The Phoenix, Oxford Circus, London, 16/09/2019.
Tony Law and Phil Nichol are two Canadians who have made me laugh a painful amount over the years, so the idea of them teaming up for an hour of comedy seemed to be a fantastic one, but Virtue Chamber Echo Bravo isn’t quite as good as I had hoped it would be. Admittedly my expectations were incredibly high, but this mostly improvised show is a very patchy affair, one which seems them at certain points being hilariously inspired but at others dragging out an idea for far too long.
Taking to the stage together they get the audience to clap for a ridiculous amount of time to the extent that it becomes funny, so the formula can work, but it’s one they rely on a bit too often. After the extended applause they explain what’s going to happen over the next hour, the gist of that being a good selection of songs and various ramblings about a variety of subjects which rarely have anything in common, it’s just whatever Law and Nichol find funny at that specific time.
This leads to some joyously absurd moments, like impersonations of dinosaurs, an attack on Ed Gamble, James Acaster and others who fall in to the “Nicest men of comedy” category, with a great line directed at Stewart Lee demanding he become aware of the fact “That he’s already won the battle” making me laugh hard indeed. Some of the songs are greatly amusing too, with one about the colon being the best, and a section where they praise some fictional Edinburgh Fringe shows is incredibly strong, with their description of a play about a boy with incredibly long arms being the highlight of the hour.
It’s a shame there isn’t more material along these lines as at their best they’re beautifully funny, but too many of the songs just don’t work, even when Law and Nichol do them for so long you might presume hysteria could take place. So a number about “Nick Clegg’s Legs” where they end up lying on the floor singing it just annoys a bit, and one about the Amazon is far too repetitive as well. During some of the songs Tony tries to destroy the stage, or they pose in daft ways, but it’s not enough to make it an entertaining part of the show.
At one point Law mentions Kate Copstick 1 star review (“it reads like a five”) because there is a fair bit of self deprecation in the show, and either Copstick saw it on a night when the duo were really off form or she’s being way too harsh, but this definitely isn’t the comedians at their best. As enjoyable for them as it might be to improvise all the time they do work best when it’s a mixture of scripted and riffing, and frustratingly there’s just way too much of the latter and not enough of the former here.