Josie Long: The Future is Another Place

Originally published at The British Comedy Guide

For a few years, hand-knitted Josie Long has been tickling our fancies with her brand of fluttery whimsy. Today’s audience of hipsters and their mums perch upon their seat edges in delighted anticipation as Josie coasts through an unusual live pre-set: an ad-libbed commentary on the progress of the pre-set itself and a “sodcast” of naff hip-hop music played through a phone. It is disorientating good fun to enter a show on time but for the performance to have already begun.

For this year’s show, Josie weaves sincere political discourse into the fancy. The Future is Another Place is about her ongoing attempt to engage with politics, especially left-wing activism, and what this means to her as a comedian. She worries that her new-found political rage has compromised her style as a stand-up, but there’s nothing trite about her anger and it adds an interesting edge to an otherwise optimistic persona. It feels like watching a bright-eyed Richard Scarry character chance across a rusting machine from a forgotten war.

Her time spent investigating Tory policy, she tells us, was a waste of time. “I used to think that the Tories were cunts,” she says, and her research only confirmed her suspicions. “Why are you cutting funding to the libraries? Isn’t that just about children reading?!”

She reports on her experiences at UK Uncut protests; on her anger at the coalition government’s ongoing attempts to destroy all that is decent and reasonable (“Don’t take away children’s wheelchairs! That’s like what a Bond villain would do!”); and on her inspiring correspondence with one of the Black Panthers. She fondly quotes a Black Panther press conference: “We say to pigs: Daddy, we will not be held to ransom. The people’s law is lovelier than lovely”.

Perhaps the most memorable segment, however, is not political at all, but a startling account of her near-death motorway accident earlier in the year. The accident involved logs falling from the back of a moving lorry and an off-road skid through an old woman’s greenhouse. That she’s able to wring humour and useful narrative out of such a harrowing personal event is testament to her skills as a performer. When she later notices that her shoes have come off and the police officers aren’t talking to her, she worries that it’s a Sixth Sense-style ghost bluff: “This is classic dead-and-don’t-realise-it”, she says.

Charming, life-affirming and frequently devastating, Josie’s new show is essential Fringe viewing.

Simon Munnery: Hats Off to the 101ers (And Other Material)

Originally published at The British Comedy Guide

“Jesus!” gasps the woman sitting next to me as Simon Munnery‘s home-made canopy-like structure leans perilously toward the audience. It is all perfectly safe, of course, and Munnery points out that his expensive insurance policy means he can take out five of us and still have change. It’s all going to be fine.

There’s a frisson in the room as Munnery begins his performance not on stage but behind us, strumming an electric guitar and singing about the 101ers: the ambitious but doomed crew of a 1929 experimental airship. The titular segment doesn’t last long, but it’s a riotous start to the show.

Next, Simon erects the above-mentioned canopy over the stage. Seemingly made of kitchen wine racks, the whole thing concertinas spectacularly over and around him. At first, it seems impressively erected with a simple motion; but then there’s some fumbling and muttering as Simon tries to attach the safety guy-wire to the ceiling. The canopy flops around and, for a while, we’re all genuinely unsure if it’s going to collapse into our astonished faces. After being teased by the theatrical prospect of a pop-up set, this engineered anticlimax is hilarious and a perfect view into Simon’s messy but beautiful mind. “It took months to make,” he says, “Now I’ve just got to figure out what it’s for”.

The rest of the show is a boneshaker ride through some of Simon’s best recent work: a seedy lecture from a seemingly unaccredited and misogynistic professor of women’s studies is a standout moment; and a puppet show about Jesus’ neighbours at the Crucifixion is truly an evergreen.

The entire is a patchwork of eccentric ideas, flights of fancy, and bogglingly brilliant aphorisms. There are funny props including another of his trademark mechanical hats, though he’s anything but a prop comic: while wearing the outlandish topper, he delivers one-liners and short stories that leave you in puzzled awe over the train of thought that could possibly have lead to them. “My dad is a speaking edition of the Daily Mail. Only extracts though, or we’d rent him out to the blind.”

Beautiful, ramshackle and odd, Munnery’s new show is a chance window into a rare mind. Go along to see the best of a performer at the top of his game and learn what rhymes with “zeppelins”.

Standup Comedy in Glasgow

Originally published at Visit Glasgow

If, like me, you’re a scowling misanthrope who hates all music, art and sport, you might want to try some standup comedy. The main joy of comedy is in the jazz-like poise of a performer’s delivery but, if you’re lucky, they might talk about cocks as well. Brilliant.

Glasgow is a good city in which to enjoy comedy, partly because of the great clubs and brilliant native comedians but also because of Glasgow’s unique combination of civic pride and self depreciation; and its historic local politics: fertile ground for standup comedy.

The Glasgow comedy “scene” (kill me) is overshadowed by two main forces: Jongleurs and The Stand. Jongleurs is a nightclub-style venue in the city centre where you can expect to see fairly mainstream acts followed by a disco and a midnight sense of loneliness and despair. Ideal for office, hen and stag parties.

If you prefer to see real comedy from comedians, both resident and touring, who work hard and don’t leave you feeling hollow and bereft, The Stand is probably the best bet.

Unlike the Wetherspoony Jongleurs, The Stand has only two clubs – one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh – so it maintains a degree of independence and the comedy experience doesn’t feel mass produced. As venues, they are dedicated exclusively to standup comedy, making the atmosphere conducive to only one thing. The result is a nurturing environment for the performers and the feeling amongst the audience that something unique and never-to-be-seen-again might unfold. Every Sunday, Michael Redmond compares a package show of local and imported acts: Michael himself is a hero of comedy (adored by Graham Linehan and Stewart Lee and plagiarised by the Pasquale family) and it is a great privilege to be able to see him, not just occasionally, but on any given Sunday at The Stand.

