Monday, 11 February 2013

FESTIVAL DIARY DAY 4 - Rob Deering, Markus Birdman and comedy chat with Johnny Vegas

Wow, can't believe we're on Day 4 already - it's all flying past in a big comedic blur at the moment! Yesterday was another long and busy day, the morning spent writing up Saturday's many activities and the afternoon/evening spent cycling from gig to gig, to home, to gig, to gig, to another gig and back home again, in the driving rain/sleet/snow. Why do we do it to ourselves...? Coz we bloody love it, that's why!

First up was Mark Olver's afternoon chat show Dancing About Architecture at Just the Tonic, which was a fascinating hour of comedians discussing various aspects of the life of a stand-up. Mark was joined onstage by Johnny Vegas, Norman Lovett, Markus Birdman, Carly Smallman (who had to dash off at half time to perform at Kayal) and Adam Hess - although it should be noted that the character of Johnny Vegas was very much under wraps, allowing the man who plays him, Mike Pennington, to speak openly and honestly about being a stand-up, without the more unbalanced character of Johnny taking over. We were treated to some fascinating insights from the panel, including how they deal with nerves (drink often being the key, it seems); how male comedians can avoid going on stage sporting a urine stain (the trick is to tuck your little fella under, so any excess dribbleage heads down the inner thigh); Norman revealed how his Holly dialogue was shot in the early days of Red Dwarf (apparently Holly was just meant to be a voice to begin with, but managed to persuade Grant & Naylor to include his disembodied head as well). 

Fascinating insights: Lovett, Vegas, Hess, Birdman & Olver
We were also, er, 'treated' to a selection of the panel's Jimmy Savile experiences (some far creepier than others); the panel's views on the excitement/risks of ditching your pre-prepared material to interact with the audience instead; and a lengthy section on how they view other comedians. Stewart Lee was a big talking point - whilst his material was generally lauded as pushing the limits of what comedy can be, his holier-than-thou attitude to more popular comedians was frowned upon, because it was felt that nobody had the right to dictate what was worthy comedy and what was not. Johnny, although a great fan of Lee, had to agree that it reminded him of how he had to fight against the original Alternative Comedy movement's attempts to control what we were and weren't allowed to laugh at.
Also mentioned heavily was Daniel Kitson, generally regarded by most of the panel as the absolute pinnacle of stand-up comedy. Johnny Vegas revealed how he gave up live comedy because he saw Daniel Kitson and knew that he was taking stand-up to a new level that Vegas would never be able to achieve. According to host Olver, even the ambitious and competitive Russell Howard always wanted to be the best living comedian, until he saw Kitson and instantly knew he never would be the best - so apparently he's trying to become the richest instead! Speaking of rich comedians, John Bishop was also discussed, being something of an anomaly in stand-up - someone who is not neurotic and desperate to be loved like most performers, but is actually as nice and charming in person as he is on stage, and someone who came into comedy comparatively late in life, after having had a successful career and a 'normal life' with marriage and kids before entering stand-up. He was thus regarded by the panel as either the 'mature student' of the comedy world, or possibly an alien - because "no-one's that happy all the time".
Many other topics were covered in this engrossing two hours, and I thoroughly recommend heading along to one of the other shows (except the one featuring Russell Howard and Jon Richardson because it's sold out - they're on the telly, you see).

Telly-bound? - Stella Graham
After getting my times mixed up I sadly had to miss the Socks in Space Matinee, so I headed over to the Cookie Jar to catch Stella Graham performing her work in progress A Pint of Stella, which kept the sober and slightly reserved afternoon audience chuckling along but not hooting with laughter. Her cute observations, animated story-telling, 80s nostalgia and well-voiced characters were all gently entertaining, but the whole thing lacking any kind of 'edge' to it. Combine this with the fact that she's good-looking with a likeable personality, and she probably has a good chance of ending up on the telly, so good luck to her!

Introspective - Markus Birdman
Then after a quick tea break it was out into the snow again to head to Markus Birdman at the Belmont. This show had not sold well - a surprise considering the quality of Birdman's stand-up. There were some typically dark and knowingly controversial gags in there, which generally went down well (with the exception of a couple of cheap gags invoking national or gender stereotypes, which the audience were smart enough to know were meant in an ironic sense, but just didn't find as funny as some of his more well-crafted gags). Markus himself admitted that these gags would probably suit club nights better than a festival audience. Another work-in-progress, this show has the potential to be as fantastic as his last show Love, Life And Death, if it is steered more towards being a comedy show and less of a public therapy exercise for Birdman, who is openly trying to work through some personal issues at the moment. He just needs to remember not to risk losing the audience by becoming too introspective, or putting them in the uncomfortable position of unwilling therapist. Overall though, I'm a big fan - he has a keen mind and a winning personality, and the good bits were great - some of the best lines I've heard so far at the festival.

Infectious - Rob Deering
There couldn't have been more of a contrast between Birdman's show and the next one - Rob Deering at Just the Tonic. Rob has such an infectious energy and relentlessly cheerful onstage persona that you couldn't help but giggle uncontrollably at his silly antics. Armed with an array of musical instruments and a sampling loop pedal, he was able to create his own versions of popular songs including No Good by The Prodigy, the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations and Survivor by Destiny's Child to great comic effect, all the while elevating the silliness with his array of cheeky facial expressions and cheesy dance moves. It was an inclusive show too, with Deering recruiting one audience member to play cowbell whilst others strummed a guitar and shook his maracas (oo-er missus). Despite the wealth of instruments at his disposal, the songs that drew the biggest laughs seemed to be the ones he produced with nothing more than his own voice and the sample looper - beatboxing, imitating synth lines and sound effects, and layering vocal parts on top of each other to create some impressive soundscapes and wonderful genre parodies. Some of the grander tunes involving electric guitar, drums, congas and piano were impressive but not as intrinsically funny, partly because it was more difficult to hear the words over all the layered instruments, and partly because the longer songs lack the quick punchlines of the shorter musical 'gags'. It wasn't all music though - the show was punctuated by some very smart yet silly, well-delivered stand-up. Overall a very entertaining show - Deering is a disarming performer who will have even hardened fans of the most edgy, dark comedy (ie, me) giggling away and applauding his musical creations, leaving the room in a very bright, energetic state of mind.

Deering's show ended shortly before 11pm and was meant to be my last show of the evening, but, still in a lively mood, I headed across to the Looking Glass for another viewing of local film-maker Lucy Peel's Doc:Comedy film, which strikes a good balance between being entertaining and interesting in its exploration of the mechanics of stand-up, the psychology of the comedian and the socio-political potential of comedy to address difficult issues. Well worth a watch if you get the chance.

A slightly more relaxed schedule for me today, with Rhys Mathewson at the Criterion and Simon Donald's School of Swearing at the Exchange Bar, and if I'm still full of beans after that I'll pop over to the Looking Glass to catch some of the best locally-based comics in Three Men and Another Man, and Lindsey and Jim Are Married. See you tomorrow, comedy fans...

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