Claire Sawers

THE LIST

clairesawersIf I had to sum up Claire Sawers in one word it would have to be ‘dismissive’. She is airily dismissive of things she finds too insubstantial, like Phil Wang or Rhys James. In James’s review, in fact, she’s trying so hard not to care about what he does that she seems to suggest she doesn’t know what’s going on in the industry: “…the ‘haircut comedians’, presumably a new genre where puppyish, pretty, young, but underwhelming, still undercooked stand-ups get chucked in, and doused in faint praise”. In other words, she doesn’t know what it is, but she’s pretty sure she hates it.

The stuff she gives three stars to doesn’t get any greater respect: Dead Ghost Star is “enjoyably batshit, child-friendly comedy gibberish” and Jo Caulfield is “a professional snide; an acid-tongued, quick-witted moaner”. Susan Calman’s fans are “mostly early-to-bed Radio 4 listeners and ‘the cliterati’.”

Low-starred shows are rarely given itemised pointers by which they may improve themselves, in fact it’s a feature of Sawers that her twos read like threes and her threes may pass without a single admonition. Yet in most of her appraisals there’ll be an airy one-line brush-off that makes it clear just how predictable and tedious and generic most of the treats laid out for Claire Sawers truly are.

She can be just as efficient with her praise. “[David] Trent looks like Goliath, but thinks like David, and his Charlie Brooker-style bashing of pop culture and current politics’ daftest muppets is very deftly done, “ she says. And I would like to reinforce that point with a second example, but I haven’t been able to find one.

Claire Sawers is a deeply ungenerous reviewer, but that’s not to say that she is a bad one. She is sharp as a cat’s claw most of the time, particularly considering the volume of stuff she writes. You just wonder whether she should stop it, and find a job she likes.

Jemyma C Noevil

 

Barrie Morgan

CHORTLE

barriemorganFringe veterans – particularly antipodeans – probably remember Barrie Morgan – he was the hero of Barrie Morgan’s World of Organs, the Australian sitcom and Fringe show.

True, we have no evidence that it’s the same Barrie Morgan. In fact we desperately hope it isn’t. Just imagine being in something that creatively bonkers and then turning up (in a thunderstorm, I imagine, dressed in sodden rags) at Steve Bennett’s house, saying “I want to watch stuff and say it’s too creative and excessively bonkers. PLEASE, Steve. You owe me.”

Whoever Barrie is, the pressure’s on him to deliver for Chortle. Jay Richardson is writing for everyone BUT Chortle this year, Bennett’s young striplings have been tossed overboard (because of their low Fringepig ratings, we have no doubt) and he and Julia Chamberlain are up against it, probably fighting back the reviews like Jill and Chris dispatching Zombies in Resident Evil (That’s a game, by the way, Chortle. I thought I should explain as you have no young people left.)

Morgan sets out with a steady hand on the tiller, following a review-by-numbers style. He progresses from a brief biog to the opening to the show progression to the roundup.

So far so normal. Yet there’s something about Morgan that seems to be coming from 20 years ago. First, he complains of the “blurred reason behind the show” that is Simon Munnery Sings Soren Kierkegaard. Morgan doesn’t seem to get that Simon Munnery singing about a Danish philosopher is the entire, perfectly clear, reason for its own existence. And it shouldn’t escape Morgan that Kierkegaard was the first existentialist philosopher. Plus, if Morgan is going to say “Yes but WHY?” at Fringe shows he’s going to be very frustrated before the season is out.

Similarly he explains that Carl Hutchinson supported Chris Ramsey on a big tour. He chides: “Hutchinson must up his game of [sic] he wants to progress beyond being a perennial support act”. Yes, imagine only ever opening for a big star on a big tour. Must be shit. I’m reminded of Mark Steel talking about when teachers used to say “Pull your socks up or you’ll end up driving a van”. Kids today would say: “Wow, really? Is it my VERY OWN van?”

There’s a similar lack of guile when, in another review, he tells us: “The highlight is a longer section about a recent trip to Amsterdam where [Jo] Caulfield recalls the loss of her writer’s notebook, the wealth of random ideas scribbled therein only reinforcing her stature as a prolific and proficient writer.” You do know that not everything comics say on stage is true, Barrie? You half expect him to write “I’m surprised she made it at all – some really strange things happened to her on the way to the show tonight.”

It’s difficult to know what Morgan wants exactly. “Year after year, show after show Jo Caulfield pulls in a crowd and entertains them in her world,” he says, going on to say that her latest opus does just that again. In fact he hardly says a bad word, concluding that “you wouldn’t expect anything else from Caulfield.” The three-star rating suggests that Morgan isn’t a fan of weathered professionalism.

Oddly enough, he likes Angela Barnes because she is just as good as “a comedian in their tenth year”. One has to conclude that Morgan is one of those parental reviewers who give out stars as reward and encouragement, rather than as straightforward assessment. I’m sure they’re both worth a four, but we all know that Caulfield doesn’t need any encouragement.

