'The set is so slick and well-honed you almost forget the incredible craftsmanship.'
Come here. In answer to the question that I’d been asked all week, no, Jimmy Cricket is not dead. He is anything but. As he bounds on stage to a Bontempi Irish jig, the years melt away and I’m the same fat ten year old, eating toast with my feet on the radiator, that I was the last time Jimmy Cricket touched my world.
He is unchanged: the dress suit, the carnation, the wrong-footed wellies, and the single glove (a look later appropriated by a certain M Jackson) are all present and incorrect, though the suit might be a touch snugger now, the hair a little sparser beneath his crumpled Kangol hat (LL Cool Jimmy!).
The material is similarly timeless. I watched one of his mid-80s Seaside Special performances, for research purposes, you understand, and it’s practically the same set; impossibly the same man.
This, of course, doesn’t matter. Seaside Special was a snap-shot of a distant event, static and unchanging. Jimmy’s act is a live experience, riotously alive. The set is so slick and well honed, beneath the patina of distracting silliness, that you almost forget the incredible craftsmanship. He doesn’t miss a note all night; every joke hits home. It doesn’t hurt that he’s brought his own audience.
The Black Box is littered with greying heads; people shuffling uncertainly in doorways as though a pub environment is a strange and alien land. It all changes when Jimmy takes the stage. I have never heard such a warm and appreciative audience at the Black Box. Each time he asks 'Can I share this with you?' the audience, as one, says 'yes'. He mentions that he’s been unwell and there are more 'ahs' than at a dental convention.
It’s not just a senior service he’s offering. There are hipsters guffawing unironically and half of Belfast’s comedy cognoscenti are braying at the back.
While the gags come thick and fast, including a couple of 'borrowed' recent ones ('you’ve got to keep the act fresh'), there are other strings to his bow. He’s a prop comic: taking a tennis racket and an orange from his suitcase he bats the fruit across the stage shouting 'Juice!'.
He threatens the audience with juggling balls until, on the fifth occasion, he begins juggling in earnest, moving into perhaps the most surreal part of the show – a selection of satirical, juggling impressions! An elongated skit about how various different people (a cowboy, a military man, Elvis) would behave as Lollypop men shouldn’t work in any sane world, but Jimmy owns the stage, gurning, sweating through a battery of silly walks and comic dances that is extraordinary in a comedian of his venerable dotage.
The catchphrases come thick and fast: 'Come here', 'And there’s more', of course, peppering the set, but the audience’s favourite on the night is 'How do they get the jobs?' after an altercation with anybody in authority, from doctors to postal clerks ('This letter’s too heavy. It needs another stamp.' 'Won’t that make it heavier?').
The set is full of local references and golfing gags and the repeated refrain of: 'We don’t get the service, do we ladies and gentlemen?'
Looking at the silver heads about me I realise that this is a man who knows his audience. One joke about how he got lost looking for a hospital on the Crumlin Road (punchline: 'Oh dear, where can the Mater be?') brings the house down.
'I’ve been waiting five years to do that joke!' bellows a vindicated Jimmy Cricket. Here’s hoping he doesn’t leave it another five. This may not have been the funniest gig I’ve been to but, by some margin, it was the funnest.