Comedy: James Acaster @ The Colston Hall
by Polly Hember
What a funny Friday night. The Colston Hall hosted a brilliant night of laughs, with stand-up from Gary Delaney, Abandoman and James Acaster. Ed Gamble did a fantastic job of hosting and introducing each of these hilarious acts with his brilliant, boyish humour. From side-splitting one liners, to improvised hip-hop, to a funny-but-not-so-funny heckle – this was a diverse and entertaining night, showcasing some of the best comics on the stand-up circuit today.
Gamble kicked things off with some light and jokey audience interaction, asking those enthusiastic individuals in the front row a few quickfire questions, to everyone’s enjoyment. From enthusiastic Elaine, to a war board game designer, to a woman whose job it was to remove porn from Disney’s Facebook page – Gamble created a fantastic atmosphere based on fantastically funny improv.
"Acaster confronted the heckling culture with a quite raw and unsettling poignancy."
Delaney’s set was a stream of hilarious one-liners. At first, the onslaught of gags was slightly jarring in comparison to Gamble’s fluid and winding approach to audience improv and story-based comedy, but about three jokes in to Delaney’s act, the laughs just didn’t stop coming. Brilliantly silly, his humour ranged from highbrow to dangerously lowbrow and dirty. He seemed to take proper, genuine delight in pushing the audience to see what they might or might not laugh at, with a gleeful feel of a little boy who just wants to make you laugh.
Rob Broderick, aka Irish hip hop musical comic Abandoman, was – in no uncertain terms – simply hilarious. Taking music and improv to new heights, Broderick’s ability to use tiny fragments of information to deftly craft complex songs about members of the audience where the laugh hinged on a clever rhyme, delivered with impeccable timing and charisma. Transforming the daydreams of audience volunteers (to become a WFF Wrestler, and being nothing like a sibling) into a captivating and complex song, a make-believe reunion of an old hip hop group on stage and a narrative of a tortoise called Phil.
Acaster was the main act on the bill. He’s had many appearances on Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo, showcasing a witty, clever and playful humour that plays on self-deprecating and autobiographical comic moments presented with a brilliant ranting rhythm of swells and lulls that captivate the audience. Honestly, this just didn’t seem to be Acaster’s day. Entering the stage with a slightly jokey and weary gait, he proceeded to tell us that he’d just had the worst day at the Hay-on-Wye Festival. Elaborating on a very funny and awkward car ride up to the festival, crammed into a car with an arrogant musician, he described a terrible gig with the crowd pointing out everything that went wrong, then another car journey with a taxi man that, again, pointed out everything that went wrong.
I think the combination of a thoroughly bad day and a particularly vocal heckler didn’t help things; after a few preliminary lines about a breakup and the joys of navigating a small London flat, the set was completely derailed. Turning all attention to a man sitting in the first few rows, Acaster confronted the heckling culture with a quite raw and unsettling poignancy – these seemed to be real hurt feelings that the comic was throwing back at the audience member. Perhaps my schandenfreude levels are not that high and my capacity for public shaming critically low also, but this elongated attack at one man was a tad too much for me.
A shame, then, that the heckle completely turned all attention from Acaster’s material and we didn’t get to see more of him. Gamble rushed back on stage, thanking us for coming and getting us to cheer the comedians before bidding us goodbye without acknowledging or engaging in the unconventional set preceding this, which again felt a bit rushed. The gig was running late after a delayed start; perhaps this was a timing issue.
A spontaneous and fun night filled with side-splitting laughs that came to a halt a bit too soon, leaving an uneasy feeling in your stomach as you left, instead of the expected big belly laugh.