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The Comedy of Errors

Theatre Review: Comedy Summerslam

25 June 17 words: Ian Douglas

Can white people enjoy black comedy?

Image from Upfront Comedy

Image from Upfront Comedy

Upfront Comedy have been called the ‘most enterprising black comedy promoters in the country’, and by the Guardian newspaper no less. And they’ve been doing it for a quarter of a century. So does that make this year’s Comedy Summerslam a guaranteed night of laughter? Short answer: Yes.

Our comperes were Eddie Nestor and Robbie Gee. Television audiences will remember them from The Real McCoy, a comedy series focusing on Black and Asian talent. The show may have ended twenty years ago, but Robbie and Eddie have still got it. Their amiable, low-key style made the audience feel at home from the get-go. Indeed, so relaxed was the event, that ‘even the white people were late’.

Robbie and Eddie introduced four stand-up acts, Wil-E, Judi Love, Kane Brown and Terri Walker. The humour was bawdy and with no holds barred. Sex, and when it goes wrong, was very much on the agenda. There were black jokes, white jokes, Chinese jokes, fat lady jokes, and fart jokes. Every performer shone. The audience was in uproar throughout, laughing their collective socks off.

British Black comedy has moved on a long way since the days of Charlie Williams, known as the country’s first successful Black comedian. From the modern perspective, his act seems too ‘white,’ what with the Yorkshire accent and the reinforcement of white-British negative stereotypes. Maybe that’s what he had to do to make it big and break down barriers? Maybe it says more about Britain in the seventies than it does Charlie. This reviewer had the pleasure of seeing his act and speaking briefly with him, and found him to be a very kind and gentle soul. The memory brings a nostalgic tear to the eye.

So Charlie was joking for white audiences. The Real McCoy show smashed that cultural stranglehold and helped set Black comedy free, paving the way for such comedy giants as Stephen K Amos. For that reason alone, Eddie Nestor and Robbie Gee must be seen as pioneers, and the Playhouse crowd clearly understood that. Thanks to their taboo-breaking careers, those days of comedy segregation are waning. The Summerslam is Black-centric comedy, and extremely good comedy at that. But it’s not exclusive, like the acts of yesteryear. You don’t have to be black to enjoy an evening of hilarious black comedy.

The Comedy Summerslam was at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 24 June 2017.

Nottingham Playhouse website

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