punch2 Stand-up comedy, like all art forms, has a few hardy perennials. In the plastic arts you’ve got landscapes painted with oils, for example. In standup you’ve got jokes at the expense of disabled people. In theatre, say, you’ve got big brassy musicals. In standup there’s a widely shared pride in how dangerous/boring one’s home town is.

If you see enough standup you’ll become a connoisseur of the quotidian observation. Where the casual observer might see a hopped-up loudmouth in an ill-fitting suit, you can distinguish the fine gradations of it all and appreciate the tangy bouquet of self-loathing overlaid on a peaty observation about Oyster Cards. This is not a good thing.

Here then are my notes on last night’s hopefuls at The Funny Side in Covent Garden. They were given five minutes each in which to imprint some humorous memory of themselves.

  • Marc Burrows – moon-faced, fake urban legends
  • Timmy Manners – high fiving a midget
  • Paul McCaffrey – “brand new pizza”, ATMs, RAF ads
  • Ben Van der Velde – Jewish Geordie, bungee humour
  • Daniel Simonsen – Norwegian, shyness, why doesn’t Rocky protect his face?
  • No Son of Mine (double act) – “father and son” team, gay Taliban, “magic hand trick”
  • Darren Maskell – props, “the promise of a Parker pen”, horse kidnaping
  • Sal Stevens – “the coil”, girlfriend jealousy
  • Helm and Taylor (double act) – hairy lads, hectoring, “bad” one-liners


  • The Beta Males’ Picnic (sketch) – “take your tablets”, cravats, Shakespeare as irritating robot
  • Gareth Kane – Kilburn, his estate, got dumped
  • The Dog-Eared Collective (quadruple act) – “The Night Line” advice line, social misfits, Yorkshire
  • Chris Dangerfield – new suit, crazy hair, sex with no-handed lady
  • Rob Beckett – fast talker, cereals

A common thread has begun to show itself and that is that Russell Brand has a lot to answer for. More than half the acts here aped – knowingly or not – his breathless, pseudo-stream-of-consciousness speedfreak delivery. Some pushed it to the limit, basically assaulting the audience with lung power and speed, while others were content to maintain a low-level frenetic hum.

I suppose the idea is that “energy” on stage is a worthy goal in and of itself, that it will carry the act along if the material sags. But I just found it exhausting after awhile. The quiet, calm ones wound up standing out. That meant Paul McCaffrey – whose timing was tremendous, just letting jokes hang in the air while he paused stock still and let us roll it around in our heads – and Daniel Simonsen, the Norwegian, whose innocent complaints about the perils of shyness beguiled me.

Special mention should be given also to No Son of Mine, a putative father-son combo whose past spills out uncomfortably on stage. It wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, but it was a pleasure seeing a sketch actually acted – and affectingly – rather than simply shouted.

Tomorrow: Audition #4.