Jay Sodagar came on stage apologising. He had chosen the title of his show before he had found out what time he would be on. Starting at 10.45pm it was, he acknowledged, difficult to claim it was really an evening with Jay Sodagar. More like a night.
It’s a risk for a comedian to start off with an apology and Sodagar was unlucky enough to have an audience that, even taking into account the vagaries of the Free Fringe, was unusually awkward. Various people came and then noisily left. A large group, considerably the worse for wear, appeared to want to start their own gig in the middle of his.
What was needed was a comedian with strong stage presence to wrest back control of the show. Sodagar seemed thrown, the structure of the routine slipping away from him. His conversational humour slipped too easily into pleasant but not really funny chats.
When he did occasionally get onto prepared material it was thin stuff. It was undoubtedly a tough crowd, but it was hard to imagine any of the punchlines standing out even with a better crowd. Sodagar ended a long section on the genesis of the Free Fringe by urging people to consult the online accounts of the Underbelly. A potentially fruitful comparison of virgins and Virgin trains just tailed off. Meanwhile, a section on rape would have been better left well alone.
Sodagar’s main strength is his charming, and disarming, honesty. He was far and away at his best just being him, commenting with a little smile on the goings on in the room. I was in stitches with an entirely impromptu riff caused by one of the bar staff entering to change a beer keg. He said himself that this was the weirdest show he had ever done and maybe later in the run he will ease into his material, pruning the dead wood and getting a stronger grip on his audience.
People looking to spend exactly what the title promises - an evening (well, maybe a night) with Jay Sodagar- will not be disappointed. And that’s not to be sniffed at, because he is a really nice and funny bloke. It’s just a pity that he couldn’t translate his nice blokeishness into a show.