As it’s International Stand-Up Comedy DVD Release Month, and since I’ll be checking a few of them out, I figured that rather than spam my facebook and twitter feeds I’ll collect and publish my opinions of them here. Reviews seems too strong a word – these aren’t critiques, merely my own take on each as I watch it – just in case anyone gives a flying fuck. These are delivered in no particular order (though I’ll try and keep it alphabetical), aren’t definitive, and this page will be updated as and when I get round to watching them.
I’ll just add that I’d really like to see a modern stand-up DVD that doesn’t have the house lights half-up for the duration, with frequent cutaways to audience members laughing. Brilliant, there were people there and they laughed – if I was at a gig on that tour I’d be sitting in the dark watching the stage, and your DVD should be filmed to reflect that. Also, I won’t be watching some of the big-name comedians who do nothing for me – like Alan Carr (gay, glasses, teeth – all I need to know), Peter Kay (seems arrogant and greedy), or Lee Evans (got his boxset, not interested in seeing anything further from him). I doubt any of them will lose any sleep, or money, over it though.
Angelos Epithemiou & Friends – “Live”
Being only vaguely familiar with Epithemiou from Shooting Stars and a couple of Youtube videos, his DVD felt sorely lacking. The “& Friends” led me to believe that Dan Renton Skinner would be showcasing some of his other comic creations, which isn’t the case, and since his material is funniest when he is reacting to and interacting with others, his solo DVD falls really short of expectation. It might be funnier, or the references more easily understood, by those familiar with his turn on the Reeves-and-Mortimer-hosted quiz. Personally, I thought about watching it again in case I’d missed the joke, but decided life’s too short to make the same mistake twice.
Greg Davies – “Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog”
Funny as fuck, it’s a very long time since any recorded performance made me laugh so loudly or so often. He still has the air of a teacher about him (his former career), but his largely autobiographical and anecdotal material is more self-deprecating and more altogether human than his portrayal of Mr Gilbert may lead you to expect. It’s well structured, well delivered, with a good command of language in depicting vivid images. Definitely one to watch more than once.
Jimmy Carr- “Being Funny”
I remember seeing his first DVD at the time and liking it despite myself – “He’s a smug cunt. A funny cunt, but a cunt nevertheless.” Here we are, eight years on, and he’s the only person whose DVDs make me laugh constantly throughout. Laughs that hurt my stomach, from lines that are well-written and -delivered. I guess there comes a point where, having seen so many comedians and tried it for myself, other people’s jokes become easy to second-guess. Not so with Carr, who breaks his stand-up up with audience interaction, anecdote, and asides based on thoughts, letters, and drawings. Over the years he has revealed himself to be far more self-effacing and human than his initial smug persona suggested, and he seems genuinely appreciative of the career he now has. His takes on hack topics are refreshing enough, perhaps because he led the way before they became hack, and he appears very aware that he is crossing lines of taste and decency – yet is able to do so with charm and charisma that carries you with him. You know what you’re getting from a Jimmy Carr DVD – lots of one-liners, swearing, and cheeky indecency, with subjects that are likely to offend but which are not used to bludgeon you in the way some other comedians would. In his conclusion, he says they are just jokes, designed to make you laugh and release endorphins. To that end, he has succeeded far more than any other big-name comedian I have seen recently.
John Bishop – “The Sunshine Tour”
He’s not the funniest man on the planet, but Bishop is effortlessly likeable and extremely entertaining. He realises that his material, as a father of three who has been married 18 years and has suddenly found himself in the spotlight, won’t relate to everyone and so he has made a great effort to broaden its appeal. His show his funny, and he seems to genuinely appreciate (and be a little overwhelmed by) the sharp upward turn his career has recently taken. It’s easy to see why he has become a primetime Saturday night terrestrial TV favourite, and while his material is resultantly mainstream it is amusing nevertheless.
John Cleese – “The Alimony Tour”
Good if you want to hear an ex-Python talking about forming and being in Python, Fawlty Towers, and A Fish Called Wanda. With clips. Granted, it’s called “The Alimony Tour”, so if you expect anything other than a blatant cash-in you’re a fool. Worth seeing, and interesting enough, but I wouldn’t buy it – all the footage and many of the anecdotes are already available in other formats.
Milton Jones – Lion Whisperer
It’s weird to see that Milton Jones’s DVD contains material I remember seeing on his Comedy Store spots as broadcast on Channel Five in the late nineties. He has a nice vein of absurdity which he mines well, and his well-honed take on the classic “I was bullied at school” set-up, with its three separate pay-offs that build on each other, is one of the funniest and most original gags I’ve heard in a long time.
Peter Kay – “The Tour That Didn’t Tour – Tour”
It was a present, my friend (whose opinion I respect) liked it, so I watched it. The opening takes the piss out of his crew, by pretending various technical departments have done their job wrongly. He immediately turns a camera on them and thanks them. Later, he thanks a “roadie” who comes on stage, before spitting water on him. During the finale, which relies heavily on the professionalism and ability of the very crew he chides throughout, he asks for the lights to be taken down and then makes it look like a petulant technician has extracted revenge when – as clearly rehearsed – there’s a blackout. Peter Kay makes easy targets of the people who help him look good every single night.
His material relies heavily on nostalgia – using old brand names in lieu of jokes – and, given his reputation, it’s hard to know if his funniest material (20 minutes about schooldays) is indeed his own. By virtue of their shared heritage, perhaps, there are also some lines that tread the same path as Paddy McGuinness previously has. Plenty of sly callbacks to material from his previous DVDs, and the finale is impressive, but I was overwhelmingly bored by the first hour. Had my said friend not mentioned the finale to me in her praise of the show, I’d have bailed early and watched something else.
Richard Herring – “Christ on a Bike”
As an avid fan of TMWRNJ when it was shown, I happened to catch Stewart Lee’s stand-up on channel five a few years ago and have subsequently regained my love for both of the former double act. “COAB” is an educated, original, and entertaining take on the increasingly-hack topic of Christianity, which (helped by its content versus the controversy it generated) ably demonstrates the vast gulf between Christ the man and most Christians. It is funny and well informed, accessible, and – as much as I love Lee – if I was going to see one of them live it would definitely be Herring. Available with two discs of extras from the independent label Go Faster Stripe.
Sarah Millican – “Chatterbox”
Good if you want to hear about cake, cock, clothes and clits for nearly two straight hours. It’s a viewing marathon, and a lot of it is already widely available on Youtube from her Apollo appearances. The audience interaction is well done and funny though.
Stephen Merchant – “Hello Ladies”
Worth seeing, and very well-structured. The best bit, for me, was his acute observations about school plays which was presented using a piece he wrote while at school – and it’s in keeping with his established style that the funniest part of his show is more of an acted sketch he wrote and here directs, rather than actual stand-up. He does share Gervais’ tendency to (in this case literally) rub his awards in the audiences’ faces though.