Laugh space: a guide to alternative venues

As a comedy festival begins to attract attention from the international community, it inevitably unfurls its tentacles into a variety of unexpected venues. Just look at Edinburgh: the ‘Fringe’ is the main focus of the festival where it used to just shout obscenities from the edges. Somehow Edinburgh has become a festival of obscene edges.

Now in its fourth year, the Glasgow International Comedy Festival is becoming the sort of monster that requires every last square inch of space it can lay its moist and clammy mitts on, which is why this year’s eighteen-day crossing of comedy leylines has grown to incorporate some rather unconventional spaces.

We still love The Stand Comedy Club here at the Skinny but in honour of The Stand’s humble beginnings, you may also want to explore some of the smaller burgeoning comedy venues such as Brel on Ashton Lane, The Buff Club on Bath Lane, Universal on Sauchiehall Lane, The State Bar on Holland St, or even The Viper Lounge (AKA: Clarty Pat’s), on Great Western Road. With a pick ‘n’ mix of if.comedy winners, magicians, heretics and comedy neds, it’s worth scouring the basements and corners of your local bars to see what you might find (failing that, try down the back of the sofa).

Also of note is the beautiful Britannia Panopticon Music Hall on Trongate which this year sees acts from a Sock Puppet Orchestra, poet Robin Cairns and a sexy young punk called Robert Wringham [authorised plug- Ed]. Entry to Panopticon events is FREE though true ladies and gents and patrons of the arts will chuck a couple of quid into the donations hat.

The 35 strong comedy hot spots list doesn’t even include the ‘Glasgow Stands Up on Your Doorstep’ series of events. Once you get past the potentially terrifying title, you’ll see that it’s a brilliant idea. Comedians come to community centres at Toryglen, Langside, Easterhouse and Castlemilk to ensure that no one in the greater Glasgow population misses the chance for a heckle.

The expanding fringe of the Glasgow Comedy Festival is testament to its increasing popularity. In 2009, we’ll find comedians performing in elevators, taxi cabs and out of the bums of tramps. You’ll see.

Why not Sadowitz?

Originally published at TMCQ

“Popularity is the crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art. Whatever is popular is wrong.” – Oscar Wilde.

It’s one helluva coincidence that Ivor Cutler died just one tiny week before the Glasgow comedy scene did. One can only hope that both will soon return from beyond the grave and feast upon the flesh of Karen Dunbar.

Like a giant jellied eel caught in the tractor beam of some unseen spacecraft, the promotional banner for Glasgow’s fourth international comedy festival hangs twisted, limp and gaudy over Sauchiehall Street numerous days after the fact. The banner’s principal feature is the laughing face of a pissed-up Scottish thistle: a demented piece of clipart leering over the Saturday shoppers and making children cry.

Over at The Stand comedy club, his tour posters hadn’t even been up for fifteen minutes before someone had scrawled three sixes onto Jimmy Carr’s forehead. It must have been irresistible to commit such an act, partly due to the pale and spacious nature of the canvas but mainly as an act of rebellion against the dilute comedy mainstream, of which Jimmy Carr is seen to have become symbolic.

Actually, Mr. Carr was rather on form at his gig at the massive Clyde Auditorium: witty, collected and on-the-ball. But one can’t deny that his being this year’s headline performer illustrates the planners’ lack of vision for what the festival has the power to represent. Why not promote Jerry Sadowitz as the headline act? He’s controversial, underappreciated and – after all – Glaswegian. Instead, he’s tucked away doing one-offs at the ghastly ABC music venue.

At a time when the Edinburgh Festival is being accused of facilitating the big names of comedy in order to make a fast buck while providing ill support for those on the periphery, it is surprising that Glasgow isn’t using its new comedy festival to make up for Edinburgh’s foolish mistake by celebrating and rewarding fringe tastes.

There’s an annoying hotchpotch of residential comedians this year doing precisely the same routines that they always do. The likes of Michael Redmond, Vladimir McTavish and Susan Morrison, as wonderful as they are, are in-house acts and can barely count as festival assets. In fact, the house crowd should take the opportunity to visit the Shetland Isles or stay at home and put their feet up. It’s also hard to believe that the festival programme includes such touring theatre shows as Jerry Springer: The Opera and The Vagina Monologues as official events, which just happen to be in the city at the same time as the festival. Such an entity stitched-together from native wildlife and unfortunate gypsies reminds one of the legend of Glasgow’s erstwhile zoo: “three pigeons and a depressed goat,” as it is so often described. It’s surprising that the organisers didn’t count the local Cineworld’s screenings of Big Momma’s House 2 as a festival item or note the presence of Billy Connolly’s biography in a public library.

Comedy should push the envelope right off the table and into the cat litter tray. It should aim to be a thorn in the side of conservative or liberal ideas and to piss off as many people as possible so that we might learn to laugh at our belief systems and personal nuances. It should provide a voice for the common man and channel the collective’s anger, neuroses and fear in a twenty-minute lecture about willies. Irony and non-sequitur have the potential to succeed where bombs on public transport systems and half-baked presidential promises have failed. That’s why Jimmy Carr is an unacceptable headline act and why Jerry Sadowitz should be swearing and throwing his props around in sold-out auditoriums.

