Kieran Hodgson, Police Cops, Zoe Coombs Marr, TJ & Dave, Courtney Pauroso - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

Zoe Coombs Marr

Interesting to think back to 2015. A simpler, happier time. Just before years of political and social upheaval. The culture wars weren't fought quite so fiercely and nobody seemed to care all that much about trans people. This was also the year Zoe Coombs Marr found success with Dave, her parody of exactly the kind of boorish male comedians that, back then, seemed to be quickly fading from fashion. After a couple of acclaimed shows, Coombs Marr decided to put him in a 'coma' for six years. Now she's brought him back for, apparently, one last time - and you quickly pick up that this is due to the unending popularity of comics such as Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle etc. They may not quite be the height of fashion anymore, but their vast ticket sales and streaming deals don't appear to have suffered as a result. The question presumably being asked by Coombs Marr, therefore, is whether this satire ever won't feel relevant (it might be worth noting, incidentally, that this performance took place before the Russell Brand scandal hit the headlines).

That being said, it's perhaps not a terrible decision to make this Dave's final outing, as there doesn't seem to be quite as much mileage in the character as there used to be. It's a pleasingly knotty show, though, and the full 360° reason it's titled The Opener is very satisfying. You'd maybe stop short of calling it Coombs Marr's best work (there's a strong effort on Amazon Prime if that's your streamer of choice), but if the brief was to find a fun route into dissecting the twin horrors that are the current gender debate and wider culture wars, it's an inarguable success.

Police Cops The Musical. Image shows left to right: Melinda Orengo, Tom Roe, Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson, Natassia Bustamante

Picking up a flurry of five star reviews in Edinburgh, Police Cops isn't much interested in making wider social points. It's one of those notably ambitious all-singing, all-dancing comedy musicals that emerges every now and then. Quite often they end up conquering the West End, as Operation Mincemeat is currently succeeding in doing. You can imagine that being the ambition for Police Cops too: they've clearly worked hard on it - particularly the scripting, which is funny enough to win over the broad (maybe aged 15+) audience it's presumably looking to attract. Set in the 80s, it lightly parodies the sorts of cliches you find in American blockbuster films. It's a great night out: if Father Ted was your kind of humour it'll likely be right up your street.

Kieran Hodgson

It's intriguing seeing Kieran Hodgson's show Big in Scotland just as it transfers from Edinburgh down to London. You can definitely pick out a smattering of references that would have got hearty laughs of recognition north of the border.

There's plenty of room in comedy for interrogating the unbalanced, often tense relationship between the two nations, but Hodgson mostly chooses to focus on the personal, detailing his own reasons for moving from London to Glasgow, how he's received upon arrival, and his struggles throughout the period. Most audience members - probably even the more stridently Scottish ones - will likely find him overly self-lacerating on these points, as he picks faults in his own Englishness. But the show is heart-warming and filled with lovely comic moments, plus Hodgson himself has got charm to burn. You can't help but take his side.

Courtney Pauroso. Credit: Jill Petracek

Courtney Pauroso, now, who's Vanessa 5000 hour became known colloquially in Edinburgh as "the sex robot show". Throughout, she plays the titular robot, who's been created to cater to male fantasies (as well as provide shout outs to her corporate sponsors). It's a remarkable physical comedy performance. A few too many of the show's laughs come from audience participation for it to maybe be considered a truly great show, but it's certainly a bold, impressive, fun hour nonetheless.

Image shows left to right: TJ & Dave, Dave Pasquesi, TJ Jagodowski

Finally, to the old masters of longform improvisation TJ & Dave, who every night basically make up a play, switching between about ten different characters as they go. Nothing on offer the night I attended suggests they're better than homegrown offerings like Austentatious or Showstoppers, but watching 45 minutes of their easy-going improv, seeing them gently needle each other for small errors - then playfully work those errors back into the narrative - is certainly still a pleasure. Going by the wild acclaim on offer for previous nights of this run, though, this definitely feels like a relative misfire. A lot of the time only mildly amusing. Still good maybe, but some distance from magic. Even the old masters have off days, it seems.

Read previous editions of this column (including James Acaster, Kate Berlant, Ed Byrne, Ahir Shah and Bridget Christie).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter. He's even on Bluesky as well, which doesn't seem very good but there's a culture war on, so any port in a storm we guess.

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