DVD review: live comedy round-up
‘Tis the season to be jolly with DVDs from legendary stand-up figures such as Dylan Moran, Bill Hicks and, um, Dapper Laughs
Thanks to the likes of Netflix and YouTube, some have announced the death of the live comedy DVD. The veritable glut of releases ahead of Christmas from a wide variety of acts surely suggests there may well be life in the whole shiny, snappable dog yet.
With news emerging that Clydebank’s favourite son (unless you’re a Wet Wet Wet fan) is taking a break from stand-up to work on a sitcom, Kevin Bridges: A Whole Different Story (●●●●) could be the last chance in a while to witness a true Scottish phenomenon in full flight. Happily, this show recorded at the Hydro features none of the curiously intense heckling that has intermittently bedevilled his current tour, but does feature a man fully on his game. The hilarity strike-rate is all the more impressive given that the opening 20 minutes is relatively humdrum and laugh-free. His phrase ‘hoose rice’ is likely to be rattling up and down the nation as we speak.
Susan Calman: Lady Like (●●●) is the other main DVD release from a Scot this year and shows the former corporate lawyer on fine form as she tackles some of the darker corners of her life (mainly depression and self-esteem issues not helped by abuse in the Twittersphere). The more sombre moments are a potent counterpoint to the sillier stuff of an ill-fated romantic trip to Paris, the weird experience of being on a reality TV show with cricketer Phil Tufnell and trying to reignite a lifelong dream of dancing in Swan Lake.
In Miles Jupp Is the Chap You’re Thinking Of (●●●), the cut-glass tones of the man who shot to an element of fame as Balamory’s Archie the Inventor (he lived in a pink castle in case you need your memory jogged) are put to solid use in his faux-angst tale of being a stressed-out modern parent. Beautifully undermining the entirety of the show’s first half with a single line at the start of the second, he goes on to attack the Tory government with precision and wit.
Precision, wit and beauty: three words that you will never associate with the man behind Dapper Laughs Live: The Res-Erection (●). It’s difficult to imagine any self-respecting critic finding anything positive to say about the career of Daniel O’Reilly, but he has given us all a right old laugh with the recent assertion that he’s actually a contemporary feminist. Despite that claim, it’s somewhat difficult to picture Bridget Christie catching a glimpse of The Res-Erection and concluding that she has found the very man to pass the baton on to. What next: Jim Davidson standing up for Syrian refugees?
John Bishop: Supersonic (●●) might be shifting units by the crateload (helping contribute to his status as the highest-earning British stand-up of 2015) but it’s still hard to pinpoint exactly what he’s doing right. Admitting that joke-telling is not his forte, the Scouse lad proceeds to tell tales of an increasingly fractious home life and the bemusement he also feels at attaining such levels of fame (though it doesn’t stop him from virtually gloating about some of the perks).
Inevitably, the majority of DVDs out now are, like the comedy world itself, full of folk who straddle the not-bad but not-great three-star terrain. This clump of OK-ness kicks off with Alan Carr: Yap, Yap, Yap! (●●●). The Chatty Man host is in a typically conspiratorial mood as he reflects on more personal issues such as moving in with his bloke and taking his mum on safari. In an era packed by comics who seem obsessed with covering every splinter of their stage, Carr endlessly roams around doing a series of silly walks (his centaur is admittedly enjoyable).
Being a man who is battling against maturity in Chris Ramsey: All Growed Up (●●●), the Geordie comic reflects on his impending fatherhood (a state he has entered since the making of this DVD) and wonders whether he will ever be cut out for the adult world. A wholly likeable performer, his boundless enthusiasm for talking to large rooms of strangers sometimes gets in the way of the material but he can certainly weave a show together, linking all kinds of stories in an intelligent and non-contrived manner.
Mark Watson: Flaws (●●●) has the Bristolian merging his anxiety-based stand-up with comic innovation (the quick-fire reconstruction of a frenetic children’s party with the aid of a compliant audience is a neat lull-breaker) as he considers his own insecurities and failings. Watson isn’t capable of putting on a duff show, but this feels a lot less glorious than many of his earlier works.
Spotted having a fine old time in the Flaws audience is the UK-based German comic behind Henning Wehn: Eins, Zwei, DIY (●●●). With admirable focus, Wehn sticks determinedly to his main theme (mortgage versus rent) while there are rich diversions featuring everything from a childhood accident, the impossible job politicians have and his nation’s recent World Cup glory.
In Hal Cruttenden: Tough Luvvie (●●●), the man who is perhaps the embodiment of a ‘Radio 4 comedian’ has, like many others on this list, something to say about dogs, but no one has a partner that they mercilessly mine laughs from purely on the basis of their inherently menacing Northern Irish accent. Cruttenden’s main woe is how to not be a pushover in life, a dilemma which is perfectly highlighted in his main story of challenging some crude males on a late-night train.
Justin Moorhouse: Live in Salford (●●●) features the northern wag accurately suggesting his look is a bit Build-A-Bear Workshop, and meandering through anecdotes which have more than a touch of the Bishops about them: playing in charity football matches alongside heroes and being the father of uncommunicative teens. But being able to play the hip-replacement card in his mid-40s delivers material that can rightfully be considered as niche.
At the higher quality end of affairs is Russell Kane Live (●●●●) with the Essex-raised comic continuing his mission to provide thoughtful stand-up with poetic flourishes. Trimming 20 minutes off this would make it a near-perfect artefact as Kane messes around with identity (national, regional, gender, sexual). While he does seem to frame every subject as containing just the two perspectives, his ability to back up all his arguments with coherent opinions and deliciously constructed imagery leaves him in a contemporary field of his own.
Dylan Moran: Off the Hook (●●●●●) has the Edinburgh-based Irishman in arguably the hottest form of his life as he inserts domestic politics and global identity into a familiar surrealist-tinged tapestry of bemusement regards the world around and within him. Technology, modern warfare and his family all get a pasting which veers from the gentle to the coruscating in a show that glistens with golden moments arriving on a more consistent basis than some of his previous shows. In terms of stage-movability, Moran just about forces himself to sidle over to his glass of red from time to time while Off the Hook director John Gordillo has chosen not to turn the camera onto the audience once (an almost artful blessing amid a sea of exuberantly delirious punters attending all of the above).
A complicated relationship with his audience is a recurring motif throughout the four live shows which make up Bill Hicks: Ultimate Hicks (●●●●●). In Sane Man, the late comic even indulges in a rare spot of successful adlibbing with his crowd, a refreshing twist from the perfectly crafted and heavily opinionated work which remains his key legacy. One criticism which has reared its head from time to time is not necessarily laid to rest here with material, stories and gags almost on repeat across Revelations, Relentless and One Night Stand. It’s probably worth pointing out that many of these routines about American imperialism, individual freedoms, censorship, drug policies, and marketing-led musicians remain courageous, relevant and very funny, 21 years after the man’s far too early death.