bathmat Well I must have been onto something in my last audition roundup because Roland Muldoon has echoed my observation that today’s young comedians eschew, by and large, political or social commentary. Muldoon – the guy who ran the Empire for 20 years and who still does the New Act of the Year competition there – went off on one at the School of Comedy’s Funny Festival, as reported here in Chortle.

His rant can’t have done any favours for the nerves of last night’s auditionees. (Yes, they all read Chortle.) (It is a weird business.) Yet it was the strongest group we’d seen yet.

Each of these hopefuls got just 5 minutes with which to make the judges remember them. And even if their act worked in the tiny upstairs of Hampstead’s Magdala (known as “The Alpine Club”), would it work in a 1000+ seat theatre? Compere Ross Ashcroft – who is very good at what he does – settled us in and we began.

  • Chum Bucket (sketch) – negotiations w/Michelangelo over Sistine Chapel ceiling
  • Liam Speirs – lame R&B clubs, dung beetles, pigeons eating a chip
  • Val Lee – 60s-ish, dead lesbians in fleeces, unironic bathmats
  • Hatty Ashdown – ashamed about going to Morrison’s, old mum
  • Jody Kamali – Iranian, from Bristol, rugby fan banter
  • Ariadne, the Greek WAG – Brits abroad, men are like taxis darlings
  • Max Dowler – impressions, Alan Sugar, Christian Slater
  • Richard Dellow – mushrooms, festivals, he shit in a Pringles can


  • Abandoman (sketch) – crowd-sourced freestyle rap
  • Claire Stroud – “i’m a body double for Lorraine Kelly”, Primark dresses, farts on the Tube
  • Dave Gibson – mustache, polyester suit, “getting mugged isn’t actually funny”
  • Sonya Kelly – mom on Facebook, “i’m putting on a mixed load”
  • Ryan McDonnell – fast talker, old people and public toilets
  • Sir Harold Hackney (Alternative Mayor of London) – 78 y.o., sang Mares Eat Oats
  • Simon Fielder – dating, “making love happen is like fighting terror”

I was astonished by Abandoman, who asked questions of two audience members and then sang a pop-rap love song about them, right on the spot, using all the details they were provided. And the rapping was actually good – twisted, complex and dense. When improv is done this well it feels like a magic trick – there must be something more at work here. But no, human brains really are capable of this.

Dave Gibson played an exaggerated version of a standup – bad suit, bad mustache, boundless self-regard. His material wasn’t memorable, but the persona and brio with which he invested it was.

Ariadne the Greek WAG wasn’t a particularly original invention but Alyssa Kyria did it very well; her hair in long black ringlets, her skin slathered with tanner, her contempt for Brits wrapped in a million fake smiles. “London men are like taxis, ladies. Oh yes. Most of them are dodgy, they usually have no idea where they’re going, and it’s usually best to get a big black one! And if you’re lucky he can take six of you at once.”

But my favourite was Val Lee. An older woman, she arrived on stage and with her quiet, strong voice simply commanded the room. Her entire act was based off the sweater she was wearing. It had belonged to her ex-lover. On whom she began to unload. “I hate your burgundy anorak. And I hate your blue bathmat in the shape of a foot. It was never ironic.” Suddenly we were somewhere else, we were with her in the very smallest, most private spaces of her life. She described going out to a lesbian discotheque after they had broken up. “You wouldn’t call it that here in London, but this was Eastbourne, so it was definitely a lesbian discotheque. Straight people can’t go to discotheques past a certain age, but lesbians can go until… well, until they die, really. You can usually tell the dead ones. They’re slumped over the table with their fleeces still on.” The specificity was killing us. We were helpless, in her power completely.

Lee’s act made me rethink Muldoon’s (and my own) narrow definition of political comedy. Wasn’t the 80s alternative comedy movement largely about imploding and reversing prior arrangements of public (political) and private (apolitical)? If we’ve gone back to thinking that Gordon Brown and the BNP are what counts as political, and penises and ATM paranoia are not, we’ve gone back to a pre-80s mindset, to a kind of ruined shell of a Habermasian public sphere. We all know it’s the very people who claim to “not be political” at all that have the most deeply embedded opinions. And somehow, an act that was all about the most specific images of a failed personal relationship felt the riskiest, the most liberating, and the most revelatory about life.

There was no roundup for Audition #5 because I couldn’t make it, and I can’t make the last one either so this is it, I’m afraid. I know you’re shattered. If you’d like to attend the final audition it’s next Wednesday at 8pm in Walthamstow, at The Plough, opposite Wood St. Station.

The actual finals themselves are at the Hackney Empire on Jan. 30, 2010. It’s the last big event there before the Empire goes dark for an indefinite period to give the Arts Council time to figure out how to complete their management takeover. It will be the last chance to see the refurbished Empire for some time.