The Stand is undoubtedly the best venue for comedy in the city (and frankly one of the best in the whole UK), but there are other fringe venues worth exploring in Glasgow too. Many local bars and cafes run comedy nights: a particularly good one is the ‘Comedy Womb’ at The State bar on Holland Street. Although the club only runs once a week and doesn’t have the heritage of The Stand, the acts are usually pretty good and are angled unpatronisingly toward a comedy-literate audience. This is a good place to catch newer acts. Speaking of which, don’t be put off by the idea of a ‘new acts’ night. A person who has the guts to work a comedy room for the first time will have honed a very tight and intelligent ten minutes: beginners are too nervous to go out there with a half-baked set. Another great opportunity to see newer acts is to try The Stand’s Tuesday night cabaret of new acts, Red Raw.

If the beery atmosphere of a comedy club is not your bag, it’s worth keeping an eye on the programmes of arts centres such as The Arches beneath Central Station and the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) on Sauchihall Street. Ian Macpherson’s “DiScomBoBuLaTe” is a monthly cabaret of comedians and writers, currently based at The Arches and previously at the CCA. You’ll not get any drunken heckling at this sort of event and you’ll get to see some of the country’s top writer-performers: past guests have included Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochead, A. L. Kennedy and Arnold Brown to name but a few. Further west, look out for the infrequent but excellent OMG! night at Gibson Street’s Offshore coffee shop at which a combo of seasoned performers and ‘real people’ read from their teenage diaries. Earnest performances and, instead of beer, you can have a nice cup of tea.

If you want to see a mainstream giant such as Peter Kay, The Mighty Boosh or Glasgow’s own Frankie Boyle, you’re most likely to catch them at the nearby SECC, a capacious venue famous for having the shape of a giant Dasypodidae. You can also try BBC Scotland where they film comedy pilots and require a studio audience. This often means free tickets to see very famous comedians and their less-famous but often talented warm-up acts.

The Glasgow Comedy Festival, though very fledgling compared to other comedy festivals, is an annual crossing of comedy leylines and a great opportunity to catch big names like Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery and Jerry Sadowitz, himself a Glaswegian whose act leaves you feeling as though you’ve had your brain snogged during open-skull surgery (a good thing). While some comedians trade on the mostly imagined rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the two cities can be of mutual benefit to one another as far as comedy is concerned: during the internationally renowned Edinburgh Festival, many London acts will take advantage of their being so far north and will also perform at Glasgow, especially at The Stand, for a mere sheckle.

It would be a shame to leave Glasgow without taking advantage of the diverse and brilliant standup it has to offer. Go and see Michael Redmond at The Stand on a Sunday evening and take it from there.

Simon Munnery

Originally published at The Skinny

Simon Munnery is not one of us. “I iz not spaeking lick yo; cos I iz nit lick yo,” he says on one of his bizarre CDs. If he’s not lambasting audiences by making them wear dunces caps or performing an entire show with a bucket on his head, he’s hiding behind a range of equally strange personas: the Banksy-like Alan Parker or the kettle-hat wearing ‘League Against Tedium’ being two of his most celebrated.

Odd then that today’s set at The Stand largely consisted of straight stand-up comedy: one man and his mic. In clothes seemingly borrowed from David Baddiel, he relates a five-minute beery anecdote about the characters in his local pub. Where was the terror we had expected? Maybe he’s one of us after all.

After some interesting new material (including a sketch about a trainee chef abusing an aubergine), there was a comfortable return to form as Munnery dons his well-travelled tweed hat for The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes: a brilliant monologue exposing the world’s most famous detective as a coke-addled accidental success. “Yes, it was him what done it and here’s why!”

Munnery is a pleasure to watch in any of his guises and it was fun to see him perform largely without props, using only his sharp wit and analyses of everyday situations to get the laughs.

Richard Herring, The Headmaster’s Son

Originally published at

By his own confession, Richard Herring is a dick. A lazy, needy, Guitar Hero-playing dick. But why? In this show, he rifles through his childhood memories in order to find out what could have possibly made him turn out like this. The working hypothesis: that his dad was his school headmaster.

Surely the embarrassment of the whole school knowing that Rich was the swatty son of the headmaster would have a lasting effect; that the repression of such trauma would have to come to the surface in some form.

Apparently not. Rich’s dad was respected and adored by everyone in the school and in the local community. Rich, on the other hand, was a dick from day one: always the conformist, always childish, always spouting half-baked political ideas and never taking off his school blazer. It turns out that he has nobody to blame but himself.

Thankfully his being a dick only adds to this show. His pedantic ramblings and penchant for playing out a homespun theory to the nth degree has always been an important part of his stage persona.

Last year in these very pages I wrote, “how he’ll top Oh Fuck I’m 40� is anyone’s guess but I imagine that he’ll implode somehow like a supermassive star finally inverting and turning into a black hole”.

This has happened. Gone are the midnight-black ideas and the pushing of boundaries to a feverpitch. In their place is a rather lovely piece about love, honesty, embracing life and the struggles of growing up.

There’s still some stuff in there about “wanking off paedophiles” though. Well, it wouldn’t be Richard Herring without at least one thing to tempt you into walking out in disgrace.

The Headmaster’s Son is a top-notch performance full of winding digressions, sweet realisations and charming confessions. Five stars et cetera.