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Free Beer Show - current season

Stand up comedy, with free beer, in The Cellar Bar. (Click here for 2007 Free Beer Show reviews and here for 2008.)

December 2, 2008
Richard Herring
1st December 2008
It’s a freezing Monday night in December, a week or two before the Christmas party season. But the Cellar Bar is heaving, its walls soaked in something approaching sweat (though perhaps evidence of someone with a particularly heavy cold) and though it is not quite euphoric, the greeting for Richard Herring is certainly warm and heartfelt.

It could be argued – and Herring does himself at one point – that he is the less successful one from his partnership with Stewart Lee, Lee having gone on to write the sensational Jerry Springer the Opera. In the 90s, the duo were very much darlings of students and critical press alike, with the television series Fist of Fun and Good Morning with Richard, Not Judy. But since going solo, Herring has certainly been busy. As well as stand up, he is a prolific producer of fringe theatre, and a regular voice on Radio 4.

And though he doesn’t arrive on stage until well into the evening, it’s worth the wait. Hair flowing like a lost disciple, a small paunch suggesting a penchant for comfort food, Richard Herring is still the grown up student with a perfectly timed taste for the absurd. And tonight it works brilliantly. Whether it’s childhood perceptions of sexual mechanics, using basic word play to outsmart a games teacher, or arguing for the disenfranchisement of people who vote BNP (“fight fascism with fascism”), he’s quickly in his element. He’s a comedian who knows how to tell the most basic story with just the right amount of wonder and amazement, silly but never banal. Always more whimsical in tone than the sardonic Stewart Lee, his stand up seems more rounded and complete than his television appearances. Or perhaps that’s what age does for you.

The climax (sic) to this evening’s show is a hypothesis on whether to take seriously the slogan on a jogger’s t-shirt. It’s a quite brilliant skit on what would really happen if someone was to be fellated until they actually died. But though most of Herring’s material wouldn’t pass the BBC censors in the current climate, it’s underpinned by a deeper insight into the madness of what we say we want, and what is actually good for us.

He’s coming back to Oxford next year – go see him. Just don’t buy a stupid t-shirt after the show.

October 21, 2008
Reginald D. Hunter
Monday 20th October 2008
Reginald D Hunter shuffles on stage in a great big blue anorak, like someone from Oasis. It's hot in the Cellar Bar, so he’s soon sweating cobs. The sweat drips into his eyes, making them red and bloodshot. It makes me feel uncomfortable just to watch him. There are other ways in which Reginald D Hunter projects a general feeling of unease, of not being entirely comfortable with himself. One of his routines begins with the line: 'I hate myself. Let me tell you one of the reasons why I hate myself.'

But he also makes the audience feel slightly uncomfortable as well, with cynical and thought-provoking analyses of people, society, and relationships. He is non-PC, but not in the boring, reactionary way that most non-PC people are. For instance, he constructs a really well reasoned argument for why men shouldn't necessarily have to be responsible for children they help to conceive.

He gets away with saying such dodgy stuff because of the intelligent logic of his arguments, his, big, friendly face, and his rich American voice. And also, of course, because he's very funny. Not absolutely fall over on the floor and wet yourself funny, but fairly consistently half-way down the chest laughing funny.

Before this evening, I knew Reginald D Hunter mainly for a good joke he told about Barack Obama: 'You only he's black because he told you he was black.' This was from an appearance on This Week, alongside Dianne Abbott and Michael Portillo. I can't help thinking that one of the reasons that Reginal D Hunter seems so unhappy (and he does give the impression of being quite a troubled chap), is that perhaps he's more of a thinker, a political or even philosophical thinker, than a comedian. Halfway through the act, he tells a fart joke, and it seems a bit incongruous. But it's still pretty funny, and it's probably this balance between the clever and the stoopid that makes him such an engaging performer.

October 14, 2008
Josie Long
Monday 13th October 2008
Never in the history of the Free Beer Show have expectations been quite as high as they were this evening. When I arrived, the queue was already stretching far back onto Cornmarket and showed no signs of letting up. Quite a boon for the organisers, but also an encouraging sign that comedy has found a real home in Oxford these days.

As we clawed our way back from the bar, free beer in hand, compere Rob Broderick started the evening’s proceedings. Working the audience with skill and confidence, he eased in those new to the experience with an almighty wallop and reminded veterans of why they were there: quite simply, to laugh. His greatest achievement was keeping such a lively and extensive audience’s attention - even those of us standing in the very deepest, darkest corners - throughout. Given the reaction of the crowd, he did a good job of it too, making the necessary audience participation stars of the evening as he went.

