Dylan Moran opens ‘Just The Tonic’ Comedy Club in Nottingham 31/08/10

The crowd sit, several feet underground in the vaults of Nottingham’s cornerhouse. What was once Jumpin’ Jacks turned into a nightlcub called E.Q. Now it is a comedy club… well, sort of. You’d have difficulty finding it, as there’s no evidence outside that E.Q. has been closed for a while now. The audience edged steadily down some stairs, with alcohol advertisements all down the walls.

The reason? Johnny Vegas was meant to open Just The Tonic about a month from now, but Irish comedian Dylan Moran has decided to rain on the parade. So, the audience sits. Little metal chairs with the built-in cushions, arching around a small stage that reminds me of the assemblies we used to have at secondary school. Ever-punctual (I didn’t think I’d be able to find the place), I’m sat one row from the front. After an hour, bang on time, Dylan Moran stumbles onto the stage in his classic attire, as if pretending to be slightly drunk.

“Hello, how are we all?”

The crowd cheers.

“Good. So. New material. NEW JOKES!”

The crowd cheers louder.

“Great, that means I probably wont remember half of them, and the ones I do remember wont be funny.”

The crowd cheers even louder, albeit unsteadily. Dylan Moran stops, eyeing up the audience. There is a pause, and a nervous giggle echoes around the room.

“One will come along… ANY minute now.”

More laughter. Dylan Moran shakes his head jokingly.

“No… but seriously. Squirrels…”

Thus begins the strange comedian’s new stand-up routine. He starts off with some words about global warming, and then quickly makes the transition to politics, poking fun at the conservatives. He stops briefly to slag off some of the competition.

“Comedians like Russel Howard – all young, with their helmet-like haircuts. Who do they think they are? ‘Urr, you know when you put trousers on… urr, you’re in them!’ Jesus, why do tossers like him get to play arenas, when I’m stuck doing gigs in sh*tholes like this?”

The crowd reasonates one of the biggest cheers of the night. After only a forty minute set, an interval is called. A cockleman comes round, following an old Nottingham tradition. The underground gets hot with all 450 of us down here, so everyone hits the bar. The beer is cheap – I bagged two half pints of cider for a little over the two pound mark. But there’s nowhere to put the drinks – eventually the club will have tables. But there are no tables tonight.

The commentator calls the comic back onto the stage. For a moment, nothing happens. People continue clapping, wondering where our host has disappeared to. Then, Dylan Moran stumbles back on stage, only one arm in the sleeve of his jacket, clutching a piece of paper.

“Sorry… I wasn’t… quite ready…”

As Dylan Moran returns to a darker second-half, glasses of booze can be heard being accidentally kicked over by people with aggitated legs, the beer flowing freely under the metal seats, and silent curses being whispered at the back.

“So you drag your middle-aged body outside into the air, and you walk down your road and you see… a tree. You think to yourself – ‘I’ve lived here twelve years… I’ve never noticed how beautiful that tree really is when it blossoms.’ But then, somebody gives you a long wolf whistle from behind. You think it’s your wife at the front door, making a sarcastic statement about how your sex life has turned into a nuclear winter. So you turn around to return the sentiment. But it’s not your wife. Oh no… it’s Death.”

Much laughter.

“Congratulations, you a now PRIME mortuary material!”

The subjects of death gives an edge to the second half of the set. Eventually, the subjects leads onto Dylan Moran’s wry observations of heavy metal culture:

“You all know something’s gone to sh*t when ‘sub-cultures’ start popping up.”

This was much to my delight, and the delight of some fellow metal heads sitting on the front row in front. From heavy metal, we move to Jason Statham. From action movies, we move to national pride, and how the Midlands isn’t really a national identity. We appreciate the jokes being about us.

Then, all of a sudden, Moran seems to hit a wall. He forgets the last part of the new material, and asks the metallers in front of me to help him out by handing them his piece of paper, supposedly with his routine written on it. Even I have a go at trying to decipher the squiggles, but to no avail. He chats with members of the audience, and verbally attacks a man taking a photo of him. Ironically, he then poses for the camera, his foot aimed right at the lens.

Subsequently, the night ended with a small amount of older jokes, which were nevertheless funny to the uninitiated. Moran took a graceful bow, and left. No encore. This meant that, for me, the night seemed to end with a whimper rather than a bang. But for £15, you could do a lot worse. Moran’s eyes scouted constantly, finding everyone in the front half more than once, checking which jokes hit the mark the most. His work was done, and he’d got what he needed.

Unlike movies or concerts, I don’t feel I should rate this numerically. The club was unfinished anyway, and Dylan Moran’s style is largely open to your own interpretations. Instead, all I can say is it was a thoroughly enjoyable night and a rare experience. Dylan Moran is only the second comedian I’ve ever seen (the first being Lee Evans, when he broke the record for sell-out arenas in Nottingham in 2008). It was great to see him so close, and a great (and cheap) night was had by all.

“I know something nobody likes… seriously. Anywhere in the world, no matter where you are nobody likes it. I’ve never met anyone who does like it. Anywhere. Even when you’re having sex, shouting out ‘WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!’ – No, nobody likes it… even though it’s true…”

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