British comedy is often at the centre of a merciless tug o’war between the jocks and the nerds. It rope is tugged in each direction: owned by the ‘blue’ comedians in the early 1970s only to be taken by the satirists; divided oddly by alternative comedy in the 80s; taken by the lads again as ‘the new rock and roll’ in the 90s; reclaimed by geek power of Lee and Herring snatched away by Skinner and Baddiel’s Fantasy Football laddishess; back to the quiet boys in the corner by The League of Gentlemen and again to the popular kids again by Little Britain, Bo’ Selecta! and Catherine Tate.
Don’t worry though. Nerds and losers are back in vogue thanks to Daniel Kitson, Josie Long, The Mighty Boosh, Toby Hadoki and The Book Club. Josie Long’s “Drawing Moustaches in Magazines Monthly Magazine (Bi-Monthy)” is apparenty aimed at “Losers, Misfits and the Anxious”.
The Book Club has a short but interesting history. A group of comedians, most notably Robin Ince and the aforementioned Josie Long (now the proud holder of an if.comedy award), got together to launch a new showcase of friendly, non-confrontational comedy. It has been a refreshing alternative to the reign of laddish stuff in the eternal tug o’ war.
What is The Book Club? In a nutshell, our bookish comedians read passages from books aquired recently from local charity shops: all of them strange and rubbish. Popular lines of investigation include Mills and Boon pulpy romances; self help guides; astonishingly bad horror or sci-fi paperbacks; and memoirs of washed-up TV personalities. An ever-present tome during tonight’s show is “Yoga for Men”: a large hardback depicting a woman in a yogic squat, bearing a massive pair of hooters.
Tonight’s show was good. Robin Ince is a lovely puppydog-faced Alan Bennett-a-like whose orations from Catherine Cookson’s poetry and selection of “Medical Romances” is accompanied by an interpretive dancer and an opera singer. You never got that with Skinner and Baddiel.
Perhaps the jewel in the crown of tonight’s performance is camp Australian, Asher Treleaven. Announced as a reader of ‘self help books’, Asher reads from a selection of bad romances and a dangerous-looking thriller simply titled “WEAPON” in which our narrator tells us how to guess the nationality of a woman by gawping at her breasts through a pair of binoculars. Creepy. Apparently for want of a proper exit strategy, Asher treats/subjects us to a painfully geeky dance to a piece of classic Meatloaf.
There is slightly too much pantomime and childish CBBC-style interaction between the comics for comfort and Robin Ince’s frequent meandering between a stationary microphone and his book table is a bit hard on the ears. One can’t help thinking that the fostering of a more intimate atmosphere would be better for this sort of comedy. This aside though, The Book Club makes for a successful cabaret of amusing found-pieces and inexplicable humour which, like the acts and the audience, has trouble fitting in.