COMEDY / Bill Murray and the Second City Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny

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When Bill Murray jested early on "no sets, no props; this is probably the biggest rip-off of the Festival", it raised a laugh of sorts from the sell-out crowd at the Watergate Theatre. Little did they realise that it would prove to be the most perceptive observation of the evening.

Bill Murray and the Second City was the headline show of the Murphy's Cat Laughs Comedy Festival in Kilkenny, marking the return to the stage of the Hollywood star, and the first time he had performed live with his two brothers, Brian Doyle-Murray (star of Saturday Night Live and co-star of Groundhog Day) and Joel (whose film credits include One Crazy Summer and Scrooged!).

The six-strong cast, which also included Meagan Fay, Linda Kash and Dave Pasquesi, a dead-ringer for Jeremy Paxman but without the comic potential, revived a collection of comedy sketches, songs and impro routines from Murray's days at the Second City theatre in Chicago, widely regarded as a forerunner of Saturday Night Live and Whose Line is it Anyway?.

At pounds 20, the ticket for Murray and company was more than twice that for any other Festival show, but for diehard fans it was a small price to pay for seeing the star of Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters in the flesh. Elsewhere in the medieval town, the rest of the US contingent, most notably Greg Proops, Rick Overton and Rich Hall, were armed with topical and challenging material, tailored to an Irish audience. Here the crowd endured a succession of outmoded sketches at the only Festival venue with an alcohol ban; the level of interaction with the audience was nil.

It could all have been so different if Murray had been left to his own devices. As a mischievous father putting a potential son-in-law through his paces, or the mourner, corpsing at the details of his colleague's bizarre death, his timing and facial contortions were sublime. He was invariably one step ahead of his brothers, to the extent that his quick- fire responses frequently cut them off in mid-flow. Even he appeared embarrassed, at one point admitting: "I can tell you're as upset as we are."

Middle Ireland may lag behind the United States in many respects, but not enough that sketches about Irish Americans in search of their roots are still funny. Quaint though the locals may seem to the average New Yorker, they are still capable of switching on a television set, and well aware that comedy has moved on since the days when Murray was honing his talents in Chicago.

If the boys Murray had brought their show to Kilkenny at any other time, they might have got away with it, but with Eddie Izzard, Sean Hughes and Donna McPhail performing down the street, they just could not or would not compete. You were left feeling a little like Murray's character in Groundhog Day - been there, seen it, done it.