2012 in Review

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2012, what a year for stuff happening. The Jubilee – went down well. The Olympics – medals and lycra, lovely stuff. If you like ‘Youtube sensations’ there were plenty of them, I can think of at least…three. But let’s get to it, the thing everyone (?) was talking about, what happened to The Broken Bones in 2012? You may have noticed this blog has been lying dormant for some time. Why? Well, it’s a problem that breaks down into several small, crumbly, easily-choked-on pieces.

Employment is kind of a biggy. My current working situation doesn’t allow as much time for seeing and reviewing comedy and this in turn bleeds into the tiny matter of ‘inspiration’. Oh behold the tortured artiste, but sadly it is difficult to keep motivated, wanting to write and/or pitch ideas, when the debates around comedy that appear in the media are so routinely repeated and fixated on issues that only serve to bring out trolls. Why aren’t there more women in comedy? Are women even funny? Is comedy too cruel? Regardless of the discussion someone will quote Stewart Lee, someone will use the expression ‘…as funny as cancer!’ and everyone will go home looking totally stupid. It’s not that the debates lack validity (though doubting ‘the funniness’ of women in 2012 is a pretty depressing state of affairs) but they’re trotted out by certain papers with such regularity (and yet with such little thought behind them) that the focus falls away from the issues.

But let’s pull back from full-on Peter Finch (or should that be Glenn Cullen?) meltdown because recently two things happened that made me reassess. One is that I sat down and re-listened to one of my all time favourite comedy albums. The other was going out to see a night of live comedy, not to review but to simply enjoy with friends.

The album was Patton Oswalt’s Werewolves and Lollipops, to this day one of the most utterly faultless pieces of recorded comedy of the last 10 years (but more on that later). The night was put on by Knock2Bag, where I spent an evening watching fast-rising stars like Pat Cahill, stupendous character comedy from ‘Jenny Fawcett’ and Jamie Demetriou and a riotous set from, the now award-winning, Cardinal Burns.

Over the space of one weekend I was reminded of what I’d missed and what I enjoyed about comedy, the things that made me thankful rather than frustrated (so do accept my apologies for paragraph’s 1 and 2). I love comedy too much to simply forget all about it and chalk this blog up as something I ‘just stopped doing’. There is simply too much to ignore.

Stand-up is in rude-health and none are ruder than Nick Helm, who is cannonball-ing into household name territory at a frightening rate. With any luck David Earl will soon be following suit and another long-time blog favourite, Doctor Brown, won Best Comedy Show at Edinburgh in 2012. On top of that there are the likes of Matt Rees, David Trent and Mae Martin, imaginative, exciting and all making it look effortless, they’re the next batch of future stars deserving of your love, adulation and money (or a Twitter follow, whatever’s easiest).

One of the must-see performances of the year came from Tig Notaro. Her brutally honest set, performed shortly after a stage-two cancer diagnosis, became one of comedy’s most-talked about and inspiring moments of 2012. The recording was initially released through the website of her friend Louis CK and can now be downloaded at a very reasonable price via iTunes, but as a taster, here’s a previous Notaro set:

On television we got strong returns from Fresh Meat, 2012 and a seriously sharp final series of The Thick of It. Sky continued its quest to make us forget the fact we were supposed to detest their proprietors with, among others, new Alan Partridge and the show everyone (?) is talking about, Girls. Speaking of must-see imports, BBC 4 gave us Lilyhammer and in the New Year will begin screening the much-loved Parks and Recreation (even if it does have that status because most people have already streamed/downloaded it). Speaking of which, there’s a pretty similar story with the FX who have decided now’s the time to air Louie in the UK, nearly 3 years after it begun in the States. Keep up television! But that’s a minor quibble, look, even BBC3 pulled out some decent fair with Cuckoo, another series of Him and Her and the surprisingly enjoyable hidden-camera show Impractical Jokers.

Meanwhile the year on the big screen ended with a real treat for UK comedy fans as Sightseers rambled into cinemas and became a very unlikely yet very enjoyable hit. Written by and starring small screen comedy mainstays Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, directed by the excellent Ben Wheatley plus some involvement from Edgar Wright, this brutal low-budget wonder made a hefty dent (or three) in the mainstream’s cranium. It also featured turns from various names and faces from almost every UK comedy of the last 10 years including Richard Glover from sketch godfathers Pros From Dover and even man-of-a-thousand-comedies, cult legend Tony Way. It was sordid, surreal and sick but made me laugh more than almost anything else I saw in the cinema this year.

