Our Comedy Month – February 2016

After our quietest month in several years with only the one gig in January, February was stacked out with shows. As it turned out, there were some real highs and some real lows.

We started the month on the 1st with a high; a show at Plymouth University featuring some big names. This was promoted as Comedy Central Live and featured Mark Simmons (MC), Suzi Ruffell and Seann Walsh. It was supposed to be at the Main Hall of the University, advertised locally and not just as a student gig. However, presumably due to low ticket sales, it took place in the Student Union, so was in effect a student gig. If we had known it was going to be there, we almost certainly would not have bought tickets as our previous experiences of student gigs were not positive. For what turned out to be a student gig the ticket prices were very high and this might be what influenced the turnout. Having said all of that, the atmosphere was good and the show itself was great.

Friday 5th was supposed to be the beginning of three days at Exeter Bikeshed. But with the opening show, and our most anticipated one, being cancelled, we could not really justify the long trip to Exeter, so instead went along to the new venue for the Plymouth Comedy Club, Plymouth Athenaeum, for a one-off special show. Chris Brooker – Big in Plymouth. Chris has booked this night and been resident MC since the start and his brother Kevin is one of the organisers. We have supported them from the start as they has consistently brought far better acts to Plymouth than any of the other clubs in Plymouth. Saying that, recently we have chosen not to go a few times because of the line-ups and the last show we went to was a huge disappointment as the headliner had pulled out a couple of hours before, having broken down en route.

We got to the venue and were immediately disappointed to find we had been allocated seats right at the very back, as far away from the stage as we could have been. The club has always been a free for all seating wise, but using the theatre they now have to fill every seat, but do not let people choose where they seat when they book or even specify a preferred section. This is an immediate no-no for us and unfortunately will rule us out of booking again. I was on crutches and being at the end of a row meant I was having to keep getting up for people coming and going and by the end of the night in considerable pain. The seats are very cramped, leg room wise.

Chris had support in Liam Pickford who did around 20 minutes. Followed by Chris himself doing an hour split into two sections.

The show was due to start at 8pm, but it actually started a good fifteen minutes late. Liam was OK, but did not do anything that would want to make us see him again. Then we had to endure a break that was longer than his set. Chris was as genial as ever and put on a great show, proving he should be getting some better bookings. However the material was largely gutter oriented, hardly the kind of stuff to take him to the next level. If this had been in Edinburgh, I could have seen this getting a three star review at a push but nothing more. Though clearly we were in a minority here as the largely partisan crowd lapped it up and the local paper review was gushing – but then it always is. The thirty plus minute break midway through the set was tedious and we seriously considered walking out.

We were probably in a minority in that we had seen Chris do a proper (non-MC) set before, so the climaxing section about a comedian’s game on journeys was nothing new to us, but is VERY funny.

The show finished at nearly 11pm, the breaks being longer than the entertainment. For us it was a painful night, in more ways than one. We understand why, because they want to sell more drinks, but this needs to be much slicker.

Because of the nature of the venue, one of the defining features of the Plymouth Comedy Club has been lost – the two-pint glasses, and the bar being run by volunteers, no bottles of wine to be taken into the space either, so it was buy by the glass. For us, we much preferred the Plymouth Albion venue, and before it, the Citybus Social venue. A real shame, as the club has so much potential and with a 300 capacity, should be able to attract the best names, but doesn’t seem able to have done so for some time.

The following day (6th) saw us heading up the road to Exeter for the LOL festival at the Bikeshed. I was left in a quandary here, as we already had tickets we had bought for a show elsewhere so we could only see the first two shows of the day. We had to miss both Nick Helm and my beloved Beth Vyse later in the evening as it would have ended up with us paying well over £60 to see them. Justin Moorhouse just up the road in Tiverton had been purchased months before, but right up to the last moment we had been anticipating him being cancelled through low ticket sales. As it turns out we made the right decision, though I hated missing Beth’s show, despite having seen it twice before.

Anyway, we started the afternoon with the sublime Lazy Susan, I had seen them three times before and Carole once, and again they delivered in spades. Sketch comedy of the highest order. I really love them and if we had seen nothing else this weekend, this would have been enough for me.

Next up one of our all time faves in David Trent doing a work in progress. He warned us it would be ropey and he wasn’t lying. As far from a finished show as I have seen, but it is nice to see WIPs to see the creative process taking place. It started late and finished late which was a worry to us as we still had to drive to Tiverton. But this was because Nick Helm was running late, and as it transpired, his show was eventually cancelled because his train was stuck in a field due to flooding. We heard the following day, that Beth’s show had been fantastic, which we were really pleased about but we definitely made the right choice in going to our original show.

