Earl is King of Comedy

Will Watts on Earl Okin and other recent acts at Headliners


Earl Okin

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Early evening, and the storm that had been building over Chiswick all day, hot and oppressive and sickly yellow like an angry boil, finally burst. Giant drops of relieving rain splashed down on sticky Friday revellers, and big cops in slickers that shone like gun barrels had a lot of fun carrying giggling girls… I’m terribly sorry. I seem accidentally to have left my Raymond Chandler for Word add-in switched on. There, that’s better.

Down at Headliners, Quincy was fulfilling the MC role. I don’t want to be mean, because he seemed an affable and pleasant bloke, but Quincy wasn’t really up to snuff. Part of the problem was that it was hard to make out what he was saying. This was not an accent thing: his words just arrived indistinct and slurred, as though they had somehow become tangled in his dreadlocks on their way out. Bad microphone technique? Anyway, he taught us his name by dint of having us repeat it lots of times, and did a bit of ho-hum material about the Olympic bid and the East End. His best sally was the observation that those who oppose the London Olympics are the same people who were rubbish at PE at school.

‘Rang my ex,’ said Roger Dee, ‘to see if she wanted to hook up again, and I told her: I should warn you, I’ve put on a bit of weight since the old days. “That’s all right, honey,” she replied, “I’ve filled out a bit too.” So I hung up on her. Two wrongs don’t make a right.’ Mr Dee’s speciality is talking about, as he himself put it with uncharacteristic delicacy, bedroom athletics. This means he is rather difficult to review. Apart from the constraints introduced by writing on a pre-watershed website, there is my own credibility to consider. I mean, if I say his material relied rather heavily on the shock of recognition when it should have been relying on wit, then you may suppose that the reason I am against the ‘athletics’ is that I am rubbish at PE. Well, think what you like. I don’t care. Full marks to Mr Dee, however, for controlling the annoying female heckler.

I’ve seen Jasper and Dave Allen at the top of their form, cheered on Humph and the Clue team in the halcyon days when the late Willie Rushton was completing a well known phrase or saying by advising us not to get our knickers in a car boot sale, caught Alexei Sayle turning around an angry TV studio audience with three minutes of brilliant Scouse surrealism. And now I can say I’ve seen Earl Okin at the George in Chiswick too, for his act is in the very top rank. I don’t understand why he isn’t incredibly famous, with several satellite channels running 24 hour Just Earl.

Given that introduction, you now want some sort of description of what he does. This is quite a toughie. I hope Mr Okin will not take offence if I say that visually he is not terribly prepossessing. With a hairstyle that appears to be in two parts and include a significant element of nylon in its construction, and huge blank Ipcress File glasses, he looks like the man standing beside the man who isn’t the Spanish ambassador in an EU summit photo. He exploits his looks by claiming to be a stud and performing an incredibly salacious lip movement that sent a thrill of delicious horror through the female ranks of the audience. Then he strums his acoustic guitar, and sings his wonderful songs in a soft, clear voice that rings like a bell. He does a bossa nova (yes you do, I mean like The Girl from Ipanema) version of Teenage Dirtbag. He does a Cab Calloway-like number (oh for heaven’s sake Google it up or we’ll be here all day) where the audience have to imitate a rising sequence of amorous moans. He does a trumpet impression that is startlingly realistic, and includes the varied sounds produced by three different trumpet mutes. He can sustain a sung note for such a length of time that you expect to see him start turning blue, at which point he looks at his watch and carries on for another 10 seconds. Look, I can’t explain. It’s just wonderful. If you ever get the chance, you absolutely must.

The unenviable task of following Mr Okin was given to Jim Tavaré, who Lurched onto the stage equipped with a Boris Karloff build and a double bass. He had more fun with this instrument than anybody has since Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. ‘I used to be in the London Philharmonic… mailing list,’ he explained. ‘It’s not been an easy, working in a marching band.’ Mr Tavaré has made the valuable comic discovery that you can get a laugh by playing pretty well any tune – Beethoven’s Fifth, or Stand By Me – and then abruptly switching eight bars in to the Bloody Annoying Frog Ringtone. Good for him, say I.

Will Watts

June 29, 2005