Review: Craig Campbell – Don’t Look Down

[First published on Quays News 28/05/16]

CRAIG CAMPBELL performed his show ‘Don’t Look Down’ at the Lowry in Salford last night. It’s the Canadian comic’s third tour and I went along…

Campbell, seemingly fresh from the Canadian wilderness sporting wild shoulder length hair and a grizzly beard, hit the Quays theatre, the 47-year-old as energetic as ever.

He starts the show from backstage by singing Jonny Cash, funny at first, but as the audience members exchanged glances, it was obvious it had gone on for too long. Campbell with his unique and, at times, bizarre delivery, struggled to warm up the Salford audience. Even his odd dress sense, complete with shoes displaying individual toes, couldn’t lift the room which contained a smattering of empty seats.

Momentum begins to build however, particularly with Campbell’s instantly relatable routine on his fondness of tea which received hearty laughter. Coffee is next on the menu, his anger at the closing time of British coffee shops is palpable. Next up is the pub where he shares his first experience of a boozer in Britain, an anecdote that highlights British characteristics.

His material isn’t ground breaking, but the simple observations and relatively ordinary anecdotes are brought to life by Campbell’s enthusiastic performance and some well-placed swear words. His routines are extremely physical, as he extravagantly acts out scenes from his stories. Facial expressions also add to the humour, his bearded jaw appearing detachable at times.

Throughout the show Campbell compares different cultures. An internationally renowned comedian, he’s met vastly contrasting people. Australians, Americans, Norwegians, Brits, Canadians and Russians all get their fair share of ridicule from Campbell, and at one point he concedes that he’s just a cultural bully.

Campbell also exercises his singing voice at various points throughout the show. A rendition of the gentle country swing of George Strait’s ‘All My Ex’s Live in Texas’ followed later in the show by Nazareth’s heavy rock song ‘Flight at Night’ are both given a whole hearted attempt, the latter bemusing the audience somewhat.

Campbell then breaks down the lyrics making several jokes which were well received by the audience after the crazed singing. A cheesy Canadian song by Tom Connors received the biggest laughs of the evening, the catchy tune probably playing as the soundtrack to the audience’s dreams that night, unable to get it out of their heads.

Campbell struggled interacting with the Salford audience for the majority of the show. Asking questions on numerous occasions, the crowd were reluctant to answer, acting cagey and digging in their heels. Perhaps this was due to Campbell’s scary lumberjack appearance, but it was more likely to be the lack of energy in the room which was a struggle to maintain, the laughter and interaction only coming in bursts.

The show is anything but slick, compromising of bits of material and improvisation dragged together. Little is mentioned of the title and there appears to be no flowing narrative. However, this is precisely Campbell’s character; order and structure wouldn’t sit comfortably in his act. His strength is outlandish performance, and he delivers this in spades.



Review: Tom Stade You’re Welcome

[First published on Quays News 30/01/16] Youre-Welcome-Poster-Jpeg

ROCK star comedian Tom Stade hit the Lowry’s Quays Theatre last night with his new show ‘You’re Welcome’.

The intimate room was the venue for the second night of Tom Stade’s new tour, which, for a comedian that’s appeared on the likes of ‘Live at the Apollo’ and ‘Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow’, is a relatively tiny room. Small theatres do give audience members a greater sense of inclusion in a show, and, with Stade’s constant chatting to the front row, this was certainly the case.

Support act Gareth Waugh graced the stage first however. Stade’s recognisable voice over to welcome the Scottish comedian gets the laughter roaring to banish any nervous wait before the first joke lands. A stark contrast to Stade, Waugh’s feeble persona tells self-deprecating anecdotes, fitting into the mould of young male comics that laugh at their failure to be the stereotypical man. His stories are told excellently with the help of his physical performance, ending in some crude but funny mimes. Clever punchlines are scattered throughout, maintaining the laughter before finishing strong. The young Scotsman is definitely one to watch.

The interval passes and, with confidence in abundance, Stade strides onto the stage. In the front row was a gentleman who would be gold dust to any comedian, and Stade spotted him immediately, commenting on his likeness to Einstein to great laughter and applause. A photography teacher from Birkenhead, Albert, as Stade referred to him as, became a regular feature throughout the night.

The start of the show is side splitting. He tells the audience where he’s from, preposterously exaggerating how primitive the Canadian town is in which he grew up. His anecdote about playing Glastonbury last year is a routine that received constant hearty laughter, as he builds up vivid but ludicrous imagery of a hot tub featuring himself and last year’s big names. It’s this silly imagery and ability to take a simple idea and run with it in which Stade excels.

As a Canadian he makes observations on how living in Britain has changed himself, as well as elaborating on the differences between the two countries. British TV is the butt of many jokes as he asks the simple question of why people would go on Cash in the Attic, which he then recites a silly back story. His delivery of the material on the face of it seems like a drunken ramble – repeating, shouting and elongating words with a large dose of expletives for good measure. But it’s this performance, consisting of expert timing, which sets him apart from other comics, matching the style of his material to create silly and original comedy.

Part way through his set, interesting but sensitive material is discussed. Stade refers to the phrase ‘no means no’, but subverts the usual connotations by joking about scenarios in which men say this. The idea is a deep discussion point, but with Stade’s comedic style it comes across as clumsy instead of clever or enlightening, which the routine has the potential to be. He alienates some of the audience which leads to a brief lull in laughter before getting them back onside.

Immigration is next on Stade’s agenda, again a topic which could cause offence, but his silliness blasts away any reservations the audience have at laughing at such a controversial issue. He talks about himself, how he was called an immigrant by a character in his previous anecdote, and how this offended him. Again great imagery is used as he truthfully explains how Britain is a country of immigrants thanks to its colourful history, the language he uses, even more colourful.

Stade really ekes out every possible laugh from a subject before seamlessly moving on to the next. Gaps in the laughter are rare despite his slow delivery as, rather than building up to a punchline, he provides funnies throughout. Heckles were mostly ignored and shouted over, but his improvisation skills weren’t lacking when talking to Albert and others in the front row.

Comedians are always seeking approval from their audience. Stade, however, seems to already know that he’s funny, allowing him to free himself up to be as silly as he wants, providing great entertainment for his audience.