William Caulfield

The sharp-tongued comedian cuts out the middleman and heckles the audience

‘I’m a comedian,’ announces William Caulfield to a packed Grand Opera House in Belfast. ‘I hate explaining that.’

It’s pretty much the only moment of self-deprecation in this two-hour show, the only chink in Caulfield’s armour. Otherwise, the Lurgan man is an exhausting, merciless presence. ‘If I want to hear an arsehole, I’ll fart,’ he snaps at one woman who attempts to shout something towards the stage.

Anyone expecting warm and gentle humour from the family-friendly star of Our Jimmy and Our William is left reeling tonight. Caulfield reveals himself to be a grand master of the putdown, spending a good portion of the evening baiting the audience. Whereas most stand-ups have to contend with heckles from the crowd, Caulfield cuts out the middleman. He heckles them.

Pity poor Yvonne, a leisure centre cleaner from east Belfast, whose age, appearance, IQ and everything in between are ruthlessly ribbed throughout. A gentleman named James gets off more lightly – to a degree.

Caulfield has decided that James, a retired psychiatric nurse, is the audience’s bastion of intelligence, though the hapless punter only has a few seconds to prove it each time the comic comes to him, before the boot goes into him, too.

It’s a shame that next to this winningly withering banter, the material itself is fairly pedestrian. Along with hoary schtick about the Olympics, doctor’s visits, Daniel O’Donnell and Caulfield’s Aunt Fanny, there are a couple of bits that are word-for-word the same as this writer heard Conal Gallen deliver at the Waterfront recently.

Still, if the likes of Les Dawson and Rodney Dangerfield could share jokes and be hailed as geniuses, then, you could argue, what’s stopping these guys?

More than anything, Caulfield appears fixated on Northern Ireland: the places, the people, the language. There’s a decent story about the Reverend Paisley meeting two youths from the Falls Road, complete with a spot-on 'Big Ian' impression, and Caulfield tells the one about the UDA’s ‘TO’ – its ‘'Telligence Officer’.

Later, he mischievously mentions the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and surveys who applauds and who doesn’t. ‘That’s the Prods, and that’s the Catholics,’ he deduces, a satisfied smirk plastered across his face.

There’s also a splendidly indulgent routine at the end of the first half during which Caulfield goes through each of the six counties in turn, finding out where everyone in the theatre is from and mocking them accordingly. Ballymena? ‘Who bought the tickets?’ Portadown? ‘They must have walked here.’ Bangor? ‘Fur coat and no knickers.’ Clabby? ‘It’s like something you’d die of.’

It’s well-worn stuff, but it works, and there are some flashes of genuine inspiration for those who don’t find coming from Northern Ireland the funniest thing ever.

Caulfield ends on a smart gag inspired by the title of this show, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. Then, just to make sure we’ll return next year, he presents Yvonne and James with a box of Ferrero Rocher each. Maybe he’s not such a bad bloke after all.