Olga Koch / Gareth Mutch / Marc Jennings - Bobby Carroll's Live Comedy Diary

Olga Koch. Copyright: Matt Stronge

Crypto... Be Real... Bill splitting apps... Meet masters degrees and ageing up.

Generational angst and relationships that do not bear scrutiny seem to be the two recurring themes in Olga Koch's Prawn Cocktail. Subtext doesn't hug this hour of laughter very closely however. The now touring Fringe show works just as well as our annual catch-up with this fully accomplished comedian. Gossipy and salacious. We get to hear about threesomes, timeline crossing hook-ups and admin heavy re-ups.

The anecdotal and the "science bit" of this year's offering are scaffolded with prominent devices. Weaving callbacks, dialogue coach taught accents and revelatory voice notes. There's not a trace of gristle or grain here; Prawn Cocktail is a fleshy hour.

Koch is on assured ground whether reading between the lines of her recent NHS diagnosis letter or reimagining the scarce relationship touchstones of her teenage brother and late middle-aged mum. These frisky routines have a constancy and a paciness that is inspired yet approachable. So... exactly what you'd expect from one of the best in the business.

Towards the end there's a twist (which is delicious) though it gets a little flubbed among an extended moment of theatrical Mock Shock about how all the separate strands of her confessions and research dovetail a little too perfectly - the ultimate irony. The trick doesn't allow enough room for the audience to react, and requires an advanced comedy savvy festival crowd. On this Friday night you could sense parts of the audience questioning whether we were still on script. Still, top marks to Koch for nailing the acting part of the heightened bit realistically.

If you want a flurry of tangy punchlines told with sass, sex positivity and formal excellence then Koch is the boss. The bigger theatres and beyond are surely beckoning so this might be your last chance to see Olga touring within 'shrimping' distance.

Michael Welch

Michael Welch self-describes his opening set for Gareth Mutch's special taping as 'fluffing'. Well, there is nothing wanky about him. Pitching his opening gambit around his own mixed racial identity vagueness, he plays with a predominantly white room's anxieties of themselves with some soft but well-practiced slaps. He road trials topical ideas of a Gen Z world war and conscription, and while the jokes haven't found their sea legs just yet, the thought lines always reach a viable punchline. It is a minesweeper approach to comedy. Less certain new material mixed with shorter cuts from previous hits. For example, he is obviously in his safe space with a run at royal sex mishaps.

Perceived wisdom would have it that your ideal opener should come on full of forced energy, overconfident presence, safe material and hectoring chat to stoke the fires. On paper Welch does little of that. He lingers rigidly to the front edge of The Stand's small stage. The staccato back and forth of his clipped style and his dainty mic technique reminds of Jerry Seinfeld. The punchlines are heavier and riskier, calling back to far less mainstream, long forgotten North American acts of Seinfeld's era.

And I've always pushed back against the dogma that a good opener needs to fulfil any of the above expectations. Welch stuck to his material and the audience came on board in noticeably growing multiples. The pic n mix nature of his setlist meant different pockets responded to different strengths but ultimately he got a dead room ready to listen to scripted performance without turning it into two-way traffic. Mission accomplished. The confidence it takes to do what is needed rather than what is expected should hold this up-and-coming stand-up in good stead as he evolves.

Gareth Mutch

Gareth Mutch is a comedian who, on first glance, screams circuit. The look, the swagger, the dated view of gender differences, the hard smackdown of any audience member he interacts with. I have seen him storm a fair few rough rooms over the past decade. Yet he is a storyteller at heart and his latest show, Belter, is nothing but anecdotes, all fleshed out into a shape that could fill a 20 minutes set each on their own quite happily. Storyteller and circuit should never be mutually exclusive terms.

