Luke McGibbon

The Antrim comic completes an impressive debut solo stand up set at the Black Box

Nestled in Belfast’s bustling Cathedral Quarter, the Black Box is one of the city’s quirkier venues. It is also a proudly independent one when it comes to staging and fostering local creative talent. Its front lounge, the Green Room, is an especially intimate space of cosy armchairs, clustered tables and stylish wall coverings.

Stand-up comedy in such close quarters can be a risk. There is nowhere to hide – all eyes are trained forward, waiting, expectantly, to be amused. Credit must go then to Luke McGibbon for producing an hour’s worth of promising material to a tightly assembled Green Room gathering.

Describing himself as an ‘occasional jape merchant’, McGibbon’s punters, at a fiver per head, certainly get their money’s worth. The gags and quips are, mercifully, more frequent than occasional. Blessed with an eager crowd, McGibbon’s friend Neil Dickson gets the proceedings underway.

A merchant in banter rather than japery, according to the event’s Facebook page anyway, not all of his routine hits the mark, but Dickson is self-effacing and enthusiastic; he is impossible to dislike. One filthy tale involving a traffic warden gets a good reception, as does the first of the night’s prostate funnies (yes, there’s more than one).

It is not entirely clear whether Dickson is reading his own material on purpose or because he has forgotten it, but the sight of him retrieving a wedge of scribbled notes from his pocket is actually quite amusing. As a motor-mouthed opening gambit, and with the benefit of a sympathetic audience – though he laments the lack of any willing hecklers – he does more than enough to warm up McGibbon’s spot.

There is a faint air of endearing confusion to the manner in which the main act arrives on stage, stuck somewhere between a strut and shamble, before extravagantly tossing a handful of paper confetti in the air.

This is his solo debut and he appears ready to put in the work. Good-natured and somewhat awkward, he cleverly places his humour against these two traits, delivering a standard mix of juvenile fare – incest, circumcision and, of course, prostate exams – with a cheeky, slightly embarrassed grin. But there’s more to his act than teenage sniggering.

Working from a list of topics taped to the wall for all to see, including Russell Kane’s ‘dead relative’ theme, McGibbon immediately engages an audience member (christened ‘Tony’ for the duration) with a tacky friendship bracelet and a series of cue cards upon which he calls from time to time. Checking off each topic as it falls, he has clearly done a respectable amount of preparation.

His slate is broad enough to take in a charming tale of childhood in a post-conflict Northern Ireland. Seeking clarification from his father on the difference between Catholics and prostitutes, he is left with one key question: ‘Why do prostitutes have their own estates in east Belfast?’

Indeed, one of McGibbon’s main strengths is his drily articulate asides. ‘I don’t know why anyone in Northern Ireland would want to remember the 70s,’ he mutters, when the subject of throwback nights comes up. Biology students are the world’s best lovers, he goes on to suggest, because they know where everything is. ‘As long you’re cut in half and visible from the side.’

It is witty stuff and, at times, darkly knowing. ‘My room mate is addicted to drugs,’ he says, recalling the time he decided to intervene and hide his friend’s syringes. It was not well received: ‘Turns out he really loves that insulin.’ Reading one of Dr King’s particularly conciliatory quotes in the wake of the glee surrounding Fred Phelps’s recent passing brought McGibbon to one conclusion. ‘I too am glad… that Martin Luther King is dead.’

Not everything clicks. Some jokes may be swiftly jettisoned, others need polishing. That said, McGibbon’s main opponent would appear to be his nerves, a familiar obstacle to any stand-up. There is talent here, however, right down to the charmingly naff finale in which the comedian, dressed in a hoodie and tattered tracksuit trousers, tears away the latter to reveal a pair of bland jeans lurking beneath. Work is required but there is much to work with.

Visit the Black Box website for information on forthcoming events.