I travelled to London on Tuesday to visit Comedy Unleashed (at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green), as my new mate Toby Young was performing. (This is going to be a name-dropping review, can’t really avoid that, so let’s get started with it.) Also, I’d been wanting to go for ages as it’s a hot ticket in conservative/libertarian/anti-woke circles.
In the bar before the show there were a few familiar faces, including Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes. I said hello and that he may remember me as Blithering Bunny, as we had met years ago and drank together at a blogger party. Those were the days when I was an established name in blogging, and he was the new vulgar upstart. (Actually, this is a bit of exaggeration, I was never that big and Guido was a sensation almost from day one).
Obviously he wasn’t going to remember an obscure blogger from that long ago, but he was very polite and cheerful. ‘Really love these nights,’ he said. And who can blame him? He’s been slogging away for fifteen years at his blog, and it’s been a tremendous success, but in the meantime he’s watched the left take over the culture despite his efforts. Comedy Unleashed, though, has something of Guido spirit on stage.
There was a beautiful woman in sexy leather trousers sitting near me, who I thought looked like that excellent journalist Charlotte Gill. Later on I realised that it was Charlotte Gill. And there was the guy who does a lot of James Delingpole’s video work. Talked him about doing some work for the Free Speech Union. Not allowed to say much about him, though, he’s staying under the radar. And Tim Dawson, comedy writer and editor of Free Market Conservatives, who I spoke to later on, and we said we must work together, as us drunken creative luvvie types always do.
It was a tremendous line-up. Dominic Frisby was hosting, and his great experience showed through in this role. Not the audience needed any hand-holding, though, as they were all up for something different to the usual bland diet of unfunny Borgotron ‘comedians’. Konstantin Kisin was first up, and you can see why he’s hot. He talked about… actually I’m not going to say much about the content of the acts. That’s for you to go to go see, and not for me to spoil, or for me to muscle in on. Catch him when you can, and watch/listen to the podcast he does with Francis Foster, Triggernometry.
Then we had a lesbian comedian. That sounds bad, I know, but it was excellent. No lecturing, no hectoring, no piety, just funny, salty observations about her carpet-munching life. I suspect she’s a lefty, but if she is she left all of that at home for this audience.
There were plenty of breaks for getting drinks. At one break some bloke standing next to me at the bar was so happy about the night that he bought me a drink. I accepted because the London beer prices were giving me a nervous breakdown (although apparently these drinks were cheaper than normal London prices, which astounds me). Then I turned around and was momentarily caught in a crush of people trying to get to the bar. Pressed up right in front of me was Lozza Fox. I’d heard he was here and was fully intending to leave him alone and let him enjoy his night out without being bothered by the likes of me, but as he was right there pressed up against me it seemed churlish not to shake his hand and say, ‘We all think you’re doing a great job, Laurence,’ and then slip away as the crush eased.
Then it was Tobes’ turn to perform. Although it was his stand-up debut he has of course been doing semi-humorous speaking in public and on TV for years, so he’s hardly a neophyte. While he seemed a little bit nervous, it was nothing like the nerves you see on your usual stand-up debutants. I’ve done some stand-up myself in my younger days after having success in University revues, but stand-up is a lot more nerve-racking than being in a sketch with a bunch of other funny people at your side.
And while Toby is an experienced comedy writer, that’s less important with stand-up than it is on the page, or, say, with a sitcom, because so much of stand-up is about the performance, and the timing. I used to go to comedy clubs a lot, and I saw plenty of stand-ups with mediocre material who constantly had the audience in stitches due to their on-stage skills, and stiff performers who couldn’t get much of a laugh out of really excellent stuff.
But Toby’s natural raconteur skills shone through for him (and let’s face it, he’s never been shy about coming forward), and he had the audience eating out of his hand right from the off. Of course, it was a very sympathetic crowd. He couldn’t have started anywhere better. In fact, it’s about the only place he could perform these days. Can you imagine Toby Young appearing in a standard comedy club in Brighton? He’d be run out of town by the loony left before he even made it to the door of the club. So it was a great audience for him, but it was still a very public way for a very public figure to make his debut, so kudos to his iron-like testicles. No starting out as an unknown in little clubs doing lots of open-mic spots to build up confidence and technique for him.
The other thing that made his performance impressive was that he’s been insanely busy recently with getting the Free Speech Union set up, so I don’t know how he’s had time to even think about doing a stand-up set at this time. Perhaps that made it easier for him – he didn’t have time to even get worried about it.
I had to talk to Toby about a few things while the next set was on, and that led to talking to some other people in the bar as well, plus I somehow ended up having Will Franken telling me about his life at the moment, so I missed a chunk of stuff. And then I realised that time had flown and I had to go, even though the show wasn’t finished, because I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get back to Kings Cross, and I didn’t want to miss my last train. I was pretty gutted to miss Will Franken, who I think is brilliant. I ended up getting back to Kings Cross way earlier than I needed to, so next time I’ll know that I can stay longer.
This is, I’m sure you’ll notice, not the most objective review, but I loved the night. If you want to go then get tickets early, as the shows are starting to sell out now (this one had sold out). The venue is pretty easy to get to. It’s also a very friendly night with a great atmosphere, especially once the booze starts flowing. I’m not saying that you can just go up to anyone and talk to them. It’s not as sociable as Dick Delingpole’s Third Wednesdays/Libertarian Drinks, for example, where any newcomer will be welcomed in and be able to join in with the conversation straight away. But there is a spirit of camaraderie there, and a shared sense that maybe things are changing. If you want to be part of that, and see some really funny comedy that has the audience pissing themselves, then go.