Comedy: Bob Downe New London Theatre

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The Independent Culture
The foyer at the Talk of London is adorned with large, gaudy colour photos of dancing girls wearing sequins, smiles and little else. The showbiz ambience of "London's premier supper-cabaret venue" suits Bob Downe down to the soles of his white Hush Puppies. The Australian crooner-comedian and leading regional daytime television presenter on the north coast of New South Wales is the King of Kitsch, never happier than when emoting his way through "Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?" in a white suit apparently remaindered from Saturday Night Fever.

Bob Downe, the acute creation of Mark Trevorrow, the former arts editor of Australian Vogue (really), is surfing the current wave of character comedy. As you swim through a circuit full of comedians pretending to be security guards, agit-prop activists and Page Three Stunnas, it would now almost be a surprise to happen upon a straight stand-up telling jokes about his girl troubles.

Still, there's nothing wrong with character comedy when it's done well - and in Downe's case, it certainly is. From the too-shiny teeth and the blonde big hair that probably requires its own Equity card to the late- vintage Stewart Granger safari-suit and the airplane-wing-sized collars ("By the way, guys, your collar isn't big enough this summer unless you can see it with your peripheral vision"), Downe has pinpointed the infuriating inanity of an Easy Listening compere.

But there's a lot of bite behind the blandness. Downe is obviously a graduate summa cum laude of the Dame Edna School of Ritual Audience Humiliation. When a woman who had unwisely parked herself in the front row told him that her name was Jackie, he pulled an exquisite face of disgust before dismissing it as suitable only for a magazine costing "one shilling and sixpence - `free comb with this issue'."

He is also canny enough to send himself up. When he came on stage at the beginning in a headache-inducing turquoise shell-suit, he pre-empted the laughter be pointing out that "I look like a Fuji throwaway camera. Let's face it, it's Sunday afternoon in Romford this outfit, isn't it?" Later he patted his hair protectively and warned people of the dangers of candles: "Some of us have to be very careful around a naked flame. One little spark and pouf! ... My hair is looked after by my very good friends at Toys R Us." After a joke of dubious taste about the Carpenters, he astutely gauged the mood of the audience and turned it to his advantage by commenting: "any more like that and I'll be working on the QE2."

Towards the end, as he flashed his hairy chest at the audience and went among them for a gloriously camp version of "I Will Survive", the crowd went Wembley-wild. Capturing the mood of at least half the nation, Downe exclaimed: "We can have a riot in here. Who needs Euro96?"

Bob Downe, New London Theatre, London WC2 (0171-344 4444), 19 and 24 June

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