Manchester’s Frog and Bucket, like many comedy clubs, holds a regular WIP (Work In Progress) night, for acts to try out new material. Often this is for some of the larger acts working on routines for a new tour, or even for their next Edinburgh Fringe Festival show. This month, however, it was taken over by a special show; some of the stars of this year’s Royal Variety performance in Salford graced the stage, both for a last-minute test-run of their material, and to raise money for Cancer Research UK – with all ticket fees for the sold-out event going to the charity.

All in all, it was a fantastic night, with a friendly and polite Sunday-night audience, a stellar line-up, and even a few extra famous faces milling about the crowd. MC Phil Ellis got the crowd energised with his usual, largely improvised, slightly anarchic and physical style – challenging audience members to race him across the club, and playing exaggerated creepiness for laughs.

First act was Manchester circuit regular Katie Mulgrew, the first half of whose act received an unfortunately lukewarm reaction from the crowd – getting a bigger laugh and even sympathetic applause for fluffing the end of a gag than for any of her other jokes. After that, her tried-and-tested material about her opinion of children gleaned from time spent as a supply teacher went down well with the older and now more relaxed crowd.

Jason Manford took the evening’s second slot, and was, as ever, a highly enjoyable act. Unfortunately though, since he was preparing for the Royal Variety show the next day, much of his material was punctuated with comments and questioning the audience about whether or not it was good enough or appropriate to perform, which I thought somewhat disrupted the flow of his material. On balance though, there’s a certain amount of celebrity worship that happens when big stars play smaller gigs; even if the flow is broken, the audience will still praise their act because of the intimacy involved in a celebrity being quite so up-close and personal – and the crowd loved it.

Following Manford was one of my favourite acts on the circuit, the misanthropic rants of Michael J Dolan. In a way, Dolan hit his ideal crowd here; equal parts closet misanthropes themselves, laughing in veiled agreement, and people in a highly amused shock at his statements regarding how much he hates friends, children and the human race in general. Certainly a better audience for him than the optimistic student-heavy audiences I’ve usually seen him perform at, and a great response as a result.

Trying quite hard not to repeat myself here as I mention that the next act was also one of my favourite acts on the circuit; The Boy With Tape On His Face. If you’ve not seen him, then (after you’ve finished reading this review, please!) look him up – his mixture of frantic mime, with musical cues and gags, high levels of audience interaction, and complete silliness really has to be seen to be believed. Despite the star names on the bill, The Boy With Tape On His Face was easily the stand-out act of the evening, with audience members visibly crying with laughter at parts of his routine, all without his ever uttering a word. Unfortunately, his new material, utilising the speech synthesiser function on an iPad, broke the atmosphere. While still enjoyable, I (and the rest of the audience, seemingly) felt that it detracted from the act’s overall style and persona, introducing more mainstream jokes to an act which works best in silence, punctuated only by his ultra-expressive eyes.

Steve Shanyaski returned the night to more traditional comedy, with his jokes about sex and relationships, nights out and drunken misadventures keeping the crowd bubbling over and enjoying themselves immensely.

Finally, the evening was topped off by Omid Djalili, who, as one of very few Iranian-British comics, and certainly the only one of his profile (although Shappi Khorsandi is catching him up), seemingly has little choice but to talk about the current political tensions between the UK and Iran. With the right audience, bang up to date with political affairs, his material went down a storm; although later parts of his act (in which he demonstrated his singing abilities, and performed jokes in a variety of different accents) were even more appreciated. In fact, when it came time for him to leave, the audience wanted more – and they weren’t disappointed, as he’d actually forgotten to perform part of his routine and had to interrupt Phil Ellis’ close of the show.

Now, I go to a lot of comedy shows, and have done for years now, but this was by far and away one of the best I’ve seen for a long time. Some of my favourite acts, a couple of celebrities, and a fantastic crowd – and with all the money going to a worthy cause, what else could you want?


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