Doncaster, it has to be said, does not have a tradition of hosting comedy gigs. We have the working men's circuit, and big gigs like Jimmy Carr and Frank Skinner at the local sports centre (really), but very little in between. There was even a spat in the local paper between a comedy promoter bemoaning the fact that no-one goes to his shows, and a promoter from Sheffield who said he has literally never heard of a regular comedy gig in Doncaster, and maybe a little advertising would do the trick.
Over the last few years Doncaster has put on the HotHouse Festival, and slowly but surely, we've started to attract a few names to the area, such as Dave Spikey and Patrick McGuiness - and other non-Phoenix Nights related comics. It has to be said, though, that Rhod Gilbert is probably the first comedian who is known much more for his stand up than his radio show or infrequent appearances on Mock The Week. He took a gamble, but he came, and those of us who were lucky enough to see the show will be forever grateful.
I think it is fair to say, however, that Doncaster has such a reputation for not being a comedian's dream, that the support act Carl Donnelly took his role of testing the water with the audience rather more seriously than he would in, say, London. What level of swearing will we accept, what level of crassness? Quite a high one, as it turned out, and Donnelly soon relaxed a little, allowing his natural charm and silliness shone through.
When Rhod Gilbert took to the stage, he started with what was probably meant to be a quick pre-amble specific to Doncaster; how he'd heard from another comedian that it's a "sh*ithole" and how his first impressions was actually that we were quite an optimistic people, ready to defend our little northern patch. I say it was "probably meant" to be quick, because it in fact took over much of the first half - which, by the way, went on until about 10 o'clock. He was fascinated by our airport, which for some unfathomable (both to us and him) reason is named Robin Hood, and the breezy advertisement for strippers down the road (Like dancing? Outgoing?) - and the audience were always happy to fill in the details.
In fact, the audience was a big part of the evening - confident and often humorous heckles came thick and fast. When one audience member recalled a rather obscure part of the show, leading to no reaction, he started to say what he was referring to, but Gilbert advised that one should never explain a joke. "Why not?" came the reply. That got him.
The only possible downside of all this banter was that the structure of the show got lost along the way somewhere, but to be honest I'd rather have it that way and see something unique to the night. The show's title 'Who's Eaten Gilbert's Grape' refers to the fact that he was watching the film of a similar name when he met the love of his life. Until he got to that point, we were meant to go through a lot of misery and heartache, but somehow that didn't really come off.
Maybe every Rhod Gilbert gig is as joyous as this, and it is his genius that means it feels fresh and unique to us, but I like to think our entertainer for the evening had fun too. Genius is certainly the word, by the way - his reactions to heckles were instant and hilarious, and my jaw literally ached from laughing. I can only hope that what we can assume was a good experience for the comic as well as the audience will mean that we'll have lots more comedians of Gilbert's stature pass through our happy little town in the near future.