The Comedy Room is a new comedy club for
Johnny and the Baptists are predominantly a musical comedy act, with interludes of spoken stand up from Jonny (Donahoe) and giggling from Paddy Gervers. The pair are definitely funnier when singing and playing (it goes without saying that Gervers is a very impressive guitarist), though I'd be being harsh if I held the improvisational ramblings of an obviously frazzled new parent to the same standard as his pre-written and rehearsed material. They opened with 'Swansong', an anti-Royalist anthem about emancipating swans from the Queen's grip and forming them into an arm-breaking, socialist army. Though an undeniably funny premise, it took me a while to get into and I was concerned about what kind of night I was going to have when everyone around me was immediately sold on the opening verse. However, as it continued and got more absurd, I came round to the duo's tone and sense of humour.
This was the case with most of their offerings, though I think my initial scepticism with each new song is the fault of my own wariness of musical comedy rather than their failing. New material about ways to grift the super-rich had the makings of something very funny; more absurd ideas about the logistics of training foxes to turn on hunters and scamming ultra-Royalists into buying Queen's blood black pudding. A real strength of their act were the 'palette cleanser' songs, the musical equivalents of one-liners, that punctuated Donahoe's chatter with delightfully rude concepts. This duo are unashamedly left wing and go after exactly the targets you'd expect, with cartloads of silliness and self-deprecation. The only thing is - when everyone in the room agrees with you, does the satire have to go further to avoid stagnation?
Sophie Duker describes herself as a 'sexy-cerebral comedy underdog', though after her set at the Comedy Room, I doubt she'll be an underdog on the circuit for much longer. Her command of the room was excellent and her politically-infused observational stand up was sharp. She moved well between shorter ideas about the weather (don't worry - not in the least bit cliched) and longer stories, a highlight being the details of an encounter with an Uber driver called Daddy. Duker's turn of phrase is memorable and her ability to interact with the audience to create tension and then resolve it swiftly is particularly impressive - one example being her request for a man in the front row to tell her what colour she was, only to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation with a well timed quip and relieve the audience via allowing them to laugh again.
Her act confronts ideas about race, gender and sexuality head on; Duker is a self-described 'triple-threat minority' being a black bisexual woman, and her routine about Meghan Markle and the stereotyping of black women more generally made explicit the elements of her act that were otherwise tacitly acknowledged by performer and audience, which provided a strong end to her set. I hope Duker returns to the Comedy Room before she's courted by larger venues.
Following a long interval and a fox/chicken/grain puzzle style manoeuvre to get Josie and Jonny in the same room while their baby rested with friends in the hotel over the road, Jonny and the Baptists returned to introduce the evening's headliner Josie Long. As soon as Long starts talking you can tell she's been doing this for years. Even when the inner workings of her set are exposed to the audience - the notes she brought out with her because having a baby has affected her memory, or when she comments on her frustration that a punch-line hasn't worked quite how she expected - her stand up feels fluent and sophisticated.
Long's set was predominantly about being a new mum, though as with the rest of the evening's acts, there was a political undertone to most of her material. She has a knack for taking tropes of pregnancy and parenthood (pre-natal classes, interacting with her new child, how she thinks her baby is the most beautiful) and turning them into something politically relevant, cutting and yet somehow also hopeful.
Moreover, she's phenomenally good at swearing - infrequent and perfectly timed swear words (including a particularly hilarious use of the c-word to talk about other mothers) sit alongside genuine chats with other new mothers and don't feel out of place or forced at all. Long is one of the least pretentious or try-hard stand ups I've ever seen and her discussion of womanhood is relatable in a delicate and intimate way - not in a hash-taggable or marketable way. I think everyone would find something they liked about Josie Long's act, and I hope she's back at the Old Fire Station soon so more people get the chance to see how good she can be.