Stand Up For Sarah

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The Comedy Store, Manchester

22/07/15

Smoke machines. What are they all about? The people who run the Comedy Store, Manchester own one and they’re not afraid to use it. It spills out a smelly fug of chemicals as we take our seats for tonight’s show and, as we’ve chosen positions near the front, the effect is a bit like sitting in the midst of an army of people smoking Capstan full strength. It creates no special atmosphere whatsoever. Unless you think a dodgy smell is something to savour. Just saying.

Tonight’s show if for a special cause – Thameside nurse, Sarah Swindells has terminal cancer and the entertainers are raising money to pay for some special treatment which is not available on the National Health. All the performers have donated their talents free of charge and there’s an encouraging turnout for a midweek event.

Thankfully, the smoke machine takes a break and out strolls our MC for the evening, veteran comedian Mick Ferry. He’s been around the block and knows just how to work an audience. An Australian visitor is singled out for some choice taunts (mostly the fact that he’s wearing more layers than everyone else) and a luckless tattooed  Mancunian builder called Billy is elected to start the applause but becomes the butt of several jokes, because he keeps wandering off to replenish his drinks. If an MC’s remit is to warm up the crowd, Ferry manages it expertly and introduces the first proper act of the evening.

Justin Moorhouse has also been around the block a bit. Some of his observations about his ‘other half’ feel a little over familiar. Lines like ‘you start off riding a bucking bronco, then find yourself straddling a leathery old cow,’ are clearly not intended to endear him to the feminists in the audience, but he settles into a better groove when talking about the ever-expanding universe. His impersonation of Stephen Hawking (sounding rather more like Kermit the frog) brings the house down.

Next up, Joe Lycett takes the stage, coming on like an oafish bellowing lager lout and my heart sinks; but it’s a clever bit of misdirection. He promptly starts talking in his ‘real’ voice, explaining that’s he’s just come from a stag party and that he’s simply been exhibiting learned behaviour. His camp, bitchy tone puts me in mind of the late, great Kenneth Williams, while his scattergun approach to comedy keeps taking us in unexpected directions. If there’s a prize for the most inventive comic of the evening, he wins it hands down and a joke about the chastity belts features in Mad Max: Fury Road is filthy but hilarious.

After a short break – and another unwelcome appearance by that bloody smoke machine – the event continues. The oddly named Penella Mellor wanders on and delivers a beautifully constructed routine on a somewhat controversial topic – children and how much she hates them. And, having established that there are several primary school teachers in the audience, she goes on to explain how they are responsible for making children even more annoying. Her deadpan serious expression as she delivers gems like; ‘ a margarine tub sprayed silver is not an acceptable birthday present – especially when I checked and there was a spa day on Groupon,’ has the audience (including the aforementioned teachers) in stitches.

Our final act of the evening is Daliso Chaponda. (I have to come clean at this point and admit that Daliso is a longstanding friend and he’s probably the main reason why we’re here tonight.) He hails from Malawi and much of his humour derives from canny observations where he compares the culture of his homeland to that of the UK. With Daliso, it’s all in the delivery. His distinctive voice and his range of accompanying animated expressions really help to sell the material. One lady sitting a few seats away from me is laughing so hysterically, I start to worry that she must be struggling to breathe. Daliso’s material is also somewhat ruder than I remember, but his charming air of innocence as he delivers the more risqué lines means that he can get away with murder. All in all, it’s a fine set which brings this memorable show to its conclusion.

An entertaining evening of laughter, all in aid of a really worthwhile cause. Whats not to like? (Apart from the smoke machine.)

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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