REVIEW: Alternative Comedy Memorial Society (ACMS), Signature Brew, Haggerston

Thom Tuck’s reign of terror is over. With the traditional ACMS host trapped in the midlands doing some acting, Joz Norris and [ok, other regular host] Siân Docksey have enacted a bloodless coup of London’s most pleasingly all-over-the-shop alternative comedy night.

And what’s more, they are furiously pressing the big red reset button.

They walk onto the stage festooned in wigs and balloons, and immediately lambast their own night for being “impenetrable” and “self-indulgent”.

“There are permitted heckles, but we can’t remember them”, non-explains Joz, as the audience of regulars and endearingly bemused newbies attempt to come up with some new ones.

“This is shit,” someone shouts.

Thing is, though, this isn’t shit, this is brilliant. People[1] talk about the shit/brilliant tightrope, and how comedians have to walk very carefully across the great canyon of unfunny.

But maybe you don’t have to do that? Maybe you can just try things out, have a supportive audience, and everything is… fun?

And as Joz pops Siân’s balloons of November – “that was the upsetting burlesque section” – the night is reborn. And seems suspiciously similar to what it was before. Yay!

There were many comedians and I will try to review at least some of them.

Starting us off was Ruth Hunter, who explored the comic potential of just naming places (“Dublin”. “Glasgow”) and read from her lockdown diary.

In my notes I’ve written “lesbian masseuse porn” and “lockdown ghost”, which is all you need to know here really. She’s very funny and has an excellent deadpan manner, go see her if you’re ever in “Glasgow”.

Next was a lady with some cheese. It was at this point that Finn, the n00b in the first row, was probably beginning to suspect that this isn’t a standard comedy night. Rosemary Gomes had some cheeses and some signs with some puns on them.

She didn’t even have that many cheeses to be honest. She sort of moved around the stage with them for longer than was comfortable, like Sideshow Bob walking into rakes, only forever, and with cheese. She might have been on for five minutes. She might have been on for an hour. All I can say with confidence is we will not see her like again.

I could sum up what Gomes’ act says about ACMS’ ethos, but the next act, John Hastings, did it for me. “Commercially viable? Outside of Radio Four, these people should be shot,” he joked, lovingly. And all this, and moving, nuanced material about suicide, too.

My friend Maeve turned up half way through Logs. If you’re timing your arrival to have literally no clue what is going on, then sneaking in mid-way through a lumberjack / tree burlesque sequence is probably the best time to do it. Logs are Legs comedy and they are terrifying, brilliant clowns.

An interval. A chat with a friend. You know that feeling when you sit down to watch a beloved film with a friend who has never seen it before, and you can sense the vibes that they’re not really into it? And that sort of ruins the film for you, and you start to watch it in a much more critical way than you ever have before?

I refused to let that happen. The non-laughs behind me coasted us through Alexander Bennett‘s very endearing material about fat dogs, war criminal Uber drivers and a panopticon of Keith Lemons; the extremely brilliant and unexpected appearance of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (pertinent audience question: “Does Nick Cave have a hook for a hand?”); and the dad rapping, ignoring-my-kids-on-the bus brilliance of Ed Eales-White [2].

“I used to be such a good girl”. I really enjoyed Lorna Rose Treen. Noir is such an over-parodied genre but her character is so stupid – muffling her way through perma-cigarettes with an Elmer Fudd lisp – that it didn’t matter.

“I keeled over seductively” is a line of such beautiful economy, I’m going to steal it and use it myself the next time I get shot.

Time for some prizes. Is ACMS secretly funded by the Swiss deep state? Ten minutes of the “you get a car” Oprah Winfrey episode, except with clocks, suggests so.

We’re on the home straight now and time for another act that Maeve liked: Ben Target paying tribute to her own personal hero, the early noughties rock-parody irritant Andrew WK.

There are party poppers. There are embarrassing stories. There is an overdose of Tramadol. And, happily, this all happens to the soundtrack of Coldplay’s “clocks”, which comes on by mistake; Target absolutely owns it nonetheless.

Jade Gebbie performs as a character, Jay. He has a drawn-on David Brent beard and has learned how to be sexy via a series of far-right incel websites. The audience isn’t quite sure what to make of him, a bit like when I pretended to be Richard Branson and gave a lecture on privateering.

I guess that’s one of the tricky things with playing terrible characters: you absolutely do NOT want people to like them, but you still want them to like you. It’s that tightrope again, swabbed down and used for slightly different purposes.

Our headline act is a furious New Yorker who definitely isn’t Jen Ives. They jerked off a lot of airline pilots to be here tonight, and are charmed by our “exotic paedophiles” like Jimmy Seville.

Jen is one of those comedians who is endearing even with – or perhaps particularly when – they are explicitly calling you a cunt, and I love her for it.

ACMS overran – it always does – and the venue seems quite keen for us to leave. So we do, but not before one lovely chat about the possibilities of Starlight Express: the movie.

Is this a review or just a love letter? I don’t know. But ACMS is like Rowan’s unlikely bowling emporium in Finsbury Park, or that dumplings place in Chinatown run by furious middle aged women: things that somehow still exist, against all odds; and London would be a much less interesting place without it.

ACMS returns for its Christmas special on Tuesday 21st December

[1] They do be talking about this. I spent a lot of time in cafes and people talk of little else

[2] She cracked half way through the mindful checking fantasy football while the kids wreak chaos bit

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