London takes the Comedy Nairn stage by storm
The first of the bunch up from London to take to the stage in the Community and Arts Centre on Saturday night was the MC for the night, Yianni Agisilaou, a comic from Australia who prides himself on not having picked up a London accent. He can use one when he wants though and he possesses impressive range of other accents (almost a prerequisite for a successful comedian). Accents provided him with a rich seam of jokes; the pal he had who came back to Oz with an American accent after just a few weeks in the states for example. He made light too of the difference between the New Zealand and the Australian accent, subtleties that may be lost on a few people but as different as the Scots and Irish accents apparently to the trained and knowledgeable ear. He took the piss out of the Greek economy and their begging bowl act at the EU with the help of his own Oz/Greek background.
That got Yianni into talking about family and careers, he told the Comedy@Nairn regulars and newbie's that he had been training to be lawyer but became a comedian (looking increasingly like a bad move according to Yiannia). His family had wanted him to be a priest and that involved telling stories that may, or may not, be true to gatherings of people. Yianni thought the roles were very much the same and on the back of that he launched into a flurry of mild irreverence. It didn't take him long to notice people looking at the familiar figure of the Rev Steve sitting on the left of the hall. Steven, a natural himself in a different way, commanded his usual cheery gravitas and made a few gestures in return to Yiannia's stream of Saturday night consciousness. Yianni offered Rev Steve the microphone but he declined, no doubt he could have made a stylish participation but it was his night off after all. It was good craic and cranked up the entertainment value a notch or two.
Yiannia went on to be phased by the diverse occupations to be harvested from the floor: naval architect, fighter pilot (spitfires), diary worker. Sometimes folk in the audience lie and a comedy cul de sac rears its ugly head for a comedian but no shortage of other routes for a talent like Yianni when that blatantly happens Once a competent comedian has your job out of you then hang onto your seat. There was a guy with a surname that was just as hard to pronounce as Yiannia's. He suggested they started up a business, it would have to be a big office though, simply to get the names on the sign above the window. Yainni's website claims: "Yianni is a headliner all around the world with a mind as sharp as a ginsu blade. His ability to deliver smart but accessible laugh packed material and also to improvise skilfully with whatever a room throws at him combine to create a truly unique experience." There couldn't have been many there on Saturday night that came away willing to disagree with that. Another sparkling talent to grace the Wildnight Comedy stage in Nairn.
Yianni introduced Ava Vidal, an ex-prison officer with impeccable London credentials. She used family and race a fair bit, telling us of conversations with her Jewish husband about the sufferings of both black and jewish peoples in the past. A tricky one for comic purposes perhaps but Ava pulled that off and using family too. I wonder if her kids like being exploited for humour so much that it is an integral part of their mum's career? Maybe they love it and even help by dreaming up more scenarios that can be transformed into entertainment – the more outrageous, the more pocket money earned? She talked about her time as a prison officer. She wasn't nasty to the inmates like some and allowed them to practise their religion as much as possible – for instance, by letting a Jehovah's Witness go round knocking on all the cell doors – hard for the occupants to pretend they were not in apparently. This observer had expected that to expand with more anecdotes about prison life, it didn't happen but she had no shortage of gags to keep the wildnighters laughing. Her London persona translated well into the Nairn surroundings too. Ava, that was good craic, hope you come back again, will you be bringing the kids next time?
And so it was big Bob Mills to round off the night. The sliding scale of authentic London credentials went off the register with this Comedy maestro. We'd had really good entertainment so far and now we really got lift off from Bob. He didn't worry about intruding into referendum territory too. To him it was simply a bit like the neighbours having a row and sorting it out for themselves – he made the allusion of sometimes putting the glass to the wall to find out what is going on but not getting involved. He took the piss out of the politicians involved though, much to everyone's joy. The experience of beautiful Nairn beach had given his non-involvement strategy a wee wobble though, he admitted wondering if, in return for Independence, it could be swapped for Billericay shopping centre. Such were Bob's musings and he did a pretty good central belt accent too. He admitted being a bit of a big bloke and said he would do anything to get rid of some weight, apart from exercise and not eating food. Bob used his weight for further self-depreciation purposes with a tale of being mistaken for a stranded whale by Greenpeace activists on a Mauritius beach. His tales of all the sorts of audiences he has to perform for was another rich mine of laughs, university audiences, stag and hen nights, once in someone's house, and of course receptive audiences like Nairn where it can't really go wrong – the presence of so many couples apparently lets comedians know they are there for a good night. The skilful visiting humourist piled on the laughs and too quickly time marched on and the end of the night's entertainment neared as Bob made his farewell gag but it was not quite all over yet.
