Cambridge Comedy Festival: Opening Gala

Some of the country’s top comics descend on Cambridge this week for the Cambridge Comedy Festival, running 15-20 July, where they’ll be giving us a sneak preview of their new shows before heading up to the Edinburgh Festival in August.

The festival opened on Friday 11 July with a gala show at Cambridge Corn Exchange, hosted by cheeky Geordie compare Dave Johns, who broke the ice with the obligatory ‘posh Cambridge’ jokes and front row banter.

First on the bill, and no stranger to the quirks of Cambridge, was ex-Footlighter and rising comedy star Phil Wang. His laid-back, almost awkward style of delivery gave all the more impact to his unexpectedly saucy stories about dating and tongue-in-cheek, deadpan observations on how the Chinese are depicted in films (either impossibly wise or offensively stupid).

We were treated to an account of how his family celebrated Chinese New Year (‘or ‘New Year’, as we call it’), and what it means to be masculine in the 21st century. A talent to watch, Wang is one of the most naturally funny comedians you’re likely to come across this summer.

Next up came Gary Deleany, whose one-liners kept the laughter levels at ceiling height, and whose inspired finale involved reading aloud spoof letters he’d sent to the problem pages at The Sun.

Proving that stand up isn’t just for boys by giving her co-comics a run for their money was Manchester gal Hayley Ellis, who’s about to take her debut show, We Need To Talk About Kevin (that’s her dog, by the way), to Edinburgh. Matey and massively likeable, she tells a good pole dancing story…

Headliner for the night, and fresh (ish) from gigging in Ibiza, was the ever high-spirited Russell Kane, ready with some rapid-fire reflections on Britishness and life in general.

Somewhat of an Essex upstart, Kane’s routines rarely avoid a mention of his working class dad, who’s clearly baffled as to how he fathered this spindle-legged, philosophizing, metrosexual munchkin. A born performer, he leaps around the stage delivering his display of verbal gymnastics and impressions, returning to jokes and themes and building them up into comedy crescendos of orchestral proportions.

Though his routines rely heavily on sweeping generalisations, there’s some truth in all the silliness. And while he subjects 13 year-old Jack, helplessly conspicuous in the front row, to the same merciless embarrassment as the other comics, his message about appreciating the here and now, and not expecting real sex to be anything like how it looks (and sounds) in American porn, is strangely sensible.

Tonight, 15 July, take your seats at Cambridge Junction for Eric Lampbert (7.30pm, J3), Steve Frost Improv All Stars (7.30pm, J2), Andrew Maxwell (9pm, J2) and Liam Williams (9pm, J3). Other names not to miss include Richard Herring, Simon Amstell and Seann Walsh.