First act Tom Meltzer was perhaps not quite as sure of holding his own as Broderick, and took a little while to find his feet. Attempting to converse in Spanish, it felt as if he lost some of the direction he’d been hoping for, and ended up regaling the audience with tales of lost virginity in an effort to win the crowd over. No doubt the vast sea of people before him was a factor, and I am sure this isn’t the last we will hear of him.

Josie Long - the headline act whose recent appearance on BBC Two’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks was almost certainly the draw for many of tonight’s audience – took to the stage in her effortlessly charming way, and proceeded with a set that certainly met all the expectations of earlier in the evening. The overriding thing that I love about Josie’s comedy is that it’s just so darn interesting and engaging. That and the fact that she doesn’t once refer to her gender to raise a laugh. Tonight we learn that she has become saddened by the recent realisation that she will never be a Gentleman of the Enlightenment, but with skits surrounding Hieronymous Bosch, John Locke and mysterious games played by unknown persons at Lidl, not forgetting the visual aids that she’s so lovingly created and carried across the country, it’s fair to say Josie Long is a true Renaissance Woman and well worth paying attention to. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Best-known and much-loved for playing Mark’s wilder but equally geeky love interest in Peep Show, it is clear that her on-screen character Dobby was written with the real Isy Suttie in mind. As a comedian, her stage persona is so eccentric, the oddball obsessions so particular, that they can only be borne of experience. After a genial warm-up from Rob Broderick, regular compère of the FBS, whose banter worked the crowd whilst managing to keep the right side of humiliating anyone, Isy appeared for two sets.

Her material consisted mostly of songs in varying shades of quirk, which at times threatened to take “kooky” a little too far. That said, she was charmingly sparkly, revealing a slightly unhinged and joyous take on life. Her songs took on many esoteric subjects, ranging from fire safety rules, people who move to the country, the defunct TV series Knightmare (live action roleplay - a subject close to Dobby’s heart), Google Translator, and a “quadrilogy” of love songs. Explaining that she “could have been the female Celine Dion”, she went on to sing lines such as
“If you were a dog I’d steal a string of sausages for you,
If you were a Golliwog I’d overlook the social taboo”

Frequently adopting a ludicrous (and hilarious) singing style, it was also clear she had a great voice. Her “possession” of a swampy New Orleans blues singer, sounding more like Tom Waits than any woman ever should (or could – it was uncanny) was astonishing.

Her performance was really enjoyable, but also inconsistent – and although there have been rightful comparisons with Victoria Wood, I feel that the likes of her and Tim Minchin have the edge in “comedy song”, both for their genuinely excellent musical performances and crucially, the more tightly-honed song-writing. So while Isy is a delight to watch, her mischievous rudeness never offensive, her position on the comedy circuit doesn’t seem set for the big league. But then that’s the charm of the FBS, surely one of the most intimate and best-value comedy clubs in the country. That it can still accommodate stars such as next week’s Reginald D Hunter is remarkable.
Although the main act had been changed at the last minute, the Free Beer Show was an excellent evening’s entertainment in the cosy Cellar Bar. Isy Suttie of Peep Show fame had cancelled owing to illness and been replaced by Andrew Lawrence.

Rob Broderick acted as MC and did a good job of finding out who was in the audience. In fact, the crowd was over 80 per cent student and evenly balanced male /female with a lot of the guys standing at the bar. He seemed keen on pairing up singles within the crowded room.

The first act was Nick Page, a Gloucestershire based comedian, with an unusual rapid fire machine gun style of delivery and a somewhat varied and chequered career. He started with banter with the girls at the front row. His stories included that of his career path and he joked of the lousy golf course attached to Leyhill Prison. As a Cheltenham man, he suggested that Gloucester people were riffraff and Lidl and ALDI were built on the roads between to keep Gloucester scum at bay. Other topics included cheese rolling and the Jeremy Kyle TV show.

The headline act, Andrew Lawrence, twice nominated for a Perrier award, is a fragile looking 27 year old with a camp voice and, again, a rapid style of delivery. He does a good Irish accent and suggested that talking in it allows him to be cheeky and sexy. His humour is definitely edgy and as he fearlessly introduced topics that many comedians leave alone, he drew gasps as well as laughter from the audience. He covered a wide range of subjects, such as visits to his parents when he leaves, laden with all sorts of unwanted odd objects, through wedding invitations, contact lens wearing and gnome liberation armies, to suggestions for new Olympic events such as midget fingering.

