sun 19/09/2021

Comedy Reviews

Stewart Francis, Touring

Veronica Lee

Before he started making regular appearances on BBC Two's Mock the Week, Stewart Francis was an accomplished comic of some years' standing on the circuit - and that experience shows in his extensive UK tour, Outstanding in His Field, where he proves to be a slick performer whose set is delivered with exquisite timing.

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Paul Merton, Touring

Veronica Lee

Paul Merton is a very funny man, as anybody who watches Have I Got New For You will know. But fans of that programme will find his latest live show, billed as his return to stand-up, which he started doing 30 years ago, a very different experience. First thing to report is that it's not really stand-up, more an autobiographical run-through of his life, using jokes, songs and sketches, aided by some chums from his improv group Paul Merton's Strolling Players.

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Benet Brandreth, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Storytelling, they say, is an almost lost art. Well, not while Benet Brandreth is around, it's not. Brandreth, Sandhurst graduate and a lawyer by day, studied Philosophy at Cambridge and has packed rather a lot into his life, real or imagined. He weaves a fantastical tale charting his story from graduation to last year - when, not for the first time, he saved the life of a member of the royal family.

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Alex Horne, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

In Seven Years in the Bathroom, which he premiered at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, Alex Horne attempts to shoehorn the average man's 79-year lifespan - in which he says a remarkable seven years is spent in the bathroom - into an hour's comedy. It's certainly high-concept, and there's an awful lot of comedy to be mined from the subject.

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Jackie Mason, Wyndhams Theatre

Veronica Lee

There was a time when Jackie Mason was the pre-eminent New York Jewish comedian. He had started his career in those postwar Catskills hotels catering to vacationing Jewish families from New York City, which became known as the Borscht Belt. The circuit spawned a list of talents including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Joan Rivers, among many, many more, and it was a phenomenon that prompted the film Dirty Dancing.

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Watson & Oliver, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Lorna Watson and Ingrid Oliver, purely by dint of being female, have a burden of expectation before they even open their mouths, as the ghosts of French and Saunders stalk the corridors of the BBC. It's horribly unfair to saddle the newcomers with that burden of course, but, given the dearth of female comics on television, it's perhaps inevitable.

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Adam Riches, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

The journey from the Edinburgh Fringe to a UK tour or London residency can be a fraught one. What works in the context of the world's biggest and best arts festival, where even in established venues there's often a whiff of “let's do the show right here!” shambolism, can, in the confines of a professional theatre space, be met with irritation rather than affection.

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Nathan Caton, Firebug, Leicester

Veronica Lee

On a bitingly cold and snowy night in Leicester, Nathan Caton still manages to attract a big house for his show Get Rich or Die Cryin'. The hip young Londoner, in corncrow-and-dreads hairstyle and city slicker casual gear, is an immediately engaging presence on stage at the Firebug club, dissing his teated fruit-drink bottle as undermining any macho posturing he may be tempted to do.

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Frank Skinner and Friends, Noel Coward Theatre

Veronica Lee

There must be something in the air. Hot on the heels of Alexei Sayle returning to stand-up in the guise of an MC introducing young talent to a wider audience comes Frank Skinner doing the same. In truth, the latter started the trend two years ago with Credit Crunch Cabaret, and now his Frank Skinner and Friends is having a short West End season – in which he mixes mixes some scripted and riffed material with promoting a few lesser-known acts.

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Alexei Sayle, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

It has been 16 years since Alexei Sayle last performed as a stand-up, save the very occasional charity gig, so there was a proper sense of occasion at the Soho Theatre when he came on stage. The old lefty, brought up in a Stalinist household in Liverpool, was alternative comedy's biggest name back in the 1980s and the scourge of the Thatcher government, so how would his sneering, disdainful political material fare now?

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