Saturday, April 23, 2011

Josie Long and Friends, Bush Hall

Written for the British Comedy Guide.

Dotted all across London, there are gorgeous little venues hidden behind various unconvincing-looking facades. That's certainly the case with Shepherd Bush's Bush Hall - nestled between 24 hour supermarkets, you'd never suspect that once you've made your way through the buzzer entry system you'll find a rather opulent ballroom, complete with chandeliers.

Bush Hall is the occasional home of Show + Tell, purveyors of fine comedy, poetry and storytelling, and the outfit behind some great recent shows including Terry Saunders's 6 And A Half Loves and Edward Aczel's lengthily-named Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better. And Show + Tell's latest offering there was Josie Long And Friends, a predictably (from the title) lovely night with an excellent line-up.

You often get added extras when Josie Long (pictured) is involved, so as well as introducing her fellow acts and kicking off the night with a short set herself, there were also competitions, a play about the Bronte sisters and a taste test of several different cheap 'n' cheerful nutrition drinks. It has been much discussed that Josie's comedy has taken on a harder edge as she gets increasingly angry with the decisions of our newish government, but ultimately, I'm still a fan of the hand-made, all-in-it-together style that has served her so well in the past. So it was great to see that even in this Clegg and Cameron era, a mood of positivity outweighed the glimmers of frustration that occasionally broke through when Long was on stage.

The lovely atmosphere created by our host was carried through by first act James Acaster, who has recently supported Long on tour. An observational comic, what's really striking about Acaster is that his subject matter is so everyday, that in other hands the comedy could be everyday too. He talks about the fact that, an unadventurous man, he's only every used one side of the cheese grater, and spins a great yarn about the proper way to hold a surprise birthday party - these are simple ideas, but such is Acaster's gift for a neat turn of phrase and physical comedy that the set is turned into something way more impressive than the sum of its parts.

John-Luke Roberts came after the first break, and I've never really seen his club set achieve anything less than a room-slaying (in a good way). That record was maintained tonight, with the crowd quickly adapting from Long and Acaster's fun stories to Roberts's quick-fire one-liners and - his centre-piece - generic insults aimed at each member of the audience, read off pre-written cards so as not to cause too much offence. A real student of comedy, his gags are precision-made, he builds up to a fantastic crescendo, and there is one particular line about Where's Wally which is pretty much perfect. Brilliant stuff.

The one-liners continued with Arnab Chanda (pictured) but the pace considerably calmed, with Chanda reading his generally quite dark puns from a little black book (the body count in his set is surprisingly high). There's a lovely, clever logic to his jokes, and he has a great, Demetri Martin-style knack of taking an ostensibly simple bit of observational comedy and whittling it down into a perfectly formed gag of just a few words. And with Arnab, you get a Back To The Future reference thrown in with the comedy. Which is always a bonus.

Finally, musical comedian Tom Basden headlined; one of those sickeningly talented people who can also act and write plays as well as perform stand-up and play numerous musical instruments. His short songs, as ever, went down a storm, but it was also great see Basden interact with the crowd a bit more than I've seen in the past, talking to a lovely couple and stating: "I really can't stress enough the fact that my parents are in" after a particularly smutty track. Best of all though, were the excerpts from his deliberately genre-hopping, over-explained and rather tortuously-written novel Hot Moon. His descriptions of a character "cutting himself from his woolly prison", and complicated use of footnotes are all inspired and elicit big, proper, belly laughs - I'll be first in line when this mini-masterpiece makes it into all good bookshops.

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