Live Review: Morgana Robinson, Spencer Jones, Lou Sanders, Athena Kugblenu, Alice Brine, Brett Goldstein, Gabby Best, Sophie Duker at Centre17, Walthamstow, London, Friday 29th March 2019.
As mentioned in the review of the previous Canned Laughter gig, this is a fantastic night which supports local food banks and where for the price of five quid and five items of food you can see some of the best comedians around, so not only do you get to feel smug about supporting a great charity you also get to laugh a lot too. The line up was strong last time around with Jamali Maddix, Max & Ivan and Maria Shehata on the bill among others but this time around it was even better.
Kicking proceedings off for the night was Morgana Robinson, if you’re somehow unaware of her work she’s a fantastic comedy actress who’s appeared in the likes of House Of Fools, The Windsors, Inside No.9 and her own series The Morgana Show and The Agency, but because I’ve never seen The Morgana Show (as the dvd of it goes for a lot on ebay) I had no idea as to how strong a writer she is. Tonight she was performing as Natalie Cassidy who for readers outside of the UK is an incredibly annoying actress who appears on the soap opera Eastenders, where her character mostly whines, cries, and then whines a bit more. Probably at least, I haven’t watched the show in a decade but a quick google doesn’t suggest things have changed.
Coming on to the stage looking alarmingly like her, complete with a fake nose and apt make up, it was a really great opening 15 which included mockery of Cassidy’s career and aspirations. Some might think it was a tad cruel (well, Cassidy herself perhaps, but it’s unlikely many others would) but it wasn’t vicious in any way and largely affectionate, and the best part saw Robinson perform a brief sketch with an incredibly reluctant audience member where they both read from a script which made myself and the audience laugh hard.
On the downside after this when introducing the acts Morgana didn’t really do much more material and instead a game of pass the parcel was instigated on each occasion, while she danced on stage in an over top way. It was amusing the first two or three times but after that it started to suck the energy out of the room a little so it’s a shame she used such a device rather than performing more, or just quickly introduced the next act instead, either would definitely have been preferable. Still, it ended well with Robinson auctioning off a kiss from her good self, and getting two audience members on stage to act out moves from Cassidy’s exercise dvd, so this is only a very minor complaint. And it’s the only complaint I have at all as the night itself was incredibly fun, normally there’s one or two comedians who are a bit weak when so many appear on the same bill but all impressed a lot.
First up after Morgana’s opening section was Athena Kugblenu, another comedian who was on the open mic circuit around the same time as I was so I was fortunate enough to see her grow from being a reasonably strong, solid comedian to a extremely good one. Which she still is to this day as her absorbing material hit home time and again, with jokes about her young daughter and how other parents put pictures and videos of their kids on facebook despite them being untalented, and how Athena can’t help but be honest about their attempts at singing or dancing. After this she covered the more serious topic of Windrush, and what a hideous situation that is, which while bleaker was equally as funny.
Alice Brine was up next, a comic from New Zealand who I’d not seen before but definitely plan to now. Tonight her set revolved around the issues of not having a tampon when needed, and how those around her react to such an occasion, it was one long story which had an absolutely killer punchline but that’s not to say there weren’t a lot of laughs to be had throughout her set. It was a very confident and likeable performance from a comic who’s clearly a naturally funny storyteller, and I’d be amazed if it’s not that long before she graces our tv screens.
The same doesn’t apply with Gabby Best, but only because she has already appeared on tv a good few times, and understandably so as she’s one of the funniest comedians I’ve seen in a long time, she owns the stage from the moment she steps on to it and has a great physicality to her act which is filled with sublime observations. The best of these related to mental health and she has the funniest (and most accurate) description of the differences between Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness that I’ve ever heard, along with a simply beautiful line about how being in your thirties is like hosting a house party that everyone’s gradually leaving. The moment I got home I looked up to see when she was next performing an hour long show, she’s that good, and I can’t wait to see more of her too.
One comic I had seen several times before was Spencer Jones, but I have no idea why it isn’t hundreds of times before as he’s never failed to delight. Specialising in what can only be described as “Pretty fucking amazing clowning” initially the audience weren’t quite sure what to make of him but after a couple of minutes nearly everyone was in hysterics, and I’ve never seen my partner laugh at stand up comedian as much as she did when he was on stage. It’s unconventional, unpredictable and absolutely idiotic in all of the best possible ways as he uses a selection of props to do the daftest things imaginable, and he even manages to make a simple mop one of the funniest puppets known to man. The BBC have thankfully realised how hilarious he is and have given him a sitcom and if it’s not one of the best comedies of the year I’ll be amazed, but that shouldn’t stop you from catching him live unless you have a strange hatred of laughing.
After a short interval and another brief bit of hijinks from Morgana, Brett Goldstein was the next act on the bill. I didn’t know if I’d like him as he appeared in eleven episodes of Ricky Gervais’s Derek and so possibly might have gone a bit mad after starring in such an awful series, but fortunately that didn’t apply and his stand up was superb stuff, starting with discourse about a recent trip to the states and how confident American comics are, which led to jokes about how his approach to sex was the same as how he acts at the cinema, before a really strong segment on how awful men are which it was impossible not to agree with, but also laugh hard at too.
Sophie Duker followed him for what turned out to be a fairly short set and though not quite as good as the comedians who had previously performed she still had satisfying material, from her involvement with an uber driver called Daddy to how she’s a triple threat being a woman, black and bisexual (or bendy, as she describes it). On a lesser night she would have been memorable but slightly suffered tonight as everyone else was so exceptional, but again, it was a short set and I’d definitely like to hear a lot more of her.
The night ended with Lou Sanders headlining the gig, I’m extremely fond of her but it has to be said that she can be a little unpredictable at times and go from being blindingly great to slightly misfiring, but tonight that didn’t apply at all, and the only disappointing element of her set was that it wasn’t very long due to the venue having a 10.30pm curfew which can’t be broken. Talking about how she has a healer / guru who put her on sex ban just as she got together with someone new, there was a lot of jokes about her sex life, feminism and millennials only being interested in threesomes, all of which made me laugh hard. She has a real talent for creating a huge reaction to subjects which have been covered in the past by others by putting her own very individual spin on them, I couldn’t wait to see her on the forthcoming series of Taskmaster beforehand and that’s only been amplified, and if she’s not the best contestant of this next batch of episodes I’ll be astonished.
I’ve been to hundreds of mixed bill nights over the past thirty years, because christ I’m old, but this was up there with the very, very best of them. Canned Laughter have a fantastic knack for attracting the funniest comedians around and they understandably sell out very quickly, so if you’re near either of the venues they host them in you’d be a crazy fool not to attend them. And a charity hating bastard too, and surely you don’t want anyone to think you’re such a thing?
Canned Laughter’s Official Site.
Lou Sander’s Official Site.
Morgana Robinson on Instagram.
Spencer Jones on Twitter.
Gabby Best on Twitter.
Brett Goldstein on Twitter.
Athena Kugblenu’s Official Site.
Alice Brine on Twitter.
Sophie Duker on Twitter.