Yianni got a laugh or two more out of the finishing moments: "I guess this is where we all go back to our normal lives," was one of Yianni's final comments. The show was over but it wasn't quite straight back to normality, it was still Saturday night after all. All were still elevated and in the cheerful place where the funny folk can get you to when they do their business well. Another great bunch of comedians grace the floor at the Community and Arts Centre – Nairn's comedy profile rises another notch.
Laughing out loud at Comedy@Nairn
Many Nairn residents are not strangers to the Community Centre as an entertainment venue, the versatility of the building and the efficient, welcoming staff are the foundation of many a great night out. This reputation was further enhanced when the Centre hosted the second Comedy@Nairn session on Saturday night. Inside, the ascending rows of chairs had been assembled facing the single microphone on the stage. There was a semi circle of three rows of individual seats closer to that stage too - as events were to prove seats for the more daring or uninitiated. Occupants in these seats would be probed for material by the comedians that Comedy@Nairn organiser Michael Green had obtained for the second of what he hopes will be a long run of shows. A series that could, perhaps, eventually lead to Nairn having its very own comedy festival.
There were a mix of local and visiting faces in the audience, this became evident when the first of the acts and compère for the night, Billy Kirkwood, came on for the warm up session and explored where people were from and what they did for a living. The long haired young man with his bare, heavily tattooed arms engaged the audience with his animated west Central Belt persona. Swear words were de rigueur but nobody seemed offended by that or the heavy use of sexual innuendo. It was 8.45 p.m, not quite the watershed, but most folk had probably had a few drinks already and they were ready and willing to be entertained with more than a sprinkling of profanity. Nairn's perceived bourgeois existence came in for some exploration as well. Mr Kirkwood obviously is unaware that we have food banks here and, pro rata, probably as many people in tough circumstances as some of the bigger towns and cities in Scotland. But it was comedy; a stereotype taking the piss out of perceived stereotypes? Come as yourself, or come as a stereotype, it was optional but it was all good fun. He did well and earned a good ration of applause.
Joe Heenan hails from Perth and he was next up. He seamlessly kept the smile on everyone's faces including a few hints about his cosmopolitan career to date which has included a gig in Oxford – yes, you can imagine the culture clash that was mined for material to fatten up his stint on stage in a place not quite as posh as Oxford, but perhaps a bit posher than his normal venues. Again a polished entertainer, flawlessly inserting his assessments of members of the audience into an instantly available reservoir of other material he drew upon for the performance. If there was to be any criticism of the show it would be perhaps here, I spoke to others afterwards that thought that maybe Joe was more at home with the more explicit material than the lighter stuff but that is not to say that it was in any way a poor performance – it's all relative. This observer would give a silver star to Joe, gold for both Billy Kirkwood and the third man up, Raymond Mearns. Raymond maybe edged it too ahead of Billy, if I had to put a 1, 2, 3 order of preference on it. It might have been that he had done a bit more research or was just a little more daring: his impressions of the hospitality provided before the show by Michael Green for example; The Nairn (sic) Telegraph, a scathing ridicule of Findhorn and a continuing plethora of targets for his comic ire. There was more sexual stuff too, plenty of that from all three really but "we are all adults aren't we?" Yes, we were and it is after all, no worse or any less obscene than the material that can often be heard in many thousands of workplaces on a regular basis. It's just that in our daily lives comedy only intrudes for brief intervals at tea breaks, or for the posher folk, water cooler moments. At Comedy@Nairn you have an onslaught of comedy, the full Saturday night blitz from a central belt troupe of jokesmiths. Nairn isn't really as posh as you think it is guys but I suspect you really know that anyway :-)
Too quickly, a couple of hours had passed and a steady stream of the 200 or so cheerful people were making their way down the steps in front of the community centre to continue their night out with some of the special offers that Comedy@Nairn had arranged with local businesses. It all looked and felt good as they contentedly streamed away to continue their Saturday night.
Tips for anyone going to similar events in the future? Well, if you are a dentist and must sit in the front row (two members of that profession chose to do so) just lie and say you're something else rather than provide the comic masterminds with enough material to reverse the roles and have you at their mercy in the chair. On the job front too, perhaps think twice when asked, about describing your workplace as an "incubation and innovation centre". No, don't worry; these guys were fairly gentle really. Good craic, good night, good Comedy@Nairn.