18
Nov 09

Hackney Empire’s New Act of the Year – Audition #4

Do You See + FT + The Brown WedgePost a comment • 381 views

QueenSpeech2 One oddity about this year’s hopefuls* is that not one has done political material. What are the chances? This is a fairly catholic smattering of forty or so comedians from all over the UK (though mainly London) and after a few nights of hearing yet again from the person on stage that he is “quite tall, people always notice that” or indeed “why is my beard ginger”, as was asked last night via the medium of song by a man seated behind a synthesizer (remember, I go to these things so you don’t have to), the total avoidance of such a rich seam of ridiculousness as national politics seems downright bizarre.

Roland Muldoon, the guy who occupied the Hackney Empire in 1985 when it had been abandoned by Mecca Bingo and left for dead by the borough council, picked it up, dusted it off, made it a base for his political theatre group C.A.S.T., and then transformed it into a base for popular low-brow theatre and “new variety”. Muldoon and his wife Claire remain the impresarios of New Act of the Year. He says comedians are “scared” of politics these days.

“There’s no Left any more,” he says. That may be, but surely this means politics is even riper than ever as the stuff of comedy? And not just the stuff done by politicians, but the stuff that prompts private seething resentment. Or rallies. Or a sense of betrayal. If us and them are no longer so clearly defined in traditional terms wouldn’t that be a good thing for comedy? Or does this particular comedic variant – standup – lean so heavily on established tribal assumptions that “post-ideology” really is a net loss for it? On the evidence of the last few days it looks like the latter.

Here then, were the decidedly apolitical acts of the evening:

  • Luke Benson – “Today’s special.. yes it is”, Geordie, playing Medal of Honor with granddad
  • Jo Selby – Vladivostok, “now I will tell you another joke”, hand puppet, Mr Twinkles
  • Paul F Taylor – infantile, dog stroking, “this is the first time I’ve spoken today”
  • Helen Arney – ukelele, osteopath sex
  • Adam Tempest – tall, flatmates, South African accents aren’t sexy
  • Norman Cho – Peckham, bald, suit, Chinese
  • Mark Simmons – Funny hair, Folkestone, Chunnel humour
  • Barnaby Slater – calm, Ikea like going on pull, Maddie humour

INTERVAL

  • Richard Fox – synthesizer, “Meet the Fritzls”, “why is my beard ginger”
  • Catie Wilkins – crap ghost rides, dirty talk, R. Madeley’s autobiography
  • Martin Hall – neice wants to marry him
  • Rob Coleman – big hair, puns, tasteless one-liners
  • Andrew Ryan – Cork, Irish Dragon’s Den, lightswitch for handbag
  • Lindsay Sharman – pathetic mom gossip, plummy, frantic
  • Nish Kumar – Croydon, fast talker, sneaky knights, crap racists
  • Angelica O’Reilly – anal bleach

This collection of comedians produced a surprising amount of pedophilia jokes. It’s essentially a capricious phenomenon – like putting a random piece of music on a random piece of film, moments of bizarre synchronicity will emerge. Last night it was pedophilia. (Not even my favourite act of the night, Martin Hall, could resist, but he was so guileless about it, and his five minutes were structured so well, that you almost even forgot that the heart of his material was the fact that his underage neice had decided she wanted to marry him.)

The other standout for me was Jo Selby, who is probably not Russian but convinced me otherwise for the first minute or two. “Bad” joke telling by cod-foreigners is pretty much the opposite of groundbreaking but she was so good at it that she won the room over completely. No movement was wasted – the whole act was put together like clockwork.

Muldoon says that although none of the audition acts have been political, no one does racist material on stage any more, and that’s a political achievement in itself. For my part, I think we will always laugh at people who are different from us, and ethnicity is one such marker. But when we can do that with affection, as in Selby’s Russian bit, it does feel like an achievement.

* Actually several of them are back around for their second or third try; some even using the same material…

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