Phil Wang, Sarah Keyworth, Arab Women Artists Now festival - Mark Muldoon's Comedy Diary

Phil Wang. Credit: Ed Moore

For a lot of comedians, once they reach larger stages, they often make their performances physically bigger as well, presumably out of a sense of trying to fill the space they find themselves in. Not for nothing did Michael McIntyre - the quintessential arena comedian - come to be known as 'the one that's always skipping'.

Phil Wang isn't typically known for such dynamism, so the question is, as his Wang in There, Baby! tour climaxes at the Hammersmith Apollo: can he continue to carry the energy in a venue that's basically as big as comedy gets, before the audience starts watching the acts on screens, rather than the stage?

Fans of Wang may be shocked to learn that much of the show considers the differences between British and Chinese people. Perhaps not wishing to be accused of lacking variety in his material, tonight Wang expands this discussion to also compare British, Chinese and American people. Fair play though: it's inarguably effective. Elsewhere, standout moments come from observations gleaned whilst attending hip hop concerts, and questioning why some holidaymakers, of all people, don't like to do 'touristy' things. Across this whole set Wang proves himself to be his own comedian - with a set of punchlines and ideas you tend not to find anywhere else in the comedy game. It makes the show an impish pleasure to watch, more than justifying the venue-booker's ambitions. They'll presumably film it soon. It should be well worth seeing the results.

Sarah Keyworth

Sarah Keyworth is in a reflective mood, having recently turned 30 and started comparing their anxious millennial self with the hedonistic lives their boomer parents lived. This new show - My Eyes Are Up Here - also successfully finds good humour in an ADHD diagnosis - no small feat, as recent years have seen a remarkably high number of comedians alight on the subject, following their own post-Covid diagnoses.

It all makes for their best show yet, and that's not a statement to be taken lightly, as the others have been largely great as well. The main topic of conversation here is Sarah's gender-affirming top surgery. For the most part it's a lightly told story, but given that Sarah's (excellent) last show centred around the unexpected death of their director, the fact that this never gets notably serious or dark is... not a welcome varying of tone exactly, but probably overall the best direction to take this one in. The focus here is pretty firmly on fun. The most affecting moment - for me personally - was the story of how they dealt with hating having to wear a dress at school. Later, towards the end of the show, a sentimental section will either round the performance off nicely, or be something you're able to take or leave, depending on your inclination for such things. But what really makes this show recommendable is the 45 minutes of brilliant comedy that precedes it.

Fatiha El-Ghorri

Finally, a special all-female edition of regular comedy night Arabs Are Not Funny!. It's a gig that maybe gets off to a slow start, which is an issue that shouldn't be fully placed at the feet of the MC - it's maybe difficult to create a relaxed comedy club 'vibe' when the venue (the Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room) feels like a conference room that someone's tried to apply a private members club makeover to. Or, say, when a show is bookended by reminders to scan a QR code to fill in an evaluation form. Or when the projector screen glitches behind the acts whilst they're performing. This show - presented as part of the Arab Women Artists Now festival, and coinciding with International Women's Day - features five female comedians from varying Arab backgrounds. You wouldn't go as far as to say that anybody featured is yet ready for immediate fame, but headliner Fatiha El-Ghorri is worthy of your attention - she's a raucous pleasure to watch - and is justifiably already going places in her career. Be sure to also bookmark the clearly innately-skilled Fathiya Saleh as a potentially huge future star, once she's perfected her craft.

Read previous editions of this column (featuring Bill Bailey, Jessica Fostekew, Sam Campbell, The Unfriend (starring Lee Mack) and the top 50 comedy shows of 2023).

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter. He's anxious about the fact he's now got 'Arabs Are Not Funny' saved in his Google search history forever.

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