Review: Steve Hall – Zebra

[First published on Quays News 15/02/16]

 STEVE Hall performed his new stand up show ‘Zebra’ in the Lowry’s intimate studio venue last night.

Member of the now defunct sketch trio Klang and contributing writer for BBC’s Russell Howard’s Good News, Hall’s solo comedy career has been on the back burner for some time. He has returned to stand up by touring his Edinburgh fringe show ‘Zebra’, which is all about the unexpected perks in life.

Before delving into his anecdotes, Hall gets a gauge of his audience in terms of knowledge of his previous work, and, on this Valentines evening, the couples that are celebrating, displaying genuine gratitude for them turning up.

The title of his show refers to a saying from his childhood: “If you hear hooves, expect horses, not zebras.” It means that the worst case scenario is unlikely, therefore you shouldn’t expect it. Dissecting the phrase he flips it, saying the ‘zebras’ in life are actually surprising perks in among the mundane horses. It turns out to be a pleasant theme for a comedy show.

Hall has recently become a father. This unsurprisingly makes up a large chunk of material in his show, as it’s easy to see how a new born can throw up numerous ‘zebras’. Veering away from this idea briefly, Hall first recalls his student days, talking about how drinking to excess caused him to have memory blackouts, with embarrassing results come morning. It’s a tight routine that is a definite high point in the show.

Many years after university, Hall tells how his drunken activities now are as peculiar as ever, these days surfing crowdfunding websites after a drinking session. This sets up a lengthy but rewarding anecdote. He explains that whilst boozed up he had turned to people over the internet to edit sentimental black and white photos from his childhood. The large blown up photos, which picture him meeting the muppets as a three-year-old, are proudly paraded around the room by Hall. The new edits, some colour corrected, others turned into paintings, are the subject of strong laughter.

It’s a routine full of character, and a far cry from a usual stand up set. It offers a sweet insight into Hall’s blissful memories and relationship with his father, elaborating on how that has in turn influenced his outlook towards his daughter. It doesn’t contain jokes as such, but it’s funny in its warmth and charm. Much like the theme of the show, Hall pulls out an unexpected zebra.

There’s not much in the way of improvisation. For a confident comic in a small venue, it was unusual to see him interact one on one with an audience member only once. However, the crowd didn’t offer an opportunity for him to dive in as heckles were non-existent, perhaps due to the polite nature Hall exudes.

The audience is never grabbed by a joke, but ripples of laughter frequently sweep the room. Admitting himself that he has a monotone voice, Hall’s material, despite being strong, was standing alone, needing a more unique delivery to create cascades of laughter. His well-mannered demeanour, complete with little cursing, is pleasant, but lacked energy to rev up the audience.

Hall’s story telling offers a delightful evening filled with an array of light heated anecdotes. Zebra may not have the audience in stitches, but its undeniable charm amuses to create a long lasting smile.

M.U.F.F Sitcom

M.U.F.F is the unapologetically outrageous indie sitcom created by comedians Daniel Sloss and Tom Stade along with Charlie Parker and Joe McTernan. It follows Sloss’ character Lawrence, a new intern at the television company M.U.F.F Productions, as he inadvertently creates a zombie apocalypse by helping to produce re-hashed, mind numbing TV programmes.

The six part internet series essentially sticks two fingers up at what television has become. Each episode rips apart a type of show by satirically copying formats that are plastered all over our modern screens, taking the ideas to hilarious extremes.

Issues of race, mental health, sexuality, feminism and political correctness are all discussed throughout the series, with Lawrence representing the voice of liberal reason against the rest of his moronic team. Despite these subjects being touched, don’t expect any moral lessons as they just form the basis for jokes.

It’s a fast paced show, with a hit and run attitude to some of the jokes, leaving aspects of the show unexplained, but that’s the beauty of it. Jokes run the show, everything else comes later. And anything that has the potential to be joked about is, even the warning at the start of each episode is hilarious.

The whole series is stuffed full of great gags, some quite obvious such as the continuity joke in episode one, others more original, but all very funny. Many of the jokes acknowledge the fact that the show was made on a tiny budget, referring to the lack of props and special effects. Also joked about is the TV making process, for example the first episode has Tom Stade’s character saying “this is only the first episode so it doesn’t have to that great, we’ve just got to show monkey public who the characters are.” The constant and blatant breaking of the fourth wall demonstrates that Stade and Sloss are fully aware how  ridiculous the show is

The acting throughout, as expected with a group of comedians, won’t win an Oscar, but it is nonetheless hilarious. When comedians attempt acting they rarely give a real performance, but what they can do is more important in a sitcom, and that’s delivering a joke. J.P, the boss of MUFF, is played by Tom Stade and is the stand out performance. The character is an exaggeration of the comics own personality, creating a gun wielding, drugged up boss who dishes out enough expletives to make a nun crumble.

There are cameos by recognisable comedians such Stephen K Amos, who plays future Lawrence taking on a narrator role, Eric Lampaert, appearing in episode two as the cross-dressing robber and Jarred Christmas, starring in a seductive mock lemonade advert.

The best thing about MUFF, besides being able to make stupid jokes with the title, is that the creators didn’t have anyone above them curbing creativity to commercialise the end product. The very subject matter of the show is why it would never be taken up by a production company.

They could do what they wanted and they certainly didn’t hold back, throwing wild punches at modern television. So many sitcoms are dumbed-down in concept, characters and jokes for the benefit of the mass audience and the fear of offending them. It’s good to watch a sitcom where the creators did it because they wanted to.

Here’s episode one, the rest can be found on MUFF’s YouTube channel along with extra content.

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The Comedian’s Comedian podcast

The Comedian’s Comedian podcast consists of Stuart Goldsmith interviewing fellow comedians. But it’s more than the boring old interview that we’ve become accustomed to in which comedians just promote their latest tour, DVD or sitcom. Instead Stuart, a great interviewer, asks demanding questions to discover how the comic ticks.

Every episode is fascinating. Stuart, a brilliant comic himself, clearly has a real passion for his art and, along with his guest, they explore the inner workings of stand up. The comedians on the show are all fantastic and I’m always surprised about how much they are willing to open up about their comedy. The range of guests adds extra intrigue, exploring contrasting styles and varying stages of a career in comedy.

In over 150 episodes, Stuart has interviewed the biggest names – Stewart Francis, Jason Byrne, Tim Vine, Dara O Briain, Ross Noble, Jason Manford, Al Murray, Rhod Gilbert, Alan Davies and the names keep on going, chances are he’ll have spoken to you’re favourite comedian. As well as learning more about well known acts, it’s also fantastic for discovering new comics that are emerging or not classed as mainstream.

The depth in which comedy is discussed has taught me a great deal, giving me insight to help me write my stand up reviews. Every episode is unique in that every comedian works in a slightly differing way. I’m yet to listen to them all, but the best episodes in my opinion have been with Gary Delany, his explanation of how he forms one liners was outstanding, Jason Byrne was incredibly funny and of course my favourite comedian Tim Vine was in fine form.

If you’re a fan of stand up then comcompod is a must listen. I listen on Soundcloud, I’m sure it’s available on other podcasting sites or you can go direct to the website. There are also a few episodes or parts of episodes that are on their Youtube channel worth checking out.

Stuart himself is going on his first stand up tour (I wrote about it briefly here) and is a great comedian so be sure to check out some dates.

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