Camden Crawl 2012: a field report from the Black Heart
The Camden Crawl, reincorporating comedy to the main event after last year's breakaway Comedy Crawl was recolonised, is a game of two comedy halves. For comics on a Saturday afternoon, the picture is a tad grim: for most punters the comedy is a handy filler before the main event of the evening's music, and they already have one eye on planning to get wrecked. But for comics on a Sunday afternoon, they have something more akin to a hungover afternoon at a summer festival, with a crowd relaxed in its hangovers and with a willing touch of raucousness.
That certainly explains the not-exactly-stellar reception given to Knock2Bag's cracking Saturday line-up at the Black Heart, the strongest on offer for Saturday's Crawl. The audience isn't precisely unappreciative; more distracted and tuned out.
First up to try and crack them was Pat Cahill, who's been having a marvellous year with a finely-tuned set of songs, and more often than not, plain noise. It's absurdity done with with such common-or-garden delivery that the whimsical excesses of musical comedy have been successfully hacked away. The audience seem slightly unconvinced, but as is a common thread today, that doesn't look to be Cahill's fault.
Fact: the first comedy I ever saw in Camden eight years ago was MCed by Alex Zane (I didn't say it was going to be an interesting fact). This is relevant because it occurred during Joel Dommett's set that they are, to all intensive purposes, the same person. Both present(ed) on MTV. Zane ran Popworld into the ground; Dommett spoofed the format on Popatron. Both have floppy hair that can make women ovulate at 50 paces. There's a similar style, too, although Dommett seems willing not to rely on his big smiles and easy enthusiasm to carry a room, getting his back into jokes on how he lives in the world as a hoodie-era fop – something that goes down well, given the audience.
Straight stand-up seems to be doing best with the crowd, and anyone attempting one-liners or character comedy is given pretty short shrift. Damien Slash's actorly origins are what make his characters naturalistic, but without some engaging, easy-target jokes with his banker and music A&R impressions to pull out his pocket at times like this, it feels like a set that needs to follow the mood more.
Adam Hess is hitting the same engagement problem with his wall of one-liners. Both Slash and Hess have made their name with live versions of internet-friendly comedy (YouTube and Twitter, with Hess even mentioning the number of retweets each joke that struggles here has had). Maybe there's something in the problems of translating screen formats to the stage. Then again, maybe the audience are too busy thinking about seeing Gaz Coombes.
By contrast, the engaging, big-eyed characters of Oyster Eyes mean they probably have the best afternoon of anyone here. Shopping channel spoofs are ten-a-penny but the killer Eurotrash accents and attitudes keep it funny.
The second half has been subject to heavy alterations, with no Cardinal Burns, Hannibal Buress or Ben Target. Brian Gittins hits a similar character comedy wall as Slash earlier, with the Epithemiou-esque character having to rely on falling down a lot to prise the laughs out. Still, he's found an abrasive tone that seems to work to get the laughs out: Nick Sun is a natural follow-on, bringing his now-familiar but expertly-crafted lines on racism and identity to the stage.
The audience make a sharpish exit before Colin Hoult's struggling comedian character Mike. Phil Kay, by contrast, seems to have decided that he's going to enjoy himself regardless of what else is going on in the room. After his recent 'onstage meltdown' there's a real frisson around Kay's appearance. Even contentedly playing the guitar in the corner of the room about a radiator for what must have been a solid five minutes continued to feel like it was teetering on the verge of madness, even if Abandoman have nothing to worry about in the improv music stakes.
And for most people, that's it: Simon Fielder is a literally-last-minute fill-in for Buress, and he makes a decent fist of joking about the situation, but half the room is already heading for the door.
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