Anna Mann, Harriet Kemsley, Arnab Chanda, Alice Brine, Alex Kealy, Jenny Bede, Catherine Bohart, Helen Bauer. Canned Laughter, Centre 17, Walthamstow, London, 24/05/2019.
This is my third review of one of Canned Laughter’s charity gigs which I always attend because I’m kindness personified, that or as it’s all but on my doorstep, and every two months it’s a night which is packed with some of the best comedians the UK has to offer for just a fiver and five items which are donated to a local food bank. The past two gigs had the likes of Morgana Robinson, Lou Sanders, Jamali Maddix, Spencer Jones, and Brett Goldstein perform, along with many others, and though tonight’s gig didn’t have quite as many famous names on the bill it was just as impressive.
Hosted by Helen Bauer, she’s a formidable MC and has a strong presence from the get go as she jokes about being single, the fact that she’s plus sized, 6 foot 1 and able to speak German, and she also has some great material about having to go shopping every three weeks and how she deals with her periods. Her interactions with the audience are carried out with seemingly effortless skill and she kept the night rolling beautifully, if I’ve any complaint it’s that we didn’t get enough of her, but that’s understandable when you’ve a night with seven other comedians that has to finish at a specific time due to a venue curfew.
Atfer Bauer the first comedian up was Catherine Bohart, who as it was still early on in the evening initially planned not to do anything too rude, but given the reception to Bauer’s material realised that wouldn’t be a problem. Quick witted, charming and full of strong jokes her set covered her bisexuality, how people react to that, her four year relationship with her girlfriend and sex aids among other topics and she was superb from start to finish, and I can only presume she was on first as she was doing a gig later on elsewhere. She was followed by Jenny Bede and I have to confess that at first I thought I might be writing my first negative review of a comedian at one of the Canned Laughter gigs as her stand up wasn’t that engaging, but then she revealed that she’s a musical comedian and performed two astonishingly good songs, one about mansplaining and one from the perspective of a very horny dog, and they were so impressive that if she releases an album I’d buy it on day one.
Alex Kealy was the third act of the first half and quite different from those who preceded him as his was a heavily political act. Topical comedy can date quickly, as Kealy mentioned right at the beginning as he commented on Theresa May’s resignation, but all of his material tonight generated big laughs, and even though I might not agree with him about Brexit (he thinks it’s horrible but doesn’t believe a second referendum would help, whereas when it comes to the latter I hope that it would) he also manages to include a long description of the film Interstellar in a gag which had me laughing hard, and as with Bauer, Bede and Bohart I plan to see him do a full length show as soon as I can. The same applies with Alice Brine too, I reviewed her a couple of months ago when she did the last Canned Laughter gig and I have to admit I had concerns that she might just repeat the set she did then as often comedians do such a thing on mixed bills when they only have a short amount of time (I’ve seen Stewart Lee’s “What Would Jesus Do?” material a painful amount, for instance) but it was all new jokes as she talked about how she feels about baby showers, and in the best moment of the first half told a story about how she and a friend were once involved in the micro chipping of an ex-boyfriend which was sublime stuff, and I predict big big things will happen for this already accomplished comedian.
As great as the first half was, somehow the second was even better which at the time I didn’t think would be possible. Harriet Kemsley was up first, who’s best known for her series Bobby and Harriet Get Married which has aired on both Viceland and Comedy Central. She touches upon her marriage but most of it was about the number of people she’s slept with, catching chlamydia and the aftermath of that in a gorgeously funny set, there wasn’t a weak moment within her fifteen minutes on stage. The same doesn’t quite apply to Arnab Chanda as he starts by revealing that he’s a little nervous and it takes a little while for him to warm up when performing, which perhaps isn’t the best way to install an audience’s confidence in a comedian, but he quickly gains it by reading various random thoughts from a notebook, and though not all created big laughs he has enough charm to glide through the weaker moments, and the majority were damn great. After this he ditches the notebook and finished on a superb bit about the idea of doing an hour of stand up at Edinburgh and how you might be appalled by someone doing such a thing in other circumstances, which more than earned him his place before the headliner of the night.
And what a headliner it was, I’d heard a lot about Colin Hoult’s comedy creation Anna Mann – an actress whose greatest claim to fame is an appearance in a Turkish Delight advert which aired at 3am in the 90’s – but even though it was all positive it didn’t prepare me for just how amazing she was, charming the audience and having us in the palm of her hand from the get go as she talked about her career and performances in various plays. Quite a few comedians have taken on the role of the either pretentious or preposterous actor, from Nigel Planer’s Nicholas Craig to Matt Berry’s Stephen Toast, so Hoult is in good company, but despite loving both of those and many other examples for me Anna Mann is easily the funniest. To say I was in hysterics would be an understatement, pretty much every sentence she uttered made me laugh hard and her outrageously confident yet self-mocking patter is astonishing stuff, the rest of the comedians tonight were bloody great but Mann blew me away, it’s stand up at it’s very, very best and she’s someone I not only plan to see again soon, but many times over.
This was the last of the normal nights at Centre 17 until after Edinburgh as we now go in to preview season (of which they have many planned for June, thankfully), and I’ll miss this night an enormous amount, it’s frustrating enough that it’s only a bi-monthly occurrence as it is. But as soon as it returns after the festival I’ll be buying tickets whether the line up has been announced or not as I’ve the utmost confidence in their ability to put on fantastic comedy nights, and I’d recommend you do the same.
Canned Laughter’s Official Site.
Colin Hoult’s Official Site.
Harriet Kemsley’s Official Site.
Arnab Chanda’s Official Site.
Alice Brine on Twitter.
Alex Kealy’s Official Site.
Jenny Bede on Twitter.
Catherine Bohart’s Official Site.
Helen Bauer on Twitter.