Edward James

Review: Sarah Cassidy, Madge Hooks, Lucy Bennett, Anna Devitt, Amanda Baker, Sarah-May Philo & Sharon Race – The Telegraph, Newcastle

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Giggle Beats

Laughing Lasses Comedy Club

Newcastle local pub The Telegraph has never really functioned especially well as a music venue, and its cramped environment doesn’t leave much space for the customary tables and chairs of a comedy gig either.

The audience for Newcastle’s premier all-female comedy night includes a wide range of ages, although a disappointing proportion of females – most likely a bi-product of such gender-focussed promotion.

Laughing Lasses promoter and compere Sharon Race takes to the stage first, greeting the audience with a smattering of good material, although her delivery is disjointed in places with distractions such as latecomers doing their bit to throw her off course. Her commendable attempt to contextualise certain routines with references to the upcoming St. Valentine’s Day fell somewhat flat, as she quickly discovered that there were few couples in attendance. Nonetheless, Race sufficiently warms the room and prepares the audience for the first act of the evening, Comedy Central’s ‘Clean Up Your Act’ finalist Sarah-May Philo.

The Glaswegian comedienne belies the stereotypes that female comics are either unfunny, or focussed on gender-specific issues. Her set is laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end, and Philo’s delivery flows effortlessly through relatable observations, touching on familiar experiences with relationships; the geographical rivalry between Glasgow & Edinburgh; use and misuse of Facebook; and some darker observations of embarrassing bodies.

Slightly overstepping the dirty humour line, Philo’s experience is evident as she reads the audience’s discomfort and backtracks to regain their confidence. Her short set is well received, although the layout of the room and unfortunate positioning of the bar give cause for impolite pockets of chatter to break out at the back of the room.

Second to the stage is the experienced performance poet Amanda Baker. Again belying the stereotypes of her particular niche, Baker’s poems combine skilful wordplay and tremendous form with insightful observations and comedic surprise. Her onstage persona is affable, relaxed, and self-deprecating, creating an affinity with the audience which helps her gain a great response.

Baker provides a unique perspective on a variety subjects, ranging from the clichés of soap opera to the outsider’s impression of Britain’s drinking culture, as exemplified by the Bigg Market on a Friday night. The range of characters employed is nothing short of extraordinary, and Baker displays an unusual aptitude for accents, showcasing Scottish, Scouse, Brummie, Geordie, American, and African within her brief time onstage.

After a short break, during which the audience become drunker and louder, Sharon Race takes the stage again to temper the audience and introduce Anna Devitt. This ‘Scottish Comedian Of The Year’ semi-finalist delivers some extremely well-written material in an open and confident style. The venue’s spatial drawbacks have their effect of visibility, and mean that her visual jokes are lost of the majority of the audience, but the quality of the rest of her material ensures no loss of pace. Devitt readily admits the higher-than-average number of cheap jokes used in her act, but they are easily offset by the elegant wordplay she weaves into routines.

Forcefully grabbing the mic, Lucy Bennett fluently banters with the audience, displaying a confidence that disguises the fact that this is her first gig. An elegant and forthright style brings an endearing charisma to her well-written routines, and her darker sexual material hits the level of the audience perfectly for this point of the evening.

Following a second break, Madge Hooks floors the room with her professional attitude and well-honed persona. Taking a relaxed approach to audience participation, Hooks’ set is full of the everyperson humour of successful acts such as John Bishop, and she is the first act of the evening to employ advanced techniques such as callback, roleplay, and prop gags – to great effect and reception.

Bequeathed a drunken and tired audience, ‘Old Speckled Hen’ Comedian of the Year 2010 finalist Sarah Cassidy gauges the level of humour with some none-too-subtle toilet gags, and a skilful heckler putdown firmly secures her approval in the room. Cassidy immediately launches into a discussion about the cultural differences between her home city of Glasgow and her birthplace in the USA, with a political lilt reminiscent of Jamie Kilstein.

Displaying a further wealth of comedic techniques, her explanation of Kraft’s cheese-in-a-can – and its later comparison to Sarah Palin – show an intelligence that is sadly lost on the majority of the audience at The Telegraph. It’s clear that her well-crafted, gentile approach does not gel with such a drunken crowd and that she would perhaps have been better suited to an earlier slot. Although the set goes does well, some of the cleverer observations fail to get the credit they clearly deserve.

Every act on tonight’s bill provide an effective display of the talent on offer from females in the region, and highlights the unfortunate gender bias in comedy – evident from the club scene all the way up to high-profile TV spots.

These high quality acts are let down only by a bad room, and an audience who have the cloak of darkness in which to hide their disrespect.  Acts of this calibre deserve higher entrance fees and better rooms – and if more people support regular nights like Laughing Lasses, they may just get it.

The next Laughing Lasses is on April 8th at The Telegraph, headlined by Susan Murray. More information can be found here.