Christmas DVDs round-up - stand-up comedy specials

Stocking fillers from Micky Flanagan, Russell Brand, Jimmy Carr & Bill Bailey reviewed

The thing about cultural sea changes is that they very rarely alter the environment immediately. While hopes are high that Bridget Christie’s Edinburgh award-winning success this year might offer more opportunities for strong female comics, the current crop of live comedy DVDs is just one vast boys’ zone. So any chat about relationships between men and women comes from a distinctly male perspective, and although there are thankfully few moments of out-and-out laddishness, it would have been nice to have heard a different slant.

Micky Flanagan: Back in the Game (●●) could have been popular in any decade from the 1970s onwards, and his material about how women really like to talk should have you clenching up. Other than that, he does several funny walks, observes how parenting was a bit different in the 70s, and recalls a recent prostate examination. It’s all as crushingly obvious as it sounds.

Tom Stade: Live (●●) also has a fair chunk about the notion that women talk a lot, but offers a more inventive and nuanced analysis. He starts off strongly, but rather rapidly deteriorates into an unfocused ramble that can only be tolerated by those who are wholly enamoured of his ranty style. To other ears, this is like fellow Canadian Glenn Wool on a bad night.

On more solid ground is Reginald D Hunter: In the Midst of Crackers (●●●), but even here, this is Reg in slightly underpowered mode. His take on the male / female dynamic seems to contain little new insight from his previous work, though he’s in better territory with various bodily functions, how sarcasm is seen as witchcraft back in his US homeland, and the downfall of Oscar Pistorius.

In Jack Dee: So What? (●●●), the deadpan comic continues to be trapped in his dour persona and can’t help describing himself as the ‘friendly face of London’, incapable of helping lost Japanese tourists and with much negativity to foist upon electricians and teenagers.

In Bill Bailey: Qualmpeddler (●●●●), everyone’s favourite materialist hippy manages to pour scorn over those who get his goat, but does so with a refined joy and verve. Witless celebrities and shallow politicians are his main targets, and when he’s not sucking on an unlit pipe, he’s offering brilliant musical mash-ups such as Downton Abbey in dub reggae style, a loungey Match of the Day theme tune and ‘Scarborough Fair’ à la death metal.

Comedy man of the year is indisputably Russell Brand (●●●●). Banned from South Africa, thrown out of the GQ awards party and discussing the rights and wrongs of voting were just three of his memorable off-stage larks. But when he actually got down to the bare bones of his new show Messiah Complex, he proved that he’s not just all mouth and no skin-tight trousers. The DVD version of Brand’s typically thoughtful musing on rebellious figureheads (Malcolm X, Che Guevara for two) allied to some wonderful self-mockery also has the added pleasure of him poking at a couple of celebs in his crowd: namely Gary Lineker and Morrissey.

Spotting potential famous fans in the audience might prove to be a welcome distraction to the actual show put on by Seann Walsh (●●). His observations about booze culture and mobile phones are banal and his slo-mo action segments merely prolong the agony. To give him some amount of credit, Walsh is more than capable of pulling off spot-on impersonations of some fellow comedians, showing that there’s a possible future role for him as the new Bobby Davro.

One of Walsh’s mimickees is his friend Josh Widdicombe (●●●●) who looks to have a surer path to glory ahead. Already he has engineered a solid, grumpy young man persona imbued with a 21st century Rigsby schtick. The Devon lad is confused by the world and while he offers lots of angst about the sort of domestic woes that Walsh dabbles in, Widdicombe’s is a decidedly fresher take (whether he’s discussing dark chocolate, teabag saucers or Madame Tussauds).

Depending on your viewpoint, the Harrogate audience for Andy Parsons (●●) is either affable or annoying, dishing out a round of applause for just about everything he says. Quite how they would have reacted to his stand-up when it was a far more potent brand is anyone’s guess. Jimmy Carr (●●●) is still a force to be reckoned with when it comes to writing a tight gag, but his latest show could actually be the beginnings of a mellower Jimmy (has the public outrage about his tax arrangements softened him up?). Despite the content still courting the offensive (rape, paedophilia, obesity, genocide), there are only two or three moments which result in sharp intakes of shocked disapproval.

A man who never heaps his audience in a slurry of controversy is Adam Hills (●●●). The gentle Aussie really is the nice guy of stand-up whose sidekick is his regular sign interpreter, Glaswegian Catherine King. He takes much pleasure in making her sign some rude words, almost as much as he revels in chatting with his crowd. His actual set heavily mocks racism while conversely containing a fair amount of national generalisations, but Hills’ tale of messing things up royally on American TV is thoroughly enjoyable. When it comes to riffing off an audience, there really is no one like Ross Noble (●●●). His genial patter too often comes across as a wind-up toy repeatedly bashing itself against a brick wall, but much fun does lie in watching how far he will go before his risks pay off with a lovely bit of imagery or daft observation.

Greg Davies (●●●) is finally reaping the rewards for hard comedy toil, and his show is a fun if lightweight trip through a seemingly very silly life. The two best bits revolve around car journeys: a holiday adventure as a child when he was convinced he and his family were about to be murdered and a more recent taxi ride with a surreally bigoted London cabbie. Comedy toil has also brought Sean Lock (●●●●) to where he is now, and there’s no sign of his pin-sharp stand-up mind faltering as Purple Van Man has him pondering wonderfully over binge drinking, Boris Johnson, evolution and the best celebrity to share a sleeping bag with, never letting an inventive twist pass him by.

Join our newsletter