Review: Laugh or The Polar Bear Gets It at the Hammersmith Apollo

There must be a great sense of achievement in selling out any comedy show but it must be even greater to, not only have people filling a venue the size of the Hammersmith Apollo, but also be supporting a worthy cause like Friends of the Earth. Greg Davies is an inspired choice as host for the evening, roaring the crowd into life as soon as he steps onstage. He doesn’t get much time to really flex his comedy muscles but does occasionally dip into his ‘Book of Pithy Tales’ which provide plenty of short, sharp bursts of surrealism.

Richard Herring is the first act of the evening and his tales of romantic frustrations initially make him seem like an unusual opening performer. But his trials and tribulations and, in particular, his descent into Ferrero Rocher based madness are hysterical.

Filling in as a last minute replacement for Russell Howard can’t be a job that many comics would look forward to but, since the Good News host is recovering from recently breaking his fingers, tonight that role falls to observational Scottish standup Danny Bhoy. As it happens, the audience are quick to take to him. Bhoy’s a likeable performer though it must be said he draws from a fairly safe bank of material including what seems to be the go-to gag topic of 2011 – jokes about the riots.

Another act stepping into the breach at the eleventh-hour is the drunken children’s entertainer Jeremy Lion. The creation of The Thick of It’s Justin Edwards, he leads the crowd through a brief, liquid-based rendition of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ and the audience drink it up.

A slightly different  musical act comes in the form of Badly Drawn Boy, who takes us into the interval with a couple of his biggest hits and a rendition of ‘Thunder Road’, all the while demonstrating an unexpected knack for joke-telling.

The second half begins with Josie Long who, perhaps more than anyone else, is just having fun. It’s infectious. Relishing her time in front of the sell-out crowd she laps up the outstanding welcome she receives before running through her book of ‘genuine’ Darwin letters.

Francesca Martinez may not be the biggest name on the bill but she’s the one on everyone’s lips by the end of the show. Her frank and funny take on her cerebral palsy (or her ‘wobbliness’ as she calls it) wins her a lot of new fans tonight.

One of the driving forces behind organising the gig is Dan Antopolski who, in a short set taking in his love of gadgets and his young family, also manages to  ensure that no one in the audience will look at the Maisy Mouse series of children’s books in the same way again.

Headlining the night is Tim Minchin and while he’s pushed for time he’s still able to run through a couple of his guaranteed crowd-pleasers like ‘The Pope Song’ and ‘Prejudice’. Finishing with a straight-faced encore of ‘Hallelujah’ seems like an odd decision – the forced sing-a-long is greeted with adoring affection by many of Minchin’s fans and bafflement by others. But no matter, this was an event packed with entertainment and enough laughs to ensure the polar bear won’t be ‘getting it’ for another year at least.

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