Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Currently touring the UK, The All-Star Stand-Up Tour features four well-known comedians. Jarred Christmas acts as the evening’s host, warming the audience up for sets from Gary Delaney, Pete Firman and Sean Hughes. Together, they bring a wealth of experience and talent to the stage of Birmingham’s Town Hall, but can they also raise the roof with laughter?
The evening opens with Christmas bursting onto the stage. He is larger than life and fizzes with energy. His interactions with the audience help form a close rapport as he uses their responses to the hackneyed questions about people’s home towns and occupations. This section works especially well – his long experience in stand-up is clear. Even his joshing of the inevitable latecomers (why do they always seem to have seats right on the front row..?) is affectionate. He has also done his homework on the area, poking fun gently at Birmingham and some of the surrounding towns. He even includes some light political material and some gentle ribbing of national stereotypes, including his own origins in New Zealand, in his fast-moving introduction. His loud and brash set warms the audience up nicely as he introduces the next act up, Gary Delaney, known to many from his appearances on Mock the Week.
Delaney is quite a contrast. His delivery is sometimes a little hesitant as he moves around the stage. His set consists almost entirely of dry one-liners that veer drunkenly between the childish, the smutty and the downright blue. But his self-effacing delivery, including giggling at his own jokes (he is supposed to be deadpan, he explains, but somehow started laughing and even snorting on stage) takes the sting out of his more near-the-knuckle delivery. His is probably the most traditional set of the evening with gags that work but require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief – there are several jokes about home life with his girlfriend and family even though it is now well-known that he is the spouse of fellow stand-up, Sarah Millican. Nevertheless, one cannot help but laugh at his sometimes barbed jokes and the audience goes into the interval having fully exercised its laughter muscles. On this particular night, there can be no doubt that Delaney’s star ascended the highest, comedically.
The second half is a little quieter, perhaps because the styles of the other two performers are less in your face. After a short introduction by Christmas, we meet Pete Firman, comedy magician. Firman is clearly a skilled magician, as one might expect given his pedigree of appearing on TV magic shows. His main focus tonight, magically speaking, is on small-scale close-up magic – Birmingham’s Town Hall is maybe the largest venue in which this would work but even then his opening card trick doesn’t seem to ignite the audience. Nevertheless, he moves on, also maintaining a positive rapport in his interactions with the audience and we are soon on his side. His set also includes a genuinely astonishing trick, made even more so in its simplicity as he makes, before your eyes, solid objects appear to pass through one another. While there may not be anything especially ground-breaking in his magic, it is well executed and his light comedic banter keeps the evening on track as we move towards the climax and headliner, Sean Hughes.
Hughes is, as he tells us a number of times, 50 and his act treads some well-worn observational boards. He talks of how one’s body and lifestyle change with age, comparing the experiences of today’s youth with his own, focusing on the rise of technology, for example. But his delivery lacks punch and is rambling; his gags feel safe and there is a distinct lack of edge. While Hughes’ set is competent, it isn’t, on this evidence, in the same class as those from the other three performers. After belly-laughs aplenty, especially in the first half, Hughes’ laconic style seems a flat and lacklustre end to the evening.
So as is often the case with comedy showcases, something of a curate’s egg – the performers have radically different styles and material so most will find something to tickle their funnybone and worth making the effort to get out and see.
Reviewed on 13 April 2016 and on tour | Image: Contributed