Pays Off [by Matt Baker]
Hosted by Northern Irish comedian Michael Legge, The Big Show 2014 offers four 20-25 minute snippets from a variety of UK-based comedy festival headliners. The cabaret-style seating and bar make the most of the renamed-for-the-festival comedy chamber, and gives the show a comfortable and relaxed vibe in keeping with its advertised ideal night out for families, friends, and workmates.
Legge is a brilliant emcee, with the perfect balance of joviality and brashness so as to let loose on the audience without taking things too far. It’s a shame that his job for the evening was to engage directly with the audience as a means to warm us up and keep the momentum going between sets, as I was eager to see how his own material would have balanced out. In saying that, it was perhaps the perfect way to rouse interest in his own show.
First on the bill is John Gordillo. It’s a brilliant way to start the evening, with Gordillo challenging the audience and, as Sara Pascoe notes, allowing us to take a glance behind the comedy curtain. His change of pace towards the end, however, in an effort to leave the audience with something to genuinely think about, provides some of its more inebriated and less attentive members a chance at heckling. Gordillo, however, uses it to again reflect on the art of comedy, and manages to give a solid conclusion his set. If Gordillo is able to talk so poignantly in a 20-minute set, I can only imagine how engaging his full show must be.
As a comedienne, Sara Pascoe underplays her comedic talent with a self-deprecating and dimmer projection than her observations portray her to be. It’s a clever tactic, and allows her to lull the audience into a sense of comfortableness enough to talk about sex and vaginas without it coming across as easy or crass material. It’s difficult to tell how Pascoe’s solo show comes across through this particular set, as the purported surrealism/existentialism of its international seasons is not entirely evident in The Big Show. What she does present us with are her musings on her life as a woman in the roles of daughter and partner, with all the embarrassing and endearing details that come with them.
Following the interval, John Robins starts off relaying his experience of New Zealand for the first time, from his friends’ vicarious enthusiasm to the Karori sanctuary, Zeelandia. He makes some astute observations, and even includes a few helpful suggestions on how we could do one or two things a bit better. As his solo show is billed as a ‘best of’ from his past seven years on the UK pro-circuit, it’s difficult to tell how it would hold together on its own, as his material is slightly sporadic when presented in The Big Show format. In saying that, as the youngest comedian of the night, he has an inevitably fresh take on growing up in today’s technological age.
Finishing off the night is Tim FitzHigham, who, more so than Robins, gives away just enough of his show to whet your appetite, and spends the majority of his time catering to the local crowd by discussing his time in New Zealand. The theme of his show, The Gambler, provides a wealth of outrageous scenarios, and, in addition to the time he’s evidentially put into researching the show, reinforces the proposition that FitzHigham is one of those genuinely interesting people with a great knowledge of rare and interesting subjects. He’s so clever in fact that a domestically focussed political punch goes over the majority of the audience’s heads. His manic pace is smartly placed at the end of the show to wind things up, but is difficult for some to follow considering the late hour. His 7:15 solo show, however, would be a great early-evening kick.
The Big Show is great way to acquaint yourself with five very different comedians in one night. Even if you’re only placing a bet on one of them, the gamble will undoubtedly pay off.
The Big Show runs until May 17 at the Comedy Chamber. For details, see Comedy Festival.