We only just made it to Tiverton, driving through rain, dark, flooded roads, over bridges being battered by swollen streams, and around unexpected, fallen trees, and ran in with one minute to showtime.We settled down and found we had a support act in Danny McLoughlin, who we knew from a couple of years before having seen him at Liverpool and Manchester within a few days on the way to and back from the Fringe. We like Danny a lot and he was a lovely hors d’oeurve for the main show – Justin Moorhouse – Destiny Calling. We hadn’t seen Justin since Edinburgh a couple of years before and he is one of the best comics on the circuit. Unfortunately, as both Danny and Justin mentioned, there was an elephant in the rooml; a swathe of empty seats. This was a real shame as it is always hard to work to a small audience. It was a fantastic show though and no complaints from us.

Sunday 7th saw us making another trip up the road to the Bikeshed for the climax of the three days. We did not do the first show, because we had already bought tickets to see it in Leicester the week after, more of that later, but we still had three very tasty offerings to digest.

We started off with Kiri Pritchard-McClean with a work in progress of her first hour. Very promising stuff and I am sure come August it will be great.

Next up, the nearly man of Edinburgh, James Acaster, whose work in progress seemed almost fully formed. That is the nature of the man. A precocious talent and one of my favourite comics ever, weaving a tapestry of words before his audience, and taking them on a surreal journey. Magical, yet again.

Finally, a fully formed show on tour, Geins Family Giftshop. This was a best of their last two Edinburgh shows. And sketch doesn’t come much better. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before, but it was beautiful, a wonderful end to the weekend.

Next year, Bikeshed, get these shows up earlier. As if we had known earlier, we would have come to everything as in previous years.

The following week started with me going to London on Wednesday 10th for my other love, symphonic metal and a fantastic triple bill of Jaded Star, Serenity and Xandria. I popped into the Camden Comedy Club on the way and had a brief chat with the lovely Grainne Maguire and got her to sign the Females of the Fringe and Secret Edinburgh books she features in.

Friday 12th saw us at Plymouth Pavilions for Sarah Millican – Outsider. We had hoped to get Sarah to sign the Females of the Fringe and Steve Best’s Comedy Snapshot books. We took along a picture of Sarah the rescue chicken for her.

We had a support act, and a strange bit of déjà vu. Having not seen him in a couple of years, it was Danny McLoughlin again, less than a week after Tiverton. Another great job done and it was interesting to see how it worked so much better in front of a crowd twenty times bigger than the week before.

Sarah herself was as fantastic as always. We were surprised she didn’t come back for an encore. It looked like that was going to happen but after a minute or so the house lights came on. We did go and stand in the rain by the stage door waiting for autographs on the books, but found out later that she leaves directly straight away and was already long gone by the time we got there. We were told why later in the month and understand perfectly. We would have made another attempt the following night as she was doing two nights, but for us, this was not possible as we were up at 6am to drive up to Leicester for three days 13th, 14th and 15th, at their comedy festival. The following week was school half-term holidays so Carole didn’t have to race back for Monday.

After a four hour drive on the Saturday and leaving our car at the hotel, we went for an early brunch and immediately bumped into an old familiar face in Jay Handley who had been performing the night before. Was nice to catch up and have a chat.

Dave's comedy festival

And so to the shows, firstly to the Cookie for two shows: Fran Jenkin, whose hour was padded out with fifteen minutes by Rob Mulholland. A decent work in progress. We enjoyed the hour and might have been tempted to see Rob’s own show later if we were not already otherwise booked. But ultimately are glad we didn’t – see later!

Staying at The Cookie, second up, Short & Curly – A Curly Night In. This was the fourth show we have seen with Paul & Rebecca, and what a corker. Props galore and jokes too. For a first preview it was amazing. A must see for Edinburgh.

Short.jpg

Rebecca aka Short!

Next round to the Exchange Bar for Sarah Keyworth, this was her first attempt at her debut hour and was really promising. Very strong and confident and another to watch for the future.

Back to the Cookie for two more shows. Sarah Callaghan, who we both enjoyed immensely and the John Kearns who I had been looking forward to the most of everything over the weekend. John is hard to define, maybe that’s his secret? This was an amazing hour, I could barely breathe for laughing. Absolutely hysterical.

Alas, this was to be pretty much the last laughs of the evening. Having had a cancellation, we chose Dead Cat Comedy for a multi act bill. We had no idea who was on other than we expected it to be MC’d by Eddie French, who we had previously enjoyed in Plymouth. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to see we had Masai Graham, newly crowned UK Pun Champion. Eddie was not MC’ing. This was to be Rob Mulholland (again).

Our first alarm bells rang when the show before was still going on at the start time of the show we were waiting for. A check of the program showed no gap between the end of one show and the start of the next. As it was the show started twenty minutes later than expected. With not many in the room to play to, Rob again did a solid job, before bringing on Freddie Farrell to open. He went down like a dead fish to the small crowd with not a single laugh we can remember. After what seemed like forever, he was replaced with a bit more banter from Rob and then Masai.

