Time Out's comedy editor picks his favourite comedy moments of 2011... and one turkey
As 2010 drew to a close we thought comedy’s popularity could grow no larger. My have the past twelve months proved us wrong. 2011 turned out to be a mightily busy (and profitable) year for stand-up with countless comics embarking on theatre tours and a total of 33 arena comedy gigs performed across London’s two enormodomes, compared to just 18 the previous year. However, there has also been a much needed surge in comedic creativity with many shows – including Adam Riches and Nick Helm’s immersive hours – being designed for intimate, inclusive venues; quite the opposite to stadium-gigs. Mainstream observationalists may be more popular than ever, but alternative comedy is still very much alive.
The best of 2011...
The O2 Arena
The excitement surrounding the announcement of Jerry Seinfeld’s first UK show in more than a decade was almost immediately diminished by one major factor: a ridiculous ticket price. It’s debatable whether the one-off O2 Arena gig was worth the £100 entry (is any show worth that much?) but there’s no doubt that the star of the world’s most successful sitcom put on a hell of a show. Seinfeld proved why he’s the supreme master of observational comedy performing 90 minutes of super-slick, masterfully crafted material on life’s exasperating quirks to a 12,000-strong audience. But the real excitement was to be found at the Comedy Store a few days earlier when the man himself performed two unannounced warm-ups to a few hundred lucky Londoners. That sort of atmosphere could never be replicated in an arena.
A Stewart Lee show is always guaranteed to be one of the best of the year, and the ‘Comedy Vehicle’ star certainly didn’t disappoint with his latest offering. Carpet Remnant World claims to be a show about nothing, with no structure or narrative. In reality, Lee satirises and deconstructs comedy itself. He sarcastically takes pops at modern stand-ups including Frankie Boyle, Russell Kane and his ex-comedy partner Richard Herring. ‘It’s not aimed at you’ he tells the new fanbase of Jimmy Carr fans he’s gained since being back on the box, reassuring his hardcore demographic ‘Do you remember when it was just you and us?’ Carpet Remnant World is a playful, cerebral and truly original 90 minutes of comedy from one of the world’s most consistently brilliant exponents of stand-up.
As the winner of the 2009 Edinburgh Comedy Award, expectations for Tim Key’s follow-up show were, understandably, sky high. But the savant comedian exceeded them with this adventurous, bizarrely beautiful bath-obsessed hour. Like the award-winning ‘Slutcracker’, the new show features collections of pithy poems and short stories and some gorgeously shot films. But ‘Masterslut’ is a more ambitious, inventive hour than his previous offerings – it’s subtle, shambolic, occasionally moving and gloriously funny.
This year we’ve been treated to a double helping from brilliantly bonkers Australian Sam Simmons. In July, the surrealist talent brought his hour-long show, ‘Fail’, to the Soho Theatre following a hit run at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in August he returned to the Scottish festival with his latest show ‘Meanwhile’, which makes its way to Soho for Christmas. Featuring short sketches, songs, stories, drawings and bits of stand-up, both are relentlessly silly and consistently hysterical. ‘Meanwhile’ steps the absurdity up a notch, throwing llamas, astronaut-helmets and tacos into the mix and is even better for it. We love this charming loon.
The 2011 shortlist for the Edinburgh Comedy Award was particularly strong. Ultimately, the gong went to character comic Adam Riches for his irresistibly silly, gloriously mischievous show ‘Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches’. Audience participation is key in this hour. Punters are plucked from the crowd to join in with wild games and absurd tasks. But rather than being ridiculed and embarrassed, Riches’s targets are heroes of the show and are cheered on by the audience. It’s a whole heap of fun and unlike anything else on the comedy circuit.
There was a buzz surrounding this American duo’s UK debut, with shows quickly selling out and extra dates being added. Their TV series, ‘Tim & Eric – Awesome Show, Great Job!’, is a huge cult hit and has attracted guest stars including Will Ferrell and Jeff Goldblum. On screen, their bizarre, silly, occasionally disgusting sketches are genuinely hysterical. I’m a big fan, which made this live show even more disappointing. The snappy sketches work tremendously on the box, where the deliberately dodgy editing and low-fi special effects add to their ridiculousness. But on stage each idea is just repeated to death, and there is no new material: it’s simply the TV sketches performed in a medium that doesn’t suit them. Stick to the telly, boys, this was a bad job.