Glasgow International Comedy Festival
Reviews by Mark Brown
The Glasgow International Comedy Festival, which opened on Thursday, is a big tent which has embraced its own fringe. And you don’t get much more fringe than the 30-seater, brick-floored venue that is the conservatory out the back of Brel, the Belgian bar and restaurant in the West End.
Here it is that I begin my festival with a set by Bethany Black, a Manchester comedian whose very existence probably causes sleepless nights for Cardinal Keith O’Brien. If the cardinal considers gay marriage to be “grotesque madness”, one can only guess at what he’d make of Black, who self-defines as a “goth, lesbian transsexual”. He’d certainly be unlikely to appreciate her riff on the idea that Jesus Christ should be considered part-stand-up comedian, part-magician (“like a cross between Peter Kay and Tommy Cooper”).
However, the funniest moment of the show comes, not from Black herself, but from an audience member. The comic (who is heading straight for a joke about urine fetishists) asks us if we know what we should do if we are ever stung by a jellyfish. One young woman, who has been attacked by the aforementioned sea creature, does know, as her father was the first to offer to neutralise the sting, which was on her backside, by peeing on it. Needless to say, she declined his services. And that, young comedians take note, is the kind of upstaging you risk when you indulge in too much conversation with your audience.
There’s informal, chatty comedy of a different and, in a series of “size matters” gags, unambiguously heterosexual kind when black Canadian comedian Dana Alexander takes to the Brel stage with a mixture of new and tried-and-tested material. Hailing from a Jamaican family in Edmonton, Alberta, Alexander knows all about being a black person in “Whitesville”; little wonder, then, that she sympathised with the black taxi driver in Galway who brought his car to a screeching halt when he saw her in the street.
Like all Canadians who travel, Alexander is heartily sick of being mistaken for an American. And, like most Canadians, she looks at the United States with astonished disbelief; not least in the case of a guy on TV news with only one tooth in his mouth who was protesting against Obama’s plan for free healthcare.
If Black and Alexander deal in a variably successful line of observational humour which has become a comedy standard, the audience over at the Friday night Festival Club was being treated, in the shape of Terry Alderton, to one of the most original acts in British comedy. If you rolled Rory Bremner together with a human beatbox and an escapee from the nearest psychiatric secure unit, you’d be getting close to Alderton.
A master of voices and sounds (including a full impression of conflict-torn Beirut), the English comedian conducts a series of vaguely sinister conversations with audience members via a dialogue with his psychotic alter-ego. The effect is brilliantly unsettling. I’m just glad I was propping up the bar, and not sitting near the front.
No such danger with Elaine Malcolmson, who followed Alderton at The Stand. Not for the Northern Irishwoman the fashionable line in audience abuse championed by our compère, the hilariously quick-witted Bruce Devlin. With her deadpan delivery and old school joke telling, Malcolmson is more akin to Glasgow’s own comedy master, Arnold Brown.
A series of gags at the expense of her compatriot Christine Bleakley (presenting Dancing On Ice because “those skates are very sharp and accidents do happen”) are a treat. They’re bettered, though, by a skit about drunk doctors treating inebriated patients in A&E.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on March 18, 2012
© Mark Brown