So that was 2012. What’s to come in 2013? Absolutely loads but as far as the blog is concerned I will be rethinking the content and the regularity with which I post. Posting once every six months is pretty shoddy but posting several things a week just isn’t possible. Instead I want to use the blog to focus more on features and more retrospective pieces, starting with my old fave Werewolves and Lollipops, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

2013 – let’s do this.

Thanks for reading.

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Hannibal Buress at Soho Theatre

Accolades and endorsements are much sought-after commodities in comedy and right now there is one person who’s hogging the lot. That person is Hannibal Buress. He’s been heralded as a future leading light by some of comedy’s biggest names – Louis CK, Tracey Morgan and Chris Rock are all fans. He also possesses a short but sweet list of well extolled writing credits, having worked on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. On top of this, it was announced late last year he was developing his own sitcom project with Superbad’s Jonah Hill. But while his superstar support and writing may be second-to-none, how will he fare when he steps on stage at the Soho Theatre? Perhaps unsurprisingly, he does pretty damn well.

In London with his first UK shows since his ‘Best Newcomer’ nominated run at Edinburgh in 2011, he makes an interesting start. Opening with some quick gags about the incompetence of British police before segueing into a routine on air travel is usually to be left in the compartment above your seat marked ‘American-comic-abroad material’ (Use Only In Case Of Emergency). However Buress is able to build a story and anecdotalise in a way that many can only dream of and it’s a quality that stands out throughout the evening.

There’s certainly no great plot, theme or message to his stand-up, just a collection of simple tales well told. What he has in his favour is a chilled-out attitude that belies some meticulously crafted material. On paper they don’t look like topics that are going to set the night on fire – the clichéd things that people say, trying to get a girl he meets in Edinburgh back to his apartment, a J-walking incident in Montreal. There are comics who would take this potentially lumpy subject matter and serve it up cold, but Buress can spark it into life and create something really captivating, seemingly possessed by the ever-questioning slacker spirit of Mitch Hedberg.

But it can’t possibly be all so perfect, can it? Well, occasionally he falls back on material from his 2010 album My Name Is Hannibal. Not a grand criticism – it’s excellent stuff and doesn’t disappoint – but those who have been following his career, especially since that album marked him out as a name to watch, will have been pretty familiar with his pieces on YouPorn and the fact he shares his first name with a very famous, fictional serial killer.

He’s certainly a different proposition to his major name cheerleaders and his delivery and demeanour are in no way as sharp as some of his contemporaries like Aziz Ansari. This is a man who has perfected his writing and lets the delivery just go with the flow. Some comics are rightly lauded for making much of their material seem totally improvised. Buress isn’t much different, only his skill is making us feel like he’s so laid-back that he doesn’t really care – he makes it look like an art form. However his audiences certainly do care and he can add tonight’s crowd to his ever-growing army of fans. Whether it’s as a writer or performer his name’s going to be known for a long time to come, and for all the right reasons.

(Originally published on spoonfed.co.uk)

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Musical Comedy Awards 2012 Final

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Musical comedy is a style that can flit from the inspired to the mundane in the tinkle of an ivory, making it being very much a love-hate thing, a cliché that’s as equally well-worn as many a comedy song. For some, musical comedy is treasured, the making of superstars like Tim Minchin, Bill Bailey and Flight of the Conchords, not to mention the more offbeat stylings of David O’Doherty or John Shuttleworth. But it’s also a genre that has its fair share of knockers, a place for OK comedians to hide behind their OK guitar strumming. Be that as it may, the Musical Comedy Awards, now in its 4th year, has had its fair share of success stories and on tonight’s showing at the Bloomsbury Theatre, there are still plenty of comics ready and able to take it to interesting new places.

First act Rachel Parris could well be one of these performers. Clearly a gifted musician and with an impressive singing voice, she certainly dispels any ideas of musical comedians lacking genuine musical talent. Her jokes feel a little reliant on pull-back-and-reveals but it’s a minor quibble of an otherwise very strong 10 minutes. She’s a great start to the show and wins 2nd place in the competition.

