The Comedy Store

The Comedy Store

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24/06/16

We have rarely been in such dire need of a good laugh.

It’s June 24th and we’ve recently heard about Brexit. There’s a sense of gathering doom in the air, so we decide to head down to the Comedy Store in a desperate search for something to lighten the mood. Luckily, we’ve chosen the right night to do it as this is hands-down, the best gig we’ve seen here in a very long time.

Our compere for the evening is John Maloney, who I haven’t seen before. He’s clearly in no mood to take prisoners and deals harshly with the members of an over-enthusiastic stag party who keep shouting out inappropriate comments through his introduction. Before much longer, the ringleaders are led out by a couple of bouncers and they don’t return. Maloney offers some spectacularly crude observations about married life that stay just the right side of funny.

The first act proper is John Warburton, an affable, bespectacled comic with a nice line in audience participation. He soon has the crowd on his side and laughing along with him as he takes us through a protracted piece about how his wife gave him the ‘wonderful gift’ of a new pregnancy for his birthday – trouble is, he was expecting an iPhone. There’s also a surreal story about potatoes purchased from Aldi, which turn feral and take control of his kitchen. The story finally culminates in a terrible joke – but it was great fun getting there.

Next up there’s a ten minute slot from relative newbie, Tom Taylor. He’s a revelation, shambling on with an electric keyboard under his arm, gurning and giggling neurotically, fiddling endlessly with a microphone stand and delivering a series of quirky little songs, with playfully clunky lyrics. He’s absolutely brilliant. Could this character-driven comedy work over a longer set? Probably, particularly if he’s got other personae hidden up his sleeve. But for the ten minutes he’s on, he has everyone laughing fit to bust and goes straight into the file marked ‘one to watch.’

Zoe Lyons is up next and her confident and assured set confirms that this is going to be a very good night indeed. Her scattershot subjects include her reluctance to share food in tapas bars, trying to pack a suitcase in Amsterdam, whilst stoned and her recent experiences in the beauty department of Harvey Nichols. “What is your daily cleansing routine?” she’s asked by one ‘beauty consultant. ‘Well, I look in the mirror in the morning and if there’s no egg on my chin, no gravy in my eyebrows and no vomit in my hair, I’m good to go!’ Priceless. Great too, to see a female comic in a venue that doesn’t always feature its fair share of women performers.

After a short break to top up our alcohol levels, there’s a beautifully crafted set from Paul Sinha, who as well as being a stand up comedian, also plays a role as a ‘Catcher’ on the TV quiz show, The Chase. (He also does a cracking radio programme called History Revision, which is definitely worth seeking out online.) Sinha’s comedy is clever and incisive, built around his self-proclaimed role as the UKs only gay-Asian-quiz-show-host-stand-up with a predilection for rough sex with aggressive Northern men. He tells us he’ll be in his element tonight, getting a cab back to his hotel. Excellent stuff.

On any other night, headliner Jarred Christmas would have been considered a triumph, but after the embarrassment of riches we’ve already enjoyed, his set feels somehow like a bit of an anti-climax. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing to fault in his delivery and his frenetic, super-charged persona, it’s just that much of the material he employs here (the potential minefield of being a parent, for instance) seems a little over familiar. But when the night’s most underwhelming act still manages to qualify as ‘pretty good’ you know you’ve attended a great show. The Comedy Store doesn’t always live up to its much-vaunted reputation, but tonight, when it was sorely needed, happily, it did.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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