Bruce Dessau reviews Scene and Heard Charity gig
Stephen Merchant - Scene and Heard
Artist with that little extra
By Bruce Dessau, Evening Standard 05.02.08
Back to basics: Stephen Merchant is discreetly doing stand-up shows just 'to keep his hand in'
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If there was a theme to last night's benefit for children's charity Scene And Heard, it was cheese.
Compere Richard Herring tried to charm a female fan with some Brie, light entertainment uber-parody Lenny Beige trumped him with Cheddar. Meanwhile, the packed house was waiting for the grand fromage of sitcom, Stephen Merchant.
Merchant tried stand-up before The Office and has recently been discreetly doing low-key gigs again, merely for fun. He insists he does not want to emulate the lucrative live Gervais juggernaut, he just wants to "keep his hand in".
This deceptively subtle set, however, confirmed that Merchant certainly has funny bones of his own.
As he stooped hesitantly onto the stage, all gangly arms and goggly eyes, the laughs started immediately. When he did speak in his soft West Country accent, they flowed thick and fast.
Like Gervais, Merchant also mines his phenomenal success for giggles. Few comedians can get an ovation by pulling a Bafta from their bag.
But where Gervais plays the arrogance card, Merchant pitches things more innocently, explaining that if you want to impress women, you cannot really take your award "down the disco".
His sharpest routine, however, was pure physical comedy, tackling the problem of removing one's glasses during a "boudoir situation". The mime of fumbling foreplay while squinting was as funny as anything in the Extras Christmas Special.
Apart from this treat, the evening never quite took off, with frequent intervals hampering momentum. Newcomer Holly Walsh showed some promise, Justin Edwards won over an audience initially wary of his guitar, while Mark Allen's history lesson produced polite chuckles.
Ubiquitous sketch combo Pappy's Fun Club closed, doing well to keep the crowd's attention. It was typical of Merchant that he chose to support rather than headline.
He has the endearing air of a thoroughly modest man who, like top quality Stinking Bishop, needs to mature in the dark rather than in the limelight.