this gentilhomme was more than a bit surprised when he discovered quite how well Dipsy can take care of himself!

TojuWe hadn’t seen any of the evening’s featured acts before, which is always exciting on a comedy night. First up was Toju, who (apparently) was on Britain’s Got Talent a few years ago. He came out, all guns blazing, with a brilliantly arresting set that challenged everyone and everything! There seemed to be a few almost deliberately miserable people in the front few rows and he did everything he could to make them crack – some he managed, some he didn’t, but the fact that they sat there stony faced against his comedy barrage was hilarious in itself. Toju then turned his attention to the Swiss lady in the front row and to her son, who were very good sports. The row in front of us was completely filled with white people, but with one black guy right in the middle of them. “Blink if they’ve kidnapped you, brother” he exclaimed. Toju is enormous fun, with absolutely no inhibitions, and a perfect way to start an evening of comedy.

Desiree BurchNext up was the only name in the line-up that I recognised, the effervescent Desiree Burch, all the way from LA via South London. She also has hilarity coursing through her veins. I loved her take on labels that might apply to her: she’s proud to be strong, she’s proud to be black, she’s proud to be a woman. But a strong black woman? That means one of two things: “You think you’re gonna get away with that?” or “You think you’re gonna get away with that?” (with menaces). She had lots of brilliant material about sex and fantasies, and a nice observation about how a tattoo can be a turn on – or not. Again, she could have gone on all night, and that would have been fine by us. Great stuff.

John RyanAfter the interval, our next act was John Ryan, of Irish extraction via Hackney. He created a great rapport with the audience, coming across like an Eastenders Mitchell brother but with a degree. A lot of his material came from a warm feeling of inclusivity, showing how we’ve all got much more that unites us than divides us. I really liked his style and he went down very well with the audience.

Drew FraserOur final act came from New York, Drew Fraser. He’s a true wisecracking dude, with plenty of ultra-fast patter and terrific confident delivery. I loved his observations about the trials and tribulations of wearing a Supersized condom, the best way of losing weight (which doesn’t involve the gym) and the considerable difference between vagina and pussy (penis and dick also applies). I’ve seen a few of Mr Fraser’s clips from American TV and I think he’s getting a pretty big reputation out there so it was great to have the chance to see him here in the UK. Oh – and a really charming touch for him to wait outside the theatre as we were all leaving, thanking us for coming – he’s clearly very well brought up.

A terrific night of comedy – and great value too – two and three quarter hours of it for 13 quid, can’t be bad! Looking forward to their next visit. You should come too!

Review – Upfront Comedy Slam, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd February 2018

John SimmitThis was our second visit to one of these Upfront Comedy nights at the Royal and Derngate; last time we enjoyed it so much that we bitterly regretted not having discovered it before! Our MC again was ex-Teletubby John Simmit, the bad boy turned Dipsy because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t for the money. He’s great at striking up an instant rapport with the audience and setting us all at our ease; although he reckoned we were already well set up before he came on. He got us all (literally) into a rhythm with a bit of in-seat dancing, which I’ve not tried before but was thoroughly refreshing.

andy-whiteOur first act was someone we’d seen twice before, both in Screaming Blue Murder and at The Ark, Andy White. He’s a naturally funny man, with a larger than life persona, a slightly dandyish fashion sense and the ability to make an erotic movie out of the soundtrack of the Flintstones in French. He’s one of those guys where, after you’ve spent a few minutes in their company, you genuinely feel happy inside. His material is full of short stories and observations about his marriage and home life, but often with a quirky twist. It was during Mr White’s set that a recurring problem of the evening started – one or two over-enthusiastic and overlubricated ladies in the second row, who felt that by constantly talking back to the comics on stage they were somehow enhancing their act. Wrong. They were a permanent pain in the arse the whole night long.

Barbara NiceMr W responded pretty well to their chat-up lines and they backed down completely for our second act Stockport’s own Barbara Nice, because she really wasn’t what they were there for. We’d never seen Barbara Nice before, but I’d heard good things about her and I tell you, they were an underestimation. Nice by name and by nature, she is a wonderful comic creation, the kind of northern lady you’d chat to over the garden gate or down the Co-op. She surveyed how many of us read Take A Break (not that many), and how many of us hide from friends and relatives in supermarkets (quite a few). Her set was absolutely jam-packed with brilliant material that just pinpointed our funnybone and stuck there, refusing to budge. She ended up teaching us the moves to a horrendous but hilarious dance routine and we were, quite frankly, wetting ourselves. We’d love to see her again.

Gerry KAfter the interval, John Simmit introduced us to the fearlessly funny Gerry K. An instantly likeable East London lad, he has the true gift of the gab and he really shook us up with his vitality and attack. He’s got loads of excellent material about family life; he’s great at expressing inventive and very funny angles on familiar situations. Again that lady in the second row decided she was in with a chance so started the chatback but Mr K was firm but fair and did his best to close her down. We both thought he was terrific and would also like to see him again.

