Nick Helm / Martin Angolo / Julian Clary - Bobby Carroll's Live Comedy Diary

Nick Helm

Fans of the laser show and the loudness associated with Nick Helm might be a little shocked at how pared back the latest tour show is. No backing band. No dry ice. Just three songs (albeit three belters). The first half of Nick Helm's Super Good Time Fun Show is the equivalent of Def Leppard going acoustic. Minimalist Meatloaf. After a quick update on his mental health (he's in a good place) he takes on a nostalgia strewn memoir of his teenage years.

We get a joyous verbal recreation of a visit to the local video shop and discovering Sam Raimi's zany Army Of Darkness for the first time. A crusty teenage boy's sleepover which turns into an orgy of onanism. A tale rippling with beautifully mucky imagery. And if that doesn't gross you out, then a rites of passage festival weekend has more poops than pop. The autobiography half of the show weighs in at a generous 65 minutes and feels like we are getting a formative peek behind the curtain as to what made the Helm such a unique mish-mash of influences and accentuated styles. You don't have to be an Evil Dead aficionado to smell the Bruce Campbell all over this performer's DNA. The swagger, the verbal pratfalls, the rubber faced cool. As character building insights go, the storytelling section has vibes of Bukowski's Ham On Rye. Helm begins. He keeps desperately interrupting himself "The show hasn't started yet..." Only a fool would believe this.

But then after the break the show does, indeed, start. Nick "The Human Car Crash of Light Entertainment" Helm dons a glitterball jacket, his name is in lights... Sort of?! The first of a series of homemade props that deliver a low-key gimcrack version of the spectacle his fanbase demands. We are back in, all the way up there, at optimum settings. Dad jokes are hard sold with the trademark badgering query "Do you like jokes? Do you like jokes?". A convoluted game show section involving sandwich making enjoys an even more complex reprise capping the show with a warped Generation Game spoof high. Those fantastic three songs prop up the proceedings like sturdy marquee tentpoles. (Sit on my face) For Old Times Sake recalls Pulp's Disco 2000 in its jaded yearning and eurotrash synth beats. The anthemic ballad I'm Feeling Myself Again unites the room in communal bliss. We are mere marionettes in The Caruso of Citalopram's control.

Nick Helm

The expansive show is divided into two very distinct styles. A diptych. Yet there is fair amount of intentional bleed between the sombre soulful starter and the extravaganza gang show dessert. Vivid lines from the first half haunt the second. "Chewy air", for example, becomes shorthand for an atmosphere one would never choose to walk in on. The good natured antagonism Helm always conjures between his front row and his seemingly self-destructing self is ever present. Helm has been choosing this path of most resistance ever since he coined the phrase "I'm not going to pull your good time out my arse" all those years ago for his solo stand-up debut.

There's a degree of sub / dom with Helm's continual audience interactions and who is who within the dynamic is like mercurial quicksand. He chooses to battle his nearest ticket buyers as it creates a sense of danger to any gig and unifies his fanbase into feeling a true sense of 'them and us'. There's many a time I've stood in the line to see Helm and heard punters tell their newbie friends about how he wrestled with the audience last time they saw him. How many visits does it take for them to realise the embattled atmosphere is exactly the vibe that keeps people like them coming back? If you aren't in on the joke about what a one-of-a-kind minefield Helm tiptoes through of his own making then the in-the-moment chaos must seem like nothing you have ever experienced before at arena tours and circuit gigs. He gives actual cunts and foolish hecklers short shrift and the over-enthused face the lightning quick wit of his comedic arsenal. Helm pulls the pin from the audience grenade and juggles it for two hours in a way nobody else dares. Every night is a living thing.

The payoff? Well... I waited at least an hour after the show to have a pint with Nicky. He wasn't hiding in his dressing room hoping I would give up and piss off home. We have known each other since he was first doing open mics. I was often at the 10 minutes spot where the building blocks of who Nick Helm is now were first forged. Why did I have to wait an hour? Because the hard-core of his audience queued up to meet him. The only time he wasn't completely selfless and graceful with the throng was when he downed a bottle of mineral water to calm that worked over troubadour's throat. He must have downed at least four whole ones as he gave nearly a hundred devotees the personal touch. Over two hours on stage, another bonus hour off. Is anyone else in live comedy embracing their loyal cult with such deft showmanship and genuine enthusiasm?

