Review: GQ Extravaganza, Hammersmith Apollo: Page 2 of 2


With the second half not starting until nearly 9.30pm the gig looked in danger of being a bumper edition, but the next acts kept things tighter. After, that is, Greg Davies came on and did a large chunk from his Back Of My Mum's Head show. For a moment I thought he was going to do the entire set, but then he restricted himself to his "top four involuntary noises" section. Very funny, very puerile, very fart-based, and even Davies realised how long he was going on for and cut it down to a top three. Actually I could have laughed at him all night.

After the big man came Carly Smallman, who was probably the least known act on the bill, but stormed it with a couple of catchy, smutty songs and a slightly indulgent singalong Bon Jovi finale. Smallman is famous for doing gigs in her tiny lounge, but she had no difficulty entertaining a crowd of around 4000. She has an ITV2 series in the pipeline and if she keeps the filth level down she could move into the mainstream quite easily.

Milton Jones was the perfect act for a night that is in danger of overrunning, capable of just coming on and firing out ten minutes of 24-carat one-liners. This was exactly what he did, after opening with a typically wordplay-laden reference to the previous act – following Smallman's Living on a Prayer finale, Jones wondered if there is a fruit fly somewhere living on a pear. Jones never fails to deliver, at one point by just looking odd and not even saying anything. "Do you really need me here?" he asked. Yes, we did. 

Sara Pascoe was doing some new material – new to me anyway – firstly about lost homing pigeons in Lewisham and then about her current boyfriend situation. She and he are both 32 which is a bit of a problem in bed – she is at her sexual peak, he is going through a slump. It was a clever routine with some nice comic time bombs planted in it. Pascoe, like Katherine Ryan, is very much at the forefront of a new generation of strong, clever women who wear their feminism lightly and put the emphasis on being funny first and being a woman second. She is another act clearly on the way up.

Lee Mack is pretty much at the top of his game, and warming up for his biggest tour to date. As he joked – and has done at other recent benefits, this one was for the Eaves charity – "we all know why we are here…it's to try out material for our next tour..". Mack's cheeky chappy persona was spot on, with a number of gags looking simple but having smart reveals. It is a winning formula in short bursts – though if he did it throughout a longer set it could get predictable. He also had the joke of the night and probably the best Pistorius quip yet.

And so to the final act. I had arrived a couple of minutes late so maybe James Mullinger had apologised at the start for the absence of one of the big billed names but when he asked the audience to welcome onstage Russell….Peters, one could almost feel the energy being sucked out of the room by a crowd waiting for Russell…Howard.

What followed was probably the most excruciating set I have seen onstage in years from a big star. Up there with Sarah Silverman's famous Apollo car crash in 2008 and Janeane Garofalo when she walked off at Latitude in 2009 after about 13 minutes. Peters is a stand-up superstar who I have seen storm it in front of his fans at the O2 Arena, but from the moment he walked on in his Rat Pack burgundy jacket one could sense that he knew things were not going to run smoothly.

After a few gags that created polite ripples he tried to work the crowd and get them onside with some relaxed chat. This didn't go much better. Some banter with a fan in a turban did not generate a lot of laughs, and when he moved on to others the room slowly but surely died. Hoping to kick start a routine he asked one man whether he leaves his phone on or off at night. All he needed was a simple answer and he could have got going. Instead the guy said "it depends." One could almost hear sphincters tightening in the stalls

Peters is often criticised for using to racial stereotypes in his act, which is not the most politically correct form of humour but at least it usually gets laughs. Here it came close to prompting tumbleweed moments. At one point he started a gag then stopped as he realised that a British audience wouldn't get it. He could see people leaving and referred to it, which only made the people staying squirm a little more. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. He said that he had already done his finishing routine earlier, so was not able to end with a big laugh. Instead there was an awkward thank you before he put the mic back in the stand and left.

It is one of those weird things about comedy that however big you are you can still have a bad gig. I don't know what went on behind the scenes which resulted in him being the headliner. In a global sense he was definitely the biggest name of the night, but for a British GQ audience it would have made much more sense to have John Bishop or Lee Mack as the final act.

The incident made me think back to a nice Mullinger routine earlier in the evening when the compere had read out bad restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor. Pizza Hut had had a star knocked off by one visitor because they had eaten too much of the all-you-can-eat buffet. If I was putting stars on this review I'd have knocked a star off because they had one comedian too many. No prizes for guessing which one I'm referring to.

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