Mr Grumpy makes us happy

Will Watts reviews an eclectic line-up at Headliners

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I know it’s early in the year, and I shouldn’t get excited, but I can’t help myself. I think I have spotted the 2006 winner of the coveted Chis All-comers Rudest Public Use Of A Mobile Phone Award.

Last year, you’ll recall, it was won by that poshly-spoken lady in front of me in the Marks & Sparks One Basket Only queue, who initiated a call while level with the white chocolate-covered California raisins and was still talking when she left the store eight minutes later. In the interval she had packed her goods with one hand (this unidextrous manipulation taking as long as it would), negotiated the financial aspect of her transaction with ill-defined pointy gestures and no interruption of her loudly-projected chatter to her telephonic chum, and had generally done everything possible to annoy everybody in the vicinity, short of hitching up her skirt and defecating on the conveyor.

Anyway, I found my new champion last Friday at Headliners. MC Martin Beaumont, a genial-looking chap with a slightly sinister hint of the Paddy Ashdown about his mush, was nonplussed when a man in the front row of his audience produced a mobe and started in on a discussion as though he, the phone user, was at home in his front parlour. Nor did the culprit react shamefacedly when his activity was drawn to the attention of the capacity crowd. Completely unfazed, he showed every intention of carrying on for as long as it took until he had brought the call to a satisfactory conclusion. Further investigation, carried out in part by the club’s ever-hovering bouncer, revealed that Mr Moto was about 23 rum-and-cokes north of the point of total drunkenness, and he and his friend were abruptly ejected into the unsympathetic night. ‘Know the feeling, because of course I joined the AA once,’ said Mr Beaumont, gamely adapting his material to the prevailing circumstances. ‘Didn’t stop me. I used to carry on drinking, but anonymously.’

Mr Beaumont is what I think of a ‘war-of-the-sexes’ comedian. We had the differences between male and female hurricanes, and how you could sell anything to men if you associated it with football, and how men reacted less stoically than women when unwell (my phrasing, not his). I suppose this sort of thing is intended to win over the female section of the audience, rather than actually make anybody laugh. His other material smacked a little of the jokes you get in email on Friday afternoons: ‘What’s that little square bit on a satellite dish called? Oh, yeah, a council house.’ Oh, yeah.

Double bass manipulator Jim Tavaré has been reviewed here before. I’m afraid his act didn’t wear particularly well on second viewing. Partly this was because he was unwisely still putting weight on his favourite Annoying Frog ringtone joke, which has lost its topical value. Also, given that his whole act centres on his double bass, couldn’t he learn to play it just a little bit better? But he had some good moments. ‘I was doing a corporate event the other day, at a golf course. There was a prize for the longest drive. Went to the man from Cornwall.’

‘Anyone here from Norwich? Give me six!’ cried third act John Mann, a chap built a bit like Friar Tuck – and mysteriously dressed a bit like him too. Mr Mann has a dilemma; he can’t decide whether to be a Grosso comic or a Whimso comic. Half of his material depends on gross-out humour, for example there was an unquotable scatological sequence that drew a sequence of groans and euuughs of recognition, but he also produced a piece of whimsy about carrier bags that meandered along for about five minutes before abruptly petering out, as though Mr Mann himself didn’t know how it ended. He did best with his exit line: quoting from his collection of helpful Tesco pamphlets: ‘Uses of bread. Bread is a versatile cooking ingredient, and can be used in many recipes. 1. Bread pudding. 2. Bread-and-butter pudding. 3. Toast.’

The late, lamented John Thaw once said, ‘My face is melancholic in repose’. Rich Hall’s face in repose is that of a man who has stood for ten minutes behind a mobile-yattering woman in the Marks & Sparks One Basket Only queue, only to find he is unable to pay because he doesn’t know his chip-and-pin number, at which juncture a hornet has flown up his trouser leg. But that’s just in repose. When he starts talking, it gets much crosser.

His jokes are delivered in a machine gun cadence, piling one gag on top of the previous. Think of an angry Groucho. ‘You guys, you guys here in England, you don’t want the Euro, you don’t need the Euro. The Euro is just for countries that don’t have enough famous people to put on the back of their bank notes. The Euro is for countries like Belgium. In Belgium,’ here the contempt level in his voice maxes out, ‘in Belgium they used to put pictures of missing kittens on their bank notes.’

An anglophile who seems to like slagging off his country of origin, the Dick Cheney shooting was a gift: ‘London. The place where nobody shoots you in the face with a duck gun.’ A member of the audience asked him, ‘So why did you vote in George Dubya?’ Of course he meant to say ‘Why did you Americans vote in George Dubya’, but he didn’t and I thought Mr Hall’s eyes were going to pop. ‘Why did I vote in Bush?’ he asked incredulously; and somehow just that by itself was really funny, as funny as all the best carefully-prepared jokes of the other three comics piled up in a heap. Life is so not fair.

When Mr H was done we needed more, and we cheered him back onto stage. If you missed his latest BBC4 series, tucked away in odd corners of the schedule where they hide the good stuff, do try to catch it when it next passes through.

Will Watts

February 24, 2006