Reviews. Interviews.

ARG Com Fest: Three Word Reviews

Being the good law-abidin’ God-fearin’ folk that we are over at the Howl Sanctuary, we don’t review previews/works in progress. Comics need a place to be able to fail, quietly and with dignity in front of a select bunch of people, then huddle in a corner for a few hours before re-emerging to have another go.

But this left us with a dilemma – how to cover the effervescent wonderment of the humbly-titled Actually Rather Good Comedy festival? We could not let this highlight of the comedy year pass without note.

So, we solved this problem by awarding each comic we saw a three-word review. The only word that was banned was ‘funny’; because we knew that with a lineup like this, ‘funny’ was a given.

Here’s our picks (in no particular order, and not everyone saw every show, hence there being more reviews for some performers than others).

Sofie Hagen: Crafted, clever, woke.

Nick Helm: Manic, insane, genius/Whirlwind cunt slinger

Rhys James: Sharp, witty, slick/Gamble, Ruffell, hair/slick t-shirt comedian

John Robins: Honest, brutal, existential/Affecting, expressive, perceptive/Hug needed – hilarious!/Peering round corner

Fern Brady: Incandescent, raw, inspirational/Fearless, confessional, Scottish/Brutally honest Scotch/Brave, giggly, brilliant

John Luke Roberts: Tears of joy!/Original, farcical, clever/Naked, very naked/Naked ‘allo ‘allo

Spencer Jones: Whimsical, imaginative, creative/Just delightfully brilliant!/Tennis, singing robot/Surreal sublime vibrations

Mark Watson: As ever, delightful

Suzi Ruffell: Just so good!/Relatably working class

Nish Kumar: Couldn’t get in!

Rose Matafeo: Sassy, manic, outside/Alarms? What alarms!/Unshakeable sassy character

Ben Targét: Games, shaved, messy

Lou Sanders: Shameless, joyful, baptism

Jordan Brookes: Delayed by fire

Tom Neenan: Quality Attenborough homage/Attenborough seeks bigfoot

Garrett Millerick: Angry with Essex

Mae Martin: Bette Midler addiction

Joe Lycett: Coin or groin

Bec Hill: Roder, tou, fo

Michael Legge: Eventually good show/Musical high kicks

Robin Ince: Eventually stopped show/Shouty, disorganised, erudite/Loves a tangent

Angela Barnes: Apocalypse loving childless

David Trent: Angry at trivia/Didn’t play guitar

Joel Dommett: Bird flu famous/comfortable on table

Joel Dommett
Photo: Andy McHaffie

Colin Hoult: Anna ‘mazing Mann/Actress, comedienne, barber

Ingrid Oliver: Cleverly written sketches

Sara Pascoe: Handling breakup better!

Eleanor Morton: Raven sized argument

Stuart Laws: Forgets cream buns/Nandad, Belgian, foyer?

Rachel Parris: Inspirational, uplifting, silly

Bethany Black: Allergic to titanium

Grainne Maguire: Irish, soul, influence

Lucy Porter: Rude, name-check, argumentative

Ed Gamble: Metalhead, no, really!

And there you have it. An entire weekend’s comedy summed up in a series of tweet-friendly soundbites. Who says the world is dumbing down.

See you next year, ARG Com Fest!

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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.

 

Opinion: Make ’em Laugh? Give ’em a Chance!

Host the Week
Photo: British Comedy Guide

The new topical comedy/improv show ‘Host the Week’ has been pulled after just one episode, Chortle reports today.

Perhaps because of my deep and enduring love for two of the men behind this show (Pappy’s Ben Clark and Tom Parry), I’m really sorry it’s been pulled after just one episode.

OK, it had awful reviews from both Chortle and Bruce Dessau, but one of the points was that the show had a different host each week, the first week being ex-Gogglebox and Jungler Scarlett Moffat who may be charismatic/charming to watch but isn’t a professional broadcaster.

The next episode was due to be presented by Jack Whitehall, who would perhaps have made a different fist of it.

OK, if a programme is terrible, axe it, but surely give it one series before doing so (anyone here old enough to remember the first series of Blackadder?) Comedy commissioners are terribly conservative as can be seen by the endless stream of panel shows and little else and they don’t give creatives any room to fail or grow. This results in terribly stagnant broadcasting.

The article below claims that the format was trying to build upon the success of shows like the wonderful Murder in Successville, but MiS was by no means an overnight success – it was a slow burner that’s gradually received critical acclaim.

The Beeb’s new comedy commissioner will hopefully invest a bit more time and confidence in supporting creativity, but for C4 it’s obviously a case of ‘one shot or you’re out’. Shame TV execs don’t realise that good comedy just doesn’t work like that.

 

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.

 

Opinion: Did you hear the one about the dead hooker?

 

Anonymous Contributor

 

We need to talk about dead hooker jokes.

