Molly Stewart

Review: Andrew O’Neill’s History of Heavy Metal

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Andrew O’Neill’s History of Heavy Metal is confusing, at first: set out more like a music gig, with a band (three quarters of Reprisal) and we, the audience, stood for the entire thing.

This is like no comedy gig I’ve been to before. But this is Andrew O’Neill, and everything he does seems to work so well, so easily.

History of Heavy Metal does exactly as it suggests, starting out with an amp-heavy homage to the big bang, as it were, of heavy metal.

O’Neill’s material is delightfully varied: short jokes, musical comedy, long act-outs (usually between metal band members) to which he is heart-and-soul dedicated: setting them up, letting them overrun perhaps before coming back full circle to where they’re hilarious again.

O’Neill knows his audience, and this certainly is a show that caters very specifically – and very well, at that – to crowds of metal heads of seemingly various genres (grindcore? thrash metal?).

I’m not sure at how many gigs a crowd appreciate with such a knowing nod the difference between goth and metal culture, and where strangers would readily climb one another’s shoulders to turn the projector on.

As O’Neill point out, he isn’t doing this sort of stuff at Jongleurs. However this is a show that falls into the increasingly common category of something of a lecture, as well as comedy.

That’s maybe the wrong word: hectoring or dull it isn’t; but The History of Heavy Metal – like Sara Pascoe vs History – it hugely interesting, and enjoyable in so many more ways than just being incredibly funny.

It’s impressive just how talented O’Neill really is, and in more than one sphere: he is, of course, a terrifically funny stand-up, but as well he seems a naturally good musician (of both metal and, bizarrely, lounge jazz).

O’Neill and his Reprisal associates filled the show with innumerable riffs, renditions and parodies, and this is perhaps what stepped History of Heavy Metal up from simply a comedy gig: this was full-on, actually hugely inclusive multi-form show.

The audience was, of course, heavy metal head heavy; but O’Neill made sure the broader audience (namely me, here, it seemed) was never too far alienated.

Certainly there was the odd joke, or huge cheer from the crowd at a name etc. that zipped over my head; but by and large, History of Heavy Metal acted as a kind of gateway drug.

And of the heavy/thrash/death/black metal I heard I feel I ought to say – as someone who thinks Wilson Philips’ first album is solid gold – I quite liked a lot of it.

Date of live review: Friday 1 May @ Joshua Brooks, Manchester.

Comedian Tony Basnett runs Trapdoor Comedy Club. The next gig at Joshua Brook features Sara Pascoe and Stephen Carlin on 30 May. You can get tickets and more information about upcoming Trapdoor gigs on their website.