Comedy Day Festival
Colin Geddis is ringmaster as the Crescent Arts Centre hosts a smorgasbord of Northern Irish comics
I’m one of nature’s sprinters – you only need to look at me to know that. I could bound through scrub-land and tear a gazelle to the ground by its ear, no trouble. It’s a gift. But I’m lazy. I lack stamina. I can’t be bothered.
So tonight’s smorgasbord of comic delights, the first co-production between Colin Geddis and Lavery’s Bar in Belfast to bring the Comedy Day Festival to the Crescent Arts Centre, might well be a struggle – if I wasn’t so enthused by the sheer wealth of talent on display. This is a roster to foster, a stable of stars.
TV’s own Mickey Bartlett hurtles onto the stage like the singer from Future Islands, pumped from the gym and looking like he might break your heart or knock you down. In fact he does neither, launching into a brave attempt to whip up a frenzy of excitement in an audience who have just sat down sober at seven on a Sunday evening. That he just about manages it is testament to his irresistible skills as a performer.
Alan Irwin has new glasses and doesn’t like them, as he explains in a welter of fruity language. There’s very little about Irwin’s appearance he does like, in fact: 'Life is like a box of chocolates,' he explains. 'Nobody wants the ginger one.'
He then inaugurates a major theme of the evening – unabashed geekery – with a routine about Luke Skywalker’s aunt and an Iceberg lettuce. It is beautifully judged, a perfect piece of comic writing. It bodes well.
Sean Hegarty has also been in the gym. (Are they giving discounts to comedians now, or is that how you get on the telly these days?) Hegarty deploys his usual stone-faced one-liners, each one tinged with a separate kind of cruelty. He is a tremendous joke technician – he trims the fat of every punch-line, and drills it home. Some of them of them are masterpieces of a miniaturist’s work, perfect gems.
Luke McGibbon’s approach is almost the opposite with his friendly, open faced 'Hello friends' demeanour. His is a frothy sorbet of a set, so it’s a shame that he stumbles through it after a promising start, actually looking as if he is fleeing the mic at certain points. He produces my favourite non-sequitur of the evening – 'Like a lot of Austrians, I have a lot of dreams' – but it does nothing for the crowd, still sober and sullen.
Christian Talbot has a pair of hands so safe you need the combination to open them, especially at the bar. His set is breezy and outward looking, studded with perfect little gags and asides. His Tom Hanks joke is sheer perfection, but the real meat of his set is his replies to the inter-office congratulations cards that he is obliged to sign – the contrast between his hang-dog expression and the spleen vented over other people’s message of goodwill is delicious.
Colin Geddis is the daddy tonight – it’s his gig – and he prowls the stage with the confidence of a panther with lifts in his shoes. The audience open up and relax as Geddis interacts with them expertly. A particularly surreal episode involves a woman recalling his recipe for a Buckfast and milk cocktail, even as he claims to have no recollection of this. Geddis looks as baffled as she does drunk.
Next on is Ruairi Woods, the comedy grocer, and he, in no uncertain terms, storms it. The Strabane man – 'It’s nice to be in a room that isn’t on fire, full of people who don’t have tattoos on their teeth' – is simply in a different class to the last time I saw him perform this set. He is confident, always aware, works the crowd and knows his audience. A mention of 'communion shoes' gets the first spontaneous applause of the evening. He later doubles this tally and walks off to bellows of approval.
Marcus Keeley, meanwhile, is a very different comedy animal: one that will howl at the moon and go for you without provocation, but the first part of his set is practically mime as he plays a stylophone along to Mama Cass’ 'Make Your Own Kind of Music'. Keeley manhandles members of the audience, tells a series of jokes interspersed with sighs and groans (provided) before settling down for some light poetry and beard fetishism. It is frighteningly funny.
Lorcan McGrane then assays his new 'cultchie' character, drawing delighted hoots of recognition from the crowd before disrobing to reveal the quivering geek beneath. McGrane is the real deal, opining, 'By the time I have sex again, genitals will have evolved into something else'.
Anne-Marie Mullan continues the nerdy narrative, claiming to be an 'anxious goblin knightmare girl' (the k in 'knightmare' is, apparently, knecessary). She shouts out to the sistahood by carrying a slice of bread in her handbag with the word 'feminism' written on it. It's the best I’ve seen her, charming and confident in front of a crowd who might not always get her references to Game of Thrones and Doctor Who, but she pulls it off with aplomb and panache.
Ronan Linskey is also at the top of his game, producing a thoughtful and condensed set full of comic set-pieces and subversions of comedy laddism, including a heartfelt plea to get men to own their own impotence.
Shane Todd, doing all right judging by the tan which is full on tandoori, continues to lope around the stage, winking louchely and enjoying his position as the people’s ambassador for Holywood. He continues to undermine his celebrity status – 'Rory Mcilroy, Jamie Dornan, myself – the three amigos' – with tales of his death-trap car apparently passing its MOT because the bloke was a mate of his dads.
The Comedy Day Festival is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking, and kudos must go out to Geddis for putting the whole thing together. This marathon of mirth showcases the extraordinary comic diversity of the Northern Irish scene, all in one place and all on the same stage. That, surely, is a wonderful thing. Next year's festival should be a belter.