The Only Jew in the Village

Will Watts on Bennett Arron and other acts at Headliners


Bennett Arron

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First up, trying his luck in a short spot, was Adam Vincent, a child of Oz with an amiable clock decorated by a beard as bleak as a blackthorn hedge in January. Mr Vincent was likeable and had pretty good timing, but his material was perhaps too whimsical and thin. ‘You know what it’s like when you go over to your friend’s house and then you both go to his friend’s house who you don’t know, and then your friend leaves and you are left there? You know that feeling? Well that’s how I feel now.’ Yes, all right, but as an opening gambit it’s hardly a side splitter, is it? Does he want laughter or sympathy?

However his closing sequence, an idea that the Third World will swap with the First World and record a seasonal benefit single ‘Do they know we know it’s Christmas?’, was much nearer the mark.

Simon Bligh is an example of my natural comedic foe. Although he knows plenty of gags, some quite amusing if generally drearily aggressive, he does three specific bad things. He picks on and bullies individual members of the audience, he rolls his eyes and gurns as though performing a hostile impression of Jasper Carrott, and – this is the greatest fault of all – he laughs at his own jokes as he is telling them. ‘My liver speaks to me. It phones me up. It se-he-hez “Take-hake me to George Best”.’

When Bennett Arron came on, he announced at once in what we must now think of as a Matt Lucas-ish lilt that he was the only Jewish-Welsh comic in the UK. This flushed out, as I suppose was intended, the self-deemed wag in the audience who felt the need to go ‘baa’. ‘Mind you, it’s not all fun and games,’ said Mr Arron calmly, ‘the main problem about being Jewish and Welsh is that you are never quite sure why you are being beaten up. Not that I’ve ever come up against any anti-Semitism.’ Pause. ‘Except “You killed Our Lord” of course.’ Pay dirt at last. Of his two inherited cultural influences, Mr Arron is a comedian more in the Jack Benny tradition than in that of, I dunno, Max Boyce; like Woody he is careful always to place himself safely at the butt end. Combining timing by Seiko, a deadpan post-delivery expression that by itself sustains laughter – ie the precise opposite of Mr Bligh’s anticipatory giggling – and a proven gagsmithing talent, he is a Chap To Watch. ‘There was a nice old lady in my village. You’d like her. And she used to say: “Whenever I take my umbrella with me, it never rains. Whereas when I forget it, it always rains.” So she was burned as a witch.’

Finally, we had the act I had been looking forward to: Richard Herring. Fellow comedy geeks will not need reminding… erstwhile writing and performing partner of Stewart ‘Jerry Springer The Opera’ Lee… ‘On the Hour’… ‘Fist of Fun’… ‘Talking Cock’… blah blah blah.

Wearing his hair long and his belly in a phantom pregnancy, Mr Herring looked somewhat dissipated. Perhaps the immediately preceding Ealing gig had sucked out all his energies. He struggled to find his rhythm. Although there were glimpses of classic Herringesque wordplay (‘Even today, in futuristic 2005….’), they were momentary, like seeing into people’s houses from the window of an accelerating train.

His big trouble was failing to control a heckling woman in the front row. When he attempted to discuss drink, listing its virtues (‘enhances your confidence in fight situations’), he had stumbled on the one topic of immediate interest to her. Her willingness to intervene peaked. A direct, reasonable appeal, carefully explaining the nature of his next item (‘Now I am going to be quiet and serious for a bit, and you have to listen; then I will say something unexpected at the end, and it will be very funny’) was predictably unsuccessful. In the end, the huge bouncer at the door – an unwelcome innovation at Headliners, by the way – waddled from his post up to the stage to threaten her personally. This shut her up, but by then it was too late. The act was crabbed, although on the bright side the traditionally male role of being the drunken git who spoils things had definitely been opened up. Another glass ceiling vomited on.

Will Watts

January 27, 2005