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November 27, 2010

Lee Mack: comedy whirlwind.

The role of the opening support act at a comedy gig is an interesting one. It’s commonly referred to as the “bullet-taking” spot – the act’s job is to warm the audience up and get them in the mood for full belly-laughs when the main act appears. Often they struggle to get massive laughs themselves – audience members have only just arrived, they’ve maybe battled traffic to get there on time, and they’re still ‘wary’ (for want of a better word) of the strangers they’re sat around.

Sometimes the support act can prove a surprise hit – I remember when I went to see Ricky Gervais last year, he was embarrassingly out-performed by his support act, Stewart Francis. Admittedly, that said as much about Gervais’s performance (average) as it did about Francis’, but much of the talk as we left was centred around how we’d have preferred a couple of hours of Francis and decidedly less of Gervais. The main act had suffered for his support act’s quality.

There was no such risk on Thursday, when I went to see Lee Mack at the BIC in Bournemouth. The performance of Steve Hall, Mack’s support act, was decidedly average. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he was frequently unfunny, in what was a tired, laboured, frankly dull 25-minute set. You know a comedian’s struggling when he has to start explaining his jokes and re-emphasising points that didn’t get laughs the first time round. At one point, when he was getting a minimal and muted response from the audience, he resorted to the lowest common denominator of stand-up comedy – ‘favourite swear words’. He asked the audience, on the count of three, to shout out their favourite profanity. The irony of the response – in which a few neanderthals shouted “C***!!” at the top of their voices – was that it wasn’t certain whether that was actually their favourite swear word, or if they were just saying what they thought of him.

By the time he’d slunk off stage, the audience was crying out for some material that they could actually laugh at. Lee Mack didn’t disappoint. From the minute he burst onto the stage, summoned a lad up from the audience, got him to get in a big box as if to be involved in a magic trick of some sort, and then just had him wheeled into the wings, before explaining he hadn’t liked the look of him, he had the audience in raptures.

The bloke’s a comedy whirlwind and seriously versatile.┬áHis observational comedy is arguably as good as Michael McIntyre’s, his deadpan one-liners rival Jimmy Carr’s, his physical comedy is Lee Evans-esque and some of his insult comedy isn’t dissimilar to Frankie Boyle’s (if, perhaps, less incessant). Add to that an incredible stage presence (second only to McIntyre’s) and flawless improvised interaction with the audience, and you’ve got yourself an incredibly talented all-round performer. Anyone who’s ever watched him in ‘Not Going Out’ or ‘Would I Lie to you?’ will know that panel-show and sitcom comedy are also in his repertoire.

It was his interaction with the audience that added brilliance to the performance. His ability to make belly-achingly good gags with the most mundane of material – the tax-man he’d put in the box, the Geordie who’d moved down south to ‘sell paint’, the student who was studying ‘maths’ and refused to expand on any other details of his life, the woman with four oddly-named children – was actually comedic genius in action. That he was then able to tie this new material into later pre-prepared jokes was just hilariously clever.

I’ve been to quite a lot of comedy gigs, but this was the funniest I’ve ever seen – funnier, even, than Michael McIntyre, whose tour was one of the most successful of all time. If you get the chance to see him live, do it. If not, make sure his DVD’s on your Christmas list.

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