Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Sean Kelly seems to have taken over from Jerry Springer as the new king of guilty pleasure TV. Who knew that blind auctions in grubby storage units would make for such compelling TV? But Storage Hunters hasn’t just taken the US and UK by storm, it’s been syndicated around the world. Perhaps we’ve grown weary of all the confrontation and dirt-dishing of reality TV. Save for the odd fist-fight, which barely escalate into anything thanks to the presence of gargantuan security guard The Green Mile, Storage Hunters pitches a bunch of characterful buyers against one another as they try to guess if the contents of a ‘bin’ will make them rich. Of course, the entertainment comes not from the buying and selling, and certainly not from the piles of junk on offer, but from Kelly’s entertaining rôle as auctioneer, persuader and everyone’s mate.
Last in Manchester for Comic Con, Kelly proved bafflingly popular with the young, geeky cosplay crowd. Tonight the audience are older (the show has an age limit) but equally as fired up by seeing Kelly on stage. He starts the evening with a stand-up set. He’s been working the comedy circuit for over 15 years and has an impressive CV, but the set falls a little flat. He’s mostly getting material out of the differences between living in the US and the UK, having moved here just a few months ago and toured to some unlikely places with his show. He tells some stories about his wife, about his extensive travels and his early years growing up in Germany. He’s a little distracted by some mild heckling and the fact that there’s a 13 year-old kid sat on the front row.
Some of Kelly’s material veers into the realm of uncomfortably un-PC, but never quite tips over the edge, probably because he delivers it with an easy charm, but much of it doesn’t pack the comedy punch you might expect either.
The problem is that it’s not really clear what Kelly intends the show to be. The first half is a strange mix of stand-up and celebrity anecdotes, after the interval, it veers even further into confusion. Starting with a party game, Kelly invites members of the audience to answer questions about Storage Hunters, gets the winners up on stage and has them choose a mystery gift. The next person up gets to ‘steal’ one of the already revealed gifts or risk another surprise. Either the participants don’t quite get the concept or they’re just too polite to take things off each other. You can imagine that some nights this gets much more competitive, and hopefully more entertaining, than it does tonight. The upside is that the front row kid manages to steal the top prize right at the end.
The evening ends with – what else? – an auction. Members of the audience have been invited to bring stuff along and Kelly has a pile of signed merch. All the proceeds go to Help for Heroes, ex-military Kelly’s own chosen charity. It’s great to see Kelly in action pushing up the bidding with his trademark quick-fire delivery – and the charity gets a good chunk of money out of the generous Salford audience. It feels like good has been done here tonight. It just doesn’t feel like the sharp performance you might expect from the forceful, consummate entertainer that Kelly proves himself to be on our screens.
Reviewed on 29 October 2015