Jay Handley: Free Comic

Sat 2nd – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Bridey Addison-Child

at 04:31 on 9th Aug 2014

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Reviewing stand-up comedy is always difficult. There is something incredibly personal (if egocentric) about someone standing in front of an audience and setting out as themselves, not behind the thick façade of a character, to make you laugh. As such, it’s a very specific kind of entertainment gaffe that results in that particularly excruciating silence following an especially badly judged joke.

There were no excruciating silences in Jay Handley’s set, but then, there was no hysterical laughter either. Instead, watching Handley’s set was like having a chat with a particularly funny friend, the kind of guy who, when you’re in the process of inviting people to a house party, elicits the phrase: ‘Oh invite Jay – he’s hilarious’.

This dynamic worked for Handley at times - some of his best sections were those in which he interacted with the crowd. This also showed clear and witty spontaneous talent on his part - a particular highlight was his high five with a whisky-fuelled audience member over their mutual love of cheesecake. This combined well with the ambitious range of his material. There was a heavy dose of self-deprecation to start off with, which although involved the classic: ‘I’m single and here are all the amusing reasons why’ line, was nevertheless entertaining.

This was followed by some clever political satire, mixed in with well-observed pieces about technology in the modern world, and our tendency to Facebook stalk the hell out of our prospective dates. In addition, all of this was structured well – there was nothing clunky or unnatural about Handley’s transitions from one topic to the next.

As such, good jokes and lighthearted humour kept things ticking along for the hour, but then they did only tick. I felt as if Handley never quite squeezed the full potential out of his comedy, so that just as he was beginning to build up momentum in the support and laughter of the crowd in a particular sketch, he dropped the material (sometimes with an apologetic murmur) and moved onto something fresh.

Rather than generating pace, this meant that Handley missed a trick by abandoning jokes that still had life left in them; sometimes things become funnier just because they are repeated in a clever way. In this sense, I feel that Handley is certainly an up-and-coming talent – the hour I spent sipping a pint and chuckling was by no means a waste - but his set could use a little fine tuning to fully wring every drop of comedy out of his material: only then will he make the transition from ‘hilarious friend’ to ‘professionally funny man’.

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Tom Gellatly

at 05:52 on 9th Aug 2014

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Over the course of his hour-long set, Jay Handley covers some serious ground. Starting off with the frequent comparisons with Jesus he gets due to his long hair and Messiah-esque beard, Handley moves onto such recondite topics as fisting, the immaculate conception and Scouse Buddhists on ecstasy as he deftly segue ways into each new topic he wants to cover.

Whilst there is good variety in Handley's show, however, it sometimes feels like a case of spreading himself too thin. He has a plethora of good starting jokes peppered throughout the production, but - other than a few exceptions - they don't often get off of the ground like the funniest comedians' bits do, with Handley doing what becomes a trademark little murmur before moving on if a segment doesn't quite grab the crowd.

There are some isolated moments here that can go toe to toe with some of the funniest stand up skits I've seen, in particular his impression of the aforementioned Scouse Buddhists' inebriated epiphanies, accompanied amusingly by Handley's soft, Pink Floyd-esque plunkings on a keyboard. This is also one of his longest jokes, which is perhaps why it is so successful by its end.

As far as audience participation goes, Handley is excellent, and in the performance we saw he was fortunate enough to pick on an audience member who declared that 'golden showers' were her favourite firework, enabling Handley to deftly play on and mock her obvious invitation for a joke at her expense. Another volunteer who spoke up was hilariously shot down in his attempts to one-up Handley by calling him a hippy, as the admittedly bohemian-looking comedian acknowledged the slight but made more fun of the heckler in return.

By the end of his set, I was left with a firm sense of Handley being a likeable, very funny everyman, but I was not entirely convinced of his potential as a bona-fide professional comedian. There was the occasional genuine side-splitter, and he wryly acknowledged the crowd's excellent reaction to these, but the set was equally full of odd little one-liners that didn't quite work as Handley would have wanted. He rescued these moments every time with a comment on the joke's reception which often turned out to be funnier than the joke itself, but self-deprecation alone is not enough to make a comedian truly hilarious.

Overall, I would recommend Handley's set if you're in the mood for some chilled out, lighthearted comedy with some great audience interaction, but don't go into the evening expecting any unable-to-breathe-with-laughter kinds of moments, unless you really, really like cheesecake.

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