The Last Laugh (or, Missing the Jokes)

Mrs Chopper has been making a point of getting out more often. More specifically, of getting us both out of the house more often. Last weekend we rocked up at the Memorial Hall (down back o’ the City Hall) for Toby Foster’s Last Laugh Comedy Club.

Last Laugh is a Sheffield institution: it’s been running for 19 years, nearly as long as I’ve lived in the city. It began as a pub-backroom standup session (at the Lescar in Sharrow Vale, I think), and grew into a regular event at which comedians would be shunted at high speed around several city venues in one night as though on a baggage rack, gaining exposure to more punters at a lower cost. Of late, Last Laugh has spawned the annual Grin Up North Festival and the shows themselves have moved on to other venues as well – to Sheffield University’s Raynor Lounge (which we visited a few weeks ago, though I forgot to blog it) as well as the Memorial Hall.

Obviously the move to the Memorial Hall has brought it rather upmarket – our tickets were £16 apiece, and we got a nice table for 2 at the back, where we would be nicely out of the way. A good, discreet observation point – audience watching is a pastime we both enjoy. But more on that later…

First up was Rich Wilson. Oh dear. When somebody says “I don’t like satire or any of that shit,” that presages a bucketload of knob jokes. One of which might even have been funny if it weren’t lost in the clutter of rampant puerility. Wilson had all the Blokes in the audience on his side as he tried to make out he was hard, fast and didn’t give a fuck. But – and it’s a big but – he wasn’t very good. And when he did lose the audience (with a joke, about paedophilia, that sent tumbleweeds across the floor), he had to use shock tactics to get them back.

Andrew O’Neil was better – he didn’t try to play to the audience’s stereotypes (middle-aged orange leather mamas and wannabe Stathams killing time before piling into Josephines or Mingdom Nightclub). He actually made us laugh rather than coughing uncomfortably. Unfortunately, as his comedy required some degree of thought and attention from the audience, he didn’t get much of a reaction. And he had death-metal length hair too – you could almost see the Stathams clenching their fists in Pavlovian style…

Ivan Brackenbury rounded off the night with a set built on the conceit that he is a local hospital radio DJ, innocently playing inappropriate songs and dedication requests (“Don’t You Forget About Me” for a dementia sufferer…). Our Tune for Maple Ward. Had us laughing, but also had trouble keeping the momentum going for a full set – and again, he lost the audience with an ill-timed joke about Jimmy Saville and Paedophilia.

In many ways, Toby Foster was actually the most professional of the bunch. Normally I can’t stick listening to him on Radio Sheffield, but his act as MC was probably the best thing about the night, and I’m certainly not going to diss a man who goes out in a bulletproof vest to tell jokes to soldiers in Afghanistan. Comedy is a win/lose proposition – some you’ll like, some you won’t. You can’t win them all. As it is, we’re unlikely to return to the Memorial Hall for the Last Laugh, if only because the atmosphere there just felt plain wrong.

Mrs C had made an effort, but I hadn’t expected the room to be so full of people dolled up for the weekend, and I arrived in hooded top and trainers. This was clearly the first port of call before the mindless drinking frenzies of Saturday night: whole geological layers of slap were in evidence, along with more fake tan than even David Dickinson will ever use; large-collared white shirts were definitely in vogue for the men, and all seemed to be competing in a Jason Statham lookalike contest (apart from those who had come looking like Paul Weller’s uncool older brother). We both felt very out of place. Even getting a drink was a nightmare – the Hall was mostly occupied by two large (early) Christmas parties, and everybody else seemed intent on buying 10-litre buckets of cocktails to last the first hour. By the time we left, after negotiating the toilet queues (with great discomfort, as everybody was staring at Mrs C when she asked for access to the disabled toilet, as though we had grown second heads), the whole place seemed quite unwelcoming. A far cry from the event at the Raynor Lounge – and even from the Tapeface Boy gig only a few weeks ago.

Not something to be repeated.


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Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist.

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