I’ve been thinking a lot lately about live comedy, and how much of a role in plays in my life. Regular readers of my blog will know that Liam and I make regular trips to comedy gigs (you know, pre-covid of course) and last year we went to what was probably our record number of gigs. This year was actually set to beat that record, but this little bitch of a pandemic managed to piss all over that, so chances are next year will be a busy one comedy wise.
The #SaveLiveComedy campaign of 2020 got me thinking about how much live comedy has made an impact on my life, so today, I’m looking at some of my all-time favourite comedy performances. This is a combination of shows I’ve seen live, and performances we’ve watched on DVD/Netflix specials that have stuck with me. I’ve included YouTube videos where possible so you can watch them for yourself, so enjoy!
We have to start with one of the greats. Lee Evans has been a comedy hero of mine ever since my friend Tammy brought his XL Tour DVD to my house on sleepover that we had. I have never laughed as much as I have when watching his stand-up. It’s relatable, it’s slapstick, and he just has this amazing energy in how he delivers his material. You’ll find hundreds of clips of his routines on YouTube, and I strongly suggest you check them out. It’s hard to pick one routine that I love the most, so instead I’ll tell you what I love the most about him as a person.
Every time you watch his stand-up, particularly his later shows, you instantly see what a lovely person he is. He is always so grateful for the thousands of people that attend his shows and you can genuinely see it every time he performs. He always takes a moment during his shows to thank you for coming to see him, and you can tell how humbled he is at the end of every show.
Those who are fans of Lee will know that he retired from stand-up in 2014, following the final performance of his Monsters tour. I remember being absolutely gutted at this news, but by this point we had been lucky enough to see him live three times. We caught his Roadrunner tour in Birmingham in 2011 while we were at university, and I remember the atmosphere being incredible.
A few years later, he brought a work in progress show to a town pretty close to us and after almost an hour redialling the box office number over 60 times, we managed to score tickets (morning well spent). He performed his famous Bohemian Rhapsody routine at the end and the crowd went absolutely insane for it. He’s done this quite a bit in the past and it still makes me laugh even now:
Later that year, he added an additional date to his Monsters show in Bournemouth, which we managed to get tickets to. It was heartbreaking to think this was the final time we’d see him live, but his performance was second to none. At the time we saw him, we didn’t know that this would be his last ever tour, but I still remember being incredibly moved by the song he performed at the end of the show.
Fans of Lee will know that at the end of his shows, he performs a song or two – I’ve always loved these musical performances and it really showcases his talents as a musician as well as a comedian. At the end of his Monsters show, he performed a song about his wife, whom he references frequently in his stand-up. Most of his references to his wife are rather comedic, but are brilliantly relatable and funny, so it was quite a surprise when this song was as heartfelt as it was. Even watching the DVD now, I still feel a lump in my throat watching it. Plus, combined with knowing that this would be his last ever live tour, it really gets you in the feels.
I searched on YouTube to find a decent quality video of this performance, but there wasn’t anything. I strongly suggest you watch the whole Monsters show, which is available on Amazon Prime.
Regular readers will know that pre-Paul Mescal, at the top of my thirst list was Russell Howard. I’ve been a fan of his stand-up from around 2009 or so when he was appearing on Mock the Week. His tales about his family and his general outlook on life are incredibly relatable especially. While I’m more a fan of his earlier stuff, he’s never done a show or a routine that I haven’t loved. I mentioned in a post earlier this year that Liam got me tickets to see his Right Here, Right Now tour for my 18th birthday, and I still remember it as one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. We saw him at what used to be the LG Arena in Birmingham and I remember the atmosphere was amazing.
Over the years, we were lucky enough to see a few more Russell Howard shows, including a couple of work-in-progress gigs, and we even got tickets to an ‘Unscripted and Unplanned’ show in Bristol when he was doing his Wonderbox tour. Fun fact – if you have the Wonderbox DVD, you can see this little mini-gig, and we’re in the audience! Here’s the proof:
Wonderbox was probably my favourite of Russell’s performances, just because of the stories he told – the idea was that they were funny, positive and uplifting. My favourite was a story about how he met a 15 year old fan who was fighting cancer, and who asked Russell to come to his funeral. But he wanted him to come dressed as “Mr Dildo,” a character who featured in a sketch on Good News. I managed to find a clip of the routine on YouTube – make sure you watch it!
You can watch “Recalibrate,” Russell’s most recent show on Netflix. You can also watch full episodes of “Russell Howard’s Home Time” on his YouTube channel, as well as clips from his previous stand-up shows.
