A comedic force to be reckoned with

James Combes - The-Latest comedy writer

There are few rules to stand-up comedy. But if there is one piece of advice that will serve the comedian well, it is this: start and finish with your best material.

Start with a bang and finish with an explosion. Do this and the middle will take care of itself. At least that’s the theory.

The auditorium of the Tobacco Factory in Bedminster is virtually full, which is impressive for a Sunday matinee performance. Cutting edge comedy at 5 p.m. seems fundamentally wrong, like the creation of Dolly the Sheep, Bankers' Bonuses or the acceptance of marketing as a valid career choice.

Soon enough these thoughts are cast aside. Chris Addison takes to the stage, all awkwardly long limbs, knees and elbows. This man’s CV is impressive. Not content with writing and starring in two devastatingly funny series of BBC Radio 4 “lectures” (entitled Civilization and Sony Gold Award Winner, The Ape That Got Lucky) he has also achieved fame and recognition for his role as Ollie in the BBC television satire The Thick of It.

But perhaps his finest moment was the time he threw a hissy-fit at Tom Baker on the BBC panel show Have I Got News For You after being continually referred to as “the boy”. 

The Birmingham University graduate has been performing comedy for fifteen years. Not constantly, obviously: he takes time off for loo-breaks and buying hummus. But Addison is a man who knows his stuff.

Yet instead of a devastatingly well-crafted first gag, he says hello and thanks us all for coming. It's not so much a “bang” as a gentle “pfft” but soon he finds his way into a routine about Bristol's murky past. And, of course, it works brilliantly.

This is an audience that need to be eased in. They are the matinee audience - for “matinee” read “early to bed in stripy pyjamas brigade” - and some are only fifteen.

The first half of the show whizzes by as Addison combines routines about sports lessons, his middle-class upbringing and the joys of going to a public school. He even teaches the youngsters in the audience some new vocabulary.

The gags come thick and fast as the 38 year-old comedian jumps about like a slightly camp, daddy-long-legs who has eaten too many blue Smarties. It's just a shame that he has not yet switched on his microphone.

Addison's delivery becomes sharper and the material more structured as the second half of the show begins, and – after a bit of jiggery-pokery – even his microphone works. He takes on everything: Ugg Boots, prejudice – and indeed, his own prejudice against people in Ugg Boots -  and Lark Rise to Candleford all receive a fair roasting before he departs.

And this is where it gets a little strange. Addison has heaps of material available to use as an encore. But when he returns he says, very politely, "I've got nothing" and then asks for audience questions.

The silence is palpable. Even Addison is taken aback. Bedminster do not appear to want to ask anything. There is an embarrassing awkwardness in the room - a silence that can only be broken by someone asking a question.

"Do you really think Nick Griffin is a genius?"

And at last the silence is broken. But why did it have to be by someone with no understanding of irony?

It is an unfortunate way to end an otherwise brilliant show. Had he saved a couple of gags or re-used an old routine the audience would have been content but instead the show splutters to an embarrassing halt. There is no "bang", no "explosion", just an unfortunate "silence" where an encore should be. 

That minor glitch aside, the show is nothing short of a triumph. There is no doubt that Addison is a force to be reckoned with. His brand of intellectual, self-mocking silliness is well-crafted and the perfect antidote to the sneering of many other comics on the circuit.

The condensed version of this review boils down to six words: brilliant show; shame about the encore.

*Chris Addison appeared at The Tobacco Factory, Bedminster, Bristol, Sunday March 28th (Matinee Performance).