So the Rawhide comedy junta slides itself neatly into the confines of the Royal Court. After a quick tour of the redecked theatre the righteous indignation over the loss of one of our best live music venues gives way to the sad realisation that progress in the name of comedy is, probably, a good and happy thing. Although you petite gig-going girls are going to miss that sloping floor, eh?
Tonight’s double header is the meeting of two of the poster boys of the Them-and-Us left-wing rant school of stand-up comedy - Mark Thomas and Rob Newman.
The house lights dim and the star of Channel 4’s Mark Thomas Comedy Product enters stage right. International terrorism, the war in Iraq, scheming politicians, big business - raking over similar territory as Michigan enfant terrible Michael Moore, this stuff could came across as smug and self-righteous, but Mark walks the tight-rope well. He squeezes as much comedy mileage as possible out of the grim underbelly of the workings of the civilised world without overpandering to the whims of the sanctimonious hippy-go-mucky student caucus.
Mark has just released a book called ‘As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela’ about his adventures in the international arms trade and this makes up the bulk of his material tonight. After setting up his own arms company (amusingly titled Guns R Us), Mark and his team set about buying up as many banned weapons and torture implements as they could get their grubby mitts on.
Mark performs his set with aplomb and as a parting gift he lets slip the little-known fact that in England and Wales you can apply for planning permission on a property even if you are not the legal owner. A wink and a ‘go play’ later, Mark exits to give Rob Newman a shot at the microphone.
|"It feels like we are being entertained by the after-dinner repartee of some long-dead Victorian wit."|
It’s been a good fifteen years since The Mary Whitehouse Experience hit our screens. Any self respecting twenty-something will remember the show with a hint of glowy nostalgia. Rob Newman, arguably the funniest of the lot, seemed to have disappeared without a trace.
So it is with some trepidation that we receive Rob this evening. Will he be as funny as we remember he was? Will he do History Today? Jarvis the Gentleman Pimp? Sarcastic Sounding Ray? Not tonight. Putting his comedy past behind him he sticks to the agenda of the evening – the world is going to hell in a handcart, so it’s up to Mr. Newman to milk a few laughs out of the sorry situation.
Rob Newman’s delivery is like watching an episode of the West Wing on double speed – he comes at you with so many facts, quotes, statistics, jokes and impressions that your brain feels positively fried by the end of the set – miss a beat and you can lose the whole thread of whatever it is he is going on about. From the secret origins of World War I to train riding hobos to how the American economy is going to collapse as soon as OPEC starts trading oil in Euros, we are taken on a whirlwind tour of the state of global disrepair.
At times it feels like we are being entertained by the after-dinner repartee of some long-dead Victorian wit, but with the cutting edge material of Bill Hicks. The enlightening sound of someone who has actually done their homework – there’ll be no half-baked jokes about smoking pot and watching the Discovery Channel tonight.
At the end of the set, Rob is joined on stage by Mark and they enter into a Whose-Line-Is-It-Anyway?-style version of duelling banjos – Mark on harmonica and Rob on ukulele, they rip into each others routines with gusto – Mark attacks Rob for being a big hypocrite who, in reality, likes to roam about the countryside in his big SUV shooting badgers. Rob counters that his SUV runs on bio-diesel and that the badgers he shoots make great loft insulation – and so it goes on, faster and faster, building to rapturous applause as the audience decides to call it a draw.
Walking away, however, I’m left with pangs of nausea - like a novelty Christmas record, it seemed funny at the time, but looking back on it you are left feeling hollow and depressed. Then again, the world outlook at the moment is so bleak that, failing ignorance, laughter is probably the best – if not the only – medicine.