Back in November, Comedy for Sale switched venues from cosy pub The Steamhouse to shiny Italian eatery VAO. Their launch night became one of our favourite shows of 2016. So, when we started planning our calendar for the new year, we couldn’t resist going back to see how they were getting on.
The first thing we notice is that the stage isn’t next to the kitchen any more, which is a wise move. They’ve also introduced an offer that gets you entry to the show, a pizza and your first drink for just £10. It’s an undeniably good deal that plenty of punters are taking advantage of.
Organiser Trev has handed over MC duties to the lively Jack Gleadow, which is another sensible decision. He holds the fort while people finish off their pizzas, before getting the first act out.
The genial Kevin Caswell-Jones is a pleasant start to the evening. He’s wonderfully laid back and you can’t help but join him. The 53-year-old wants to tell young guns like us what we’ve got to look forward to in middle age. It sounds amusing enough that we’re sort of okay with it.
Next is Steve Titley, who deals well with being interrupted by what we can only assume is the accidental playing of a Dean Martin song. He’s a confident performer and the routine has some good stuff, but the audience reaction to him is strangely muted.
Having started with a comedian talking to us about middle age, Mike Keenan arrives like a London bus to do the same. That’s no bad thing, as his observations about being married with kids play well with a crowd that, by the looks of things, is largely the right demographic for this material. A highlight of the night comes when he attempts a gag that relies on a visual reference point outside the venue – sadly, it’s gone dark and he ends up pointing into nothingness.
After the break, Gleadow observes that a lot of people have left. In any other club, that’d be a negative. Here it’s a blessing, as the people who were only here for a meal and a loud conversation have filtered away.
It’s their loss, as they’re about to miss the delightfully dark Hannah Platt. There’s self-deprecating, then there’s this. It’s a brilliant, deadpan set that’s so black it draws as many sharp intakes of breath as it does laughs.
Mark Grimshaw’s back again, but this time he’s got some new material in preparation for a full-length show. He’s brought a screen with him as well, which is rather intriguing. He uses it to walk us through his recent Twitter escapades, starting with a wonderful, relatable rant against Northern Rail.
It’s followed by a tale of a spat between Grimshaw and a minor soap actor. There are plenty of big laughs in here and the inevitable refinement of this section over time will bring them closer together. Trust us when we say it’ll make for an exciting routine that you should look out for later in the year.
The high bar set by the previous two acts doesn’t help Ben Sutton, who’s given an unfairly tepid response. There are some good jokes in here that would likely fare better with younger crowd.
Ferris Ward Jr has intrigued us all night, sat quietly in a tuxedo as he waits his turn. Nothing could have prepared us for what he’s going to do though. Styling himself as a Rat Pack crooner, he proceeds to take some famous tunes and replace them with some decidedly filthy lyrics.
About halfway through the act, it dawns on us that we’re effectively a room full of grown adults laughing at rudey words for lady parts. And why not? You can only admire such dedication to the art of the rhyming couplet. Just don’t expect to be able to listen to ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ in the same way again.
We end on a more conventional, acoustic guitar-wielding music act in Stu Woodings. He too has done some clever things with some well-known songs, it’s just a shame for him that he’s come after an act that’s done the same thing in a way we’ve not seen before.
Time for the big question then. How does tonight compare with our first visit? Well, there’s no getting away from the fact that hosting a comedy night in a restaurant remains a square peg in a round hole. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Comedy for Sale reliably attracts an entertaining and varied bill. If you like your comedy night lively and little bit unpredictable, it’s worth giving it a chance and drawing your own conclusions.
Comedy for Sale continues to alternate every Thursday between VAO in Sale and Bar HQ in Lymm. Follow them on Twitter for info about upcoming shows.