COMEDY: Jo Brand Civic Hall, Guildford

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The Independent Culture
The good burghers of leafy, stockbroker-friendly Guildford are looking forward to the charms of David Essex crooning such genteel classics as "We're Going to Make You a Star" at their Civic Hall soon. So they might have been expected to choke into their Amontillados at the very thought of Jo Brand, the oversized, Struwel-Peter-coiffed, foul-mouthed flagellator of all the things they hold dear: maleness, Toryness, suburbanness. Her act, which she performed there on Wednesday night as part of her national tour, contains more swearing and sexual references than the entire work of Tarantino and Cronenberg put together.

During one completely unrepeatable routine about maggots somewhere they shouldn't have been (which Channel 4 had refused to broadcast), even Brand seemed worried about shocking the gin-and-Jag belters and warned them to put their fingers in their ears. When she had elicited the requisite number of "oohs", she added with special relish: "Do tell that to as many people as possible over dinner."

But, like a ravenous crowd in front of a table full of cream cakes, they simply scoffed the lot. The audience were so well tuned to Brand's particular brand of humour that the very mention of the word "chocolate" early on was greeted with whoops of delight.

Brand is canny in getting her retaliation in first; she voices the negative thoughts people may have about her appearance and turns them to her own comic advantage. Fat may be a feminist issue, but Brand proved it can also be a barrel-load of laughs. Clad in her standard-issue baggy black T-shirt and trousers offset by glittery Doctor Martens, she laughed: "I quite like looking like this because at least I don't have to drink Martini every time I go to a party." She went on to reveal that she had just spent the weekend in Norway where whaling is still legal - "so I couldn't go swimming, obviously".

She also confronted the widely held canard that she is gay: "I know you think I'm a lesbian," she teased at one point, "but I'm heterosexual. So, men, be very scared because I want to shag you."

People are drawn to her honesty about herself. We can all identify with someone suffering from a terminal lack of self-esteem - even if we wouldn't want to parade ours in front of several hundred strangers every night.

As a performer, Brand gives and receives great warmth. She passes the acid test for a popular comedian: people laugh before she's even said anything. Apart from the singing - she did an ill-advised version of "The Lady is a Tramp" as an encore - the only danger is that sooner or later audiences may tire of her schtick. How many different ways can you say "cakes are great and men aren't"?

Jo Brand's national tour continues at Watford Colosseum on Wed (01923 445000); Manchester Bridgewater Hall on Thurs (0161-907 9000). Tour info: 0891 455480