Stop You're Killing Me Review
Older readers may remember the Amnesty galas of the 1970s and 1980s. Star-studded, largely nostalgic and somewhat chaotic, they combined brilliant material with utter dross in a manner which suggested that no-one was actually in charge of bringing everything together. The best moments are of course imperishable – Billy Connolly’s ramble about the two drunken Scotsmen, Fry and Laurie doing the fence sketch, Victoria Wood captured on the cusp of stardom and finest of all, Peter Cook’s parody of the judge’s summing-up in the Jeremy Thorpe case. The films are fondly remembered although they’re padded out with musical numbers that vary from the good – Pete Townsend doing ‘Pinball Wizard’ on acoustic guitar – to the agreeably geriatric – Donovan taking us one more time through ‘Catch The Wind’ – to the wince-inducing – a particularly horrible version of ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Mr Philip Collins esq. However, now television has largely taken up the charity comedy baton, we don’t see many of these big galas onstage. Indeed, Amnesty International seem to have downsized the whole concept, as witnessed by Stop, You’re Killing Me. Where we once got a collection of legendary comic talents working together, we now get a group of seven Irish comedians given roughly ten minutes each to make an impression. The standard is pretty good although there’s inevitably the sensation that the best performers don’t have long enough while the less appealing ones are on for too long.
Inevitably, this being Irish comedy for an Irish audience, someone from outside that culture is likely to feel a little excluded. There are references to places which puzzled me somewhat – Newbridge and Offaly for example. However, it’s also true that, as with Jewish comedy, the Irish tell the best Irish jokes, all of which lay those dinner jacketed wankers in England for dead. Not that you can generalise about a particular kind of Irish humour – the evidence here suggests that much of it is based in a kind of shared experience of poverty, cruelty and religion, the sort of thing which informs books by Frank McCourt. There’s also a particular facility for surreal observation which is at its best when it is just allowed to lie there without comment – the mode of humour which made “Father Ted” one of the finest TV sitcoms. Otherwise, the topics are much the same as you find anywhere else in the world – sex, politics, religion, showbusiness.
By far the best set is given by Dara O’Briain. As anyone who has seen him on stage will know, O’Briain is a sensational talent whose material has the kind of political edginess which reminds you of Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce. He’s one of the few high-profile Irish comedians working in Britain to do extensive material about the Troubles – or ‘the awkwardness’ as he likes to call it – and his account of prejudice and suspicion (particularly illogical given his Dublin roots) is brilliantly funny in an account of his visit to York Railway Museum. He likes to play upon stereotypes, criticising the ‘thick Mick’ cliché one minute and playing up to it the next in order to keep his audience from feeling too comfortable - “A lot of people in England don’t realise Wayne Rooney is Irish. Well, (a) his name is Rooney and (b) look at the fuckin’ head on him!” Combining this excellent material with a quick-fire, aggressive delivery, O’Briain is comfortably one of the best comedians currently working. Twelve minutes isn’t enough but he dominates the show. The only comedian to challenge his supremacy is Dylan Moran but he’s handicapped by the format. Moran’s deliciously funny, surreal material requires more space in which to work and trying to telescope it into ten minutes doesn’t entirely work. He’s still very funny but, once again, you want a lot more. If you’ve never seen him live, this doesn’t entirely replicate the experience and I strongly recommend begging, borrowing or stealing a ticket for his live show. Still, he’s excellent on why Amnesty is a ‘cool’ charity, on people who hate George Bush, and when he goes on a riff about industrial espionage in the fashion industry, the effect is so weird it’s jaw-droppingly funny. I just wish his set was twice as long.
Otherwise, there are nice bits from Tommy Tiernan, discussing Dublin housing estates, and Ardal O’Hanlon, who has never quite lived up to his promise as far as I’m concerned. O’Hanlon’s quiet delivery does conceal some sharp shafts of wit but his material is a bit safe, especially in contrast to some of the others on the disc.
Jason Byrne, a new name to me, has a somewhat impenetrable delivery and relies on his family for material. He’s got some good lines but his constant swearing gets a bit wearing – I have nothing against any swearword (indeed my favourite word in the language begins with c and rhymes with punt) but using them to get laughs only works for so long before you begin to wonder what’s behind it. Eddie Bannon does some schtick with a guitar which harks back to the early days of the Comedy Store (I’ve seen it at least four times with various comedians doing it) and I was a little distracted by the way the lights reflect off his shirt. He has some good material on animal rights but the rest of his set is unfocused. Des Bishop, another name that I didn’t know, is very aggressive and quite effective but his material is unadventurous. He gets some mileage out of the American abroad routine but the bit on phone sex is tired and unfunny.
So, out of seven acts, we have two absolute winners, a couple of good ones and three which are pretty mediocre. That’s not a bad batting average and very similar to what you got in the old Amnesty galas – although then there were more comedians taking part so you were more likely to find something to your liking more often.
This entertaining concert arrives on DVD in very serviceable form. It’s presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 format and the picture is adequate throughout. Some artifacting is present in places and the digital video presentation is a bit grubby at times but there’s nothing seriously wrong here. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is equally acceptable. Some of the audience reaction sounds a bit distorted but the performers come through loud and clear.
The only extra is some unseen material, the best of which comes from Dara O’Briain who deals with a heckler who has a bizarre fetish for “ginger men from Yorkshire with red hair” and Dylan Moran talking about how people are remembered after they’re gone. There’s more from Eddie Bannon, Tommy Tiernan and Des Bishop too but that’s pretty disposable stuff.
No subtitles sadly, which is inexcusable, and the scene selections take you from comedian to comedian.