Perhaps a case of mis-selling the show at Pleasance Courtyard, the audience for AAA Stand Up was of a distinctly middle age and much of the material used by three comedians in the early stages of their careers – Tom Toal, Rhys James and Joe Wells – fell on unresponsive ears. That said, the work on display was not, on the whole, of a high quality.
Toal introduced the night and performed between the other two acts and made a point of drawing attention to the bottle of Benylin placed on stage before his arrival, citing a case of Fringe lurghy which isn’t difficult to believe. However, that can only partly excuse his distracted, irritable performance, which contained very little of his own material and relied on drawing responses from the crowd, who quickly took control away from him as it became increasingly clear he was not on top form. Far too often even the smallest sound from the audience stopped him dead mid-flow and one promising bit about his Polish roots was never completed.
James too seemed to struggle with nerves, probably not helped by Toal’s warm-up, and seemed to lose confidence in his material as the set went on. Some of his punchlines were a little lame, and finishing his set with a joke about domestic abuse might have worked better had some earlier gags hit their mark. James clearly has a good stage presence for a twenty-one-year-old, but seemed unwilling to trust his work enough to allow each joke to properly sink in. He looked slightly distraught as he left the stage, but one hopes this is just an evening to chalk up to experience.
The evening was redeemed by Wells, who from the outset seemed much more at home with the audience and comfortable with what he was trying to achieve. Wells’ set focused mainly on some well-observed political humour and wisely played to the crowd with some judicious Tory/banker-bashing. Wells’ jokes flowed nicely, were well-constructed and obviously well-rehearsed and held together pretty solidly as a unit. After the awkwardness and slightly unfocused earlier segments, a steady hand was very welcome.
It may have been the relatively large crowd, the heat in the room, or a nasty bout of the lurghy, but AAA Stand Up was a bit of a disappointment.