"This is anything but a straightforward comedy night," intoned Samir Eskanda, co-organiser of The George Tavern's No Fun, a monthly event showcasing an eclectic mix of comedy, music and poetry. He wasn't joking, either; in the space of only a couple of hours, the upstairs theatre at the George was treated to a veritable performance-art smorgasbord: six comic acts, ranging from observational humour to surreal parody.
Compere Zoe Griesdale presided over the event; fresh from a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe, she bounded around the stage whilst for some reason providing the audience with a pantomimed imagining of Michael Barrymore's sex life before announcing the upcoming acts. Little bit weird, big bit funny. We were off to a good start.
No Fun's opener was South Londoner Gemma Beagley: on the face of it, her set at first seemed to be almost stand up by numbers but her wry talent soon manifested itself. Beagley has mastered the knack of combining the laugh with the wince by constructing risqué jokes concerning premature ejaculation (referred to as 'seagulling' - yeah, I know) and anecdotes about convincing women to have abortions simply to get one over on pro-lifer nuns, as she is a lapsed member of the church herself. A newcomer, having only been on the circuit for about 10 months, Beagley is a new face worth watching.
Molly and Fuffkin soon followed, making for baffling and slightly uncomfortable viewing. The two sketch actresses' bizarre send up of David Lynch's Blue Velvet characters seemed far fetched and overly nonsensical, with only a few laughs to be had; as a result, the small audience seemed more confused than amused by their capering.
Liz Bentley managed quickly to pick up Molly and Fuffkin's slack by charming the room with her girlish irreverence. Introducing herself as a musical poet and not a stand up, Bentley remarked, in reference to a noose-like rope hanging from the wall of the theatre, "and if it goes badly, I can always hang myself." Coercing a small, self-conscious audience into joining you in a ukulele-led chorus of "cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt" is no mean feat, but she pulled it off with ease and had the audience eating from the palm of her hand with her idiosyncratic yet oddly appealing lyrics ("I used to travel but now I can't be arsed/My verruca fell off in the foot spa at Center Parcs"). Frenetic, fast-paced and funny make for a winning combination and Bentley's set left the audience chortling as they exited for the interval.
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After the break, we were welcomed back by Kishore Nayar, a young Asian comic who relayed awkward tales of trying to conceal his ethnicity in front of a crowd of BNP supporters and not being very good at arguing, despite being a full time employment lawyer (incidentally, his trick for getting out of this is simply to invent complicated sounding words). With a twitchy and self deprecating stance, Nayar used his apparent self-awareness and on-stage confidence to portray himself as a shy yet likeable character.
Jamie Glassman's cab driver alter ego Tony Izzit delivered slick, if a little laboured, one-liners concerning the best way to surreptitiously look at women on the tube and "pitbull stereos". A convincing character was a solid vehicle for a well put together sequence.
Somali-born headliner Prince Abdi (his real name) confessed to only having got into stand up comedy because his friends told him he was funny, "but they were really taking the piss," he laughed. "I invited all my friends to my first gig and just died." Abdi said of No Fun, "I met Zoe in a comedy club and from there we just became friends. She told me about the event and I said I was available . loved it, there was a friendly audience and everyone was really happy and came out to have a good time. I mean, because I did another gig and there were loads of hoodies coming up to me going 'are you gunna be funny?' and I said 'let me get on the stage first!' so this is different." Prince Abdi's warm yet razor sharp delivery was different too: his humour and timing are whip smart and his knowing grin allowed him to get away with some racially edgy gags (allusions to Somali pirates and kidnappings were breezily dealt with early on in the routine).
As Abdi's set wound up, my suspicions were confirmed: the night's snappy headline act had sealed the deal, and I knew then that No Fun was and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with on the London comedy club circuit, and it might be a little unknown now but catch this event and its acts soon, before they all go stellar.