Comedy / American? It's easier being gay

A RAFFISH, catty, minutely boss-eyed gay comedian from San Francisco, Scott Capurro has quickly and deservedly made a big name for himself in this country. He won the Best Newcomer award at last year's Edinburgh Festival, and has now reached a point on the banks of the mainstream where he gets to go on Pebble Mill and be asked leading questions by Alan Titchmarsh. "So you're a gay comedian, how do you go down in America?"

At the "Stand-up America" package show at the Bloomsbury Theatre on Wednesday, Capurro reveals why he thinks his gayness is less of a problem for straight audiences in Britain than it would be back home. "I guess you figure: 'He's American, what could be worse?' " Capurro's waspish insights into gay life - "Swimmer's build? Yeah, if avocadoes could swim" - certainly offer just as much to outsiders as to insiders, and his acerbic candour often fades into poignancy: "I'm 32, which is 80 in gay years." The presence of non-homosexuals in the crowd also opens up new frontiers in audience-baiting. "Are you heterosexual? ... Really? You were the last one I would have expected ..."

The fun of a Capurro show comes from consensual over-stepping of the mark. The edge comes from our - and his - awareness of how easily consensus can turn to conflagration. A couple of weeks ago at the Hackney Empire, a gang of rough-looking types in the front row begin to get restive about five minutes into Capurro's set. One of them calls him a faggot. Capurro says: "I want to love you - help me." The situation simmers and then gets uglier. People at the back start to shout at the people in the front, one of whom gets on stage, grabs the microphone and roars in fury and bewilderment, the scar down the side of his face pulsing blue and eerie, "What is it, are you all faggots?"

"Leave! Leave! Leave!" shouts the rest of the crowd. Eventually, the front row gets up and storms off en masse, Capurro's taunts - "He wants me!" etc - ringing in their ears. The violence in the air stifles the comedian's bravado and he is visibly, understandably shaken, but he still manages a stylish last word: "Oh, I was wrong, it wasn't the gay thing ... it was the Vietnam thing."

Routine anti-Americanism is a less savage but equally dumb prejudice. Back at the Bloomsbury Theatre, polished, brassy, Sicilian-New Yorker Maria Falzone encourages it by saying, "You can't believe I'm talking this way, right?" To which the classic English responses are "Yes" and "So what". On the other hand, David Letterman regular Rich Hall, a big rambling charmer in a sharp suit, tells a very funny story with sweet- wrappers. Oh well, perhaps you had to be there.

Rich Hall: Cochrane, WC2, 0171 242 7040, Sat then 2-3 Jun.

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