By James Shackell
I’ve always believed that British humour isn’t like regular humour. It’s subtler, more ironic and soaked with a self-aware melancholy that you only get when your country has lost its imperial stranglehold and now hangs its jaunty cap on statistics like diabetes per capita and casual violence. And yeah, the accent helps too. If you took two equally talented comedians, both with perfect timing and well-honed craft, the one who pronounces ‘scone’ as ‘scowne’ will always be inherently funnier. That’s just science.
So I was pretty excited about Best of British, the Festival’s UK-themed ‘lucky dip’, where you pay $20, reach your hand in, and pull out either a delicious pork pie or (if you’re unlucky) a metaphorical black pudding. Either way, you’re in for a good Tuesday night, and this year’s line-up is definitely one of the strongest I’ve seen. Four acts, and there wasn’t a dud among them.
A young comedian with a Newcastle brogue so thick you might struggle to catch the faster material. Luckily I came prepared with three seasons of Geordie Shore under my belt. Humphries has a gangly, ginger energy on stage, riffing on pretty standard stuff like the big spoon/little spoon debate, dating a girl much hotter than him and a few well-timed observations about Australians and jaywalking against the lights (“There’s nae cars for miles and miles, and you’re all like, ‘Hold!’ Hold!’ Not yet!”) It’s not material that’s going to set the world on fire, but it warmed the crowd up a treat, which is all you can ask from your first act. Three stars.
Damn I love discovering comedians like Markus Birdman, a slick, weasel-faced Pom who seemed to be three beers south of sober by the beginning of the set. The audience was on-board after the first Holocaust gag, which drew a few risqué ‘Ooohs’ from the crowd: “Oh, sorry, have I misjudged those Nazis? Too soon is it?” Bergman shot back with an eyebrow raised. His style is belligerent drunk meets middle-aged shaman, and there’s some smart material in here on fatherhood, growing old and the dangers of teaching our kids to believe in dreams. I saw enough to Google his solo show, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea. Five Stars.
Rory Lowe looks like he’s going to be a nob (objective journalism is overrated). He’s a dreadlocked, UK-born, Aussie-raised twenty-something with the vacant stare of the serial puff addict. A Rastafarian Bradley Cooper. But damn is he funny. I’m happy to say he won me over big time, despite my usual hesitation over comedians who get 60% of their laughs from delivery alone (i.e. shouting stuff). There’s some clever word play around wine and erectile dysfunction and plenty of observations on the cross-cultural differences between the UK the Oz. He’s got a schtick, and he works it well. A solid four stars.
Jesus, if the idea of audience participation freaks you out, do not sit within three rows of Andrew Stanley. It’s not a criticism to say he has no material: he pulled 15 minutes of comedy out of the air, bouncing around the front row of the crowd and ripping into them like an Irish pit-bull. I would not heckle this guy if you paid me $5000. He’s too quick, too cutting. Stanley is a familiar face back home, running The Comedy Cellar in Ireland and hosting the RTE 2 show I Dare Ya. His stand-up is 100% sweaty, manic energy, but he’s clearly a total pro. Not many comedians would have the guts to base a set on nothing but swagger and wits. If that’s your thing, down a quick pint, strap yourself in and go nuts. You’ll have a wonderful time. Four stars.
Best of British is on at The Exford Hotel until April 23