Best and worst of live comedy DVDs
A live comedy DVD could cheer anyone up this Christmas. That's if you plump for new releases from the likes of Joe Lycett, Billy Connolly and Richard Herring
A few years back, there was a regular quip about contemporary comedy that many acts had their 'dead dad' show. It might not be an especially new phenomenon, but this year could well be the time of the 'dead-tired dad' live comedy DVD. Richard Herring simply oozes fatigue during Happy Now? (★★★★☆), arguably his finest show since Hitler Moustache, as he existentially ponders becoming a new father.
Herring reckons that the search for happiness could well be the underlying theme to his entire oeuvre, but surely now he's found it having carved out a family for himself in his late 40s. Frankly, he isn't so sure. What he is certain of is that his creative edge has not ebbed away just because there's 'a pram in the hallway', a Cyril Connolly quote which Herring inevitably deconstructs to less than an inch of its life. Ably proving that darkness still lingers inside him, another elongated sequence explores a voice in his head that taunts him with the potentially horrific power he holds over this little bundle of joy.
Dad stuff is also at the core of Small Victories (★★☆☆☆) in which the perfectly likeable Alan Davies puts his fatherly mishaps into some context with his own dad's abilities and attitudes. While it's clear that the modern father generally shows a little more commitment to the parental process than his forebears, it certainly doesn't follow that Alan and his ilk are getting it particularly right. Stories of him losing it in the park or at a softplay centre are distractingly accompanied by Davies' own wheezy laugh, while there's a very weird canned laughter aspect happening on the soundtrack. That aside, he's simply another stand-up telling stories about his wee ones that pale into comparison against the brutal honesty displayed by someone like Louis CK.
Romesh Ranganathan is not far off nailing the misanthropic edge of the Bostonian when it comes to slating his kids who are often given mercilessly profane epithets. Taking his parental ire into the crowd during Irrational (★★★☆☆), he even asks one front-row member which child is their favourite. But it's not just his offspring who get it in the neck: Starbucks, Wagamama, Samsung, and his dear old mum should all shield their ears at certain points.
Email scammers are among those with which Joe Lycett takes exception in That's the Way Aha Aha, Joe Lycett (★★★★☆). In this gleeful show, the relatively posh Brummie makes it all look very easy (solid proof of preparatory hard work) as he also takes potshots at the Lad Bible, Fox News, parking attendants and artisan coffee shops, reserving his finest wrath for the TA moron he encountered on a Lisbon stag do. Less joyous is the rather lumpen show provided by Sarah Millican in her curious attempt to prove that this theatre-filling stand-up is somehow an Outsider (★★☆☆☆). She doesn't veer very far from her long-established script, spoon-feeding us a slew of filth, faeces and flatulence as provided by humans and non-humans alike.
This year's battle of the punsters can be considered a draw. The relentlessly silly Tim Vine goes gag-crazy, packing Tim Timinee Tim Timinee Tim Tim to You (★★★☆☆) with a chaotic hybrid of daft sound effects, ludicrous songs and whip-cracking jokes by the absolute crateload. With a stopwatch to hand, it looked like the longest space between a set-up and punchline was 14 seconds. Much more sedately paced is Stewart Francis with Pun Gent (★★★☆☆), a decent show but nowhere near the high watermark of his Tour de Francis set. Rather obvious jokes about Abu Hamza, Tourette's and Jeremy Beadle are easily forgiven by a crowd who draw a deep intake of breath at his less predictable Michael Schumacher moment.
Beyond the show-title, a decent pun or two might have helped the usually reliable Rich Hall in 3.10 to Humour (★★☆☆☆) as his improvised musical schtick fails to always hit the target. This show has also dated rather swiftly as here he's pondering the likelihood of another Bush v Clinton presidential race, discussing Cameron's current frailties as PM, and refusing to believe that Boris can still possibly be Mayor of London. Topical comedy is alright on the night but in such a lightning-fast news cycle, it merely makes this a bargain bin-bound irrelevance.
For someone with such a vicious streak of comedic pedantry, you'd think Josh Widdicombe would have avoided ever saying 'PIN number'? Those who feel a chill each time a checkout personage invites you to tap those digits in should brace themselves as he says it quite often during What Do I Do Now? (★★★☆☆). This would be a rather pernickety point to raise in a review were it not for Widdicombe himself being a total stickler for detail and a self-righteous obsessive when it comes to people failing to do the right thing. On the upside, he has a battery of gags which most of his peers would kill for.
Life's irritancies probably mean something entirely different when you've recently been at the sharp end of a double diagnosis of Parkinson's and prostate cancer. In High Horse (★★★★☆), Billy Connolly is typically forthright and wildly funny while discussing his health head-on. He may no longer be cavorting or gesticulating as he once did, but the Connolly mind is still pin-sharp. If this does end up being his final tour, a true legend of world comedy will have gone out with a bang.