Some of his targets do seem inconsequential. 15 minutes on why the show is called Belter are here, as far as I can see, to slowly ramp up into the audience and seed a callback to close the show with. Yet Mutch's superpower is that he can stretch his thinnest stories out, out... all the way out. It is a plate spinning exercise and he is naturally adept at keeping the wheels turning long after other acts would have gotten to the point and taken a bow. On top form he makes mountains out of molehills that we all want to climb.

The Jacamo clad yarn spinner strays closest to observational when he discovers the high street fashion shop Zara's dark secret. All and any directions he goes within this segment find the crowd. A later giddy peak surveys the fallout from his dad's heart attack. The more he focuses on himself and his own anger, the more Mutch produces gales of laughter.

You begin to notice the pattern of Mutch's patter with each new chapter. Revelations drip fed to us. Every minor twist in a tale is overhyped and teased before it is unveiled. Catalyst moments repeated often yet half finished. Sometimes up to six times in a row within a single minute. I heard the phrases "Streams of blood..." and "His knee just kissed the top..." so frequently I thought there had been a glitch in the matrix. This contrary method, squeezing anticipation, really cranks the listeners up, makes them gagging for him to move on.

Mutch was clearly enjoying himself and maybe the last story, rather aptly about a train journey that went on too long, punted the audience over into restlessness. They'd been well behaved throughout but realising the finish line was moving further away, couples started bolting for the toilets in tandem, bright phones were brought out to check the time, tripods were knocked askew and camera batteries started loudly beeping their dying breaths. The poor cameraman working five set ups alone started racing around to ensure Mutch's big epic closer was adequately captured for the good folk of YouTube. I hope he got it?

Marc Jennings

Marc Jennings was also filming his 2023 Fringe show Away from Here this week. His show centres quite rigidly on a parent's premature death but rarely lingers on the maudlin. While many an act in their 30s exploit grief for easy kudos, Jennings rather admirably keeps his writing targeted on the funny. There's minimal grifting at our tear ducts or spoken word parading as elevated stand-up here.

Jennings is an undeniably good looking spud from Clydebank. And, again, there's something quite noteworthy in how he downplays his handsomeness and avoids Ken Loach style handwringing about his tough, level-downed locale. His USP is his considerable cadence, regular and steady like a steam engine, he blathers through soft serve set-ups. These leisurely builds always lead to unfailingly impactful punches. There's a decency in this unguarded, unpretentious humourist. Very few gaudy bells and whistles here. The sum is very successful, I was laughing loudly, quickly and without noticing any obvious manipulations.

The problem writing about something so auspicious, simple and linear is that it can be difficult not to damn Away from Here with faint praise. The subject of death is overtrodden on the UK tour circuit, something that Jennings acknowledges. Yet he evidences little worry about cliche as he avoids straying into tragedy for cheap tears. No matter how emotionally overstressed or overburdened the events may have been in real life, Jennings' focus sticks on comedy. He shifts to sitting on a stool for a few minutes to walk us through his mother's unheralded death. Once he wants us to move on he's back up at 12 o'clock ready to return us back onto laughter quickly. The lack of exploitation is sturdy and uncommon. Minimal theatrics, no meta or showing your working for bonus points.

I think back to his opening stories, warmers before he pulls back the curtain to the show's ultimate subject. There's a trip to a Tina Turner concert with ghosts and celebration. A powerful line about his dad being a fountain of knowledge (...one whose true authorship is later revealed). And there's his self-effacing trials and tribulations of living still at his childhood home, suffering along with dad's new deafness. The garden shed where he records his hit podcast makes a few appearances. They recur as fine call backs that weave seamlessly in and out of the hour. But they do more than slot in ergonomically throughout the narrative, these foundation bricks take a grander form as a tribute to all the positive influences his dead mum has made to this strong stand-up. The fact he doesn't underline or shine a spotlight on these motifs is a testament to what a pure hearted performer Jennings is.

Olga Koch is working up her next Fringe hour, Olga Koch Comes From Money, currently.

The Gareth Mutch and Marc Jennings specials should be on YouTube soon.

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