Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dan: the man - well, sort of


I've got happy memories of student Comedy Network gigs I went to as an undergraduate, some time ago now. Sure, there were one or two duff acts, but it was only £4 in and they were my invaluable introduction to both Julian Barrett & Noel Fielding (subsequently creators of 'The Mighty Boosh') and the incomparable Geordie loon Ross Noble (subsequently 'Just A Minute' regular and massive star Down Under). Noble's visit to the Student Union was particularly memorable, culminating as it did in him taking around 200 students to a local 24 hour garage to dance to imaginary music on the forecourt - but that's another story for another time. What would our first Comedy Network gig in Cardiff turn out like?

Well, the initial signs aren't exactly promising.

The compere is dreadful, compounding his own awfulness by taking on a punter who heckles him with the sound of tumbleweed and failing to land anything more than powderpuff punches.

Meanwhile, the kindest thing that I can say about support act Ben Schofield is that he's unfortunate I saw Stewart Lee four nights earlier. Quite simply his act is the sort of lazy moderately competent stand-up that Lee consciously (and rightly) reacts against.

There's the material - yawnsome stuff about men and women, TV, films etc in the main. There's the lame attempts to involve the audience, the contrived means of moving onto new ground - the "Have you ever noticed...?", the "Is anyone here from X?", the "Did anyone see...?". They can't obscure the fact that no real thought has gone into producing a coherent set that's anything more than a handful of half-decent gags tenuously strung together.

In fairness to Schofield, he does have one or two decent lines - about learning that dolphins are the only other mammal to have sex for pleasure and wondering if the ones that get caught in fish nets are just a bit kinky, for instance - but they're few and far between.

Schofield is the sort of comedian who says "I have too much time on my hands", whereas headliner Dan Antopolski genuinely puts it to good use.

Not only is he a good deal more imaginative than Schofield, allowing his mind to wander to entertainingly odd effect (though these wanderings are evidently rehearsed, having taken place offstage - he is no Noble), but he also makes an effort to forge his material into some kind of coherent whole. Clad in a white lab coat, he continually returns to the notion that stand-up involves a combination of lies and boasting, and dissects a pair of jokes in a way which means that my thoughts drift back to Lee again.

Nevertheless, if Schofield's set is a brick wall without any cement, then Antopolski's is a sophisticated mosaic without quite the requisite amount of grout. It contains several brilliant moments - not least the analysis of the lyrics to 'No Woman No Cry', the bit about the Incredible Hulk returning his clothes to the shop and the concluding reading from his book 'Mouse Of Commons', written for "the mouse market" (material which I've since gathered is at least two years old) - but it doesn't quite hang together or flow, and there's little sense of direction or overall point (once again, this is something that I'm half expecting because of Lee).

As something of an Antopolski veteran, Skif had warned me in advance that he isn't to everyone's tastes, and tonight he loses the audience on more than one occasion, and there are a couple of walk-outs. But he's not visibly discomforted by a lack of reaction, merely pulling out another quick riff like a boxer coming back for more knowing that he'll land a punch eventually.

So, not the best I've ever seen, but certainly enough to rescue the evening from ending up a serious disappointment.

Reminder to self: in future, leave it until at least a fortnight after seeing Stewart Lee before venturing to see stand-up again. It's only fair.

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