Wheatsheaf Pub, High Street 8.00pm, Tuesdays, Odd WeeksJokes about paedophilia always go down well. Niall Gildea, the MC at Ministry of Mirth last Tuesday, started off on the right foot, with a comparison between Gerry McCann and Gary Glitter. And he didn’t stop there, but went on, probing the depths of our discomfort/enjoyment. Madeleine McCann was to become a running joke throughout the evening.
It may not be immediately clear why a kidnapped little girl and her grieving family should be a source of comedy. But it wasn’t really the subject-matter that made Gildea so successful – it was the way he danced delicately about the borderline of discomfort and taboo. Every time I felt he might have lost the audience – for example during a detailed description of his problems with diarrhoea – he had the courage to let us squirm, and then pull us back in with a well-placed joke and a wild-eyed grin.
Watching Broderick Chow was a completely different experience. There were whispers going round the crowd about this transatlantic import before the show, and he lived up to his billing. He waltzed on stage with a confidence and fluency that was notably absent in the other acts. Where Gildea was stilted at times, Chow’s jokes were smooth and comfortable, guiding the audience from one laugh to another with a steady hand. He had the knack of bringing together the pub’s diverse audience in sharing his embarrassment at life in general. A particular highlight was a description of his disillusionment when, finding himself by chance waiting in the supermarket queue behind Joni Mitchell, he looked into her basket to discover a jumbo pack of toilet roll and some chewing-gum.
For all Chow’s consummate ability, though, I enjoyed myself most watching Gildea. There were two different approaches on show here: Chow was slick, American (sorry – Canadian), and above all safe; Gildea awkward, British, risky, and rather exciting. When he picked out a member of the audience and began to flirt disastrously with her, there was a genuine fear that he might go down like a lead balloon. But this was just another piece of his self-effacing comedy of embarrassment, and suddenly his failed advances were hilarious.
You mustn’t run away with the impression that everything was as funny as Maddy. Many of the acts felt unpolished, the material under-rehearsed or just downright bad. One particularly painful piece of ‘political’ comedy joked about Gordon being a bit more ‘brown’ after his holiday, David having his camera on, and – ahem – Boris’s Johnson. But there was some excellent stuff on show here, and there are many less enjoyable ways to spend a Tuesday evening in Oxford.