Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Swear-free comedy fun - James Campbell review

James Campbell: What I didn't mention in my review is that he is really quite attractive. Although, to be fair, this photo is five years old

James Campbell: Comedy 4 Kids, at The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, on Saturday, July 24

AS we sat down for James Campbell’s Saturday morning children’s show at The Watermill, George asked: “so is this like the comedy you see, but with no swears?” An hour later, I could answer: “yes”. For Campbell’s plan is to introduce children to the art of stand-up comedy, with the swearing taken out, but the funny bits left in. As it happens, the bits he leaves in are very funny indeed.

Campbell’s trick is not to tailor his material too blatantly towards children: as he points out on his website, “most comedians are perfectly suitable for children, and a lot more would be if they would only stop saying rude words”. Of course there were lots of mentions of school, and the introductory joke about hiding from a giraffe was designed to make even the youngest present giggle (the show was recommended for ages six and above). There was also the odd reference clearly aimed at the parents in the audience, such as cappucino being “the gateway drug to coffee”.

But Campbell’s comedy was sophisticated, from the way he intertwined and returned to various tales, including an apparently spontaneous one about a badly-scheduled performance in Australia, inspired by the early hour of his Watermill show, to the detail in his material, such as a five-year-olds description of his recreation of Picasso’s Guernica in dried pasta. He also looked at Star Wars’ failure to address environmental issues: “there’s not much point in trying to save the planet when you’re blowing up other planets”, considered the logistics of travelling ot school by catapult, and wondered why there are no tractor-themed computer games.

“Something can be funny because it’s silly,” explained Campbell, “or it may be funny because it’s true. This song is funny because it’s wrong,” he added, before launching into an acapella performance of  a “love song” with a dark, dark punchline; a precursor to his forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe show, which will see him performing with a live band.

“There were swears, Mum”, George pointed out to me after the show. “He said ‘idiot’ and ‘fart’”. Parents who don’t mind submitting delicate ears to such language may be interested to know that Campbell will be bringing his Edinburgh show, Comedy and Songs for Kids, to The Anvil, Basingstoke on September 26, and South Street, Reading on October 9. He also visits schools, and would like headteachers to be aware that he is “cheaper than you think”.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 29

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