A review of the Takeover, Comedy Night promoted by Chimera
on the evening of Tuesday 29th May
After reading the promotional material for Takeover’s comedy night which touted Steve Carlin as one of “The ten best stand-up comics in the world ever” in the words of the illustrious Mr Stuart Lee, I had high hopes for the evening. These hopes were, however, for the most part disappointed. At the risk opening myself up to accusations of vagueness let me start by saying that the biggest problem was the lack of “atmosphere”. That oh so intangible yet oh so essential aspect of any stand up gig. In the intimate setting of city screens basement on a packed out comedy night, any one of the four comedians on the takeover bill could most likely have me in stitches. In YTR’s cavernous main space however, with the stalls less than half full, all four comedians were somewhat swamped and had difficulty keeping the thinly spread audience with them. This ambiance was not helped by door staff who, used to ushering serious theatre, refusing to allow punters in and out to get drinks, and then rushing people drink-less from the bar 2 minutes before the end of the interval.
Our compere for the evening, Ed Gamble, started well but very quickly became formulaic. His improvised wise cracking and audience interactions, whilst sometimes sharp and amusing, more frequently were extremely repetitive. After he had asked the seventh person in a row what they did for a living, mocking the banality and ease of their jobs as he went, the obvious response became, “well apparently all you do for a living is ask other people what they do, then expect them to laugh”. There was none of the “brilliantly florid language” or “pure gold” that the Takeover brochure boasted of, and which I have seen from him in the past. For a more favourable account of what he is capable of perhaps look up his set on Russell Howard’s Good News.
Whipping us up into a final round of rather forced rapturous applause Ed Gamble brought on the evenings first act, the slight and unassuming figure of Chris Stokes. To my delight Stokes’s dry midlands drawl, slow paced but impeccably timed delivery and endearingly self-deprecating subject matter succeeded in lifting the evening. He was thoroughly engaging and by turns highly amusing. Drawn out tales of romantic failings, Star Trek fandom and the finer points of being a “know-all” trod the line perfectly between awkward vulnerability and self-conscious sarcasm, making for an entertaining half hour.
After Ed Gamble had asked a few more people what they did for a living we were treated to Chris Turner. Turner’s set was built around awful, but often very clever puns, delivered in an ironically awkward and consciously “anti-comedic” manner, often to hilarious effect. A personal favourite was his recitation of the periodic table, which mid-way through introduced us to the “element of surprise” as he suddenly screamed “OXYGEN!” Though his cocksure manner and overtly “smart” wordplay may have lost a few people along the way for coming across a bit smarmy, he went off to resounding applause after an extremely impressive improvised rap for which he took suggestions from the audience. Any man who can rhyme “bog snorkelling” on the spot is a man worth paying to see in my estimation.
If the night had continued on this trajectory it could have been an entirely different story; however it was ultimately let down by the failure of the headline act to even match, let alone outshine his two supports. Stephen Carlin did not live up to any of the expectations that Stuart Lee’s praise had endowed me with. His jokes about the differences between the Scottish and the English, paedophilia and tales of getting home “by magic” when drunk were predictable, and traditional to the point of being hackneyed. Whilst Carlin undoubtedly had experience on his side and won me over initially with his unquestionable presence and effective delivery, he was the only comedian of the evening who ultimately lost me entirely. I found myself bored and tuning out of what he was saying then suddenly switching on again when I realised I’d missed another joke. Though the venue size could have been a factor in this, it was in most part I feel down to the rather tired subject matter of his jokes. All in all it was not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, but the evening failed to deliver on its promise and was marred significantly by a substandard headline act and an ill-suited venue.