Russell Kane

Tammy Moore - 'the critic with the pen!' - gets a dose of the English comic's humorous abuse

Let’s be honest. A critic's life is, in general, a cushy one. Oh, we talk it up, give it a bit of the old artistic temperament, but it is hardly the same as diving into burning buildings or felling trees. I can, in fact, testify to this, since I did fell a tree over the Easter break and got splinters, sunburn and something in my eye.

That said, the comedy gig is our gauntlet, our testing ground, where we are no longer untouchable, no longer the anonymous arbiter of opinion. We are merely some twit with a notebook sitting too close to the front.

So, when Russell Kane clocks me one sentence into his Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival gig at the Waterfront Hall Studio, I kick my bag under the chair and hang onto my pen for dear life.

As these things go, he is actually pretty good-natured. There are a few comments about Guardian readers (I do) and how he disapproves of filth (I don’t), but nothing goes down his pants. After the Andrew Maxwell gig last year, I count that as a win.

Kane is a frenetic, physical performer, lolloping across the stage like a spraddle-legged Thompson’s gazelle. Try and collate his influences in the usual ‘love-child of A and B’ format and you end up with a tangled family tree. There’s a bit of Chaplin in there, a smidge of Michael Crawford and, is that Dick Van Dyke in the back?

He divides the audience into those who want political humour ‘led by the critic with her pen!’ and those who just want filth. He delivers a bit of both, usually at the same time. Bathos is his stock-in-trade (he tells me to write that, but it’s true) with Kane twisting the story either way – tragedy into humour, humour into tragedy.

It isn’t the standard slight of mood of some comics, where they draw you in and then pull the rug out at the last minute. ‘I’m going to tell you a sad story. No it’s not!’ Kane, self-deprecating and consciously awkward, makes no attempt to undermine the emotional clout of his stories.

Hard to say whether that is deliberate or not – after all, Kane has the attention span of a hummingbird on Red Bull and claims he forgets to finish his stories.

His relationship with his father is the most frequent fodder. The camp, liberal son of a three-neck-ripple Essex hard-man, Kane has a carefully doled out ration of anecdotes about his childhood. He also dips into his recent break-up – telling everyone he suffers from an addiction to monogamy – and his so-far so-odd return to the dating scene (it involves a Sloppy Joe pizza and Comic Relief - watch Kane perform Beyonce's 'Crazy In Love' dance routine in the video below).

The act could come across as being a bit schizophrenic, with its blend of cleverness and obscenity. Kane makes a well-structured joke about classism – sharp enough to generate an audible hiss from the audience – and ruts over the stage yelling for an invisible woman to ‘touch the end of it’. He throws in random jokes about Harry Potter and discusses the enculturation of male sexuality in Western society.

For Kane, it works. Perhaps you sense the same stress-fractures in him – the tension between being a chav sneering at intellectuals and an intellectual sneering at chavs. That’s why the most effective piece in the whole gig is the story of a confrontation on a train. Not to spoil the punchline, but it boils down to ‘Who do you think you are?’.

Kane still isn’t sure, but he is funny. It will be interesting to see the polished version of the gig. Not from the front or second row though.

Check out our What's On listings for information on all Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival events.