Bob and Jim are a likeable cockney geezer duo, decked out in matching blazers, ties and pork pie hats. Their apparent predisposition to intentionally bad gags gets a mixed response from the crowd and their ukulele-wielding-takes on various well-known musical hits are certainly fun, though perhaps lack the originality that the evening’s headliners, Frisky and Mannish, display.

The Tom Basden-like Rob Carter is something of an unknown to myself and the majority of the audience inside the Bloomsbury. However that is surely about to change. His opener ‘It’s Boring Being 12’ is without doubt the funniest number of the evening, so well-crafted and characterised (traits that were evident in all his songs); from that moment on he is the act to beat. He deservedly goes on to win the competition.

Clare Lomas enters to one of the most rapturous receptions of the night. She possesses all the musical and vocal skills to make her a confident and watchable performer but sadly lacks the material. We get a few fairly uninspired numbers about English singers using American accents and a vision of N-Dubz doing the Lord’s Prayer. If she can bring her comedy into line with her clear musical talent then she could become a very promising act.

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Next up is the very different Tom Adams, arguably one of the more established acts on the bill and certainly the most original. Focusing more on song set-up, he is one of the best comedians on the bill, playing with musical comedy conventions to the point where he only actually performed one song. As refreshing as this is, it is perhaps his lack of songs that stops him walking away with the crown, athough he does go on to scoop 3rd place.

Closing the first half is James Rowland. The award nominee bounds onstage, with a big smile and a mop of scruffy yellow hair, wearing what appears to be a giant novelty hamster costume, something he never once references or explains. He has an abundance of energy and enthusiasm but unfortunately it all feels very jarring following on from the low-key tone, high-volume laughs we’ve just experienced with Tom Adams. He shouts, bellows and bashes his piano, packing his songs with sweary, slightly naughty punchlines – it feels like 10 minutes with a very excitable toddler.

In the second half, while awaiting the verdict, we’re treated to a pair of near faultless performances. Fair and Square had already been awarded the Best Newcomer at the Wilmington Arms-hosted award heats. A trio of wide-eyed lads who could barely be older than 18, they’re sharp, daft and at such a young age show quite frightening levels of potential.

They’re followed by the far more established Frisky and Mannish who, through their headline set, show just what can be done with musical comedy – clichés are firmly locked away in a stuffy old guitar case and hurled through a window. They’re unlike anything else, a vibrant whirlwind of pop-culture references and innovative takes on everything from Lana Del Ray to Destiny’s Child. They were former Musical Comedy Award competitors and, for some of the acts here tonight, they are an impressive marker for the heights and hilarity that can be reached through musical comedy.

Photos by Alex Brenner

(Originally published on spoonfed.co.uk)

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Screen Burns

It feels like an age in the making but March finally sees the arrival of the new E4 sketch show from Cardinal Burns. The duo of Seb Cardinal and Dustin Demri-Burns have been firm favourites on the live circuit for a few years now and the talk of this show has been ongoing for some time.

According to the blurb: Running characters include Office Flirt, New Guy; Phil and Terry the Cockney Midgets, and sketches examine office etiquette, take a behind-the-scenes look at street artist Banksy; and follow Young Dreams, a parody of The Hills featuring three young girls on a fashion internship.

While E4’s comedy output can be a little inconsistent it’s probably a good starting point for the pair who always seem to have weird and wonderful ideas pouring out of them. So far a couple of preview clips have been released, one featuring a great deal of vomiting (hmm), while the other focuses on the aforementioned, ‘Office Flirt’.

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Ray Presto RIP

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It was announced today (28th February) that the magician and comedian Ray Presto had passed away. While he was certainly no household name, the instantly recognisable Presto had worked the clubs for years and became a legend on the open-mic circuit as well as being the type of ‘so-bad-it’s good’ act that also made him loved and adored on the alternative comedy scene.

I saw Presto a couple of times, usually at nights run by The Fix, who embraced his shabby showbiz style with great gusto (he makes a cameo in one of their promo videos below). Last year I even had the pleasure of reviewing one of his performances at The Fix’s Raybot comedy night. On a night that was born out of a desire to highlight video and viral comedy, Presto, with his comedy hankies and magic wand was (aside from compere Trevor Lock) the only comedian actually allowed to perform live on the bill. Amazingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, his was the name on everyone’s lips come the end of the show.