Stand-up has often been charged with taking over from theatre at the Edinburgh Festival and being (particularly in the 1990s) ‘the new rock ‘n’ roll’. Either way, it is known to be a medium which must subvert rather than be another sedative for the opiated masses. A permanent descent into Jongleurs-style, office-night-out observational blandness would mean a great loss.

We need acts that are different, shocking and unpredictable; acts that don’t tell us what we know already or have noticed with our own non-comedian’s eyes. That Chris Lynham left his weeklong stay at The Stand before the festival kicked off and that Daniel Kitson took his corduroy humour home even before that is nothing less than a tragedy for Glasgow. Where’s Chris Addison when you need him? Munnery? Lee? Long? Buxton? Graffoe? Actually, we do have Boothby Graffoe. At least that’s something. Unfortunately it doesn’t make up for the facts that Jim Bowen is (a) less than five miles away from me as I write this and (b) still alive.

Does anyone have the programme for Edinburgh yet?

Everyone likes Herring

Originally published at RichardHerring.com

An entry for the Allen Wright Award

It has been recently voiced (by Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian) that the inhabitants of Old Blighty might be losing their internationally reputed sense of good humour. When the talk of the town revolves around Ricky Gervais’ painful exploration of social faux-pas in Extras and a giraffe spunking into the faces of twenty old women in The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, it’s not difficult to see why such rumours might be in circulation. Watching a woman take pleasure in waiting for her cancer-riddled husband to finally sink into eternity in Nighty Night is a far cry from tuning in to the latest bathtub shenanigans of Last of the Summer Wine.

While British TV comedy is inarguably becoming more avant-garde, it’s important to remember that comedy has always had a black nugget at its heart. A character from even the most conservative sitcom should struggle with at least a small degree of inner conflict if he or she is to generate the laughs.

Such conflict (and symbiosis) is present in Richard Herring’s latest live offering: ‘Someone Likes Yoghurt’. He sublimely balances the crucial with the trivial and tackles nihilistic despair with his unique Herring-brand impishness. As an ambassador of British comedy (he is the latest to be honoured as script editor for Little Britain; features in indie film, A very British Cult and is co-creator of Britcom, Time Gentlemen Please) Rich proves that the rumours of Britain losing track of what’s funny, have been greatly exaggerated.

As well as enjoying four years of televisual mainstream, Richard Herring has managed to remain a Fringe heavyweight and along with Jerry Sadowitz, Kevin Gildea and Simon Munnery, he was one of the key motivators for my own vin dit into comedy writing.

Last night I was lucky enough to be at the opening Edinburgh performance of ‘Someone Likes Yoghurt’. Despite delivering a trilogy of hugely enjoyable one-man shows in recent years (‘Christ on a Bike’, ‘Talking Cock’ and ‘The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace’), Herring advertises ‘Yoghurt’ as being a return to stand-up after a thirteen year sabbatical.

But don’t be hoodwinked into thinking that this ‘return to stand-up’ will provide a comfortable seat in the ship of convention: despite the free and easy one-man-and-a-microphone format of the show, ‘Yoghurt’ is unlike anything else you’ll find at The Pleasance this year. With subjects including a new method for preserving lives of sperm and the problems surrounding the ‘magpie reward system’, Herring’s current strain of stand-up maintains some distance from that of so many other comedians: where others try to snag attention by being obviously topical or ungainly edgy, Herring seems to aim for the universally and inherently funny. And he’s aware of this too, given that he makes fu of the deliberate engineering of controversy that so many comedians find themselves doing at the moment: ‘Yes. I said it. Edgy,’ he comments after declaring that 19th century writer, Rudyard Kipling ‘is a twat’.

‘Yoghurt’ allows Herring to pick up his old stand-up persona from his Lee and Herring days: the pedantic, arrogant but lovable idiot from Cheddar. It’s the return of the Richard Herring who once said “I can tell you, Stew, that a gnat’s chuff is literally as tight as a gnat’s chuff”. Bizarrely and excellently, the character has grown and developed despite its being repressed, presumably into the subconscious of the real-life Herring for something like thirteen years, only occasionally resurfacing in the electronic pages of ‘Warming Up’.

In case you’re wondering, the show’s title comes from an incident in his local Sainsbury’s mini-market. Upon purchasing (among other things, he’d be keen to remind you) nine pots of yoghurt, the checkout girl reportedly gave him a surprised look and opined that ‘Someone,’ indeed, ‘likes yoghurt’ to a disproportional extent. The event inspired Herring to dedicate fifteen minutes of his one-hour set defending himself against the insinuation that he’s a sexually-tilted weirdo with a yoghurt obsession.

‘I don’t like yoghurt any more than the next lactose-tolerant person’, he protests.

We believe you, Rich. We believe you.