The 20th year of JLA’s Real Variety Show kicked off with an introductory video of the great and the good who have graced this showcase. The show’s alumni include tonight’s host Alistair McGowan, Bill Bailey, Armando Iannucci, Jimmy Carr, Dara O’Briain and Michael McIntyre, to name but a few.
McGowan opened the show by reprising the Chris Eubank impression we had seen in the video. He was then careful to come up to date with warm, if not always completely winning, impressions, including riffs on William Hague morphing into Gary Barlow and Fabio Capello with his broken English.
Once McGowan became himself again, the first of his charges out of the trap was the dependable Canadian comedian Stewart Francis. This dry and self-deprecating gagsmith set the bar for quality with his jokes, including: “So what if I can’t spell Armageddon? It’s not the end of the world.”
Next up to squeeze their essence in to a seven-and-a-half minute slot was Irish comedy hip hop duo Abandoman. The pair won this year’s Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition and fared well at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Though their charms did not work on me, I felt sorry for them having such a short time to peddle their improvised comedy raps. Nevertheless, they managed to win the crowd over – even if this just meant parroting back buzzwords related to the working life of ‘volunteers’ from the audience.
Sarah Millican, meanwhile, is someone who deservedly enjoyed an even better Edinburgh fringe, with a nomination for the Fosters Comedy Award. Her piercing Geordie voice seemed momentarily like it might be too much of a contrast with Abandoman’s rap rhythm, but Millican’s canny comedy was soon pressing the buttons of the (largely female) audience – with jokes about the etiquette of putting on a bra and about loving a pet so much you can see the whites of its eyes from stroking it too much.
Oompah Brass, resplendent in their lederhosen, kept time until the interval with their brass-band renditions of pop hits, including Britney Spears’ Toxic, without ever threatening to build upon this comic juxtaposition with any in-between comic banter.
Sharp-suited Mod, Ian Moore opened the second half with his take on being an Englishman abroad (he lives in France) and having to cope with young offspring who can speak better French than he does. Though a self-confessed hater of enthusiasm, Moore further warmed the room with his notion that self-service tills in supermarkets mean that we have all fallen short of the dreams we had at school of escaping mundanity.
Six-strong a capella group the Magnets used their brief time well, with a set piece medley that went through movie themes. Dirty Dancing’s (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life morphed into Easy Rider’s Born to Be Wild. The Great Escape theme was accompanied by a military dance routine and Indiana Jones included a choreographed sequence of extravagant deaths. Meanwhile, the idea that Sex and the City is the troupe’s favourite film got a justifiably big and incredulous laugh.
Micky Flanagan, who followed, made sure that the energy in the room was kept up, by briskly going in to a mimic of a ‘cockney walk’. He then revealed his own strict adherence to cockney values by relating the perils of ordering tomato sauce to go with a posh restaurant risotto. Not only a dab hand at punctuating the pomposity of others, Flanagan is self-deprecating and expresses a hilarious relief when a bouncer refuses him entry to a club that he no longer feels young enough to go to anyway.
One could surmise from this that Flanagan might have found the energy of hip hop dance troupe Boy Blue too much. But he most likely joined the rest of the audience in being moved by their street dance medley set to Messrs Timbaland, Tinie Tempah and Steve Winwood vs Eric Prydz.
Terry Alderton closed the show with his manic stylings. Alderton’s performance included his neurotic one-man duologues, in which he turned his back to the audience and the voices inside his head discussed with him how well certain jokes went and which audience member he should interact with next. For a shtick that is so unnerving, Alderton is very entertaining and adept at building the kind of energy that his inherently erratic act needs.
All told, this was a varied and enjoyable showcase for the casual and professional observer alike, and there is no doubt some of these appearances will be gracing the introductory video for JLA’s 25th year.