Seventy One.

The Gig: Comedy @ The Cricketers, The Cricketers’ Arms, Keighley.
The Date: July 29th 2010
The Line Up: Myself MCing for Mick Sergeant, George Whittle, Kate McCabe and Alex Boardman.

It was time, once again, for my favourite night of the month. Anti-clockwise on the M60, traffic was a breeze. Can’t believe anyone would even consider going at it from the other direction. Sat in the car on the way to Keighley in a cosy carpool with Kate McCabe, George Whittle and Lee Fenwick, the man behind comedy icon-in-waiting Mick Sergeant.

Cruising along at a pleasant pace, my usual eclectic music selection seemed to be going over well. Lee was tapping away in time next to me in the front. A wrestling track came on which prompted a debate between myself and George as to whether Paul Heyman or Eric Bischoff was a more interesting personality in the business. After a few moments I realised that we might as well have put a glass partition up inside the car, such was the efficiency with which we excluded the other two with this topic. As Lee said, it just became white noise after a few sentences. In the interest of inclusion I suggested we save the debate for another time. A carpool with George, Carl Hutchinson, Sully O’Sullivan and Leigh Jones for instance. That could keep us going all the way to John O’Groats.

I managed to take a slightly wrong turn onto the M62 rather than heading up towards Burnley as, after my recent adventures in the North East and Yorkshire, my autopilot seemed to determined to take over. Not an issue, gave me a chance to take the slightly different scenic route through Halifax. Even with this slight detour we got to The Cricketers’ in plenty of time and strolled in. John, James, Nicola and the Cricketers’ crew of staff and regulars were friendly as ever and made them all feel most welcome. That said, John seemed slightly stressed. Wandering around with a cable in his hand it looked as though we may have technical issues tonight. I couldn’t help noticing that a few folk were looking at me as if I was walking down The Green Mile. I had a pretty good idea about what was about to happen…

As is tradition at The Cricketers’, John went on stage to welcome everyone to the night and introduce me. In slightly less traditional fashion John asked that everyone take a moment and direct their attention to the screen at the back of the stage. As I suspected, the footage of my impromptu semi-clad dance off from the comedy at the Beatherder festival was about to make it’s appearance. Sure enough up popped Windows Media Player and before you knew it we were treated to the sight of Silky playing guitar, a giant smurf sat looking stunned and yours truly performing the whitest, most heterosexual display of booty shaking you’ve ever seen. It was hardly a shock to see, I knew this was coming for a month. In fact, having braced myself for the worst, I didn’t look anywhere near as gut-knottingly awful as I suspected. In fact, I even took to the mic and provided a director’s commentary. A highlight would have been Jemma, the cute goth girl, as she slinked sexily into view and summoned me back on, this time wearing a bra thrown by an audience member. To my undying relief, I didn’t fill it. Nonetheless, Jemma and I busted some moves out including a fantastic tango-style dip that saw her head inches off the floor.

My sex off with the moustachioed man was also captured, including me planting one on his lips to somehow affirm my heterosexuality. Kissing another man to prove I’m not gay? I’ll be playing rugby next. A quick look on YouTube confirms that it’s not available for public consumption though. Well, not yet anyway. I turned to the packed house in The Cricketers’ Arms, told them that was how a real man moves and that I really, honestly, genuinely, absolutely had no regrets whatsoever. Big, big cheer. Who’d have thought that I, of all people, would ever get cheered for taking my clothes off? That said, I’m never doing it again. Festival or not. Kit stays strictly on.

It wasn’t what you’d call a traditional opening section from an MC. In fact, I felt like I had to really jam it into gear to get it back to being a comedy night rather than the Chris Brooker Self-Gratification Hour. Fortunately we had two new faces in the front row that were more than happy to chat to me. I was, it has to be said, slightly freaked out that Mel and Daz weren’t in their usual places. Yep, it’s that kind of gig. We have regulars so committed that I become slightly OCD when they’re not in their usual seats. a quick chat with Dave, the fella of the couple, established that he was a retired steel worker. I insinuated that this would prompt envy from people in the room because he was just so goddamned Yorkshire. Turns out he wasn’t even from Yorkshire, he was from Teeside. I then won his undying respect for correctly identifying him as a Smoggie. Yep, well travelled me. This, naturally, led to a conversation about the Parmo, described by Barry Dodds as the food of the gods. Assuming, of course, that the gods in question are angry, vengeful and determined to wreak havoc on our coronary arteries.

A fellow North Easterner took to the stage to kick the night off in the form of Lee Fenwick under his guise as Mick Sergeant. Lee, along with Barry, Jason Cook and Ben Traynor, moved to Manchester in January of 2005 to a house in Withington that I soon dubbed Little Tyneside. Clearly as immigrants they were going to slowly take over the area with their Geordie ways. Soon there’d be nothing but pie shops, brown ale and shirtless angry men as far south as Didsbury. Ever since arriving in Mancunia the character of Mick Sergeant has evolved and evolved from it’s beginnings as brilliant parody act The White Chris Rock. Like a textbook example of how to bring a comedy character to life, Lee has gradually built Mick from a one dimensional parody to a fully rounded human being with a backstory and opinions. Watching Mick Sergeant on stage is enchanting, funny and often moving. The trials and tribulations of a long term unemployed ship-builder rebuilding his life in the wake of a shattered marriage make for bittersweet comedy viewing. No matter how much shit life chooses to drop at his feet Mick refuses to put down his shovel.

