Live Review: Ivo Graham, Andrew Ryan, Phil Jerrod, Niamh Marron, Jamie Oliphant, Pizza Express Live

At a time when I regularly hear about comedy clubs struggling to survive it was good this week to hear about two new clubs opening. There’s a big new swanky joint in Glasgow and down south in London Pizza Express Live, just round the corner from Holborn station, is putting on stand-up on Monday nights and is a very welcome – and comfy – addition to the live circuit.

Both offer upmarket dining/laughing combinations, which is not always ideal - who wants to hear punchlines drowned out by clanking cutlery? But Pizza Express (I’ve not been to Glasgow’s Rotunda yet) certainly gets the vibe right, with waiter service being discreet. Having said that the 120 capacity room wasn’t full on the night I went and maybe it could be a bit harder to be that subtle when the place is sold out.

On the night I went Irishman Andrew Ryan was compering and did a fine job bantering with the crowd. The stage is divided from the audience by a semi-circular shelf where people can put drinks, but this wasn’t too much of an issue and in fact the horseshoe shape enabled Ryan to work the room very well, getting plenty of comic mileage, for example, out of two friends who had been best man at each other’s wedding.

First act up Ivo Graham also spent a chunk of his set chatting about their respective wedding speeches (after discussing the merits of Pizza Express doughballs - something of a running theme of the night) and at one point even started reading out a speech one of them still had on their phone. 

Now for the awkward bit of the review. I thought this was entertaining and fun and having seen Graham’s latest show I enjoyed seeing some passive-aggressive off-the-cuff material rather than a tight twenty minutes. The friend I was with, however, had a different opinion. She had been laughing gently but didn’t know Graham and thought he was a talented newcomer. When she found out his pedigree she was furious that he hadn’t done a proper scripted set. Which just goes to show you can’t please everyone. 

Next up was the less well-known Niamh Marron who is making a name for herself back in Ireland. I’d liked her in Kilkenny a couple of years ago and her brassy irreverence was effective here too. Maybe it was the intimate feel of the room but she also went big on audience involvement, trying to get everyone to make rude gestures while she filmed them. Naturally some committed themselves to this more than others. 

The first act after the interval was Jamie Oliphant, a relative newbie who looks like an off-the-peg young self-deprecating, middle class stand-up (he even had a touch of the gangly Ivo Grahams about him) but had an original way with words and a talent for one-liners and short stories. I presume he is working on a full-length show entitled An Oliphant Never Forgets. If he isn’t he should be.

Last on was Phil Jerrod, who impressed me when he supported Romesh Ranganathan on tour last year. Like Ranganathan Jerrod is an angry stand-up but he seems to have mellowed a little since then - he was less shouty and less ranty although that might’ve been because he was playing a Pizza Express and not the Eventim Apollo. 

After pointing out that the horseshoe set up made it look like he was addressing the UN (it looked more like he was addressing a semi-circle of friendly Bond villains to me) he explained that he hadn’t been expecting to headline, but inherited top billing when it turned out Ivo Graham had to get to a gig in Kingston. 

Jerrod did what I’d expected Graham to do and drew largely on tried and tested material, in his case about the horrors of squeezing into a tiny flat where the shower is at the end of your bed, hipster beards in Brighton and reverting to childhood when you go and stay at your parents, even in your mid-thirties. The biggest chunk of his set, however, was about a painful shopping experience in Fat Face where it was his fat body that caused an embarrassing situation. I’d not seen Jerrod headline before and he handled the unexpected promotion well apart from the fact that he overran. 

I have to admit I don’t see as many club gigs as I used to so it was illuminating to see how different performers who have done longer shows recalibrate themselves. Should you brutally edit down an Edinburgh show? Should you try something new? My one bit of advice is that when you are the fourth act on the bill at Pizza Express don't refer to the food - you can be pretty sure the other three have already exhausted most of the dough-based humour.

Comedy is on Mondays at Pizza Express Live. For full details of events click here

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