Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mark Watson + Basden, Epithemiou & Hughes at Live At The Chapel

Written for the British Comedy Guide

Those of us who live in the capital may have to shell out 90% of our income on rent, but the upside is a plethora of amazing comedy. One of the very best regular comedy nights, unsurprisingly arranged by The Invisible Dot's head honcho Simon Pearce, is the monthly Live at the Chapel - three or four really top comics MC'd by, well, another top comic in Islington's stunning Union Chapel. In the past, the likes of Noel Fielding, Tim Minchin, Daniel Kitson and Simon Amstell have all headlined, with the wonderful David O'Doherty up next, and the most recent night featured Arthur Smith introducing Tom Basden, Angelos Epithemiou, Sean Hughes and Mark Watson.

Basden - who won the Edinburgh Comedy Award (if.comedy? Perrier?) back in 2007 for his Tom Basden Won't Say Anything show - actually says quite a lot these days. Short, beautiful, and messed up songs about the cast of Neighbours and stalking Paula Radcliffe are still his main stock in trade (aspiring guitarists should see him for a lesson in fingerpicking) and he still gets the overhead projector out on occasion to display his witty cartoons, but he has now added one more string to his ever-growing bow: reading extracts from his unfinished novel. Deliberately awful, tonally inconsistent and written in the wrong order, Hot Moon is a bad novel, but among the best material Basden has ever written - hopefully it will become an important and permanent element of his act.

Most will know Angelos Epithemiou from his regular appearances on Shooting Stars - the apparently random member of the public who didn't much want to be there, and certainly didn't have time for the general 'messing about' that the show revels in. In reality, of course, he's the creation of Dutch Elm Conservatoire's Renton Skinner. As Angelos, he's a comic who only has three jokes - so it's lucky that Skinner is such a great physical comic that his character is funny without saying a word. And who could possibly not enjoy an act that finishes with a dance routine, complete with costume change?

Sean Hughes, meanwhile, is in a grumpy mood, and has been so ever since he heroically overcame a heavy smoking habit, only to find that he was rewarded with "a fat face." Another Perrier award winner, age has not so much mellowed Hughes as made his already dark humour even more pointed.

I suspect that a 10 minute club set is not really the best showcase for Hughes's comedy, but this truncated tirade showed that middle age may bring its problems, but it also provides great fodder for a comedian who loves to rant.

Headliner Mark Watson is often trailed as one of the 'best-reviewed comics of the 21sts century', and I'm happy to have contributed in a small way to the veracity of that impressive claim. Watson, intelligent and frenetic in equal parts, is simply one of our greatest comics and, perhaps perversely, it's a particular joy to see him trying out new material, as here - it means that you get to see the cogs whirring; a proper comedy brain in action.

As a new dad, much of Watson's new material is based on the change in priorities that such responsibility brings, and the fears that must cross the mind of many young fathers: 1) how do I keep this little thing alive and 2) how do I avoid screwing him up? He also covered the unresolved political situation, the joy of chasing people and, thanks to an extraordinary sneeze from the balcony, a fine bit of improv about his father-in-law's own remarkable sternutation. Watson is doing a full run at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, and on this evidence things bode very well indeed for a superlative show.

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