Lee is so utterly convincing in his portrayal of Mick that it’s not unusual for audiences to not realise that he’s a character. Much in the same way that I had to tell my housemate Mark that This Is Spinal Tap wasn’t a real documentary as he watched it, you sometimes want to nudge people and tell them. As such, slightly less intellingent audiences can fail to pick up the intricacies of his act and thus not get the humour. When I booked Mick I was sure that The Cricketers’ crowd would love him. My faith was absolutely perfectly placed and they lapped him up, even suprising Lee by laughing long and loud at a joke that doesn’t always get a response. Mick’s new setpiece of erotic fiction was entirely new to me and and I loved every second of it. The praise after Lee’s set was unanimous and he was declared as one of the best opening acts they’d seen.

I should point out also that The Cricketers’ was hot tonight. Really, really, really hot. I tried to maintain my usual sartorial standards with my jacket on over my favourite TNA tee shirt, especially after I’d been told off lightheartedly for my jeans and tee shirt approach one month. Ten minutes in I was sweating like a BP executive at a shareholder meeting so the jacket came off and I went casual for the rest of the night. A violently hot room with that many people in is likely to sap the energy of everyone inside it. Because of this the middle section wasn’t quite as pumped up as I would have liked. I did, however, take time to assure that I had not managed to ruin things with Laura in the two weeks since she’d accompanied me to the gig. I also told a rather disturbing story involving an item of clothing that may well make it’s way into my set one day.

George and Katie had good sets in the middle. George is definately one of the youngest comics working in the North West at the moment, not quite old enough to legally drink anything more potent than coke while he’s gigging. With a confidence on stage far beyond his years George is clearly intelligent and given to the haphazard stylings made popular by the likes of Russell Brand in recent years. Katie also gave good account of herself, in particular with her revelations about the sheer ridiculousness of the UK Citzenship Test that covers such essentials for UK visitors as the population of Wales. He suggested additions to the test’s canon got a good response.

By this point the baking heat was taking a little bit of a toll on those present. James mentioned that the audience seemed a little flat tonight. Flat? There are comedy clubs worldwide that would love to be able to describe the attentive, enthusiastic crowd in attendence as flat. Flat in this case would be considered almost rabid in many other venues.

More than ready to prove this was Alex Boardman, our headliner, who had arrived half way through the night. Much like myself he’d walked into the pub for the first time, taken in the atmosphere and simply said to himself “Yes”. I defy anyone not to be moved by the sheer energy of The Cricketers when they walk in the front door. Before Alex had even taken the stage he said that this reminded him of many of the comedy clubs he used to play, people rammed in with sweat dripping down the walls. I was overjoyed to have Alex come and play the club. In addition to being a superb comedian he’s also one of the most genuine and humble folk I’ve come across on the circuit. I couldn’t help but punch the air and shout “YES!” when I got the email back saying he’d do it.

Alex delivered in no uncertain terms, taking a moment to address his status as a Lancashire man in Yorkshire. He went on to regale those present with tales of his teens in the Madchester years of drinking, dancing, drugs and The Hacienda. Contrast that starkly with his current life as a husband and father and you’ve got a fantastic mix of tales skillfully told by a comic I consider to be hugely underrated beyond the comedy circuit. His finale about taking his son to see Bob The Builder is one of my favourites and, possibly keen to get their money’s worth again, The Cricketers’ faithful demanded and received an encore and Alex obliged them in fine style. The night drew to a close, all were happy and I was a little sad that it would be another month before I got to do it all again. I’d been terribly spoilt with being able to play it twice a month over the summer.

After the show Lee, Katie, George and myself stuck around for a pint and a chat. Mel was forthright, saying that in her opinion the audience at The Cricketers’ arms had been spoilt with some of the comedy they’ve seen for the money they’ve paid. The spoiling is mutual. All the acts that have played have walked away buzzing and that buzz has spread around the circuit. Because of this everybody walks in the front door wanting to give their all for the fantastic audience they’ve heard so much about. Because of this audience is keen to prove their mettle as a great comedy crowd. You couldn’t ask for a better dynamic. Cliched as it sounds, everyone wins.

I also had a bag of crisps with my pint. An incredible new flavour of Tyrell’s crisps bearing the taste of butter and mint. They were astonishingly good. As I demolished the bag with a little help from Katie it dawned on me that I might want to eat a few less of these before Beatherder next year.

Still, who doesn’t like butter?

Gig Score: N/A

Lesson Learned: Bring new material to Keighley every month, roll it out. It’s a godsend of a gig.

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