Arts: Comedy: Joker, rocker, lecher, potter

Johnny Vegas Talk Of London
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SOME COMEDIANS never feel obliged to change the record. Frankie Howerd, for instance, went through his entire 50-year career using scarcely more than one line - "Ooo, no, madam, no". Similarly, Johnny Vegas sees no need to alter his winning formula - a failed Butlin's entertainer who rails against the injustices of the world before finding solace in pottery. Some critics might be muttering that 18 months after he first exploded on to the circuit and prompted the tiresome slogan that "pottery is the new rock'n'roll", Vegas should be thinking of moving his schtick on. He certainly runs the risk of being a one-joke wonder, but if the one joke is strong enough, who cares?

Vegas avoids slipping into a monotonous caricature because - ironically for such a, er, sturdy lad - he is so quick on his feet. Just when he seems to be falling into the embrace of a one-note rant, he dances free with some inspired repartee. He is particularly sharp with hecklers, seeing off one irritatingly vociferous punter at the Talk of London on Wednesday with a barrage of one-liners: "Your brain's a budgie - don't bring it to a comedy catfight... I don't want to quote Top Gun, but your ego is writing cheques your body can't cash." When another heckler became too rowdy, Vegas made him sit like a naughty schoolboy at the back of the stage in a makeshift dunce's cap.

But it was with a quick-witted female volunteer helping him to throw a mug on his potter's wheel that Vegas really came into his own. Asked, in a parody of the film Ghost, to fashion an unambiguously phallic handle, she flirted with him shamelessly - "Are you going to fire it up for me later?" "If you're willing to push the act a bit further," he drooled, "we could do Amsterdam."

Later, the volunteer's speed off the mark almost made the unthinkable happen and rendered Vegas lost for words.

"I'm used to talking at women, not to them," he spluttered, "but every time I hit a ball over the net at you, it keeps coming back. I'm Tim Henman - I'm British and I'm quite good, but I'm out of my league here." "Are you seeded?" she responded, quick as a flash. "I've found my double act," he marvelled. "We could get a Christmas special out of this."

This interplay demonstrated just how well established the Vegas character is now. However unsettling a line is thrown at him, he just rolls with it. The Vegas persona - lecherous, bitter, self-pitying yet bizarrely charismatic - now fits his alter ego, Michael Pennington, like a tight potter's smock.

When it was used to signal an intermission in the cinema, the potter's wheel was a byword for boredom. How things have changed.

James Rampton

Johnny Vegas is at the Talk of London (0171-494 5397) to Saturday and touring nationally in April