All three comedians were well received and the performances were heckle free.
Mondays nights the Cellar hosts The Free Beer Show, showcasing a range of local and star stand-up talent. This week, the spotlight was on local up and coming talent, aptly titled ‘Oxford All Stars’. The show included four local comedians, Iszi, John, Tom as well as a second Tom headlining.

The resident compere Rob Alderson was back with a vengeance, after a hiatus where he apparently tried to find a job. Having seen him in this role a number of times, I can happily report he’s still completely insane, in the most entertaining way possible. Still claiming to be amphetamine free, he delivered a fast paced introduction to the show, pulling the audience in for all sorts of gags including a Spice Girls’ themed chorus of moaning, growling crying and yelling.

The evening kicked off with Iszi, who tackled a range of sufficiently risqué issues including McCain, Nazis and religion to name a few. She was chatty and engaging, if occasionally a bit pun-heavy, and delivered a fairly solid routine. She was followed by John, whose main trick was that he seemed to look like selection of fictional characters played by famous actors, ranging from Harry Potter to Spiderman to Garth from Wayne’s World. Gags aside, what was really entertaining about this guy was his stage persona – pacing manically around, twisting the mike cord between his feet, reading the gag list on the back of his hand obsessively – managing to project an incredibly vulnerable yet endearing quirkiness.

Much more full-on, and I would guess geared towards the student demographic, was the first Tom of the evening. He waxed poetically about the differences between being high on mushrooms and drunk on whiskey, regaling the audience with tales of hallucination and vomiting, and then moved on to reading a self-penned version of the perfect w*nk. While it wasn’t exactly my sort of comedy, lots of men in the audience were guffawing away, so there you go.

Tom Greaves, the headlining act and a regular on the Oxford comedy circuit, did not disappoint. Whilst the opening acts were entertaining, he was clearly the most experienced of the lot and maintained a comfortable stage presence throughout. His routine ranged from the weird (brushing his teeth whilst chatting with audience members) to self deprecating (mocking his public transit ploys to appear mentally disabled) to tackling standard offending issues (in this case, evangelical Christians), making for an entirely entertaining and varied mix.

The Free Beer Show is on every Monday at the Cellar, and is £7 (£5 for members – sign up on Facebook). It includes one free beer with every ticket.

Paul Sinha and Padraig Hyland
Mon 3 November 2008

A good crowd packed in to the Cellar Bar on Monday night, despite the winter darkness and the persistent rain. Stand-up comedy is by all accounts live and kicking in Oxford these days.

FBS has hit on a great format for comedy. MC Rob Broderick signs up some of the best comic talent in Britain, plus warm-up acts who could just as well be headliners. And of course, there's free beer.

On this particular Monday, the scheduled main act had to cancel, but was somehow replaced at the last minute by the brilliantly provocative Paul Sinha. More complications arose as warm-up man Padraig Hyland was delayed in some kind of public transport hiatus. But MC Rob didn’t seem to mind in the least – he just extended his welcome into a stream of quick-witted banter, leading into a sharp little “you'll never guess what happened to me last week”-type of comic anecdote.

Hyland arrived, and hit the stage running (almost wheezing, in fact). He is a big lanky Irishman with an accent a touch thicker than Broderick's, and he used his voice perfectly to add an absurd edge to his ramblings. He picked romance and relationships as his main theme – a sure winner – and kept the audience laughing pretty hard with his self-deprecating, interactive style, punctuated with spontaneous moments and skilled crowd-bating.

After a break – all the free beer surely drunk by now – Sinha came on and brought with him a very different approach. Sinha was less spontaneous and chatty than Hyland, but his material was of such quality that it stood up on its own. He quickly makes the point that he is “gay and Asian”, and lets us know that he has gravely disappointed his parents, who of course wanted him to be a doctor, not a gay stand-up comic. Sinha works with the familiar material of racial and gender tensions, but his one-liners are smart and edgy enough to bring plenty of laughs in this key comic terrain. And like many other brilliant comedians, Sinha not only makes us cack ourselves with laughter, but also gives us something to think about, deftly switching from poignant moments to total lewdness.

With the price of admission including a free drink, two genius comedians and a vibrant MC, the Free Beer Show is pretty much the perfect week-night entertainment.

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