The Black Country Cider Lions’ compere Rob Kemp reminds us near the start of the gig that the room we are in is bespoke. It didn’t exist two weeks ago and may never exist again. It’s an apt setting for much free fringe comedy – the comics who come up with fun, sophisticated sets that are great to watch but lack the ambition or peculiarity to seize the moment and Fringe immortality. Kemp and his two friends Rob Jackson and Leon Clifford – who rotate the role of compere each gig whilst the others perform full sets of material – are just such an act: hit-and-miss, unexperimental, but also smart, original and at times very funny.
Kemp cuts the figure of a younger, less soiled Vernon Kay, with boundless energy and touches of surrealism at the edge of his boyish persona. There is something of the Alex Horne about his opening gambit of handing out free health food bars to the audience, giving an ostensibly banal action an off-beat charm through sheer goofy charisma. Some of his material lacks satisfying punchlines but there are many good ideas that I would love to have seen develop over a longer set. His impression of ‘zombie comedy’, for example, is a must see.
Jackson’s set is likable but laden with basic errors such as constant glancing at his notes and a tendency to link material with the phrase ‘something else I’d like to tell you is…’ His one-liners are often very good but it all feels unfinished, both in terms of working up the material and an unmemorable ending. It’s a feeling that pervades many a line, where the word ‘really’ blunts some very sharp writing. However, he can write and we are rarely more than forty seconds from laughter.
Clifford’s set similarly lacks thematic or narrative cohesion, but he has an ingenious device up his sleeve to hold it all together. Handing a man in the audience a list of all the topics he will cover and asking him to read them out one at a time drives a real pace through the set, punctuating each joke like quick-fire bullet points. It also allows him to play the fool to his audience straight-man, using the topic headings as set-ups to some fantastic punchlines. He’s the best writer of the group, using rhythm and repetition brilliantly in his comparison of himself, a ginger lion, to his dark-haired opposites.
The Black Country Cider Lions aren’t writing material for prosperity. They’re three guys with good comedic instincts who want to make people laugh. They do so, often very well. It’ll be great to see what they come up with in the future. However, if you want to see them catch them today because, like the room they’re in, there’s no guarantee they’ll still be around tomorrow.