Stood Up

Jaspre Bark looks at the latest acts on the alternative comedy scene

This month we focus on the gut busting world of sketch comedy. Though the majority of comedy clubs through out the the big smoke and Britain in general, tend to throw tender young comics, one or two at a time, to the mercy of joke hungry audiences with only a microphone to protect them. A growing number of venues are sending troupes of four or more up against the ravenous hordes, armed with an arsenal of songs and sketches.

The live format of a comedy club can give the performer far more room to experiment with sketches that are too daring, innovative or dangerous for TV and radio. While the format of the sketch allows the performer the opportunity to explore material and utilise comic devices that simply aren't open to the stand up comic. For the purposes of this column I'll be focussing on two venues that best represent the current trends in `sketch style' humour.

The Cheese Shop are a sketch group comprising of Ben Ward, Gerard Foster, Dave Lamb, Gordon Southern, Tim Berringdon and Ritchie Webb. They host regular comedy nights at the By George function room in the Hob Goblin, formerly the George Canning Pub, in Ephra Rd, Brixton. "On a normal By George night,« Ben tells me, "we'd have three stand up comedians, with someone like Harry Hill topping the show and an open spot as well. We have a set piece opening, some topical gags and a novelty act which is basically a sketch, something like morris dancing to warm the audience up. Then we'd alternate sketches with stand ups until the final act.« With rave reviews at Edinburgh this year and a forthcoming Radio 4 show, `The Cheese Shop presents: The Butter Factor', they're definitely on the way up. "Our style of humour is more like Hale and Pace, but studenty. I mean our Radio show is designed that way, we're performing at a different University each week.« Opening again in about six weeks, this is definitely one regular show you shouldn't miss.

When it comes to biting satire and searing topical wit, one show that is more daring and outrageous than Spitting Image, and more funny than Weekending could ever hope to be, is Newsrevue, London's longest running satirical stage revue. This hour long show runs every Thursday to Sunday at the Canal Cafe theatre above the Bridgehouse pub in Delamere Terrace, Little Venice.

The four person cast (which changes every six weeks) rattles through a quick fire succession of songs, sketches and swift one liners, penned by some of our leading satirical writers. "Diversity,« is what current director Zoe Klinger cites as one of the sketch format's principal advantages over stand up. "Having four people on stage at any one time, you immediately open up the comedy to all kinds of visual elements that just aren't available to a stand up comic.« What makes Newsrevue so special for Zoe is it's longevity "it's something which is almost an artform in itself, because it has been going so long. It's got a history that supports and makes it far richer, I think, than other sketch shows, because it comes from somewhere and you feel it's also going somewhere.« And it's somewhere where you also should be going. To quote the most rabid of theatre reviewers, `kill to get a ticket !'

And finally, Stood Up's soon to be star of the month is the irrepressibly brilliant Ali Jay. Hailing originally from the small North Eastern town of Darlington, Ali claims this has not handicapped her in her continuing search for fame, fortune and the prefect recipe for tripe fondue. Regular appearances at such top notch venues as the Red Rose and the Meccano, and her stint as regular hostess of the award winning WHALE club in Edinburgh this year, would seem to support this claim. As well as maintaining a national presence with gigs from Bradford and Manchester to Luton and the virgin territory of Ipswich, where she is the regular compere at the towns first comedy club, she is fast become a veteran of the quick TV appearance. Her credits include `Shift' for ITV's Carlton, `Interactive Comedy' for Cable TV and Channel 4's `Sticky Moments'. Her humour takes a sublime look at the more ridiculous aspects of day to day mundanity. It's apparent simplicity of approach belies the obvious craft and intelligence that lie behind the wry wit with which she effortlessly dissects the absurdity of every day life. This plus her stage presence makes her a `must see'.

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