Martin Angolo

Irishman Martin Angolo's latest tour is titled Live Comedian and that neither undersells nor overhypes what the punters get. He cuts quite a raffish figure in a baby pink shirt, ice cream blue cardigan / blazer hybrid and a dandy silk scarf. A comfy lounge lizard fit. He starts off with a gimmick where he announces he'll take a sip from his stout every time he gets a round of applause. So the audience take the bait and test him on it. We clap, he sips and after a few goes around the block he calls time but makes it quite clear if we want the show to be just this he's happy to oblige. The man is so laid back I reckon there's more truth than irony to the offer. And that's where the adornments end. The next hour is meat and potatoes stand-up.

Louche is the word. Angolo borders on the one note in his delivery. The constancy of his unfazed stroll of words was my favourite aspect of the show. There's a hypnotic ASMR quality to just how soft and steady his voice stays. The punchlines are tossed out easy peasy with no special emphasis. The material itself is just as unchallenging. Familiar topics, familiar takes, though Angolo always manages to spin his own wording around the ultimate laughter point. Despite operating near permanently in the mildest end of bad taste his attitudes on race and racism as a black man in Ireland seem designed to reaffirm the values of the white audiences he plays. There's an admirable and eminently bookable quality to him. Even the most closed off and backwards face in the crowd is unlikely to be shifting in their seat uncomfortably from the low volley the people-pleasing comic lobs out.

There are little bursts of truly original observations and satire. His strange little tale of ordering a Guinness away from Dublin meanders off in a quare direction. His brief takes on Ireland's recent immigration objections, the unexpected Dublin riots and his love of an influx of Brazilians to his hometown's nightlife lack the self-imposed safety net that defines his own more softened stories of racism. A lengthier bit about celebrity look-a-like sex robots has a gag heavy neatness to it. The domino rally of slow drip confessions over his mum's OnlyFans plays to his strengths as a decent enough closer. It would be a massive break of character for him to ramp things up a few notches just to end a show on a punctuation point.

Julian Clary. Credit: Andy Hollingworth

You do have to question the logic of scheduling Julian Clary's tour stop at Edinburgh's Queens Hall on the same night as the Eurovision final. Even acknowledging 2024's particularly controversial, boycott tainted, event there still must be only a thin slither of fans who don't live in both camps. Pun intended. Maybe that explains the noticeable smattering of empty seats at the long sold out comedy show. Even in our house we did debate whether Clary or the festival of European unity and song was more important to us? The Joan Collins Fan Club won out in the end.

And while ruthless killer comedy was rare on the trail in A Fistful Of Clary, a rodeo of light cabaret entertainment was to be had with more than a pistolero twirl of ribald smut. The Western theme proved to be gripped onto more ardently than even a slick poster could ever portend. Clary emerges on stage gloriously in bullhorn belt buckle, matching bolo tie and satin paisley carpet bagger frock coat. There are two more equally eye-popping genre inspired costume changes to dazzle you. He puts his own spin on C&W ballads in a series of welcome musical interludes. His cloth backdrop of a phallic cactus at night lights up during one particularly risqué number so the stars reform and start spurting jism upon jism of cactus juice during a rude refrain. And the second section sees the lads from the audience rounded up to take part in Clary's own cowboy skit; The Magnificent Seven Inches. Pfnarr pfnarr.

The whole horny panto is end-of-the-pier fun; the alternative comedy revolution of the Eighties feels long forgotten. Clary owes a fair nod to Barry Humphries' Dame Edna. Bertha the butch lesbian assistant proves a well utilised foil and the front row is annihilated with catty backhanded compliments throughout. The viciously intimate crowd work is pulse throbbingly good. A few senior moments, current celebrity anecdotes and a sad but heartfelt tribute to good friend Paul O'Grady packed the two hours out. This isn't the most tonally consistent tour show doing the rounds but I think everyone walked away happy to see an icon and a survivor still flourishing.

Nick Helm's Super Fun Good Time Show is touring the UK until June 2024.

Julian Clary: A Fistful Of Clary is touring the UK until June 2024.

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