Written for the British Comedy Guide
There are real benefits to chaos. You couldn’t ignore the first Comedy Crawl’s serious organisational problems, noisy, awkward venues and confusing, inaccurate schedule. But the line-up was incredible, the acts handled the problems with energy and ingenuity, and a real bond developed between performers and audience as they struggled to be heard over the much larger, long-running music festival. Matt Kirshen (pictured) got one of the weekend’s biggest laughs by having his half of the room shout at the other half, who had been loudly ignoring the comedy all night, to just shut up. It worked.
Downstairs at Lyttleton Arms might be the toughest place I’ve ever seen comedy performed. Open doors and windows let traffic noise and blinding sunlight fill a U-shaped room where at least a hundred people were talking over the act. Fortunately Pippa Evans’ set was powerful enough to grab the whole room’s attention, hold it, and pump out deafening laughs-an extraordinary achievement since half the people there couldn’t even see her. Phil Nichol, up next, clearly understood this was not a place for subtlety and soon had everyone singing along to his Only Gay Eskimo song. It was a rare moment of happy overlap between the two Crawls; wonderful, but made it even more clear that half the audience were there for music.
Throughout the day the regular stand-ups suffered. A few sets I’ve seen in better situations get drowned out by laughter and applause were completely ignored here. One person who did succeed on his own terms was Colin Hoult, who walked right into the crowd and delivered his subtle, strange character act to the few front rows who could hear him, giving 20 people the highlight of their weekend.
Long after the night was scheduled to end, Brendan Burns, Matt Kirshen, and Abandoman were rocking Lock 17 canalside bar. Whilst Kirshen’s solution for the noise problem didn’t last, the acts were all more than capable of delivering in a difficult space. Several great sets later, the audience screamed for an Abandoman encore. Burns and Andrew Maxwell (who just happened to be nearby), delivered their weirdest jokes for Rob Broderick to turn into improvised raps. It could only have happened there. It was awesome.
For a change of pace, the next day I camped out at the Camden Head, where Really Lovely Comedy had found a great venue and put together a stunning line-up. Andrew Maxwell was fantastic as always, Thom Tuck delivered a surreal, wild-eyed, wonderful rant about Disney. Nas Osmanoglu, Iain Stirling and Tim Fitzhigham were all on top form. Pappy’s delighted and The Beta Males were gut-achingly, funny. John-Luke Roberts was, well, as good as John-Luke Roberts: there is no higher possible praise.
Over five hours in on a great venue with no back-stage, a comic soap-opera started up as the on-stage act shouted to their friends. When Pappy’s guitar tuning annoyed Andrew Maxwell (pictured), he improvised a better argument about the superiority of stand-up over sketch than I’ve ever heard. When they had their turn on stage they answered. An extra level of in-jokes, collaboration and competitiveness gave a great gig even more depth and energy.
The weekend felt a little like a battle between music and comedy, with stand-up acts often drowned out and ignored by confused rock fans. Even at the Camden Head the floor vibrated with the hip-hop being played downstairs. So it felt right to end with a winning set from Frisky & Mannish, true cabaret geniuses capable of finding the funny in every song, every singer and performance from extraordinary aria to Z-list celebrity cat-fights.
At some points the Camden Comedy Crawl had all the energy and chaos of the Edinburgh Festival at its late-night best, at others it was painful to watch. If they fix the serious staging problems, next year’s festival should be unmissable.