Stand Up With Labour

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22/09/14

Opera House Manchester

On the face of it, this Labour Conference tub-thumper looked like a win-win situation. Watch five top comics for an all-in price of around thirty pounds and support your chosen political party at the same time. But perched in the vertiginous gallery of the Manchester Opera House, I began to wonder if comedy was ever designed to work in a venue like this.

Our host was Stephen K. Amos. I’ve seen and heard him before and have been left somewhat unimpressed, but he proved an intelligent choice to compere tonight’s proceedings and performing live, he’s much edgier than he’s allowed to be on TV and radio. He generated genuine laughs and established a lively rapport with the audience down in the stalls, though from our perch in the gods, we couldn’t actually see any of that.

First up was Ian Stone, who I confess I hadn’t previously heard of. He ambled out and delivered a confident and sometimes hilarious set of observational comedy, though a piece about the situation in Gaza (he’s Jewish) was perhaps the most ‘political’ comedy of the evening. By the time he’d finished, I had laughed heartily and I marked him down as ‘one to watch.’

Phill Jupitus is of of course a familiar name from TV panel shows. Here he was, performing stand up for the first time in years, mostly because Eddie Izzard invited him to this event (or so Phill told us). To be honest, he looked like he didn’t really want to be there and gave us a diffident, overly intellectual routine, reading from his collection of (decent) poems and occasionally glancing at his watch. The ‘highlight’ of his routine was a poem about Jeremy Clarkson, hardly the most original of targets and the only laughter that he managed to raise was muted and sporadic. Maybe he’s been too long away from the game, but this was definitely the most disappointing act of the evening.

Sarah Pascoe on the other hand, is a brilliant stand up, but her set was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the auditorium and it didn’t help that it was word-for-word the same act I’d seen at the Edinburgh fringe in August where she played a much smaller venue and managed to make every line a zinger. Nevertheless, for my money, this was still the best material of the evening and I believe that Pascoe has a bright future ahead of her.

Top of the bill, Eddie Izzard strode out and was… well, uniquely Eddie Izzard. We were treated to the usual surreal stream-of-consciouness shtick, ranging from the origins of human sacrifice to something that strayed dangerously close to Monty Python’s ‘What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us?’ routine. He wasn’t remotely phased by the size of the venue but his set reminded me of one of those budget bumper boxers of cheap fireworks. Throw in a match and you’ll discover a few dazzling beauties in there, but you’ll also find several damp squibs that don’t quite go off. Izzard really needs a longer time slot in order for his irrational nonsense to bear any kind of fruit and there simply wasn’t space for it here.

All-in-all, an interesting night but one that didn’t really live up to expectations. For one thing, given that this was a fund raiser for the Labour party, I would have expected to see more comedy with a political edge. But Ian Stone aside, there wasn’t much and he only flirted with it, before moving on to more general humour. And then there’s the Opera House itself… hmm. The moral of the story is, I think that comedy works best in smaller, more intimate venues, where the comics really can reach out and work their strange chemistry on an audience. Had we managed to procure seats down in the stalls, this might have been a more positive review. But the stars reflect the show as a whole.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

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