No one could ever say his jokes were the funniest or his tricks the most magical but every set he did seemed to be played out with an unfaltering twinkle and energy that won him fans wherever he went. He was one of a kind and he will be greatly missed.

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Monster Comedy at Leicester Square Theatre

If tonight’s Monster, the first of the new year, is a mark of quality for their future shows then heaven help the organiser and acts that have to follow such a fantastic start. The evening’s given a rip-roaring opening by MC Naz Osmanoglu, a member of sketch boffins Wittank and a solo performer rapidly establishing himself as a name to remember (for several obvious reasons). At ease with the audience, he’s in an infectiously giddy mood and urges various audience members to ‘make up’ occupations to ensure the evening’s MC/crowd banter never drops below a healthy level of ridiculousness.

First on the bill are the duo of Max Dickins and Mark Smith a.k.a. Dregs. Their opening interplay gets the crowd onside instantly before they launch into a trio of sketches. There are plenty of laughs to be had in all three, plus one or two uneasy moments (the wincing during the Synchronised Swimmers routine was very audible).  It’s clear some of their writing is still finding its feet but there’s potential for something very strong to come from this young pair.

New arrival to the UK circuit, Canadian Mae Martin gives, in comparison to the night’s supercharged sketch action, a very gentle performance. ‘Gentle’ is a label that usually suggests a likeability if not necessarily an ability to crack up an audience. The former may be true the latter certainly isn’t. Embracing her inner geek she runs through her loves of Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer before topping it all off with a creepy song about an ex-teacher.

Nick Mohammed expertly sets up a new character based on his ‘landlady’. The nuances of this dotty, easily-distracted older woman are superbly observed. Surely one of the UK’s best character comics, to watch Nick Mohammed on stage always makes you wonder why he isn’t on TV more often.

Osmanoglu starts the second half off with the unusual task of having to introduce himself alongside his Wittank cohorts (pictured). Their fresh faces belie the fact that – over the few years they’ve been performing – the three have developed and honed their craft perfectly. Bombarding us with vivid, inventive and messy sketches, they also possess a knack for improvisation that only comes from confidence in your material and in your audience. Everything aligns for them tonight and they fully deserve the rapturous reception the crowd gives them.

Given the state that Wittank have left the audience (and the stage) in, Totally Tom would have had to let off a volley of fireworks to keep the energy up. That this doesn’t happen takes nothing away from their performance. Like Dregs, their trio of sketches are daft and show the potential that earned them a Channel 4 Comedy Lab slot late last year.

While Totally Tom and Dregs may be the up-and-comers of the sketch world, headline act Pajama Men have rightly staked a claim as one of the best in the business. To call their performance purely sketch would almost be doing it a disservice. This is madcap physical theatre at its finest and I feel slightly ashamed having not seen them sooner. Accents and character attributes are perfectly pinpointed and each sketch is knitted together through an interconnected, but always surprising, narrative. Along the way we meet housewives, adventurers, grizzled old men, marionettes and a tropical bird with a rather unique call. Between them they have the kind of comic ingenuity that only a few possess and to see this in a small, club environment like this feels like an honour.

Originally published at www.spoonfed.co.uk

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Sex With A Stranger

Long time readers of this blog (?) may remember that back in the winter of 2009 I reviewed the double-bill of Stefan Golaszewski’s plays, Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved and Stefan Golaszewski Is A Widower, two heartbreaking tales of lost love. Since then Golaszewski’s gone on to write the critically acclaimed Him and Her, however he’s now gone back to the stage with a new play, Sex With A Stranger.

The former Cowards man is stepping away from the one-man monologues with a fully blown piece of theatre starring Jaime Winstone and, Him and Her lead man, Russell Tovey. So what’s it all about?

Adam (Russell Tovey) snubs his girlfriend Ruth (Naomi Sheldon), and leaves her at home while he goes out for a mate’s birthday. Later that evening he picks up Grace (Jaime Winstone) at a club and gets the nightbus back to hers. Bleak, funny and excruciatingly accurate Golaszewski’s play locates the place where three lives – with all that has gone before, and all that is yet to happen – entwine in a cheerless morass of uncertainty, boredom, loneliness and hollow lust.

Uncertainty, boredom, loneliness and hollow lust eh? I’m there.

Tickets are available here.

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