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Before even beginning to assess the quality of its acts, it should be said that Lancaster University Comedy Institute (LUCI) deserves favour for what its bi-weekly gigs have created – an actual, growing comedy scene in Lancaster. In County Bar, Thursday night is now ‘Comedy Night’, and the event should already be advertised as having ‘standing room only’.
Our MC for the evening is LUCI president Tom Dransfield. Last year, Dransfield’s act consisted largely of him ending shrill, rambling discussions of ‘wacky’ subjects with some not particularly funny punch lines. He wasn’t great. This year, though, evidence of the seriousness with which the society takes its work presented itself through him. Uncharacteristically for a compere, Dransfield is not a solid, aggressive and fearsome presence. Rather, he has begun to put more of himself into his act, and carries himself like an annoying git at school who is too funny and clever for his own good. Taking over these duties from LUCI veteran Ben Winterton, Dransfield held together the evening impressively well; he provided a strong link between acts, maintaining consistent ’banter’ with the audience and using the ever salient attention to detail of a true comedian – much of his linking material was based on the preceding acts and whatever pluckings that the thin air offered him.
The first half of the show was slightly uneven – Rick Kaye could have benefited from choosing some more deserving, and more original, targets. Observational comedy must unearth genuinely new and previously unnoticed things to be worthy, and cracking gags about old people along with some dog whimsy didn’t quite cut it with the audience. Nevertheless, Kaye did offer some astute, sarcastic observations; his brief dissection of Steve Jobs and Mac-Fandom showed promise, and would have been worth the full slot had he the material to cover the set. Hugo Jones was similarly promising, if patchy; going into a routine about Deal or no Deal felt like a precursor to a rather dull, uninspired routine, but a late subversion into his ambitions to kidnap the banker’s children made it worthwhile – there were the makings of a fully fleshed, psychotic stage presence on display. The weakest act of the first half, and indeed of the whole show, was Danny Bailey. While he is not the very model of a funny comedian, Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown’s act in the 90s largely consisted of sex jokes, and he was the butt of them. Bailey followed the same route, but that he evidently has had as much ‘fun’ as his act suggested (for suggested, see; ‘forced down our throats’) rendered it obsolete, and what we ended up seeing was a good looking man chatting about his ‘laddish’ sex life. Hardly inspiring.
After a short interval, long standing member Ed Colley kept it simple – one liner after one liner, one of which, about the Microsoft Paperclip‘s life fell apart because he just couldn‘t ‘hold it together‘ was a zinger (to use a technical term). Colley is a comedian who had no ’persona’ to develop; all his attention appeared focussed on the poetic fluidity of his gags, to the point where the person delivering them didn’t really matter. Whether this will help or hinder him in the long run, he didn’t fail to be funny.
My goodness, though; they saved the best until last. Being only his third ever stand up performance, one might have expected to see the same ‘perfection-in-progress’ aspects as seen in most of the other acts. How glaringly incorrect this assumption turned out to be. Michael Dodds is an Irishman, but the accent lent itself not to your tiresome “daft paddy” cheeriness, but to a thoroughly resentful, miserable life hater. Not to impede on his originality, for he truly was, there were shades of a true old-school style to Dodds’s routine – segueing between spiralling and whimsical observations, any comedy historian couldn’t fail to see the bemusement at his subjects and compare him to the legendary Dave Allen, or the downtrodden melancholy behind his act and not spot the parallel with Les Dawson. Michael Dodds was, of all the comedians, the one who seemed to have already honed his craft.
It is to the society’s credit that the newer, ergo slightly inexperienced, acts were offered the opportunity to perform on stage; there is no criticism more constructive than that of an audience. County Comedy Club takes place every other Thursday in County Bar – if not for full blown, professional standard comedy, LUCI is still worth seeing for the joy in seeing these young, raw performers develop.