Although his reviews are plagued with the typographic cack-handedness we have come to expect from Chortle, happily Morgan never takes a flight of fancy – all his reviews are done with both feet firmly on the ground. There’s some bons mots though, such as Munnery being “a seasoned veteran and an assured driver for such a heavy vehicle”.

Morgan is an assured driver himself. He’s already writing reviews that a reviewer in their second year would be proud of.

Michaela Plaidface

 

 

Martin Walker

SCOTSGAY / BROADWAY BABY

martinwalkerWe hope that Martin Walker will pull his finger out now that he’s editor of Broadway Baby. At ScotsGay last year it never seemed as if he took a punt on anything very much – most of what he saw was couched in terms such as “this is always good,” “brilliant as usual” etc.

You do get the impression that Walker just picks a few free nights out and then pays for his tickets with stars. He’s certainly not a reviewer on a quest to alter his preconceptions.

This reached its zenith – or do I mean nadir – in his review of Paul Foot. “Imagine,” he said, “Simon Munnery, Daniel Kitson, Josie Long and Baconface at Bodo’s one night. Over several pints of beer and a rum and coke, served by our own Jo Caulfield, they wait for Stewart Lee to turn up (he doesn’t for some reason). It’s their night off performing and this super group of comedian’s comedians are looking forward to seeing a show. They’re going to see Paul Foot. That’s how good he is.”

That’s his entire review (apart from the five stars). He puts himself in the thick of the cool kids, in a bar many will not have heard of while intimating that you SHOULD have, asserts ownership of Jo Caulfield, makes a very in in-joke and then knocks off for the night. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Paul Foot, but for reasons I would love the chance to explain (now is not, alas, the time).

Really, I should see Paul Foot just because Stewart Lee likes him? Stewart Lee likes everything by The Fall. EVERYTHING. Even live bootlegs with Brix playing. No.

So I’m not sure that this sort of thing will do, Martin Walker. I’m not sure at all. I like your conspiratorial, almost catty style; I like the way your reviews read like you’re being indiscrete to a stranger on a bus.

In my mind’s eye you look like a cheery Kenneth Williams, if such a thing were ever possible. You sound like a lovely chap in general. But still: Must try harder.

Becky Walker’s Panda

Joe Walsh

BROADWAY BABY

joewalshI really cannot say anything about Joe Walsh that would sum him up better than his own sweet words. Take this: “It’s not important that a show hosted by Jo Caulfield is essentially starting at the bottom of a steep hill, as stimulating as her observational comedy and mundane audience interaction are.” So, you’re starting from the position that we ALL dislike Jo Caulfield because you do? Sterling work. Let’s continue with Walsh’s appreciation of Tim Vine:

“A song, ‘Pen Behind the Ear’, plays throughout the auditorium as he attempts to catch a biro on the back of his ear, lasting for thirty seconds or so. He played this song seven times, at which point I think even his most stalwart fans were beginning to falter. We sat there watching a man aware that he was doing something entirely uninteresting, aware that the time was pushing on midnight and we had homes to go to, but who did not stop until, mercifully, after eight rounds of the song, he succeeded. And why did he keep trying? Because this was about him.”

Words fail me. Not because I’ve seen a room destroyed by ‘Pen Behind The Ear’. Not because of the (always unforgivable) insinuation that the reviewer has something better to do. Not even the astounding lack of empathy for a performer doing something that may not be working this time around (what SHOULD he have done, just abandon the gag?) Not even the basic comedy nous that trying the audience’s patience is THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE JOKE. Not even, by itself, the assumption that Tim Vine was on some sort of ego trip trying to entertain a crowd for charity, for free, on his one day off. It’s none of that, and all of that. It’s the oily, cloying arrogance that oozes out of Walsh’s every syllable.

Walsh clearly sees himself as a bit of a giant slayer, and one with unimpeachable views about what comedy should be. This is all very well, but his casual assassinations don’t make him look nearly as big or clever as he thinks they do.

Walsh’s reviews are long, and there’s an awful lot of throat-clearing before he gets to the point (His Barnardos Event review rattles on for three paragraphs before he even starts to discuss the gig). It’s as if he’s doing a drum roll for himself before he arrives at his earth-shattering pronouncements.

Yet, when he likes something – really, really likes it – Walsh stops talking out of his nether reaches and properly engages with the thing. His Richard Herring review, for instance, is bubbly and insightful and only about 50 words overlong rather than 200. Here, his overblown turn of phrase comes across as charmingly eccentric rather than unhinged. “Even when he discusses masturbation, he veers clear of crassness and plants his flag sternly upon the knoll of insightful humour,” writes Walsh. Well, let us all bend our steps to that impossible knoll.

Michaela Plaidface