Review: Stewart Francis – Pungent

righthandpromo_pungenttour[First published on Quays News 04/11/15]

STEWART FRANCIS performed his latest stand up show Pungent at The Lowry last night. I was in the audience…

Stewart Francis, recording his show for his third live stand up DVD, delivered a high end comedy show. His set is extremely well written and his dead pan delivery of puns exudes professionalism. His show merits connoisseurs of comedy to fill theatres, however, last night there were a sprinkling of empty seats in The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre.

Allyson June-Smith greets the audience first in the difficult role of supporting act. She struggled to rouse the audience, her initial ten minutes receiving little laughter. Her material does become increasingly creative however, as she shows off her impressive singing voice by impersonating the likes of Shakira and Britney Spears. Towards the end of her set, she’d done her job as the audience were warmed up, but it did however take the full half hour.

Following the interval Francis strolls onto the stage with a profound confidence, showing no sign of nerves, even on the night of his DVD recording. His one-liners, as expected, are well thought out, not one being a cheap unoriginal laugh. His smooth dead pan delivery allows audiences to follow his jokes easily. It’s this style which allows the laughter to flow in a distinct rhythm, rarely leaving a sustained silence and creating an enjoyable atmosphere.Stewart-Francis-at-The-Lowry-702x336

Short jokes that land successfully are often unpredictable, and Francis understands this well. His astuteness allows him to lull the audience into thinking the joke is heading in one direction, then once deceived, he flips the joke on its head with an unexpected line to land the joke. He also has a great ability to squeeze several punchlines out of the same set up which acts to prolong the laughter.

There were a range of topics which Francis derived his jokes from, some silly such as his array of toilet jokes, others more controversial, venturing into subjects such as Parkinson’s disease and then targeting Bill Crosby and Abu Hamza. These jokes aren’t without forethought and as the humour originates from wordplay, little offence is caused.

Francis, trying to add variety to his show, uses a large screen positioned behind him, first to joke about subliminal messaging and then to point out implied meanings to his gags. The largest laugh is a quip about tax avoidance in which fellow comedian Jimmy Carr appears on the screen behind. It’s a nice detour from his unillustrated wordplay, and by using it moderately, he makes sure it never becomes monotonous.

There’s no need for the front row to avoid eye contact with Francis, his show one of military precision with little room for improvisation with audience members. Despite this, he did trip up on the odd occasion, having to save himself with some funny recoveries before retelling the joke. Heckles were vacant throughout the night. Perhaps this was out of respect, but more likely a result of the intimidating cameras and the risk of their humiliation being available from all good retailers sometime next year.

A prominent feature in this show, and a comedic device rarely used as effectively, is repetition. It’s often the case with comedians that the jokes are in isolation, often forgotten by the audience as the comedian moves on swiftly. Francis on the other hand, seamlessly harks back to punchlines used earlier in the show on multiple occasions, each recall getting funnier and more outrageous. His encore was packed with these repeated punchlines, all overlapping, creating roars of laughter.

Francis is a clever manipulator of language and shows off his skills in this tour built up entirely of new jokes. He has full control of his audience and by rightly predicting that they will do some of the work by jumping to punchlines themselves, he creates eruptions of hilarity by outguessing them with unexpected lines. Overall, Francis delivers a night packed with playful jokes you won’t have heard anywhere else.



Review: Sean Kelly Live

[First published on Quays News 30/10/15]

STORAGE HUNTERS auctioneer and American comedian, Sean Kelly, hit The Lowry in Salford on the last show of his first ever UK tour. Here’s what I thought of it…kell

Sean Kelly, known for controlling loud obnoxious characters in his hit reality television show Storage Hunters, is rarely able to display his comedic talents on screen, but on stage the spotlight is on him. His material derives from his surprisingly varied life, having been born in America but schooled in Germany, he has then cycled through a whole range of jobs.

Despite the apparent popularity of Storage Hunters, a smattering of empty seats greeted Kelly in the Lowry’s new-fangled theatre. He kicked off the show by talking about his experiences in the UK. Bradford and Blackpool were targeted, so too was the UK’s famously poor customer service, subjects exhausted by comedians these days and therefore it felt unoriginal. In this early part of the show, with the cold audience just filling up half the room, laughter was sparse. However, once he moved into a routine about his German upbringing, his jokes landed successfully and the show picked up.

His attempts at accents and self-deprecation received the most laughs from the audience. The first half centred more around gags as he moved swiftly from subject to subject. However, he ventured into dangerous territory on a couple of occasions with obscene references that needed to be handled more carefully and, as a result, they didn’t sit well with the majority of the audience.

The largest laughs of the night were during Kelly’s interaction with the Salford audience. He picked out his ‘bald brothers’, and chatted to a Papa Bear lookalike (a Storage Hunters character). Frustratingly a member of the audience heckled on a few too many occasions, and although Kelly encouraged it, and his belittling comebacks were effective, it seemed to disrupt the momentum of the show, causing him to lose his way.

Storage Hunters has become a guilty pleasure for regular viewers of daytime television and, expectedly, its fans had been drawn to tonight’s show. Kelly, fully realising the makeup of his audience, dropped in several references to his TV career during the show. He took full advantage of the shared knowledge his audience possessed through a trivia quiz. Never has the knowledge of mind-numbing daytime television been more useful. Asking for politely raised hands, those who correctly answered the questions, which in terms of difficulty were on a par with those asked on University Challenge, were called on stage to claim prizes ranging from an unwanted hunk calendar to an exclusive signed photo. Kelly’s improvisation, along with the willingness of the Lowry audience, created some great laughs.

The show’s finale was, what else, an auction. Admirably raising money for Help for Heroes, members of the audience and Kelly himself had brought along items to sell in his trademark style. A ukulele, some jewellery and a pocket watch were all up for grabs, and with hands flying up everywhere, all items were sold for over £50. The big money was raised with Kelly’s items. Signed shirts went for £100 each and so too did a pair of silly doodles of the Storage Hunters characters.  As the show ended to thunderous applause, Kelly had built up a rapport with his audience. This was strengthened after the show, as fans were able to meet him, get autographs and pose for pictures with him.

Kelly’s stand up offers a thoroughly enjoyable evening. He rolled jokes out at a decent pace, not all of them worked, but those that did forged resounding laughter. The second half of the show was by far the most enjoyable. It felt more natural as he showcased himself as a great improviser and conductor of an audience. Overall, Kelly provided a solid
night of comedy.