I see a lot of comedy. I’m a comedy fan, a comedy reviewer and a comedy blogger. 

I’m also a sex worker. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that comedians, along with the general public, don’t expect sex workers to be present. We are invisible. If we’re considered at all, it’s like the shots you see in the press: a faceless woman on a dark street corner leaning into a car, one leg flicked coquettishly upwards; an anonymous entity.

In terms how the general populace views whores (incidentally, at this point in time, the word ‘whore’ is like the ‘N’ word, in that I’m allowed to use it but you’re not); we’re still in the dark ages. Imagine back to the time that Oscar Wilde was obliged to hide his sexuality in plain sight whilst being persecuted by the law and you’re getting close. I’ll save you looking up the year – that was back in 1895. 

122 years later, prostitutes, hookers, ladies of the night, courtesans, escorts and call girls (the term generally accepted these days is sex workers) are all still in a similar position socially. Why should comics be concerned with using us as a punchline; they wouldn’t think for a single minute that there was a one of ‘them’ in the audience. No one is wearing fishnet tights and a leopardskin coat with twenties bursting out of her bra, for God’s sake. I keep mine stashed in my knickers. 

So, I go to gigs. I laugh for the most part, and occasionally I cringe. Until you’ve been the repeated butt of the joke, you probably don’t notice that you’re being picked on, but comedy frequently has a target, and people tend to kick down. In the case of sex workers, we are two steps below human beings, one step below women and one step above rats. If you need confirmation of how mainstream this view has become, have a look at JK Rowling’s ostensibly feminist tweets about how it’s filthily misogynistic to call Theresa May a whore because surely there can be no worse insult. 

Sometimes, whorephobia (for that is the name of this phenomena, oh yes, we have a technical term for everything these days) emanates from ignorance. And you know what, ignorance is ok, everyone’s learning. We can’t all walk around being permanently aware of everyone’s finer feelings, especially in comedy where quick thinking is key to the job.

I was at a show a few months back when one of my favourites comics improvised a gag where he alluded to a ‘whore’ being a bitch or a slag. I cringed, as usual, but I enjoyed the rest of the show. The following day I tweeted the comic and explained my offence, he was contrite, apologised, and admitted that it was an off the cuff remark which, given more time, he likely wouldn’t have repeated. Fair enough. The problem is, most of the time, sex workers don’t speak up and identify themselves, for pretty obvious reasons. Stigma ensures that we remain invisible and thus allows us to still be the butt of the jokes. 

dead hooker
One of the memes tweeted out by the London Dungeon this year.

Sometimes people are not as keen to be called out. Last Valentines day, The London Dungeon tweeted a series of memes. The image above is one of the most appalling; which I assume was their desired intention. When they were taken to task about the nature of the campaign, they took the classic ‘I’m sorry if you’re offended’ line, which translates to ‘fuck off, we’re entirely unapologetic’.

Normally these instances cause a day of annoyance on twitter, and then we all move on. But recently, things got pretty damn serious. Firstly, an indoor sex worker was murdered in her flat a couple of miles from my house. Suddenly. this wasn’t such a funny punchline. Then today, I read a post by Janey Godley, a comic I greatly admire. She’s a no-holds-barred, straight down the line, smack-a-mens-rights-activist-in-the-face kinda gal, and I love her because she makes me feel not quite so alone in a scary world.

Janey was angry, and rightly so, at the horrifically misogynistic shit that gets hurled at female comics; particularly by stag parties. Sadly, Janey’s way of expressing her anger was to suggest that misogyny, violence and anger not be aimed at ‘women’, but instead be saved for that special breed of sub-woman, the hooker:

“I wish someone would open a huge stag strip bar in Glasgow so that the giant groups of angry men can go there and scream their hate at women and not come to comedy clubs…you are asking female comics to accept abuse because you can profit off a group of men whose mentality [was] so skewed they should’ve chipped in their money to hire a hooker and then killed her by taking turns kicking her up a dark alley…”

Even typing this turns my stomach. Janey is an ally, a good feminist. Sex workers are so peripheral on the vision of civil society that she thought it was OK to draw a parallel with nasty men being dicks to female comics at gigs (and I don’t doubt for one minute that they are horrendous, and it’s something no woman should have to suffer at work) with them instead expending their pent up woman-hatred by killing a prostitute.

I wrote to Janey and said as much, and although she didn’t reply, she did go on to amend her post to include the point that violence towards sex workers is not OK.

It’s a small concession, but I have an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach that it’s a battle that’s far from being won.

I’m still not laughing.

 

This post is in remembrance of Romina Kalachi, 32, who was murdered at her home in Kilburn, London on May 29 this year. Police stated that she was targeted because of her profession as a sex worker. You can make a donation to Ugly Mugs, a national charity which works to protect sex workers, here.