Kane BrownLast act of the evening, and third in a row of comics that we hadn’t seen before, was Kane Brown. Oh my giddy aunt, if anyone can handle himself on stage Mr Brown can. Fantastic stage presence, riptastic material and a supremely confident delivery means you just sit there and don’t stop laughing until everyone’s gone home. Of course, the lady in front had another go and he just shut her up with savage politeness – and this time she really did finally shut up. Just superb. Mr Brown had some friends in the audience he chatted to when we were leaving the auditorium but I felt compelled to interrupt and shake his hand because he was just too good not to. UpfrontWe’re definitely on the hunt for more of his shows.

It may only be early February but that show really raised the bar for live comedy for this year. Absolutely loved it. There’s another Upfront Comedy show coming in April – better get booking now!

Review – Upfront Comedy – Comedy Summerslam, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 2nd June 2017

Upfront ComedyA brand new venture for us – going to see the comedy show promoted by Upfront Comedy, in the Royal Theatre. I know they’ve visited a couple of times in the past, and I thought, shall I? shan’t I? and I didn’t. More fool me, because Mrs Chrisparkle and I enjoyed two and a half hours of consistently fantastic comedy from some amazing purveyors of the comic commodity!

John SimmitIt’s hosted by John Simmit, who’s done many great things but the only question anyone asks him about is “What’s it like playing Dipsy?” He has a very funny routine about being offered the job – and talks about the success of the Teletubbies show with deserved pride. He’s a very welcoming host and if he has a specialist subject, it would be comedy dancing, taking us all back to our childhoods. He noted that we were a “mixed” audience; not something I’d particularly thought about but he felt it might bring its own challenges as the night wore on – I hope those challenges were all good ones. I also loved his observations about the other show on at the Royal and Derngate that night – That’ll Be The Day (Lord and Lady Prosecco were in attendance) – and how the foyers were full of 75-year-olds with Elvis quiffs.

Mickey SharmaOur first act was Mickey Sharma; in fact, his was the name on the line-up that swung it for me, as I’d read about him in Edinburgh and he was on our long list for last year’s shows; but didn’t quite make it to the short list. What a funny man! Moreover, what an extraordinary voice he has. Mrs C was sent into a blissful cocoon of velvety warmth and kept on going on about his timbre, whatever that is. I do hope he makes a lot of money from voiceovers.

There is something slightly challenging, slightly edgy about his stage persona; he’s not just your usual chap down the pub like the other comics in this line-up. He’s more thoughtful, more calculating; and that makes for a great routine as you can never predict where he’s going to go next. I loved his explanation of his first name, and how it fits in with the rest of his family; his slightly awkward relationship with his wife – particularly when she asks him about trying a threesome; and his explorations of sexy dancing are hilarious. Late arrival Nick tried to upstage him; foolish boy. Mr Sharma certainly knows how to handle the heckles. We both thought he was brilliant and would definitely see him again.

Aurie StylaOur next act, and billed as “internet viral sensation” (so why haven’t I heard of him?), was Aurie Styla. Funny name – sounds like a small but vital element of an old hi-fi system. But he’s a funny guy; no doubt about it, he comes out on stage, grabs us by the metaphysical throat and doesn’t let go for the full half hour. He has brilliant material about his strict family upbringing in comparison with the wimpy weakness of today’s parents; his characterisation of his mum “dealing” with him is fantastic. He tells us all about his horrendous trip to Jamaica – and I think I’ve changed my mind about wanting to go there. There was a wonderful faux pas laugh from one of the young ladies in front of us when Mr Styla said Baa Baa Black Sheep was all about the slave trade. When she realised what she’d done the poor girl was mortified. Mr S is a really likeable guy and we really enjoyed his set. I met him in the interval and bought one of his DVDs for £5. He had an offer of two for £10 but I declined his generosity.

Maureen YoungerAfter the aforementioned interval, our next act was Maureen Younger. She’s the only one on the bill whom we’d seen before, at Screaming Blue Murder in the Underground next door four years ago. She’s another really naturally funny person, with plenty of self-deprecating material about her size (formidable) and her preference for the physical over the cerebral. She has a lot of funny things to say about race and sex, in all its shapes and sizes, and she fits into this format like a glove. She gears quite a lot of her material towards the women in the audience – and the women in our audience really appreciated it!

Curtis WalkerOur final act was Curtis Walker; I’ve heard of him, but never seen him; no, we never watched The Real McCoy, sorry. However, it was clear that everyone else in the audience had not only heard of him but adored him – the wave of warmth to greet him was palpable! I’ve no doubt that Mr Walker had a wealth of material up his sleeve but all he had to do was bounce off the audience – and he was hysterical. He met Jermaine, in the front row – and gave us a great visual reminder of why he would have been given that name; he met Lisa, the kick boxer with the older husband (I mean, no! father) (embarrassing, what?) He explained why he was called Curtis – it was his mother’s maiden name. Shortly afterwards, upstaging Nick piped up with the question, was he named after Tony Curtis…? NO! We all said, and Nick got a little shirty after that. Mr W has a warm, natural, but quite mischievous stage presence and he absolutely Upfront-bannerheld us in the palm of his hand.

A sensational night of comedy; we both thought it was outstanding value for money and all the performers were on superbly top form. I hope it’s not long till the next one!