Review: Mike Harding – York Opera House
Mike Harding is a comedian of the Connolly era- one of the first ‘alternative’ comedians. But although he’s been around for a while, his humour is certainly mature rather than dated. The anecdotal jokes- which in the wrong hands can be the most uninteresting comedic form – undergo an onstage renaissance in the hands of the Crumpsall-born comic. And that’s to say nothing of the musical element; between the two, Harding is like a cross between Bill Bailey and The Goon Show.
The act is not overly long, but you won’t notice – Harding is straight into his work, tirelessly (and effortlessly) building a rapport that lasts all night. His is an act which reminds one very much of the social element of joke-telling. That reminder isn’t a fleeting thing, either- you’ll remember your favourite jokes all the way home.
It’s not all about anecdotes and songs and poems though; actually, the gaps between these- which punctuate the evening – are also highly enjoyable, and allow Harding’s zany personality the opportunity to peer through the cracks in his comic world. There’s plenty of ad-libbing as well, which is a natural part of his warm and very genuine connection with his audience.
There were a couple of moments where the focus was a little bit lost. In the second half there were a few anecdotes which deviated a lot from that classic formulaic story-with-a-punchline model; there was a danger here of confusing a comic style which had previously been very structured. It was also an interesting choice to play ‘Bomber’s Moon’ as the penultimate number; which, as fans will know, is a very moving song about the death of Harding’s father. Despite finding the song to be incredibly powerful and well performed- or perhaps because of that- it changed the atmosphere, for me, and made me a bit less willing to laugh.
The musical element is, of course, top notch- just as one would expect, Harding puts to work an incredible vocal talent. Rather than the songs being challenging in range, however, they are more usually challenging in tempo- and the only slip-ups come when Harding joins his audience in sudden fits of giggles. The two guitars are handled with equal aplomb, and the use of harmonica- to retell a northern police chase- was as skilful as it was funny.
Impressions are actually also a strong element of the show- and one, perhaps, which a younger comic couldn’t get away with. Like the formulaic anecdotes, however, it’s much more palatable when interpreted by Harding, who describes himself- after delivering perfect Devonshire, Mancunian and Newcastle dialects in quick succession- as a true polyglot.
I had a cracking time laughing with Mike Harding- and that’s exactly what it was. Many contemporary comedians can throw humour at you, but Harding’s interaction is very much an invitation to join him in a knee-slapping world of jokes that is all his own. You may well find that by the end of the show, you never want to leave.