Live at the Opera House – with Adam Buxton, Manchester Opera House; May 25 2016.
This event promised one of those hard-to-believe, all-star line-ups that only ever happen in London. And so it proved, with three-quarters of the bill changing. While the reconfigured line-up may not have had quite the star power originally offered, this was nevertheless a great evening showcasing several styles of comedy.
The evening’s MC, Canada’s Mae Martin, has a slightly thankless task, as the venue is an odd one for this sort of event, and makes crowd-work difficult. It takes the audience a while to warm up, meaning that some of Martin’s best material doesn’t get the laughs it deserves. Her only round of applause is for a two-word impression of Brian Cox (sorry, Professor Brian Cox). Nevertheless, Martin’s blend of warmth, openness and fragility, combined with real writing chops, mean that she’s won round at least some people by the end of the evening.
Liam Williams’ understated style allows him to carry the audience with him through imagining his mother describing being pregnant with a comedian, to incisive and genuinely political material. Often, ‘political comedy’ simply means making jokes about figures in the public eye – but Williams has real points to make, and never sacrifices laughs to make them. His final bit, about sustaining a serious injury but trying to get some material out of the event, is cleverly self-aware without becoming smart-arsed. Unassuming he might be, but Williams seems to make a big impression on the audience.
Adam Riches is a very different proposition. He switches between three equally brash and energetic characters – ‘Daniel Day-Lewis,’ a creepy pick-up artist and ‘Sean Bean’ – in one set. While Bean presumably wouldn’t be flattered by his portrayal as a deluded miseryguts who regularly kills horses (!), he might still be happier than the audience members who are brought onstage to help play Riches’/Bean’s hair, and then each others,’ like harps. The audience’s laughter might be as much to do with wondering what the hell is going on as with humour. Riches’ set is exhausting, down to his explosion of energy as well as the amount of laughter it provokes.
Headliner Adam Buxton – the sole remnant of the original line-up; “no ‘filming commitments’ for me,” he mock-complains – is obviously who the audience have really come to see, as he gets huge cheers for simply saying his name or the phrase “Youtube comments.” While Buxton is probably now best known for his delivery of Youtube comments as mini-monologues, there’s far more to his act than that. While everything is couched in his familiar charm and silliness, there’s a narrative and subtle sense of sadness underlying Buxton’s set, particularly in his repeated reflections on aging. His use of technology – his set largely consists of a slideshow and videos – is also more innovative than it might seem. His references – Coke bottles with people’s names and the John Lewis Christmas ad – suggest that this is material he’s been performing for a while, but it doesn’t seem to matter at all to the audience here. It’s hard to imagine they would have given a warmer reception to anyone – and when most of the audience leave the venue still laughing, what else matters?