Richard Wilson, the compere, was a short, hairy, geezer-ish comedian from Kent. Almost immediately, he identified a bunch of Brookes students at the front as the 'victims' for the evening, and set about ridiculing their degrees. These guys were in for a tough night. Wilson is rarely screamingly funny, but he's relaxed, confident and engaging.
The first main act was Duncan Oakley, a tall, bearded, slightly lost looking chap. He wasn't a great advert for the lifestyle of the touring stand-up. He described how he'd recently split up from his partner, and had been living in his camper van. The van was starting to get a bit smelly, he told us. Oakley's approach is to jabber away in a breathless stream of conciousness, delivering dreadful puns and snippets of sex and swearing. He often sounds like a man trying to get in a few extra insults before he gets punched in the mouth. I thought he was a bit old for some of his material, which was often rude in a slightly schoolboy-ish way.
When Stewart Black came on, he looked really nervous and uncomfortable. Pale, skinny, and drawn, with a strong West Country accent, he looks almost too fragile to be doing stand-up. At first, I didn't think he was going to find his rhythm, but when he got going he had some really quality jokes and routines, and was probably the funniest act of the evening. His best bits were about sex, particularly his impression of Sting being dragged off his wife during a seven hour tantric session.
Michael Smiley used to be the skinny, bald-headed 'Tyres' in Spaced, and before that, I think he appeared as the resident raver on programmes like The Word. He looks really different now – paunchy, with an uncared-for floppy fringe and scraggy beard. But the accent's the same – strong, gobstopper-in-the-mouth Ulster. There's someone else from Northern Ireland in the crowd, and this starts Smiley off talking about Catholics and Prods, Belfast mothers, thick DUP Mps, and the North Belfast Zoo. His best joke was about a fellow ex-pat, a protestant unionist living with his posh wife in Hampstead, who decides on the 11th July to burn an effigy of the pope on his barbecue and have his own Orange order march down to Blockbuster videos.
But then everything changes. A posh girl near the front says something out of turn to her boyfriend, and Smiley is on her like a shot. He asks her to repeat herself, and the girl brazenly tells him she doesn't find him very funny. Smiley, clearly rattled, is really horrible back to her, offensive, personal, and misogynist. It wasn't very nice at all, like the whole class struggle in miniature, the toff all sneering and arrogant, the prole hateful and bitter. Although Smiley was less funny after this spat, I have to admit that the episode suited the agreeably edgy mood of the evening.