COMEDY / Arena is no joke

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The Independent Culture
FORGET James Brown. The hardest working person in showbusiness is Newman and Baddiel's PR. The appearance of these 'rock star' comics at Wembley Arena on Friday was preceded by the sort of hype normally reserved for, er, rock stars. Almost inevitably, the show failed to live up to it.

N & B seemed to have everything going for them. Following the well-established superstar precedent, they waited until 35 minutes after the advertised show time before coming on stage - when they were accorded a whooping, whistling reception Take That] would have envied. They went on to make use of all the trappings which say this is a major tour: headset mikes, giant screen relay, revolving stage, multi-coloured lightshow, surly roadies, showstopping set-piece involving a gibbet, a Lionel Blair lookalike and six extras in monk's habits. The second half opened with Newman entering on a motorised skateboard and closed with him exiting through the air a la Peter Pan. Eat your heart out, Michael Jackson.

But for all the paraphernalia, the spark of live comedy was snuffed out in the draughty hangar that is the Wembley Arena. Some of the humour depends on nuance: the subtlety of such moments as Jarvis the pervert's lascivious eye-rolling was largely lost in a 12,000-seat venue where Springsteen had problems projecting. Often you felt that you might as well be watching a video of the show (which, incidentally, from Friday you can). Many hecklers could have done with headset mikes, and it must have been the first comedy show to boast a binocular hire stand.

All of which tended to obscure the fact that Rob Newman (long hair, indie-band clothes) and David Baddiel (short hair, indie-band clothes) were actually quite funny. Baddiel gets a lot of bad press - perhaps because he seems like that smug student you met in Freshers' Week and spent the next three years trying to avoid. But once you got over that, you found a better-than- average, if very rude, stand-up.

Newman comes across as weirder - and more interesting. He broke out of one routine to comment on it as Ronnie Corbett. Although he adopts the tortured-artist pose of fingertips pressed to his forehead a little too much, he has an out- of-the-ordinary way with language. 'The insolent logic of nightmare' is not a run-of-the- mill stand-up line.

N & B are reportedly poised to split up and spend more time contemplating their novels. When they kiss and make up for the inevitable reunion gig, let's hope it's not at the Wembley Arena.