Stewart Lee is one of those "marmite" comedians, you either love or hate him. He came to prominence in the 1990's as part of Lee & Herring and then hit the front pages by co-writing "Jerry Springer - The Opera" which caused the Christian right to protest against him, without having seen the piece, of course.
In recent years he has returned to touring and, like the best comedians having fallen under the radar, he has re-emerged as the "comedians comedian", appearing unexpectedly at 41 on Channel 4's Best ever stand-up comedian list.
Oddly, we first saw him at the Cheltenham Jazz festival in 2010, compering a Free form Jazz concert. Sadly, I generally hated the evening but it does begin to explain his comedy.
He is not your standard comedian. We finally caught his stand-up show in Cardiff last year after re-scheduling a "Vegetable Stew" gig. This year's show is " Carpet Remnant World" and basically the 2 hour set involves him haranguing the audience for not laughing more at cetain moments and confessing that being in his early 40's & staying at home looking after his young son he has nothing to say.
This of course is nonsense. Every word is meiculously crafted and the ability to pretend to end the first half on a badly received joke, allowing him to perform for another 10 minutes to get a better laugh and then moan that we had driven him to finish on a shitty pant joke is comedy genius.
The second half shows more of a theme emerging although he has a good swipe at modern comedians who use serious events in their lives to gain laughs & sympathy through pathos. (His hidden attack on Adam Hills was as wince-making as it was funny).
Finally we get a set-piece about how retail shops who use " World" in their title are little more than cons, though it does explain why a variety of carpets are standing proudly erect behind him.
You may be lucky enough to find funnier comedians around, but none will be as clever at constructing a show and controlling an audience.
Go and revel at the master of 21st century stand-up.
Stewart Lee is performing at The Assembly
Rooms between August 2nd-26th
Most successful stand-up touring comedians capitalise on television appearances on various panel and stand-up shows. Rhys Darby is the opposite. He started as a stand-up in his native New Zealand but it was his performance as Murray Hewitt in the cult comedy series "Flight Of The Conchords" that propelled him onto the World Stage and gave him the exposure to now tour big venues with his solo show.
Our first sight of him at St David's Hall was in character as Bill Napier (rhymes with Rapier) a Park Ranger. Next up was Jamie Bowen who, once he stopped swearing gratuitously, entertained with a scattergun riff about how boxes control our lives, followed up with some comedy songs. (Jamie will also be performing at Edinburgh in the guise of Munfred Bernstein in "Munfred Bernstein's Cabinet of Wonder."
These diversions filled the time until Rhys Darby appeared as himself. He is surprisingly tall (to me at least) and proves to be physically funny. He then leads us into his odd world with a series of random experiences of growing up in New Zealand. Some are funnier than others and it all seems rather disjointed and haphazard. Then, as only master comedians can, he unleashes an unstoppable, hysterical finale when all these hitherto unconnected incidents seemlessly come together.
Being a good reviewer I will not reveal any specific moments and will just urge you to rush to see this unique performer. His " This Way To The Spaceship" is heading to the Edinburgh festival next month and despite stiff opposition will be one of the MUST SEE SHOWS.
DO NOT MISS.
Rhys will be appearing at Pleasance Courtyard
from 1-27 August
July. Rain. The rain. Some sun. Wimbledon. Rain. The Open Golf. Rain. And most importantly pre-Edinburgh fringe festival previews.
The Cardiff Comedy festival wisely chooses this month to spot-light familiar (and probably more importantly) lesser known but up and coming talent as they try out their shows before they to the Scottish capital later next month.
This is the time to catch a bargain. For about the price of a solo show in Edinburgh you get to see two comedians performing their acts. You then get the chance to see how your reviews match those appearing North of the Border in August.
In tonight's double-bill of female funsters we first saw the award-winning Vikki Stone trying to explain what a "Hot Mess" was. We may not particularly have been any the wiser afterwards but we were impressed by the contents of her Durex hamper which was her reward for winning that award!
Showing complete confidence in her material and how to relate to an audience she revealed her love for Philip Schofield, Dragons Den and No Deal Or No Deal in a variety of hysterical set-pieces. As well as good spoken material she impressively showed that the art of the comedy song was not dead and knew the limits of rude, bawdy humour without reverting to coarseness for effect.
A Monday evening Cardiff audience wants to be entertained but will get involved if asked politely. Joining in with a love song to the theme of Jurassic Park was the perfect, if surreal, moment which summed up the evening.
The Edinburgh festival is awash with comedians, and it is easy just to see people off the television (although they don't come cheap). Much more fulfilling is picking less familiar (and more reasonably priced) names and to enjoy watching their career develop. To be honest Vikki Stone was not a name I recognised when I arrived but hopefully she will receive the acclaim she deserves in Edinburgh for this highly enjoyable and extremely funny show. If you want to be able to say you caught her first go and see her at the Underbelly.
Second up was the more familiar Lucy Porter (familiar to us at least having been the 11th show that DarkChat ever saw back in the day) although recently she has been out of the spotlight due to 2 almost consecutive pregancies. She has always been a comedienne who talks about her own experiences and her show 'People Person' revolves around how she has coped with bringing up two young children. In particular the need to leave the house and try and make new friends, resulting in a chance meeting at a coffee shop.
