Pete’s Comedy Odyssey: Geek Night Out, Bec Hill, Rik Moore, Peter Serafinowicz, Jimmy Carr, Chris Tarrant, Tim Key

Pete manages to squeeze a lot of comedy into his latest week. Er, and he moved house too. That's dedication, friends...

You know the score by now. I’m seeing as much live comedy each week as I possibly can. If I’m to be believed, I shall eventually take to the stage myself. Here’s Week Seven of the experiment…

I’m always looking for something a bit different on my travels around London, and so, looking to kill some time on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I found myself at Covent Garden, checking out Mike Raffone, one of the regular street performers. His half hour show, an X Factor-style dance contest in which members of the public are dragged into strutting their stuff to the Village People, took place completely in the open, to the utter bafflement of passers-by.

A strange character, Raffone has a gruff but jokey, and more than a little bit flirty, style with the audience (the latter made more amusing by the fact that he’s a short, bald, hairy man), and seemed utterly at ease with accosting passers-by or surprising one of his male ‘volunteers’ with a kiss.

Being a street performer, Raffone’s delivery is, by necessity, lacking many of the subtleties you might expect with a regular standup (unless that regular standup is Michael McIntyre), but in this environment it works. Naturally, much of the comedy came from the mild humiliation of the volunteers rather than Raffone’s own wit, but there were a lot of laughs to be had, and Raffone is a skilled ringmaster. As the show ended, I put the £2 I had in his hat, but as a piece of entertainment it was easily worth a few pounds more than I had on me.

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That evening, I popped along to the 1st birthday party of that monthly comedy evening, Geek Night Out. Hosted, as ever, by rabid Lost fan Paul Gannon, GNO always boasts an eclectic mix of acts, and this was no exception.

First up was Antipodean Bec Hill, with a wonderfully illustrated piece about superheroes. A likable comic, Hill uses the same techniques as the makers of children’s pop-up books to bring extra humour to gleefully silly characters such as ‘Lazy Eye Man’. That said, she did refer to Danger Mouse sidekick Penfold as a mole (when, of course, we all know he’s a hamster), so a few negative points for that, but overall it was an enjoyable performance. 

Next up was Rik Moore, with ten minutes about his love of wrestling. It’s not a subject I’ve ever had much interest in, aside from having owned the old Wrestlemania game for the NES. However, Moore’s infectious enthusiasm shines through, and his tale of how a book about wrestling and a drunken tramp found him love is one for the ages. I suspect I would have been more enthralled if I knew anything about wrestling, but it was a solid set from a comic I wouldn’t mind seeing Moore (more) of…

…Which is just as well, because woven throughout the evening was more Moore (last time, honest), this time as part of the 80s Movie Flashback sketch duo. Rik Moore and Fraser recreate a number of iconic characters from 80s films, in this case, Mr Miyagi and Daniel from The Karate Kid, Maverick and Goose from Top Gun, and Doc Brown and Marty from Back To The Future. However, these aren’t the characters you remember. Mr Miyagi is a French-accented racist running a B&B, Doc Brown and Marty treat history as one big party, and Maverick is about as in the closet as (comment removed at the request of a short Hollywood star’s lawyers). 

It’s an outrageous take on some much-loved characters, yet it works splendidly. Moore and Fraser have their rhythms as a double-act down to a tee, and are clearly having a lot of fun. This was helped by a receptive crowd; the audience are an integral part of the act, be it as stooges for Goose’s attempts at speed-dating or a reluctant choir singing along to Bonnie Tyler. The 80s Movie Flashback team are reminiscent of Walliams and Lucas during their Rock Profile days, and this is no bad thing. Hopefully, they’ve got many more characters up their sleeves.

I moved house the following day, and really hadn’t planned on seeing any comedy that evening. However, when I learned that Peter Serafinowicz was performing at the Funny or Die gig in Notting Hill, I was pretty much obliged to buy a ticket. The first half of the evening was rather strange, consisting mostly of Internet clips from popular sites such as The Onion and the BBC’s Comedy Extra team, and for a while it did seem that I’d paid £10 to go to a theatre and watch YouTube. Luckily, Cardinal Burns were on hand to provide a few of their offbeat sketches halfway through. I shan’t review them for the second time in two weeks, but again, with a different set of sketches, I found them to be very hit and miss. 

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The finale of the first half was Serafinowicz himself, and I’m sad to say I was left extremely disappointed. Last year the comedian released a video containing a series of adapted movie lines such as “Replay it, Sam” and “Mos Eisley Spaceport… It’s a f***ing s***hole”. It was wonderful, coming in at just under four minutes long. Serafinowicz performed the same act here, but dragged it out across a 15 minute set by constantly asking the audience to suggest films he could do lines from. It was an attempt to make it seem spontaneous, a curious decision, given this was exactly the sort of crowd who would have seen the original video. Serafinowicz is a comedy genius, but if he wants to break into standup he’s going to have to bring a lot more material with him to fill the time.

The second half of the night was taken up by a topical improvisational show, hosted by Sara Pascoe and featuring comics Will Andrews, Rob Broderick, Humphrey Ker, Cariad Lloyd and Mike Wosniak. Improv comedy is a tricky beast to get right, and I’ve seen both the sublime (Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and friends at the Comedy Store) and the risible (comics at a small venue in Piccadilly who spent 20 minutes saying vaguely racist things in vaguely racist accents – to date, the only comedy show I’ve left halfway through) ends of the spectrum, and this lay somewhere in-between.

