When I left the Bold Hotel in Southport on Saturday night, we’d stayed over time. Stand up Josie Long had been trying to get us all out of the venue. This ended up with her trying to drive the crowd away through the medium of karaoke, so she started singing the first song to pop into her head: Nothing Compares 2 U. To her surprise, instead of clearing the room, a sizable portion of the audience just started joining in, right until the last note. “I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant…. you can GO HOME!… but nothing – PLEASE LEAVE – I said nothing can take away these blues…”
Picture the scene, if you will. We’re in a hotel lounge in a seaside town, there’s a club singer in the room next door giving it the whole Rocket Man, I’m eating a bag of Scampi Fries with glee (only 127 calories, it turns out), and this is where Robin Ince and Josie Long have been booked for one of their collaborative Utter Shambles gigs. They have brought along a gay protest singer, Grace Petrie, for good measure, and it’s all part of the Southport Comedy Festival, so there’s a cartoon of a picture postcard type chubby gent in a Victorian bathing suit as a backdrop all night. The guy who runs the town’s lawnmower museum is in the audience. It’s all a bit The Shining meets Phoenix Nights. It turns out to be amazing fun.
The absurdity of the situation not only tickles our hosts for the evening (who’d never performed in the town before), but brings out a great performance from them both. The Utter Shambles shows are a spin off of the pair’s Comedy Central podcasts – they don’t do them anymore, but work so well together they do these semi-regular tour dates – and they are the first to point out that it is not just a clever name. There’s no structure to the night – they compete for the mic and there’s material in between the off-the-cuff chat (including some good stuff that Ince had also very recently done in Liverpool), but slick it is not really the word to describe it.
Saying that, there’s a lot to be said for comedy of this kind; there’s no bravado and no heckling, and actually no jokes to speak of; just stories and good company that really raises the laughs. It might be a tale of a ruined train journey, or a silly interaction with a child, or a piece about science or poetry that has either one enthused. Ince and Long are so comfortable with each other and in front of an audience that it would almost be impossible not to enjoy what they do on some level. Although Grace Petrie is not a comedian and as such was a bit of a surprise addition, she went down well and had plenty of her own fans in the audience too. Plus, she had a song about loving an old car that went to the scrapyard, which has just happened to me, so she gets a thumbs up.
There’s lots more going on this week at Southport Comedy Festival, including Mark Thomas, Sam Avery, Slaughterhouse Live and a sold-out show from Henning Wehn. There’s a real buzz and a great line up to the whole thing (which is not something you can say of Southport every day), so if you’re in the area take a look at their website and check something out.