The improvised hip-hop comedy duo miss their chance to trade 'pithy putdowns' with a heckler, but are still 'devilishly funny'

It’s every stand-up’s nightmare: the drunken oaf in the front row who won’t shut up. Tonight at the Empire Music Hall, it’s a paralytic, 55-year-old gentleman named Billy. The grey-haired old card is attempting to outfox compere Jake O’ Kane. To be fair he does get a couple of zingers in (and his false teeth out).

Backstage, Dublin improvised hip-hop comedy duo (it’s funnier than it sounds) Abandoman are preparing pithy putdowns. Alas, by the time they hit the stage Billy has been bundled into a taxi by his embarrassed family members.

This doesn’t stop lead 'hip-hop comedy improviser' Rob Broderick and his guitar-strumming cohort James Hancox surreally describing the absent heckler as ‘a snake wearing the body of a man’ and ‘two leprechauns standing on each other’s shoulders’. Unlike O’Kane and warm-up acts Diarmuid Corr and Mark Cahill, the rapping funnymen would clearly have relished some mic time with Billy.

Still, Abandoman don’t get an easy ride from the notoriously rowdy Empire mob. Their act relies on audience participation. Maybe not quite as participatory as they get tonight, though. When Broderick asks for volunteers to join them for a mock musical theatre number, a fearsome-looking woman barrels to the front of the stage, grabs the mic lead and yanks the shocked comic down to her level. ‘Is she trying to climb aboard?’ splutters Broderick (whose camp patter is reminiscent of a less sycophantic Graham Norton).

Abandoman also recruit birthday boy Brian, who is not likely to forget his 34th in a hurry, particularly if there is YouTube footage. Brian chooses the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ as his guilty-pleasure song, 'actor' as his childhood dream job and The Terminator as his favourite movie. His fellow stooge is Charlene, a buxom Belfast nurse who enjoys ‘bossing people about’ and always wanted to be a digger driver. Broderick and Hancox improvise a musical number around the pair, and devilishly funny it is too.

Other tunes include ‘What’s in Your Pocket?’, based on objects held aloft by people in the crowd, and one about unusual occupations. Tonight it is dedicated to a man whose Saturday job is clearing soggy bread from a Linwoods van (his nearest rival is a chap who ‘picks up rotten apples off the ground’ – just who pays him to do so remains a mystery).

The performance climaxes with ‘Party at Phil’s’, the ingredients of which are punter Phil, the contents of his fridge (pasta and Corona) and his favourite bands (REM and Pearl Jam). It’s all wildly inventive stuff, and Broderick and Hancox maintain heroic energy levels for the duration of the hour-long tour de force. The only thing missing is Billy’s razor-sharp (or at least spork-sharp) wit. Perhaps next time he’ll make it to the end of the gig.