"Why can't we sit at our usual table?"
The question was from one of XS Malarkey's regulars, wondering why three tables had large RESERVED signs on them. Lee Martin, the man behind Gag Reflex comedy management, ran a hand through his meticulously straightened hair. Tonight was a bit different, tonight he'd assembled his stable of acts to perform before a selection of power players from the comedy world. Oh, and the Malarkey faithful of course.
Providing the glue that binds the night together was the omnipresent master of ceremonies, Toby Hadoke. In his own words, Toby had to keep the night "the opposite of Ulrika Johnson" as there were no less than eight acts to squeeze in. Eight quality acts from the north west for £4? A bargain indeed. Toby also reminded us that, while not a member of the Gag Reflex stable, he was under the same management as the illustrious Kate O'Mara. Perspective indeed...
I (Chris Brooker) was given the honour of opening at XS for the first time since I made my debut there in May of 2002.
Toby buffed my ego before I went on by saying I was far too good to be opening and promised the crowd that I'd shout at them. I hate to disappoint. Eight minutes of noisy Brooker gold later and I like to think I'd helped get the night off to a solid start.
Next up was recent North Eastern expatriate John Cooper.
John has a unique presence on stage that gets most crowds chuckling before he's so much as said a word and I've yet to see his opening line not get a great response. In direct contrast to the gobshite at the top of the show, he's a softly spoken soul with an offbeat style. The XS faithful warmed to him and gave him a good response which he thoroughly deserved.
Bolton's newest favourite son Andy Smith stepped up next with a barrage of one liners.
Andy's one of the best new acts to hit the Manchester circuit this past year and to see him onstage you'd think he'd been going an awful lot longer. Tonight, for some reason, the XS faithful didn't seem to click with him completely on some of his gags. Still had a really strong gig and got some major laughs with his reworked proverbs, my favourite being the one about birds of a feather.
Closing the first part of the night's festivities was the gorgeous looking (According to Toby...) Steve Shanyaski.
With the tale of his friend Katie, who bore a striking resemblance to a certain well known hurdler and her unusual Smart car Steve had the crowd onside right away. Tales of mindless scally violence led him to his rendition of Sort Your Head Out, a musical tribute to Burberry clad arse-wits everywhere. It went down a storm and I won't be able to get it out of my head for several days.
After the break Jonathan Mayor didn't just step onto the stage, he positively exploded onto it.
Barely pausing to breathe, he dragged an unwilling volunteer on stage to be his "personal love puppy" for the evening. Possibly one of the most charismatic acts in comedy, Jonathan makes capturing an audience's attention look like the easiest thing in the world. Tonight he combined his natural ability with some solid new material to fine effect. Jonathan gets away with absolute murder onstage with some of the things he says and does up there. Be sure to dress smartly if you're in the front row when he's on. The Gorgeous One damn near stole the show tonight.
Not many people could have followed that but you'd have been a fool to bet against 2004 City Life Comedian Of The Year John Warburton.
Warby grabbed his guitar and launched into one of the songs he's become known for as part of The Unbroadcastable Radio Show. We soon knew about the perils of attempting to clone oneself an army of sex slaves. Don't let your own DNA get mixed in... After this, John treated us to his brilliant material about terrorism and finished with the story of the time he tried to play pool on the internet. I don't care how many times I hear it, it still makes me laugh out loud. Great stuff and he managed to avoid proposing to anyone.
After the final break came another incredibly promising newcomer making his XS Malarkey debut.
Derby's own Dave Longley revealed that he got into comedy because he was bullied for having a tight foreskin. Children can be so cruel. Dave's got a unique stage presence and is one of the most prolific writers of great material around. His suggestions around using kids TV to deal with real life issues, the Tweenies crippled in debt for instance, are so simple yet so funny with it. Dave got a fair response tonight but the XS faithful were flagging a little by the time they got to their seventh act. I look forward to seeing Dave back when he's got a bit more time to play with as he was a little rushed tonight.
The main event of the evening was cultural ambassador for Leigh, Mike Wilkinson.
Well on his way to being a Northern legend, Mike was doing a stellar job until he hit a rather pissed roadblock in the form of Nikki The Drunk Primary School Teacher. There're hecklers that talk. There're hecklers that talk and won't shut up. There're hecklers that talk and won't shut up or stay sat down. Then there was Nikki. My GOD, there was no silencing her drunken ramblings. Utterly determined to be apart of the show on her birthday there was no silencing her. Wilky was tearing her to pieces. Eventually even the audience turned on her, leading to cries of "Burn her!" and "Witch!". The intoxicated fool then strode haphazardly on stage and grabbed the mic off Mike to reveal that she had once babysit someone sat on the other side of the room. Thankfully she was then escorted from the stage by a friend and an irate John Cooper and managed to shut the fuck up. Mike managed to turn the night back around by berating her. "This was my chance to become a star and you've fucked it up!". Mike did a superb job in some rather trying circumstances and managed to squeeze in some fine comedy either side of his stint as Nikki's carer and was rewarded with an encore.
All in all a sound night of comedy, arguably the most consistantly good night from top to bottom at XS this year. Everyone acquitted themselves favourably and who knows what might come of their performances tonight. Gag Reflex - tonight XS Malarkey, tomorrow the world. Thanks to Toby for turning his club over to the motley crew and every last one of us can't wait to come back.