It's literally years - well, two and a half - since I last, and first, saw Carl Donnelly, opening for Rhod Gilbert at the Doncaster gig which has since provided the Welsh comic with so much material (he seemingly never got over the fact that we had the temerity to name our airport after Robin Hood, to whom we have precisely no claim). I enjoyed him then, but have never bumped into him since on my comedy travels and, to my retrospective shame, never actively sought him out - that changed after seeing this video of him from the Edinburgh Fringe however. I just found something about his demeanour, turn of phrase and, well, shades so appealing and cool and - despite my well-documented fondness for Mr Key - it was his presence on the bill that finally kicked my ticket-buying arse into gear for this show. Far from the wind-em-up-and-let-em-go style MC, he just hung off him mic, chatted to people on the front row - dealing deftly with one guy who would gave away absolutely nothing - and generally created a lovely atmosphere.
A lovely atmosphere but not, perhaps, an uproarious one, though there were several reasons for that; the Tabernacle is a big old space for one, and the cabaret tables set-up means that the audience are quite spread out. Plus, as my friends and I commented before the gig, it felt more like a theatre crowd than a comedy one, and all this culminated in the fact that when Rufus Hound came to stage, shouting - as is his wont - 'waheeeyy!' no-one joined in.
As such, he did his usual club set about the differences between groups of men and groups of women and the non-existence of God, but deconstructed it - telling us the mechanics behind each joke, and explaining what reaction he would have been getting, were he performing his set in front of 'real' people, as opposed to the lumberjack shirt-clad, iPad-owning, media twits that faced him. Now, performed with tongue firmly wedged in cheek, Hound would have undoubtedly had the audience in the palm of his hand - we *were* a bit reserved and would have been up for being ribbed about it. Performed, as it was, with a straight face it was rather hard to love. Hound has since said on Twitter that it was an experiment that yielded no results but I doubt that's true (the results bit), and it'll be interesting to see if and how the set continues to evolve.
Tim Key was up after the interval, and rather than leaping straight into his poems, he instead followed up one of Carl Donnelly's stories with his own tales of being alone in Asia: "I was travelling, and I'd heard that you made friends with people along the way, at hostels... didn't happen." It's hard to explain just how Key can regularly reduce an audience to literal tears of laughter, as he did at this point, but it's certainly true to say that it's often these off the cuff moments that are the most special. He seems more willing to go off-script at smaller gigs, but he seemed to enjoy this, so hopefully we'll see more of it. Travelling tales done, he got down to poem-reciting business including a good dose of fairly new ones and a couple of longer stand-up skits that have worked their way into his sets of late and a fabulous video I hadn't seen before featuring the lovely Kristen Schaal.
Headliner Adam Buxton has a hugely loyal following thanks to The Adam and Joe Show, both on Channel 4 and now 6Music (they're back in November, he told us), but while I am au fait with Stephenage I can hardly claim to be a massive fan. Luckily for me then, the in-jokes were kept to a minimum, and Buxton is a whole heap of fun. With his laptop screen projected onto the back wall of the stage, he showed us little videos, his rejected ideas for the replacement name for 'Charmin' (including "Luxuriarse" which, you suspect, he's genuinely proud of) and - most brilliant and successfully of all - some choice comments to a couple of his clips on YouTube. Revealed one at a time thanks to the wonder of Photoshop, the comments are by turns wrong-headed, furious, sweet and inspired and it makes for a sublime set-piece.
Feature Spot returned to the 100 Club on Thursday with MC Dan Atkinson, Ginger and Black, Tom Basden, Andrew Lawrence and Russell Howard - again, brilliant. Why did I miss it? No idea. Won't make that mistake again.
*Wonderful photos courtesy of Edward Moore.