It wasn’t exactly Mock the Week, but at the same time there were some moments of hilarity, which aptly compensated for the less polished bits. It was the first time they’ve tried this, so there were inevitably some teething problems, but it’s refreshing to see established comics moving out of their comfort zone to do something different.

It was black tie and tuxedo on Tuesday night, as I had free tickets to the recording of Channel 4’s Comedy Roast of Chris Tarrant. Based on the American format, Jimmy Carr and a host of comedians will be paying ‘tribute’ to Chris Tarrant, Sharon Osbourne and Bruce Forsyth this coming Easter.

Alongside Carr, I’d expected to see the usual Channel 4 suspects: Jason Manford, Alan Carr, that sort of thing. I’d at least get to cross Jimmy off my list. Imagine my surprise, then, when the curtains behind me parted to reveal the king of all tiny grumps himself, Jack Dee! I’ve had a few surprises over the course of this column, but this beat them all. Also present from my list was Mark Watson, and the pair were joined by Jack Whitehall, Paddy McGuinness and, erm, Mark Durden-Smith. 

Everyone was pretty much as you’d expect. Carr was offensive, Dee was grouchy, McGuinness was northern, Whitehall was young and Watson looked at things from the side. Taken individually, each of their acts was brilliant, and it was a real joy to see Dee in particular during his five minutes or so on stage.

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However, the fact remains that there’s only so much to say about Chris Tarrant’s life and career, and all of it was said several times here. By the end of the evening, jokes about his infidelity or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? became grating rather than funny, making it impossible to assess any of the acts on their own merits.

It’s going to take a skillful editor to pick out the right jokes for each comedian so that no topic feels over-exposed, but if they manage it then there’s a wonderful show to be had here. However, I fear that, despite the all-star lineup, it may well end up being an Easter turkey.

However, just to be in the same room as Dee, who so rarely gigs nowadays, was an absolute joy and a pleasure. But I hope to see him live again soon, with a set that doesn’t revolve around a former Tiswas host (unless it’s Bob Carolges).

The weight of expectation is a terrible thing. I’m nearly always disappointed by a Doctor Who season finale on first viewing, having usually spent months building it up in my head (though Russell T Davies’ deus ex machina endings must surely take some of the blame, but I digress). Tim Key’s 2009 show The Slutcracker won the Edinburgh Comedy Award, a laudable achievement, indeed, considering the huge amount of competition. I had really looked forward to seeing Key perform live, and, as such, I was setting myself up for a fall.

I was fortunate, then, not to fall very far. Anyone who has seen Key’s poetry on Charlie Brooker’s programmes will know what to expect here: a number of short and confusing poems are interspersed with Key’s musings on life, the universe and everything. Much of the humour comes from the fact that the poetry is usually really quite awful, and more likely to leave the audience wondering what just happened than beguiled.

Key himself gives the impression that much of the show is a bit ramshackle and cobbled together. However, at the same time it’s obvious that the whole thing is meticulously planned. There’s a lot of physical comedy here, from the subtleties of his notebook ‘swapping’ to the climax, involving him making his way to the top of a fridge in a variety of unusual ways.

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Perhaps that meticulously-planned feel was the problem for me. I mentioned last week the reasons behind my aversion to character comics, with a lack of empathy, and the same was true here. Not only did every moment feel over-rehearsed, but Key’s downbeat and distant delivery placed a barrier between himself and the audience; even when he was interacting with audience members, it didn’t really feel like he was in the same room.

Last year I attended a Star Wars concert at the O2, and was greatly disappointed that the music sounded exactly as it would have done if played from a CD. It was the same feeling here. There really was no sense that anything extraordinary or dangerous could happen. It was too finely-honed. 

I’m learning much more about my comedy tastes, and I think two key things I enjoy are a vague sense of unpredictability and a feeling that the comic is giving something of themselves in their act. The Slutcracker was, sadly, neither of these things. That said, it is a finely-crafted show, and there’s still a lot of very amusing moments. I just never really found it laugh out loud funny. It should be noted, though, that I picked up a copy of Key’s book before the show, and haven’t been able to put it down since. There’s no denying the strength of his material, it’s just his delivery that’s a little… off-Key. 

I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.

What of my own performing aspirations, I hear you ask? It’s funny you should mention it, really. Despite having given you all the impression I’d performed last week (when, in fact, I simply sounded out some jokes to a friend), I’m still not there. However, I did spend the final two days of the week filming on location for a popular Channel 4 sitcom…

But, dear reader, that’s a story for another time.

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At the end of Week 7:

Number of comedians seen: 85 (and Mark Durden-Smith) Amount of money spent on tickets: £199 Number of comedians remaining on The List: 29 Number of housemates I risked alienating by seeing comedy on my first night in my new house instead of bonding: 2

Join me next week for a very special Comedy Odyssey, as I spend a day and a half as an extra on the set of… The IT Crowd. As ever, I can be reached by email at comedyodyssey@gmail.com. Love me!