Balham Comedy Festival Nights

I recently had the pleasure of two nights of comedy at the Balham Comedy Festival, and two different experiences. Jo Caulfield was performing Better The Devil You Know on Wednesday, Marcus Brigstocke was performing Je M’Accuse – I Am Marcus on Thursday, in one of the hottest weeks of the year, but Brigstocke was in the main room, packed to the rafters, while Caulfield was in the small room upstairs playing to about fifty people, which was a great shame as she was very funny (Brigstocke was funny too, but the numbers were not reflective).

For me, the difference between the two is that Caulfield is more of a writer whereas Brigstocke is more of a performer. Caulfield, in addition to her own shows at Edinburgh and her own radio shows, has worked as head writer on So Graham Norton and other shows, whereas Brigstocke has always been his own man, front and centre of things, such as Giles Wemmbley Hogg Goes Off or presenting I’ve Never Seen Star Wars on radio (as well his political bits on The Now Show) or presenting The Late Edition on BBC4 or captain on Argumental on Dave, to starring the touring version of Spamalot. Both write their own stuff that they perform, but Caulfield’s work is more about finding that funny turn of phrase, the interesting angle on theme, whereas Brigstocke is more about presenting his views about subjects, mostly political, in a funny way.

In principle, Caulfield’s show is about being married to her husband (they were together for years before getting married), but that’s just a useful Edinburgh title instead of the entirety of the material. There is material about watching various TV shows, getting a new washing machine, a complaint letter to a blinds company who in 6 months has only supplied one set of blinds that were the wrong shape and colour, and the difference in communication style between men and women – she read out dialogue between her husband and his male friends which was just exchanging facts. She does bring it round to being married, about how Cosmopolitan said that his age was where he should be having affairs (so she felt she should be encouraging him), and there’s a great routine about watching porn with her husband (‘Look at that kitchen – it’s lovely. That’s exactly how I want ours.’) and the different way of watching it. She was funny, charming, engaging with the audience in a friendly, unthreatening fashion, and she had some lovely turns of phrase to emphasise a point.

Brigstocke was doing something very different. Instead of his political material, he was telling personal anecdotes, and it was a completely different Brigstocke to normal. He was open and happy and smiling, compared to the serious (yet still funny) approach he takes when presenting his topical material (there was a reference to the appalling way the NHS is being dismantled by Tories for the benefits of their friends where you saw his demeanour revert to normal and it was a marked difference). He started with a list of anecdotes and asked the audience to choose which ones to read. He was enjoying himself so much that he didn’t get to read them all, even though I think that’s the aim for the tight 1-hour set for Edinburgh. It was all personal stuff about him: being a 25-stone Goth with an eating disorder who was, at the time, the youngest person to go into rehab for food addiction; how he lost half the weight and became a podium dancer at the Ministry and even worked on an oil rig; he talked about getting a testicular scan for an ache he’d had for 18 months, and the person doing the scan was the father of kids at his children’s school. Importantly, it was hilariously funny – he was having a great time telling these stories and revealing himself but also telling great jokes. (Fortunately, he didn’t do any funny material about having an affair with his Spamalot co-star that ended his 12-year marriage, because I don’t think there is anything humorous to mine there.)

Two evenings, two funny shows, two lovely people (both replied when I tweeted my enjoyment, with Caulfield being particularly magnanimous by hyping the Balham Comedy Festival in her reply) and one (among many) satisfied customer.

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