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7 On Red Comedy Club
The Seven Dials Club
16th June 2012

★★★★☆

With just weeks until this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival sweeps Scotland's capital, comedians are fighting for audiences so they can test their new material. This means punters can catch some top acts for a fraction of the usual price, with the added bonus that they might see them die slowly on stage. But there was no such chance with 7 on Red's great line-up.

Compere Paul Gannon's opening gambit was an interesting one. Rather than the usual audience question and answer session, he had us lie to him about our names and occupations. Sadly, the concept was far better than the execution. Rather than improvise some material about magicians, road sweepers and astronauts, Paul either compared them to previous answers or simply asked more follow-up questions, desperately searching for a comedy truffle in among the mud. Hardly laughs a minute, the reliance on the crowd cost him dearly. An anecdotal routine about ghost-hunting was enjoyable enough, even if the punchline could be seen a mile off, but later sets showed him treat the well-worn path of sex jokes with some originality, eliciting genuine chuckles.

Kieran Boyd, one third of sketch comedy group Wittank, is always a joy to watch. Every inch the Durham University graduate, he uses this to its fullest, both celebrating and lampooning his middle-class affectations. His set began intelligently, with a beautiful routine on signs in different languages made better because he could actually speak them. It then veered into wonderful schadenfreude with snippets of his awkward life - such as having almost exactly the same personal details as a real-life paedophile. The whole 20-minute set was tied up surprisingly neatly for what should have been longer, but whether alone or with his group, he's one of the shining lights of the scene.

Hayley Ellis was a total gear change. The cheeky Manc comedian focused on the crude, with stories of dog poo and pole-dancing emphasised by some great physical comedy. Warm and engaging, she's a refreshing dissenting voice in the current female trend of twee, patchwork niceties pioneered by Josie Long.

Headliner Andy Zaltzman was his usual expert self. His routine was, as he admitted, rather bitty, but with subversive audience interaction ("So, do we have any democracy fans in tonight?"), he kept the room laughing consistently even as he mentally worked out his running order. Best known for the sublime Bugle Podcast with John Oliver, his overtly political material is inclusive rather than exclusive and provided a third, totally different perspective in an already diverse night. He is both funny and educational - the best combination since Syria and widespread human rights abuses. And he would have done that joke more justice, too.

A strong satirical bite combined with many self-effacing jokes about his own appearance ("If I was wearing a wig, do you think I would have chosen this one?"), gave the less political lots to chuckle at. Case in point, in a piece about the voting process and cricketer Graham Gooch, he did the unthinkable and got me to laugh at gags about sport. If that doesn't say total professional, I don't know what does.

Obviously the line-up changes every week, so what you see here isn't necessarily what you'll get. But if the quality is as consistent as here - and at their variety nights on a Tuesday - 7 on Red is a strong contender for one of the best nights in London.

The Seven Dials Club regularly put on comedy nights on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Nearest tube station: Covent Garden (Piccadilly)



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