Socially distant live comedy is a tough gig: the appeal of seeing performers is feeling like you’re in the same room as them.
Sitting on wet plastic chairs in front of Greenwich’s Royal Observatory felt as if we were bracing ourselves for a doomed holiday picnic.
That was not to fault any of the talent on display. From the top of Ed Gamble’s enthusiastic MCing, it was clear that these performers are raring to get going however they can while indoor performances are impossible.
Gamble gave the crowd a gentle and comforting start (so edgy that he was “once retweeted by the CBeebies Twitter account”, he boasted) while bemoaning appearances at drive-in gigs. The crowd responded warmly, but laughter quickly disappeared up into an empty sky.
The American comedian Desiree Burch rooted a tight 15 minutes in her lockdown experience, before recounting her disastrous romance of a year ago which she likened to “driving through the hazard signs while shouting ‘Whee! I hope there’s a cliff ahead’”.
Former Peep Show regular Isy Suttie followed up by reflecting on when the best time of life for lockdown might have been. Better now, even with two young children, than a decade ago when she was trapped with the weird flatmates of her past.
Two songs – one for a baby that won’t sleep, another a serenade in Welsh to partner Ellis James – were warmly funny, but she seemed a little uncomfortable at such a distance from her audience.
Only headliner Dylan Moran seemed completely at ease in the strange surroundings – but then his meandering, surrealist style was a perfect fit for current times. He has spent his time in lockdown considering what sort of advice he can pass on to his young adult children, despite his seeming lack of relevance: “I am viewed as essential but intolerable, a Portaloo,” he revealed.
Though his usual philosophical self, Moran was less scathing than usual, driven to moments of quiet reflection rather than spitting anger. The surreal outbursts were still there, though: the comic clung to the “eternally good things” like dancing to Prince and the prospect of eating Donald Trump with a sharpened spoon “face first”.
‘It was clear that stand-up does not quite work out of doors – yet’
Moran’s finest moment may have been well-trodden comedy ground – the relative merits of cats and dogs – but his comparison of the former to the dearly departed Alan Rickman, and accompanying impression, was the highlight of the night.
Moran stumbled to the end by bringing out a wodge of notes, dismissing the joke as a “terrible way to end”, before bringing his set to a close anyway. It was clear that stand-up does not quite work out of doors – yet.