Review: Lowell’s Charity Comedy Night Raises Laughter and Funds

The comedy night Laugh in The Face of Cancer at City Varieties on Wednesday 13 March raised funds amounting to an impressive £11,700, bringing the total so far to over £45,000.

I have had a couple of mixed experiences at comedy gigs at City Varieties recently.  It is not the venue, far from it (I love the place) and it is not the artists, who have been as funny as you would expect.

No, it was the members of the audience who have spoiled things by either heckling, with what they thought were funny remarks but which no one else in the auditorium did, or by carrying on private conversations whilst the comedians were on stage.  Both instances, as you would expect, were handled very well by the professionals but still marred the evening for the rest of us.

Laugh In The Face of Cancer 5 could not have been more different, with the audience being impeccably behaved, except for one woman who was castigated for checking her Facebook page whilst the show was on, and also becoming part of the show. There was one poor chap called Stephan who seemed to be singled out by all of the performers and ribbed relentlessly.  That would normally have been a bit cringeworthy but he was an employee of Lowell, who were the sponsors of the show and one of a large contingent from the firm, so he had plenty of moral support. He was also a great sport.

As mentioned, the evening was organised by staff from the Leeds-based company, Lowell, to raise funds for Leeds Cancer Centre through the charity Leeds Cares, and it is now in its fifth incarnation. As well as their staff raising the funds, the company matches the proceeds raised on the night. Not only is this a supremely generous act by all concerned, but it inadvertently provided one of the funniest parts of the evening.

All photographs by Stan Graham

The MC was Matt Reed, who has performed this role on previous occasions and his modus operandi was to have some banter with the audience. He picked on one woman in the stalls and asked where she worked,

‘Lowell,’ she replied.

‘What do they do?’

‘Debt collection.’

He went on about her extorting money from poor, vulnerable people and taking their firstborn in lieu of payment. He then picked on the hapless Stephan and asked where he worked.  When he said ‘Lowell’, the whole place burst into laughter, which was cranked up a notch each time he asked the question to different people and had the same answer.  That was not the biggest laugh which resulted though, as during one of the intervals, someone must have told him about the donations made by the company and he had to come back and try to wriggle out of his previous comments, which he did by saying that they ought to be ashamed of themselves giving all that money to help cure children with cancer.  Have they no heart?

Just for the record, Lowell is a company which buys debts from large concerns for whom chasing them is not economically viable, and then they try to come to some arrangement by which the debtor can pay off the amount without getting into deeper financial trouble. The acceptable face of recovery.

On to lighter matters. The first act was Lucy Beaumont, originally from Hull but now resident in Mytholmroyd. I have not been stalking her; she uses this as part of her act which pokes fun at the two places with which she is associated.  I am surprised that she could draw any material from the West Yorkshire town but the grand opening of the new Co-op kept her going for some time.  For me, it was refreshing to hear a comedienne who does not go for easy laughs by man bashing. You would never hear a man taking cheap shots at his mother-in-law, would you?

The second comedian was Jarred Christmas from New Zealand, who was hilarious. He went on about how we Brits have organised the English language so that we can laugh at foreigners such as himself, wondering whether he needed to take his own novel when invited to the Reading Festival.  Recalling his days in the Scouts when he had his mate tie the knots which earned him his badge was magic. Because of his perceived new found skill, the Troup Leader told him to tie the logs of a raft together so that they could paddle down the river. Sadly, he was the only survivor of the tragedy, as he knew better than to get on it. He has a bit of form, having appeared on Mock The Week, Never Mind The Buzzcocks and various other popular shows which I never watch.

After the first interval, there was a change of pace with the introduction of Micky P Kerr (feature photo) the Leeds comedian who reached the final of Britain’s Got Talent – apparently. His short, comedic songs were brilliant, as was his routine about life with a three-year-old girl in the house.  I thought that his rendition of the theme from Fresh Prince of Bel Air (or should that be Bel Aire?) in the style of early Bob Dylan was superb.  He certainly has got talent. I could not help thinking though that I had been transported back to the late Sixties and was reliving a Cat Stevens gig at Leeds University, as the physical resemblance, if not that of the songs, was uncanny.

Finally, we really were transported back to the Sixties and Seventies by Stephen Cookson, who had made the treacherous journey across the Pennines in a howling gale to give us a series of old-style short jokes reminiscent of the working men’s club performers of yesteryear. His delivery was laid back and laconic, almost to the point of despair. Some of his jokes were older than the City Varieties itself, but others hit the spot.  I particularly liked his response to another parent waiting outside the school gates when asked what year his daughter was in.  ‘2019’ he replied, rolling his eyes in contempt.

The proceedings were brought to an end by the drawing of the raffle, which I didn’t win, but who wants an iPad, £150 quids worth of shopping vouchers or a bottle of rather good Champagne anyway?  It’s knowing that you contributed to a great cause that counts. Yeah, right!

All photographs by Stan Graham.

Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living.  He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds.  He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.

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