What followed was an embarrassment to comedy. As Masai admitted within a minute of coming on stage, he was totally pissed and stoned. We know he has a slow delivery but he could not remember his own jokes. He delivered about ten in ten minutes, with gaps of several seconds between lines as he tried to recall each one and some in even poorer taste than usual. It was painful and uncomfortable and we eventually walked out to get to our next show as it was running so far behind (despite only lasting 35 minutes). At one stage we were told by Masai that it didn’t matter as we hadn’t paid; then second guessed himself and asked if anyone had bought tickets. Yes, us. It was a ticketed £5 show. And the worst paid show we have been to ever.

Finally we popped along to Hansom Hall for Hate’n’Live. A panel style format where the audience get to submit things they don’t like on pieces of paper. The host, (tonight Justin Panks), draws them out and the panellists have to make a case for why they hate the thing pulled out for them. Eventually the audience get to vote for two finalists and then a winner. I quite enjoyed it, Carole didn’t. It was, like many of these things very hit and miss and some of the panellists didn’t really get involved. We enjoyed the contributions of Ahir Shah (unlucky not to make the final), eventual winner Ignacio Lopez and Leo Kearse. But the other three panellists might as well have not been there, thus was their contribution.

Overall a great day, that eventually fizzled out. We were hoping this would not be the case on Sunday.

The Sunday started with a lie-in and then a look around and lunch before our first show of the day back at the Cookie. Abi Roberts doing a work in progress. And what a fine one it was. Eventually she ran out of time, with more material in the bag dying to get out! It’s going to be more a case of how to fit it all into an hour than padding it out to one. Should be great come Edinburgh.

We then went down for our now traditional afternoon and bottle of Cava for Valentine’s day at the Kayal. They do an excellent offer of buying a ticket for one show and letting you see as many as you want. This year we had two shows to see Juliet Meyers and Laura Lexx both doing works in progress, both of which were fab.

Funny women day continued back up at the Cookie with our friend Harriet Kemsley, at whose show we also had a great time. Also got to say “hi” to some lovely people that we were not seeing in Leicester this year.

Finally, or so we thought, we had booked ourselves to see Just the Tonic’s Valentines Special at Hansom Hall – 7 acts for £7. A very good value show it was too, helped along with another bottle of Prosecco. Hosted by Darrell Martin, we were treated to, Barry Dodds, Phil Kay, Andrea Hubert, Juliet Meyers (again), Pete Otway and finally Bobby Mair. Dead Cat comedy – that’s how you put on a multi act bargain show!

We spotted that Paul Currie was listed in the program as being on at the Criterion at 10pm. Which puzzled me as it was not listed online when I was booking tickets. It turned out to be a mistake, so myself and some others who had turned up, spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting on Bob Slayer’s Blunderbus which was parked just outside.

A relaxed end to a lovely day.

Monday 15th. Ordinarily we would have been leaving now, but we stayed on an extra day to catch Adam Hills at the Curve theatre as the closest he was coming to us was going to be over a 200 mile round trip.

Before that we had a day out, first visiting Corby – what a horrible town, a victim of concrete over development, and then Market Harborough – lovely. We then came back and went off for an early dinner (Carole had found a rather nice place selling vegan pizzas) before a bonus show of Damien Clarke at the Cookie. A slight departure this and a story about having his phone stolen at the 2014 Fringe. A lot of fun and good to see Damo again. Oh and guess who else we bumped into. Danny McLoughlin. third time in ten days in three different places.

Adam Hills was great again, Carole said this was her favourite show of the weekend. He also happily stood outside in a bathrobe and boxers for an hour signing autographs and having pictures taken – legend.

HPIM2547I promise that Adam is wearing boxers here!

And that was Leicester for another year for us.

The Wednesday saw us going to a play, and what a corker. Monster Raving Loony at Plymouth Theatre Royal, took us through the life (and death) of Screaming Lord Sutch, ingeniously using iconic comedy show vignettes along the way. This was amazingly good and we hope it transfers to the capital or tours. There was an underlying message of depression and how it can link to the genius comic mind as well. His Lordship committed suicide, like many great comics.

Our final show of the month was at Calstock Arts on the 27th. Gary Delaney supported by Will Duggan. We have seen them both before, they were both great again. Gary seemed to enjoy it, even though it was a pretty small crowd, just over eighty, which was a shame. Everybody there enjoyed it too, it was a great end to a largely great month.

Currently March looks pretty sparse with only three shows in the schedule all of which we will be travelling quite long distances for, but if you want quality comedy and live in the far South West, you have to expect that, as there is little change to the standard of the local club nights. 

Dave (added to by Carole)

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