Adam Hills always gets me as such a lovely person – we watch him all the time on The Last Leg, but his stand-up is even better. He’s just so positive and in all of his shows, he makes the effort to engage with everyone in the audience. We saw him back in 2016 in Weston-Super-Mare for his Clown Heart tour, and he stayed behind to say hello to everyone at the end.
His shows are hilarious but the message behind them is often incredibly powerful – a classic example is the Clown Heart show, which is largely based on the loss of his Dad to cancer. The overall message is that we’re all going to die someday (okay, it doesn’t sound like comedy gold), but the best we can do is to just make each other laugh and be “clown hearts” for as long as we can. I love that concept – that making each other laugh is the best way to live your life. As someone who is just miserable AF all the time, this struck a nerve with me and it’s definitely a lesson we can all take on board.
Even before we saw him live, Adam’s shows have always resonated with me and had such a lovely message. The key quote of his Happyism show is “touch the fuckin’ frog” – based on when he was given the opportunity to perform with the Muppets and to meet Kermit the Frog – a “just do it” kind of concept.
However, my favourite performance of his is from his Inflatable tour, which talks about the idea of people being “inflaters.” I desperately tried to find a clip of this routine on YouTube, but I failed – however, here’s a snippet of the dialogue to give you an idea:
“Maybe everyone’s inflatable. Maybe every single person on the planet is inflatable or deflatable, and you can inflate or deflate everyone you come into contact with… And if you can inflate as many people as you can, you’ve probably had a good life.”
At the time of writing, the full Inflatable show is on YouTube to watch, but if you’d like to invest in the DVD, you can find it on Amazon.
Many people of my age will know Greg Davies from one thing – The Inbetweeners. If you’ve only ever known him as Mr Gilbert from The Inbetweeners, I would strongly recommend his stand-up – he was actually a teacher in real life and some of his stories will have you pissing yourself. Watch his Firing Cheeseballs at a Dog show to get the full effect!
Greg’s released 3 stand-up shows over the years, his most recent being You Magnificent Beast, but my favourite will always be The Back of My Mum’s Head, which is based around his mother’s accusations that he isn’t normal, and looks into whether any of us actually are normal. It’s incredibly relatable, and as someone who regularly has intrusive thoughts, it was actually quite comforting!
Flo & Joan
Finally, this is probably the most recent addition to my list. Flo & Joan are a musical comedy act of two sisters, and we’d seen them on a few Live at the Apollo type shows, so we decided to give their special on Amazon a try. We weren’t disappointed – their songs are hilarious, relatable, and often insane in the best way. Some of my favourite songs in their show were Lady in the Woods and I Drank Too Much, but the highlight of the show was Little Flo & Joan, which is a song addressing their younger selves and the life lessons they’ve learned along the way. It’s incredibly moving and poignant, and a lot of it really resonates – my favourite line being the below:
“Please don’t cry when you read magazines, stop searching for perfection. It can really get you down, but perfect people are boring, and cake is fucking great so eat it all and make mistakes.”
I couldn’t find a video of the live performance, but here’s a recording of it from their YouTube channel, where you can also listen to more of their songs.
We haven’t actually seen Flo & Joan live yet, but hopefully we’ll get a chance to in the future.
At the start of this post, I mentioned the #SaveLiveComedy campaign. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the live comedy industry is on the brink of collapse. It’s currently at risk of being forgotten by the government’s emergency arts funding where it’s not viewed as an equal to other art forms, despite the fact here in the UK, we have a world leading comedy industry. Live comedy is accessible to everyone, no matter your race, income, sexuality, gender, you name it. It’s a known fact that comedy ticket prices are often cheaper than other art forms, and there are some amazing venues across the country dedicated to it. Based on a survey within the industry in June 2020, a third of comedy venues believe that they’ll be forced to close in the next six months, and over 45% of people in the industry have thought of leaving it due to the pandemic.
On a personal level, live comedy has pulled me out of some of my darkest moments. I’ve turned to my Lee Evans and Russell Howard DVDs more times than I can count just to so that I can switch off my horrible brain for a while, and being there watching a live show gets me to focus on the present, so even just for a couple of hours, I’m not focusing on my intrusive thoughts or my health anxiety. It’s an area that has brought myself and many others a small amount of joy in some of the darkest times. I’m not saying it’s more important than any other art-form, but it certainly deserves to be treated equally. That’s what #SaveLiveComedy is all about.
The campaign believes that comedy is an art-form, and should be treated that way. The campaign is all about ensuring the comedy industry is protected and given the same amount of support as other areas in the arts sector, including protection against job losses, support for self-employed and freelance workers, and clear guidelines from the government on when venues can reopen safely without social distancing measures. If you’re also a fan of live comedy, I strongly urge you to sign this open letter to show your support.