4th July 2014, Sportsmans Arms, Ivybridge

Exclusive: The 70s are alive and well and in Ivybridge

In 2013 we saw Sol Bernstein, the alter ego of comedian Steve Jameson, when he performed two sell-out nights at Plymouth Comedy Club.  This foul mouthed old Jewish pensioner is a classic character act. And I have followed him on Twitter ever since. So I was intrigued to read a tweet from him saying he was on a train to Ivybridge. I like to think I am in the know regarding a lot of the gigs in our local vicinity with my ear constantly to the ground looking for new ones, but apart from the Watermark I was unaware of anything else in Ivybridge. A bit of digging found a ‘last ever’ comedy night at the Sportsmans Arms and on ringing the venue it transpired this has taken place every three months or so for several years. It was advertised as pie and mash and comedy for £20, a bit steep when you consider the £5 we paid for a comedy night in Plymouth the Friday before that included a bowl of chilli or curry but still a chance to see Sol, who we cannot fit into the Edinburgh Record Schedule. (Just The Tonic @ The Tron, 9pm)

First sign of worry was when I asked if there was a vegetarian option for Carole and was greeted with incredulity before being told there would be.  Second sign was when I was told how they had welcomed some of the ‘greats’ to their night, Max Miller, Stand Boardman and Bernard Manning. Ummm, well at least it will be an experience I thought, I was not to be proven wrong.

We arrived at around 7:45pm and were given a table with four local businessmen, all of whom were regulars at the pub. To be fair they turned out to be very good company for the evening.

All in all, there was a crowd of around ninety of which the female quota was worryingly not in double figures. So our third sign of worry was when we were told there were a ‘lot more women in than usual’.

Fourth sign of worry was when Tony, the landlord came and said hi, we had apparently caused a bit of a stir requesting a vegetarian option, and he had instructed one of the comics to ‘take the piss’. The food came out sometime after 8pm while Carole was in the loo, and they had forgotten all about there being a vegetarian in the room, so I had to inform the landlady. The pie and mash was pretty good, I have to say, but when Carole eventually got hers (when everybody else on the table had nearly finished), a vegetable and bean chilli, it was so spicy, that it was impossible to eat. The story being that the landlord had been in the kitchen telling the chef, obviously not used to cooking anything vegetarian, to put in more and more chilli. No had one tasted this, obviously, until it went back into the kitchen and the chef and landlady agreed it was inedible. A replacement salad followed.

We bought tickets for a very big raffle and eventually around 9pm the landlord himself, well into his 70s came to the stage and started with a jaw droppingly bad couple of minutes of anti-semitic humour before bringing on the first act Gary Cheese. Apparently Gary had not gigged for two and a half years and this showed. In fact he could have been literally transported back from forty years ago. The act was dated, and appropriately cheesy given his name. More importantly it was barely funny at all. He mentioned at one point having a bet with another comic over how many laughs he would get. And seemed genuinely happy when he got three in his set.

It was a very long twenty minutes before he left the stage to be replaced by ‘local legend’ Martyn Aldridge. A search of him online finds him bookable with this tagline ‘After Dinner Speakers 4 U – Martyn Aldridge is a stand up comic from Plymouth. 20 stone plus of sex appeal and laughter (but mostly laughter!)’. He started off with racism, then did the whole gamut of paedophilia, homophobia, bestiality and a particularly nasty line in misogyny. An absolutely horrid set of the sort of comedy that is no longer acceptable, and we thought was long gone. Totally foul and more importantly not funny. Though he did clearly have a number of supporters in the audience. We spent this set looking around the room people watching and looking at each other in horror. There were certainly no laughs coming from the minority of women and most of the other laughter was more nervous than appreciative. In the last Devon county council elections in 2013, UKIP got 28.2% of the vote in Ivybridge coming second behind the Tories. Based on what we saw here tonight, we are not surprised.

We were glad for a break and did debate leaving at this point, but did want to see Sol, so stayed. A very long raffle then took place followed by Gary Marshall, an old school Northern comic and at the age of 49 (according to him) bringing the average age of the night well down. It is worth mentioning that Carole and I, both in our early fifties, were certainly at the younger end of the audience age scale here. Gary was actually funny, with nothing non-PC, just a series of gags, many of which were standard old school material. Gary is clearly an old pro with lovely delivery and timing. The gig was on an upward curve at last, though it could not have sunk any further.

A final short break and finally Sol doddered to the stage. We have seen his act before and it is great, often poking fun at political correctness while clearly being a character piece. At least we thought so, until speaking to our tablemates, who genuinely thought he was for real.

The evening came to an end, we had a lovely chat with Steve and finally left for home close to midnight after another jibe by the landlord at Carole for being vegetarian.

Quite frankly, overall, this was one of the most horrible nights out doing comedy to which we have ever been. Though it was also a really interesting experience to see that there are still big crowds of people who want to see this stuff, and are prepared to pay well over the odds to do so. This hotel/pub is a mere couple of hundred yards from the Watermark arts centre, where we recently saw the superb storytelling comic Tom Wrigglesworth performing to a crowd less than a third of the size here, despite tickets costing half the price. We certainly would not consider going back, but are glad for the experience as it will only make us appreciate the generally wonderful comedy we are used to more. And I would recommend this as a one-off experience to any comedy lovers just to see how bad comedy used to be, and still is, in Ivybridge.

Dave.

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