Comedy / Mark Lamarr Show Comedy Store, London

Mark Lamarr has a reputation as the Vinny Jones of comedy, ruthlessly chopping down opponents and snarling at the crowd. He stropped his way through BBC2's recent spoof panel-game, Shooting Stars, and is reported to have come to blows with another presenter on The Word. He affects a hardnut, rockabilly hairdo that says "don't mess with me", and could scowl for Britain.

What a shock, then, to discover that on stage the roaring lion of comedy is, in fact, a pussycat. Sure, the quiff glints threateningly under the stage-lights. And, when called upon, Lamarr can still savage a heckler at 20 paces. Picked on by the comedian, one persistent contributor from the audience at the Comedy Store last Monday night offers to get his coat. "No, I don't want you to get any warmer," Lamarr replies. "I want you to freeze." Later on, when he is asking the audience to think of low points in their lives, he turns again on the heckler: "Yours would be the present, and the beating you're going to get after the show."

But he could mount a plea of self-defence in these instances. Most of the time the hard man appears to be made of cotton-wool, soft and fluffy and squidgy inside. He is not so much intimidating as ingratiating, asking to be liked more than punched.

As the compere, he is the star of the show, but he is careful not to obscure the rest of the bill (on Monday, a top-class line-up of Jo Brand, Richard Morton, Sean Lock and Gayle Tuesday.) He still can't resist introducing them by saying: "Four or five of the finest comedy acts in Britain have influenced the people who are on tonight." Lamarr's main asset is that he is the fastest man on the draw this side of Billy the Kid. The merest excuse can send him off on some adrenalin-fuelled improvisation. When nobody in the audience will tell him their age, he charges off-the-cuff quicker than you can say, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" "My first show down here, and the audience is full of Timelords," he babbles. "I expect a lot of you have seen the end of the show already. You're probably back in the Middle Ages by now, having a joust with a Cyberman."

Whatever happened to the dislikable lad?

n Every other Monday to l8 April. Booking: 0171-344 4444

JAMES RAMPTON

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