Review: John Robins Live from the BBC

I need to open this review with an admission.

I’m a John Robins fan. Not a stalker; not a superfan … just someone whose attendance at this recording was the third time I’d seen him in so many days. But that was just a coincidence, OK?

As it happened, Live from the BBC took place at what must have been an incredibly tricky time for Robins. The week kicked off with John’s mention on his Radio X show that he’d recently split from his partner Sara Pascoe, on whom a lot of the material in this show is based. To further complicate matters, Robins was slated to perform a preview the day before the BBC record, sharing a bill with his now-ex.

I was at that show, and although Robins handled the situation professionally, the juxtaposition of both sets (Pascoe’s also included material about John) was toe-curlingly awkward and, for those that have followed Robins’ ups and downs via his Radio X podcasts, more than a little heart rending.

So I had fingers, toes and all other appendages crossed for John’s debut appearance on Live from the BBC. With just a couple of Mock the Week appearances under his belt Robins is still at the point at which TV coverage is something of a big deal.

Thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. Robins came out full of piss and vinegar (is that still a saying?) adorned in one of his trademark Queen tribute t-shirts, and after the customary bit of crowdwork, launched confidently into his set. His pace, delivery and well-timed interaction with the crowd were all spot on and showed his flair as an ebullient performer.

His material, a truncated version of his 2015 Edinburgh show Speakeasy, kicks off with John’s feelings regarding his partner leaving the country for four weeks. Robins caricatures himself as a laddish beer monster, delighted for the opportunity to be off the leash from the ball and chain. This John is a dick. He’s meant to be a dick. An arrogant, ale-swilling, Queen-obsessed dick. But as the story unfolds, it slowly dawns upon John that ‘the only thing that has made my life fun, and engaging, and bearable’ is no longer around. This is Robins’ strength, alienating his audience with arrogant bombast, before breaking down and admitting that left to his own devices, he’s buying cherry vodka from the Polish shop at four in the afternoon.

It’s one of the reasons I like him – his ability to unashamedly confess to enthusiastically participating in the less palatable facets of blokiness – beer, porn, wondering if an old school friend takes it up the you-know-what – before unravelling those trappings to reveal the humanity underneath. We might all watch porn (PSA: it’s not only guys, guys!) but what’s important is the those three dimensional moments with the important people in our lives, be that binge-watching The Good Wife or prodding your significant other in the ribs whilst washing up.

To those of us who were aware of the backstory, hearing John talking about the poignant sadness of his girlfriend’s absence was bittersweet, but most punters won’t be as intimately acquainted with the life of Robins, and in any case, many comic’s shows are works of pure fiction from beginning to end, and none of us ever really know how much is exaggerated for comedic effect. Although having seen works in progress of John’s forthcoming Edinburgh show, it’s probably fair to say that the grains of truth are possibly boulder-sized here.

If I have one criticism of Live at the BBC it’s with the editing – they removed many of the subtleties referred to above in favour of keeping the narrative tight, the result of which leaves Robins looking like a far ‘laddier’ comic than the complete show attests. (It also really annoyed me as it lost one of Robins’ strongest bits about his Twitter friend Dan, the gin aficionado.) I understand the necessity of this editing for the purposes of the format, but I’d  flag to any new fans that they’ll get a much more nuanced version of Robins at one of his full tour shows.

As I mention at the top of this review, I’m a massive Robins fan so can’t even start to claim to be impartial. So I’ll leave it at this: John Robins Live from the BBC is a ruddy bloody good watch. Now go and see him live.

 

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Review: RHLSTP with Andrew Collins

I don’t have a great deal of interest in “celebrity” culture. I couldn’t give a damn about Kim Kardashian’s bottom, or The Only Way is Chelsea. But that’s not to say I don’t have teenage popstar-style crushes: it’s just that mine are on the people who clamber between my ears and make me laugh.

Collings and Herrin (the name arising as a result of journalists constantly misspelling their names) were such an obsession. They were the forerunners of the podcasting genre, after a few guest slots for Richard Herring on Andrew Collins’ 6Music show revealed the chemistry between the pair. When Collins’ run on 6Music ended (it was originally a deputising spot, although went on to become longer term) the boys decided to try and decode the mysteries of Garageband and record their own chats in Richard’s attic.

