12th November 2019
Matt Alford, closing time at the Bell
After our regular workshop session on a Thursday evening we go for a drink at the Bell in Walcot. I then usually get a lift to the Station for 10pm and inevitably miss out on whatever happens next; Not tonight though, at almost eleven o’clock myself and fellow tutor Pat Welsh join about ten others from our showcase gig and we take our pints through the Bell’s main bar and out the back, where I am reminded of a decidedly difficult open mic slot in the Bell’s out house; let’s be honest its a comedian’s graveyard where would-be stand-ups struggle to do five minute sets between raucous singer songwriters and noisy little rock ensembles. The audience just want the musos back on and hardly give the comics a chance… up until this night that is…
It’s a small room and there’s no more than 40 present; with only a dozen seated. Matt is one of our mature students who didn’t get to go on at Burdall’s yard earlier, and is now suffering comedy withdrawal symptoms - he’s clearly had a word with the gatekeeper. On stage the MC calls out his name and he is there immediately - a scruffy six-foot, bearded hipster type whose regular appearances at any local venue with a mic and a spotlight, some might interpret as borderline masochism. Over the last few months I have noted that he’s ‘dogged, wild and intelligent, has moments of anger and flair in equal parts and probably doesn’t know when he’s beaten.’ I've also seen a draft of the script and it’s ambitious to say the least.
So, I have mixed expectations as he grabs the mic purposefully and announces his agenda - “Politics and the forthcoming General Election” - it’s not welcomed by the audience and they are restless through the set-up of his first gag “My mother used to vote Conservative…” he says. There’s a heckle and some chatter. He goes very silent for a few seconds and makes a decision to take them on. What follows is shouty, emphatic and accusative - It hasn’t got much to do with stand-up comedy. It’s more Dennis Skinner than Bill Hicks.- a heartfelt plea for his right to state his case and for them to have the decency to listen to it. Two couples leave hurriedly, but others in the room move forward towards the stage. At one point he is shouting and distorting the microphone. Pat looks at me and winces ‘We’ve taught them not to do that.’ But now Matt is silent again and everyone is listening. Then he does something that, if I hadn’t taught him to do it, then I should have done. - With perfect timing, and repeating the same tone of voice, he picks up precisely where he left of off - “My mother used to vote Conservative.” He reminds us. And there’s laughter at the recognition. Of course there is. It’s comedy again. Over 2 minutes ago that line was a set-up and now it’s a punchline. Then he supplies his original punch line that references George Orwell and owner-occupation and that gets a laugh too. So does his impersonation of Rees-Mogg’s Grenfell tower apology; and his blistering diatribe against Boris Johnson with an ironic punch line seemingly against Jeremy Corbyn - that gets a laugh too. As does his brief explanation of irony to a drunken heckler too slow to start thinking so late in the day. Still angry but now more Bill Hicks than Dennis Skinner, his final riff on ‘the acceptable level of knife crime’ starts a stream of laughter across the room that gets some people standing and applauding. That’s the way to do it - a 6 minute set of intelligent topical jokes to a difficult audience who are now shouting for more.
He leaves the stage forgetting his closing line…
“I was going to tell you a joke about universal credit under the Tories, but it would have taken you six months to get it!"
Tony Allen Nov19