Monday, 29 July 2013

Christian O'Connell - Edinburgh show review

The Comedy Cottage is a peripatetic comedy night run by the redoubtable Sajeela Kershi, which seems to have found its home at The Harlequin Theatre in Redhill.

Cottage night is the last Friday of every month, and has a loyal band of comedy fans (known, inevitably, as Cottagers) who have doubled in number over the last couple of years.

I find it hard to get down there, because it's a 40 minute drive away, it finishes late and I have to get up at 4.20am to present the Saturday Breakfast show on BBC Surrey. But when I do get the chance, I love it.

When I heard Christian O'Connell was performing a preview of his Edinburgh show at the Comedy Cottage last Friday, I couldn't resist, especially as Brendon Burns (a previous IF.comedy winner) was topping the bill with his Edinburgh 2013 preview.

I like Christian a lot. I think he's very funny on the radio and you can hear how hard he is working to maintain the quality levels every day. I also like him personally - I've interviewed him a couple of times at the Sony Radio Awards, and found him very good value.

I was originally going to just go along on Friday for a bit of fun, but given I had a professional interest in what Christian is trying to do (and so probably wouldn't fully switch off), I offered to review it for a couple of outlets. 

Getting on stage and doing a routine in the first place is difficult enough, but making it good enough to take to the Festival is another matter entirely. Writing and finessing an performance to grace Edinburgh whilst doing a high profile national breakfast gig will, I should think, have tested Christian's reserves somewhat.

Afterwards I was chatting to Sajeela, and she said Christian's set was far better than many other established comedians' first hour-long shows. I enjoyed it a lot and it felt good to be there.

A more radio-industry skewed review will appear in the eRADIO Radio Today email later this week, but here is the one that went up on the Surrey Mirror/Dorking Advertiser website today:

"REVIEW: Radio DJ Christian O'Connell warms up for Edinburgh

Monday, July 29, 2013 Surrey Mirror
By Nick Wallis

What: Christian O'Connell - This is 13 (preview)
Where: Comedy Cottage, Harlequin Theatre, Redhill, July 26

Dorking's Christian O'Connell has built a name for himself over the past few years as one of the funniest and most committed radio presenters in the country. His breakfast show on Absolute Radio is an an honest, and often hilarious window into a world inhabited by men resolutely refusing to grow up, despite the increased responsibilities of age.

It is this world which Christian mines for his first Edinburgh Festival show, previewed on Friday 26 July at Sajeela Kershi's Comedy Cottage night at the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill.

The show hangs on the discovery of a list written by Christian when he was 13 year old, describing things he wanted to achieve before he was 40.

Examples include playing Bryan Robson at Subbuteo, dating Kelly Le Brock, "kicking Darth Vader in" and having a day off like Ferris Bueller. For men of a certain age, these references will press buttons. It also makes for a very good evening's entertainment.

Although on paper the two disciplines may look similar, making people laugh on the radio is very different from making a room full of paying customers laugh. For an hour. On your own.

Christian achieves this fluently. His strengths are his script and his confidence in his material. His description of hunting through bushes for hidden porn mags as a teenager ("in the 80s we didn't have Google - we had to forage") were a delight, and various meditations on swearing, radio, marriage and family responsibility felt properly honed. 

Be warned, Christian is dealing with grown up subject matter, and he was using the sort of language that would get him carted out of his radio studio before you could say "David Cameron", "p***ing" and "t***" (which the Prime Minister did on Christian's show in 2009, replayed to the audience's general astonishment during the set).

There were only a few moments when the pace flagged, but it was disappointing to find the tone didn't vary much - the woman sitting next to me went long periods without laughing, presumably because she'd never been a 13 year old boy, and therefore unlikely to share many of Christian's preoccupations.

But for someone like me, who was a 13 year old boy and who also turned 40 this year, the material rang far too true, far too often.

If you like what Christian does on the radio and you are going to Edinburgh, make sure you see this. There is no doubt a career as a very successful stand up awaits, if he wants it.

Monday, 1 July 2013

On the Mic - Surrey Life - June 2013

My last Surrey Life column for a while. Full archive below...

Everybody loves music. If you told someone you didn’t, they would think you were odd. The problem is with radio it attracts people who love music a bit too much.

I was brought up in the days when records were a scant resource. Pocket money would just about stretch to one single a week, and if you didn’t own it, you had to work hard to find it. 

For me, this meant switching on the radio and waiting forever to hear a favourite song, or kneeling next to the single speaker at the front of our tiny telly, recording Top of the Pops on the internal microphone of the mono cassette recorder I was given for my 8th birthday. 

The quality was bad enough at the best of times, but the audience whooping and clapping during Don't You Want Me by the Human League on the 1981 TotP Christmas Special rendered my recording completely unlistenable. Not that it still rankles or anything.

Youthful obsessions with Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran and The Cure gave way to a wider appreciation of pop made in the pre-punk era. 

By the mid-nineties I was working at my university’s student radio station. Britpop was in its heyday, promotional budgets were huge and student radio programmers gathered substantial crumbs. Once I would spend cumulative hours in record shops agonising over which album I would buy each month. Now I was being sent every record by every new band and getting into any gig I wanted for free.

When I sauntered through the doors of my first professional radio station, I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about music, and I thought it wouldn’t be long before I got the chance to share my enthusiasm with the station’s listeners.

It’s a perfectly natural impulse. People who work in radio want to play their favourite records on the radio. Listeners expect and understand this because, given the chance, they would do exactly the same. It’s the perennial appeal of Desert Island Discs.

Unfortunately (and this has been a slow learning curve for me), just because I have the privilege of working in radio, I don’t have the right to commandeer precious airtime to inflict my tedious musical enthusiasms on people. With good reason. 

Very few presenters choose any, let alone all of the songs they play, save a knowledgeable few with excellent taste and, often, very small audiences.

The music policy at BBC Surrey is based on selecting the very best and/or most popular songs in existence, sprinkled with a fair bit of new stuff. But you’ll hear as much Bowie, Beatles and Beach Boys as you will Adele, Paloma Faith and Stooshe. 

Whilst it’s extremely unlikely we’ll play anything to scare the horses (unless you are tuned to master horse-scarer Phil Jackson and his new music show on Saturday nights) that doesn’t mean bland, benign rubbish. 

Obviously I’d love to hear more Adam and the Ants. But would you?


May 2013 - on supermarkets
April 2013 - on The Invasion of the Coffee Shops
March 2013 - There was NO column in March 2013...
February 2013 - on turning 40
January 2013 - why January should be about headaches, mild depression and whisky
December 2012 - on doing more stand up comedy
November 2012 - on stopping doing weekday breakfast
October 2012 - on trying to engage brain and mouth on air
September 2012 - on my BBC microphone
August 2012 - on the Olympics
July 2012 - on being on holiday with three small children
June 2012 - on joining a gym
May 2012 - on making live radio
April 2012 - on being ill