The format didn’t go much further than a discussion of the news, with Collins turning up with the newspapers (plus a supply of healthy treats, much mocked by Herring); but it worked well. Andrew was the straight man foil to the obnoxious, mocking and childlike “character” of Herrin. Aside from the comedic chemistry, both men were intelligent and well-read, and so the resulting podcasts were as interesting as they were charming and hilarious.

Unsurprisingly, people became invested in the show and it regularly frequented the iTunes top ten. Collins and Herring did spin-off live shows, which further cemented the connection towards their audience. The pair continued for nearly four years, when finally the cracks started to show, and they ceased their podcasting relationship in what Chortle described as “a very public falling out”.

Collins posted a statement about the split, which included Richard’s response. Too much water has gone under the bridge to discuss the whys and wherefores here, they’re already well documented. Suffice to say that an attempt at a further podcast five months after the falling out makes for painful listening and shows that the pair aren’t quite ready to put their differences aside.

For us fans (who they’ve both referred to as the progeny of the partnership) it was sad times indeed. Until now. Fast forward some five years later, and Richard has finally invited Andrew to be a guest on RHLSTP and Andrew has finally bowed to public pressure and complied.

As a displaced child of this divorce, I approached the gig with some trepidation. If it was anything like the aforementioned “attempt at burying the hatchet” final podcast, it would be a cringingly uncomfortable experience.

Thankfully, the audience at the Leicester Square Theatre were spared an evening of polite awkwardness. Seemingly enough oatmilk has passed under the bridge for Collins and Herring to share a room.

That’s not to say that the interview was bland – it was anything but. Collins bounded on to the stage in a chirpy yet rambunctious mood, and it soon became clear that he would be pulling no punches. If the Collings and Herrin podcasts cast Richard in the role of Alpha aggressor and Andrew the mild-mannered nerd with an obsession with the Mitford sisters who laughed off his jibes, it’s obvious from the off that Andrew won’t be returning to that dynamic.

After beating around the bush for a maddening amount of time, Herring finally gets onto the topic of their podcast. Collins is immediately open: “they were, and I hate to say it, marvellous times”. Herrings agrees that “they were, and I miss them”. Cue an audible “aaaah” from the audience.

But Collins isn’t prepared to bury the hatchet that easily. Interrupting Herring at one point, Andrew turns cheerfully to the audience and says “I can’t believe that he’s asking me questions. Because in all the time we did the podcast, he was never that interested in me”. Collins goes on to accuse Richard of causing his previous radio show to be cancelled which Herring admits to, before saying “…let’s not dig this up…”.

“I’m enjoying it!” Collins responds puckishly. It was highly amusing to watch the usually dominant Herring squirm and suggest that “we chat about this backstage”. How times have changed.

Arguably the biggest choker comes up by accident when Richard lets slip that he wanted Andrew to be the best man at his wedding before their falling out. Collins clearly doesn’t know this, and is obviously touched – and surprised. This seems to illustrate how badly things had deteriorated towards the end of their friendship and broadcasting relationship.

Despite the dynamic no longer being the same, there’s plenty to love in this interview. Collins still meanders off on his roundabout anecdotes about minutae which never arrive at a punchline and yet are nonetheless endearingly funny; notably the Northampton Express Lifts Tower and his newfound obsession with the decorating aid Frog Tape. He still loves the 1980s, and the past in general, lamenting the demise of his former employer NME to become a free paper and the Guardian’s plans to launch tabloid-style. He’s such a likeable fellow I feel my teenage crush reawakening all over again.

We can never go back, and I would argue that we shouldn’t try. Twitter is full of Collings and Herrin devotees begging for a return of the podcast, but I prefer that body of work to stand as a perfect little monument to a friendship between two jolly nice fellows. The ugly split detracted from its beauty, but this interview sets matters to rights. As Andrew wrote at the time “I hope we will be sunny and equal and silly again”. It may have taken six years, but the boys are finally back there.

 

Review: Matthew Crosby – Lets Be Friends Again, Machynlleth Comedy Festival, 29/04/17

 

matthew crosby

Reviewer: Jay Jay

One-third of sketch team Pappy’s, Matthew Crosby returns to Machynlleth with his solo show, inviting members of the audience to befriend the real-life comedian.

A former teacher, Crosby is peculiarly at home in the festival venue, which by day is a real-life schoolroom. The gig is sold out and the knowledgeable comedy audience is replete with goodwill. There’s the feeling that we are in for a fun hour, and we are not disappointed.

