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The Banana Cabaret and Meat Market, Sat 9 Jan.

I loves me a bit of live comedy, and we’ve been looking for a reason to leave the house in the current weather, so the housemates and I decamped en masse to The Bedford in Balham for the Banana Cabaret last Saturday.

The venue is really something, a huge pub taking up a decent proportion of a block with seemingly endless rooms, corridors and smiling bar staff at every dead end. Their staircase is tiled-to-bursting with portraits of the comedians past who’ve performed there, and the room itself is a nifty shape with a balcony where I inadvertantly had reserved us a table. Also, they do a serviceable buffet for £6 – get in.

On the bill were Phil Butler, Sean Meo, some new lad who did five minutes (from Cambridge, had one good joke about a mugger being so nice they friended each other on facebook), Michael Smiley and Sarah Millican.

Phil Butler was so incredibly awful for most of his set, we couldn’t look at him. Sexist and boorish, he chased laughs that were never going to come, failed to do a trick with a cigarette, did a Bill Hicks joke (‘hands up smokers,’ ‘hands up non-smokers,’ etc etc) and spent quite a long time describing an innocent woman’s nethers, to the embarrassment of all present (specifically her, one assumes, though I couldn’t see her, and she may have been flapping her legs open and closed and winking at him, who knows). Apparently he cut his teeth in panto and end-of-pier shows. His style was absolutely not right for the room, and made me somewhat uncomfortable.

Still, the last five minutes went like this:

Hurr. He redeemed himself with sweary toys. Hooray!

Then came Sean Meo. Very much in the Norman Lovett vein, sardonic and seasoned with a great feel for the room. Great bit about the best place to break up with a girlfriend (bouncy castle). We all breathed a sigh of relief when he started talking; he got people visibly relaxed. Clearly a pro.

Michael Smiley is inescapably Tyres from Spaced (‘You lucky people!’). His material was sweet, rapid and anecdotal, peppered with impressions of his family and stories about his eldest son marrying a muslim girl (the Irish side of the wedding party were apparently chewing the furniture at the teetotal wedding reception). He has a son older than me. I cannot fathom that fact.

Sarah Millican was brilliant, doing right back at the men the same thing they’d been doing to the women all night – someone will realise she’s actually sexist one day, but for now the joke is with the ladies in the room – with an indulgent smile and raised brow. I empathise with her, she understands me, and I laugh my tits off. All in all, a seriously funny woman.

Sadly, it all went to cock directly, as the lovely comedy crowd got up and put their coats on, where we had planned to stay for the dancing.

The dancing. Oh, mercy.

Not all of it was bad. Upstairs they were laying out 1950s rock and roll, playing tune after tune after tune to a room of people doing a fair jitterbug/twist mix (they have Swing dance classes on weeknights).

The main room was supposed to be dancefloor classics, or something equally vague. Not only had the DJ possibly left his good CDs at home and been stuck with Now That’s What I Call Shite 1993 and On a Dance Tip 1998, he couldn’t beatmatch, using gaps between each song to give happy birthday shout-outs to seemingly everyone in the building but us. He played It’s My Life by Bon Jovi twice, and then hammered it home with Livin’ on a Prayer. He occasionally stopped staring at his own toes long enough to play three or four songs in a row that didn’t make me want to weep from the release of repressed first year memories, but only very occasionally, and I found myself constantly ready to leave.

The rest of the clientele were swapping fluids and experimenting with extending the trade to clothing, in the middle of the dancefloor. And around the edges. And on the stairs. We were the youngest people there. It felt like being in a meat market, surrounded by swinging pigs.

In summation, go for the comedy, leave before the sex show.


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