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Scope's Big Comedy Night
Hammersmith Apollo
20th May 2012


Comedy in large theatres such as the Hammersmith Apollo can go one of two ways - if good, the laughter draws everyone together. If bad, it makes for a terrible atmosphere.

With Scope's Big Comedy Night, it was never as bad as it could have been. Sure, there were one or two awkward moments, but on the whole, the quality of the stand-up from newcomers to old hands never dipped into the too awkward.

Hosting the night was Ben Elton, making a return to stand-up after seven years. And at times, his creaky, slighty out-of-touch set belied that fact. It seems the frustrated, right-on political snarking has totally left Elton's body, replaced by trite, inconsequential observations such as "You get spam in e-mails" and "Isn't chocolate getting bigger?" (It isn't, but after five minutes on this you'd imagine the London Shard was actually a Curly-wurly). Still, his delivery was as sharp as ever and it was an inoffensive if unimaginitive start to the show.

One of the biggest problems with comedy galas of this type is that while you are undoubtedly seeing top-tier talent, the eight or so minutes each comedian had to showcase their material is staggeringly restrictive. Nowhere was this seen more than in Richard Herring and Robin Ince.

The pair both encountered the same problem. Usually, their sets are full of big ideas with a clear narrative structure and certain precise beats - all of which is lost when you're against the clock. Here, it felt like a timewarp, with the newly-married Herring's stage persona still single, making jokes about kids' interpretations of homosexuality. It was funny stuff, but hampered by being largely out-of-context. Equally Robin Ince's rather run-of-the-mill (but again humorous) piece about parenthood seemed devoid of the incisive wit that makes him so great.

The very middle-class and slightly camp Hal Cruttenden immediately bowled the audience over, with a similarly-observed but much more natural set. Sweet, spiky and incredibly funny, his natural charm was a winner. Rounding off the first half was Doc Brown and a set about the perfect rap template demonstrating superb timing, delivery and innovation, proving without question he is one of the most skilful comedians working today.

Starting off the second half was Lee and Herring's The Girl Who Smelled of Spam sketch, with The Actor Kevin Eldon taking the role of Stewart Lee. As a Fist of Fun fan, it was marvellous to see the two, along with Sally Phillips, reprise the sketch, but it went down less well with the audience. A disappointingly muted, somewhat bemused response to Richard Herring being far too infantile for his age.

Although Francesca Martinez's set would have been largely familiar with anyone who had seen her before, her warm, sunny delivery endeared her to the audience immediately. Able to set up and demolish presumptions with two perfectly-placed lines, her wobbliness made her a vital addition to the evening, confronting the issues Scope works with head-on, leaving to rapturous applause.

Milton Jones' rapid-fire, surreal one-liners provided a nice break from the largely observational comedy evening, with all killer material and no groaners. Paul Tonkinson, on the other hand, represented observational comedy at its most basic, with lots of jokes about the north/south divide and sex. It was a well-worn path, but one paved with silver, if not gold.

Rounding off the evening was Al Murray's Pub Landlord, a genius comic creation that people tend to view far too one-dimensionally. Al's quick-witted banter with the audience provided another break from the norm, getting more laughs with the tiniest of expressions than some other stand-ups get in their entire career.

On the whole, Scope managed to achieve two fantastic things - raising a lot of cash for a great cause and getting together some of the finest comedy minds for a night of consistent hilarity.

Scope's Big Comedy Night was held on 20th May 2012.

Nearest tube station: Hammersmith (Circle, Hammersmith and City, Piccadilly)

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