From the off, the audience welcomes Crosby to their bosom and he warmly reciprocates. This is apparent from the top of the show, when a tardy audience member receives an amicable roasting for her late arrival, and is subsequently chosen by Crosby for a game of “Danger Darts” (placing one’s hand splayed on a dartboard whilst your opponent takes aim – fortunately the darts turn out to be rubber-tipped). Another chap is invited to the front to have a drink with Crosby, who asks “red or white?” before offering a choice of red WKD or Smirnoff Ice (he later reprises the gag with a choice of béchamel or tomato lasagne sauce, and two varieties of cabbage). Other props play a part, with Crosby being interrupted throughout the show with calls on his banana phone.

As Crosby’s group of chums amasses, he nominates one man to head to the front to sing a Beatles song, and promptly exits the room, leaving the slightly bemused chap to take the reins. Of course, the audience doesn’t leave him hanging, and the whole room is soon joyously chorusing “I get by with a little help from my friends”.

This speaks to the ego-free, exuberant vibe of Crosby’s show. He doesn’t even have to be in the room for people to be having a fantastic time.

At the end of the show, there’s a genuine feeling of camaraderie, and the audience are practically ready to swap telephone numbers. This is not a show for someone who thinks they will just sit in their seat and hear jokes – it’s a jubilant celebration of silliness, warmth and friendship, condensed into 55 minutes.

 

 

 

Review: David Baddiel – My Family (Not the Sitcom), Playhouse Theatre, 26/04/17

Baddiel’s latest offering is not your average ‘dead dad’ show – not least because it’s about his dead mum, as well as, in part, his father, who now suffers from Pick’s disease, a form of dementia.

Over the course of two hours, Baddiel takes us through the most amusing, poignant and just plain odd moments from his family history. The show has a compelling throughline: the did they/didn’t they romance between Baddiel’s mother and a dapper golfer named David White, who was most definitely not her husband. This core narrative is interspersed with anecdotes from his already-outspoken father whose illness has rendered him even more uninhibited. Baddiel’s father loudly exclaiming that he’d like to rape a young female attendee at his own wife’s funeral is a case in point.

Baddiel is a comedy veteran, which is reflected both in the demographic of his show audience – at forty-something, my friend and I seem the youngest there – and by his skilful storytelling and delivery.

Like the audience, however, some of the jokes feel dated at times, notably when Baddiel lapses back into his Skinner-era ‘lad’ persona. The language he uses in a routine based upon his grandfather frequenting prostitutes (or, as Baddiel phrases it, ‘fucking whores’) feels clunky and anachronistic, as does referring to his mother as ‘a slag’ for her suspected affair.

Notwithstanding this, the overall tone of the show is sensitive and reflective; building on the premise that even our parents are multi-faceted human beings, and that by canonising them after their death we lose a lot of what made them wonderful.

 

Review: Richard Herring – As It Occurs To Me, Leicester Square Theatre, 12/02/17

 

After vowing never to repeat the experience, Richard Herring has overcome his better judgement to complete the fourth series of his ensemble show, which has just been released in audio podcast format.

Billed as a ‘topical stand-up and sketch show’, Herring admits that AIOTM consists mainly of ‘spunk-based humour’ and in-jokes that become more and more impenetrable to outsiders at the series progresses. For the core of comedy geeks who are regular listeners to the show, however, this exclusivity is part of the appeal.

For all Herring’s self-deprecating critique, AOITM is much more than crude gags. He kicks off the show with an irreverent critique of recent developments in the news. The Trump/Brexit era provides rich pickings. From mocking Jeremy Corbyn’s ineptitude on social media to celebrating the burgeoning allegiance between Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Piers Morgan, Herring takes no prisoners. The running saga of the fictional Dr Seuss character ‘Farage in the Garage’ is a particular highlight.

 

Variety is provided by Christian Reilly’s satirical songs, stings and jingles which reverberated around my head long after the show ended.

Add to all this regular appearances from grotesque caricatures of Susan Boyle, her beloved partner the late Tam Dallyel and Herring’s erstwhile podcast partner Andrew Collings, and the result is a show replete with in-jokes, callbacks and general surreal mayhem. It won’t be for everyone, but those who love it, really love it.