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.
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.