Monday, May 21, 2012

Scope Big Comedy Night at the Hammersmith Apollo

featuring Ben Elton, Al Murray, Doc Brown, Richard Herring, Hal Cruttenden, Robin Ince, Milton Jones, Francesca Martinez, Sally Phillips, Paul Tonkinson and Kevin Eldon

The Hammersmith Apollo seems like a strange venue for stand up comedy.  I’ve been to gigs here before, but only down in the stalls.  It’s only when you’re up in the Circle that you can understand just how vast it is.  I’ve always thought stand-up works best in somewhat smaller spaces, for one thing you can actually see the expressions on the comedian’s face as they perform.  But, on the upside, I suppose being in Row Q of the circle means I’m unlikely to get picked on by the comedian, (unless they come on stage with a telescope or something).
The night was organised by Scope, who seem like a fine and extremely worthy charity by all accounts. The lineup was particularly interesting to me, with a few comedians I’ve long admired, but haven’t had a chance to see.  Ben Elton, Al Murray, Richard Herring, Robin Ince, Sally Philips, Kevin Eldon and Paul Tonkinson I am familiar with, but Doc Brown, Hal Cruttenden, Milton Jones and Francesca Martinez were new to me.

I was particularly curious to see Ben Elton.  I had a few cassette tapes of his stand-up act when I was about 12 or 13, and I thought he was pretty great then – but haven’t heard of him doing any stand-up in a very long time.  He was the compere, and strode onto stage immediately launching into his act.  It was somewhat obvious that he hadn’t done much stand-up lately, judging by the topics of his jokes I’d guess he’d maybe written them in the early 00s.  Observational routines about spam email and how people are glued to their smartphones seem just a little dusty, as was a bit about the experience of having to wait on hold to buy something over the phone (which has never happened to me or anyone I've asked).  But while his material might be pretty dated, he’s still got a good stage presence.  It was good to actually see him being funny in a live setting, rather than his usual day job of writing crappy musicals with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Richard Herring, on the other hand couldn’t be more of a sure hand at this kind of thing.  I follow his blog, and he’s recently finished his exhausting sounding nationwide tour of the country with his “What is Love, Anyway?”.  I’ve seen him twice previously, on his ‘”Hitler Moustache” and “Christ on a Bike” tours.  I was looking forward to him the most.  I’ve liked him ever since he singled my Dad out as looking like a paedophile during the DVD recording of “Hitler Moustache” in Cardiff.  It’s a shame then that he wasn’t so great tonight.  Maybe it was over-familiarity with the material (I think I’ve seen him do the routine he did tonight twice in various surroundings before).  Maybe it’s that I was miles away from him and couldn’t really see what he was doing on stage.  Later in the show he did a sketch with Kevin Eldon and Sally Philips that didn’t really work very well. I don’t know if it quite fit in with the rest of the night, and the only highlight was a dig at Ricky Gervais and Frankie Boyle that seemed to go down pretty well. I’m still looking forward to going to the recording of Richard Herring’s podcast with Armando Iannucci in late June though.

The highlights of the evening were the comedians that I hadn’t seen before.  Doc Brown’s ‘fill in the blanks’ rap song break down was great – as was his sarcastic look at fuck-the-police rappers.  He seemed confident on stage, and nicely self-deprecating.  He’s got a kind of slightly over-optimistic personality and gets a lot of mileage from how he’s “supposed” to be angry about things, but can’t help himself from seeing things from a more nuanced point of view.  

Milton Jones’ one liners were so witty that I imagine he spends most of his time being angry about other comedians ripping off his jokes.  The multi-part joke about school bullies which depended on knowing exactly how the audience will react to each stage of the joke was technically fantastic.  He’s obviously indebted to Steven Wright in his deadpan delivery, but if you’re going to do one-liners, you can do a lot worse that Steven Wright.

I’ve always been put off Al Murray’s pub landlord character a bit.  I know it’s satirical and ironic, but I’ve seen way too many people enjoying the character unironically, which makes me a bit uncomfortable.  I know it’s a mistake to let others perceptions and opinions of things colour my own, and none more than in this case.  More than the other acts, Al Murray mostly improvised his material (or at least appeared to), chatting with people sitting on the front row.  Some of the other acts were a bit overly scripted, so it was nice to something a bit looser and more unpredictable.  

Francesca Martinez was also great.  It’s a bit depressing that she doesn’t appear on panel shows because she’s apparently “too scary”.  I think producers are being a bit timid if they consider her scary.  The anecdote about her being offered a part on a show playing someone who can’t move, can’t talk and can’t make facial expressions was funny but sad.  Her performance also clued me into the fact that there’s lots of great comedians who don’t show up on panel shows – if you don’t keep your finger on the stand-up comedy pulse, then how are you supposed to find out about them? 
It was a little annoying that Francesca Martinez was the only woman to get a set.  I’m a fan of Sally Phillips and after seeing that she got a whole page to herself in the programme it was quite disappointing that she was only on stage for about 5 minutes as part of someone else’s sketch, particularly as she was one of only two female comedians on the bill.

It’s weird that it was the comedians I was a fan of that were a little disappointing.    Ben Elton, Robin Ince, Richard Herring and Paul Tonkinson all did extended routines on the perils of middle age and having children.  They all went down pretty well, but I don’t really feel much sense of identification with them.  Jokes that boil down to “ha, kids can be so precocious”, and “my pubes are turning grey” might be a bit funnier to me later on in life, but not right at the moment.  I guess if you’re an 40 something observational comedian, then middle age and children are going to be what you’re observing.

As the show ended, and before Ben Elton finished up the show and thanked everyone for coming, there was a kind of mass exodus from around us as half the audience left, presumably to get a tube home.  Seems a little bit rude to leave before the end of the charity comedy gig and skipping out on the applause that everyone on stage deserved.  

On the whole the positives far, far outweighed the negatives.  I don’t want this review to sound too negative.  It’s easier to talk about the jokes that didn’t work, as they were the ones I wasn’t laughing at. These were 10 or so highly experienced comedians doing a fine service in aid of Scope.  Even though I was at the back of the room, squinting at the comedians far, far away from me I was surrounded by laughter throughout the show.  Well worth the trip out to Hammersmith on a Sunday night.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Scope Big Comedy Night at the Hammersmith Apollo”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights