MILTON JONES / JAMES ACASTER, 1ST DECEMBER 2011, OXFORD NEW THEATRE
Note to self: the time printed on comedy gig tickets is not the time the doors open. Trying to pick our way through the packed auditorium to a running commentary from the headline act serves as a harsh reminder...
The headline act in question, Milton Jones, is in character as his granddad, complete with shopping trolley, long coat and jokes about queuing up with other pensioners in the post office: "Widow number four, please". Much of his short warm-up set revolves around historical gags from the Little Book Of Time that he keeps in his pocket. One joke about Wolfgang Mozart has to be repeated for the remedial members of the audience - perhaps still discombobulated by our late arrival, I'm shamefully among that number.
To say support act James Acaster is the best thing to come out of Kettering would be to damn him with the very faintest of praise - as he admits, the only real competition is Weetabix.
Coming across like Julian Rhind-Tutt as a gawky sixth former, Acaster's delivery is relaxed and confident. Aside from a section about hiding behind doors and pretending to be dead, his material mainly revolves around food - the fine art of slicing cheese; the culinary significance of breadcrumbs (Scotch eggs, chicken kievs); the fact that if you are what you eat, then people who buy resealable ready-to-eat apricots are only ready to eat some apricots.
The set ends with a routine about skydiving which finds Acaster lying on the back of sizeable audience member Jason. Safe to say he's not a comic who's afraid of getting up close and personal.
The first time I saw Milton Jones, when I found myself in frequent danger of falling off my seat laughing, I was at Green Man - so it's sort of appropriate that one joke references a little green man who vanishes. "And then I was run over..."
The maestro of the surreal one-liner, Jones' strike rate is such that it's hardly a spoiler to reveal some of the jokes. Characteristically lurid-shirted and curiously quiffed, he looks like a kids' TV presenter after a gas explosion - and indeed tailors his rapid-fire set to the fact that there's a 12-year-old in the front row.
Not that that's hard - his material is always a blur of silliness rather than a torrent of risqué subject matter or what my mum might distastefully refer to as "language". There are occasional hints of a darker, weirder heart to his humour, though - the claim he'd achieved his lifetime ambition of becoming a lion whisperer, just before he died, and a recurrent gag of the pattern "Turns out not all horses are Trojan horses. I know that now. That was a messy afternoon..."
If there's a surprise, it's the whimsical David Shrigley-esque drawings displayed using an OHP. Certainly it's evident, when you get a rare opportunity to pause for thought, that many of the jokes themselves follow a familiar formula: working backwards from a common saying or idiom (the punchline) to a heavily contrived set-up. That might sound like a criticism, but such is Jones' skill and delivery that it never wears thin. His gags might often be of the cheesy cracker variety that would have you groaning over the Christmas dinner, but they're so finely honed and tightly bound into a devastating clusterbomb of a set that resistance is utterly futile.