15th most influential man in British Comedy stars at Headliners

Will Watts reviews Rob Brydon and the other acts at a recent show



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Perhaps it is because it has a later starting time than of yore, but the atmosphere in Headliners seems to be more generous than I remember it a year ago. Yes Officer, that’s ‘generous’ spelled dee are yew…

When I am made Dictator, I shall seek out those comics whose main strategy comprises picking out audience members and plying them with not-very-cunningly-adapted prepared material. I shall round them up, strap them into the stocks and have a baying mob, inflamed by congestion charge zone rumours, throw pointy rocks at them until they promise to work up some proper jokes. ‘You sir. In the front row. That’s a nice jacket, sir, but only if you were a microwaved baked potato – Ow! God! You’ve broken my arm!’

Until that happy day, emcee Jarred Christmas will presumably continue to thrive. Billed I notice as ‘Short Spots’ on the W4 website – actually a much cleverer alias, albeit a mistake – Mr Christmas put on material so thin that you could see his nipples through it. It comprised almost entirely of busking with the front row. It wasn’t that he was cruel or mean or anything. It was just that it was so feeble. ‘When I was in New Zealand, I used to work as a trolley pusher. Then my manager came up to me and said, “You’re not a trolley pusher, you’re a trolley relocation manager.”’ No, no, Readers, do not adjust Internet Explorer, there hasn’t been an editing error – that was the pay off. And again, bantering with table 3’s Ed-the-student, he produced his cerebral highlight: ‘What are you studying, Ed?’ ‘History and English.’ ‘Well, you’ve come to the right country then.’ I mean, even crosstalk between co-presenters on daytime TV is better than this. But everybody else loved it, so maybe I just need to learn to drink more. Mr Christmas projected confidence; I’ll give him that.

When Seymour Mace came on, dressed in one of those continental suits that look like an old-fashioned TV test card, my friend whispered to me, ‘Emo Philips lite’. I can’t better that for a summary. Mr Mace’s comic persona is a greasy paranoiac; he hesitatingly mumbles his lines in Geordie accent (complete with ‘us’ used as the first person singular accusative pronoun) alternately drawing pity from his audience and revolting it. His best material was too strong to be quoted here, the nearest I can get is part of his rant in favour of dope smoking: ‘Nothing bad happens if you smoke dope. Nothing. You might get cancer, but then you might get cancer walking in front of a bus.’ He deftly verbed the surnames of two great thesps: ‘Jeremy irons while Nigel hoovers’. And he did a pretty fair Six Million Dollar Man moving in slow motion impression, although the patter that justified it didn’t really work.

Now to the big name act of the evening: Rob Brydon, currently to be found doing sterling work as complacent TV director Peter De Lane in ITV’s Director’s Commentary. Brydon comprehensively outclassed his fellow performers. ‘Whoa Black Betty! Bam-ba-Lam! Whoa Black Betty! Bam-ba-Lam!’, he sang a capella, demonstrating a fine singing voice of the type the Welsh are given as standard issue. ‘Whoa Black Betty! Bam-ba-Lam!’ The people who like to do the overhead clapping in time thing started joining in. ‘Whoa Black Betty!’ The people who don’t like overhead clapping but do like joining in, joined in. ‘Bam-ba-Lam!’ Everybody now moronically clapping. ‘Whoa Black Betty!’ The late joiners-in began to suspect they were being tricked… It still took him another five or six repetitions before the most obstinate clappers tumbled, and yet another three or four to make the point. Then he switched to his speaking voice and mimed a telephone. ‘Hello? Hello? Whoa. Black Betty? Bambalam.’

Mr Brydon profitably drew on the arrogance of his De Lane character: ‘Everybody who has been on “Parkinson” put up their hand…. So that’s just me then. Everybody who has been on “Parkinson” twice put up their hand’. He got a weird drunken heckle from a lady who had had her car broken into on Thursday night (‘They took my shpare wheel an’ sixty CDs!’ she wailed in a voice full of emotion and dry white) and dealt with it so deftly that I briefly wondered if she were a plant. Not for nothing is he noted as, as he himself said, the fifteenth most influential man in British Comedy. ‘Of course I don’t believe these things. A load of silly nonsense. Mind you, it was a Proper Industry Poll…’

It’s tough luck on the last act Paul Tonkinson that I now inflict an automatic five point penalty on anybody who opens with a ‘Gosh here I am in Chiswick, aren’t you all posh?’ line. I wonder what the equivalent gambit is in, say, Brixton. Mr Tonkinson wore a rather sharper suit than Mr Mace’s, and his speciality was little vignettes from what used to be called ‘the sex war’. He dealt with crumbs in the margarine tub – how they got there, and the reaction they cause – and ‘that thing where men move is if they are about to get out of the armchair, but don’t quite’. Mild stuff done competently, and if he had just left Chiswick alone he would have come away with 6/10 instead of the ‘1/10 See me’ that I am awarding him. Rules is rules.

March 4, 2004