Bill Bailey, Sam Campbell, Lara Ricote - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

Bill Bailey

Do you reckon Bill Bailey has a formula for writing his comedy shows? It's just that his last tour started off with five minutes laying into senior Tories, before settling into a mix of stand-up, whimsical diversions, and creative musical horseplay. With his new show Thoughtifier, meanwhile, he begins by laying into senior Tories for five minutes, before settling into a mix of stand-up, whimsical diversions and creative musical horseplay.

That previous tour - En Route To Normal - really nailed the format: a consistent stream of inventive, finely-tuned humour. There's points in Thoughtifier, however - when Bailey will be, say, playing a laser harp, or performing a Turkish language version of Yellow by Coldplay - when hasher audience members may find themselves thinking "that's an impressive talent you've got there Bill, but is there any chance you could try and make it funny as well?". Within a two hour show, others may be willing to forgive him the odd digression away from the constant pursuit of laughs. There are, after all, great moments too: a French language song finds its humour in the English subtitles we're provided with. A Bluetooth drumkit of-sorts is divvied up amongst the crowd. It's also impressive that comedians are still able to mine good jokes on the subject of Boris Johnson - which Bailey does here, even though his attempts to target a similar line of humour at Rishi Sunak are maybe less successful.

Here at the relatively humble Brighton Centre it still generally works as an endearing show. But this tour is hitting the biggest indoor comedy venues in the country. If you're sitting near the back of one of those, there's a decent risk you'll fail to feel swept along by this show.

Sam Campbell

If you find yourself a little disappointed that an icon of British alternative comedy hasn't quite delivered against expectations, fight to get hold of any remaining ticket for Sam Campbell's tour instead.

With Campbell you're always going to get a heady mix of left-field observations and flights-of-fancy, gifted video humour and prop comedy. Now he's playing bigger rooms, he's also made a foray into higher-budget hidden camera stunts.

Having seen every Campbell show since he debuted in a tiny basement at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, this feels like his best yet. It's consistently great: only towards the end does an extended insurance-related anti-comedy segment maybe feel as though it's only succeeding thanks to the substantial good will built up over the preceding 75ish minutes. That, and perhaps the fact that it ends up featuring a guest appearance from none other than Lord Greg Davies himself, which - somewhat understandably - sends the crowd wild, and also leads Campbell to memorably tell him "I want to live inside you like a lighthouse keeper". Otherwise, you're basically talking about a straight flush of high quality, inventive, extremely unpredictable humour, and a packed Hackney Empire delighting in it. Britain has a new king of alternative comedy.

Lara Ricote

Before his Taskmaster success, Campbell was probably best known for winning the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2022. Lara Ricote won Best Newcomer at that same ceremony, and in a neat moment of comedy industry cohesion she's also returned this week for her big post-award sequel show.

As an audience it turns out we have just been born, though it seems as though our life will be fleeting. That's the conceit here, though expect many diversions along the way. Ricote has a fairly unique on-stage energy, relaxed yet chirpy, fully charming but offbeat, with perhaps a newly enhanced confidence in commanding proceedings. There's lovely moments - Ricote is hard-of-hearing, and her partner has no sense of smell, a domestic situation with ample comic potential. The flashes of physical comedy also tend to be highlights. Any thoughtful conclusions the show attempts to draw maybe don't add all that much, but they also don't remotely dominate proceedings so it never feels like much of an issue. The Class of 2022 are coming along nicely.

Read previous editions of this column (featuring Romesh Ranganathan, Jessica Fostekew, Frank Skinner, The Unfriend (starring Lee Mack) and the top 50 comedy shows of 2023).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter. He does recommend that tiny Edinburgh basement, should you be looking to find comedy's next big thing.

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