Lucy Porter is a likeable performer and a great storyteller and the tale - as always - is funny and interesting with an unexpected (and sad) ending, but it had few laugh-out-loud highlights.
It was enjoyable but (on this double-bill of female comics) she had the misfortune to follow the high octane set of Vikki Stone. It is perhaps unfair to compare their styles but Porter failed to build on the momentum the early act supplied.
Fun, but no surprises.
Vikki Stone is performing daily at 20.10 from August 1st at The Underbelly
Lucy Porter is appearing at The Stand from 2-26 August - Times vary
He may not know it, but Elis James and I have been through a lot, Many years ago I saw him host the short-lived Cardiff Bites at Dempseys, I was sick at the end of his gig at the Kaz Bar (again long gone) and - in truth - is a relection on my inability to drink huge amounts of wine (then) than his act. He was then the opening act for DARKCHAT in 2009 in a tropical hell-hole called the Tron which was so hot ( those were the days) he shared his bottle of water with the audience to avoid possible fatalities.
He has a solo show in Edinburgh this year but was on cracking form at the Glee Club, Cardiff in " Chris Corcoran and Elis James - The Committee Meeting".
The show does what it says on the tin. Chris Corcoran is in the chair and the and we (the audience) are his committee members. He is aided and abetted by Mr James in a couple of character roles, including Steve News, who wants to ... read the news. There is a lot of audience involvement and a surreal Mastermind caretaker contest between rival club caretakers.
The evening then went up a level when we hear of the 85 year old's unexepected involvement on the American soul scene on the 1960's & 1970's. This section is well worth the price of admission alone!
Oddly enough the reason why this evening was successful might explain why they might perhaps not fare so well in the Scottish capital. Firstly, the preview is set in a Welsh Club with two Welsh comedians portraying Welsh characters performing in front of a Welsh audience. Secondly, they were clearly under-rehearsed and an audience loves nothing more than watching things going wrong, forgotten props, consistently missed music cues and Chris telling the audience " you are now watching Elis and and not an 85.year old character."
They have a couple of weeks to tighten up the show but I suspect the Scottish audience would still enjoy their apparent amateurishness. There will be slicker, more sensible shows in Edinburgh but this is worth catching to see two funnymen clearly thoroughly enjoying themselves which infectiously reaches out to the audience.
Elis James & Chris Corcoran are appearing in 'The Committee Meeting'
at The Underbellyat 1.30pm daily
Info at the Edinburgh Fringe website here
This Irish comedienne has a show revolving around how annoying " Try too hard people" are. She admits she is " a try too hard person". She is right, they are annoying.
She had the occasional good line, but her full-on persona failed to connect with the audience and she lost us, the worst fate that can befall a performer.
Gráinne Maguire is performing daily at
Underbelly, Bristo Square at 16:20.
Every now and again a play comes along and re-defines what you think about theatre.
Is acting about convincingly playing a different character to yourself, relaying your own experience or playing a character based on the re-interpretation of events relating to your life? What happens if the actor in the play isn't an actor at all? If you go and see "The Two Worlds Of Charlie F" you can answer these questions.
Playwright Owen Sheers has listened to the stories of soldiers (male and female) injured during the current Afghan conflict and created a drama from their tales. Nothing new about that you might think. The next astonishing act is to persuade the actors to appear in the play in a one-off performance at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The success of this unique event has resulted in a tour at the coveted Pleasance at the Edinburgh Festival.
So, why has this been such a critical success receiving glowing endorsements from the likes of Ray Winstone? Well, firstly I can't think of such an unusual project and whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of war most people admire (though don't really understand) why people would put their lives and bodies on the line.
Great theatre is about connecting with your audience. Ultimately, that is what " The Two Worlds Of Charlie F" is about. You are forced to confront how you deal with people missing limbs in everyday life while listening to their stories of how this occurred. This show works because it is real and avoids the obvious traps. It is not mawkish, it does not manipulate your emotions, it is honest and brutal. The language does not belong in an Ayckbourn play, the description of war is not always easy to hear and most importantly, none of them play the blame game. There is no finger-pointing about the morality of the conflict, any failures of equipment etc, it is just a statement of fact about army life, what happened to them and how they are coping.
The above sounds heavy-going but the playwright wisely includes a lot of humour and amazingly new songs. Some (none professional) performers naturally look more comfortable on stage than others, the self-confidence of Cassidy Little in the lead role is extremely impressive, but overall the performances are outstanding. (The programme is also particularly illuminating about why most of them have agreed to be in the play).
The only suggestion I would make to improve the play is to cut the interval and run it through in one act, which I believe will happen in Edinburgh.
So, if you want to experience an extremely unusual theatrical event go and see " The Two Worlds Of Charlie F". You won't be disappointed.
It closes on Saturday so rush!
The Two Worlds of Charlie F
at The Pleasance Grand, Plesance Courtyard at 1.45pm from 7-11 August
Info at the Edinburgh Fringe website here