Venue: York Theatre Royal
Date:Tuesday 29 May
A motley array of stand-up comedians graced York royal’s main stage on Tuesday night for the only comedy event of Takeover festival. Stephen Carlin, Ed Gamble, Chris Turner and Chris Stokes each took their turn at that fickle skill of squeezing laughter from an audience. It was a varied performance that offered no beer-spilling laughs, more of an appetiser than a meal of a performance, but it amused in the least – I allowed a chortle but did not at any point venture to guffaw.
Ed Gamble, a young Londoner fresh from Have I Got News For You, was presenter. He introduced with a pantomime style gag of “I can’t hear you [clapping]”, which lowered expectations considerably. A little respectability was clawed back however in some rousing audience communication, delighting in a cheeky unrestrained insolence based on spontaneous reaction to questions placed to audience members. On reply to one grunting man he chastised him “either you’re mashed or you don’t give a fuck”, and more than once encouraged his spectators to “fuck off”. Funny as abuse is, the sarcasm and schoolboy wit began to wear thin after his first appearance, and I might be being a little overly-sensitive here, felt like mechanical bullying – with all his humour derived from the deviation from conventional views. York’s audience is simply not bizarre enough to provide sustainable material for this.
Chris Stokes’ proclamation that “we’re not famous, so none of you know who we are” was endearingly true, and stole the audience’s confidence far better than Gamble’s persistent hassling. He looks like a vampire with a Dolly Parton wig, and had the delectable parlance of someone telling you a peculiar secret, akin to Karl Pilkington. He quietly revealed his tales, netting the audience in a web of intrigue and then cheekily poking weird holes in it until the stories collapsed in intelligent humour.
The charm of Chris Turner, a finalist at the BBC New Comedy Awards last year, combined with unyielding puns made him a ruthlessly funny act. His genius ‘pun stick’, a slap on the microphone stand to warn of a pun, erected expectations and made inevitable ensuing hilarity to memorable lines – ‘when the midwife slapped me I came in her face’, and ‘did you hear about the orgy the zookeeper had with a pack of lions? He did it with pride’. He tacked deftly between light and dark material, placing you in a playpen of comfort and then squashing the other babies. He luxuriated in awkward silence with the skill of Stokes, making you cling to his speech and thudding his punch lines deeper. The climax of the show came in his remarkable freestyle rap, spitting astute lyrics on the spot with ease.
To finish Steven Carlin was endured, a Scottish man praised by Stewart Lee as one of the ‘Ten Best Comedians in the World Ever’. If you get dirty it has to be innovative to be acceptable, and Carling’s markedly smuttier material trotted out the worn material of Hitler, race and drugs, the majority of the first half of his act talking about his own alcoholism and Scotland. Moments of originality and a few accents shone through, but many of his gags were too sluggish coming and mediocre when delivered. He felt out of focus and lacklustre compared to the fluidity of Turner and Stokes.
Overall the night was interesting in the breadth of comedy offered, but the laughs were unreliable and often weary.