For 10 years now, the Brighton Comedy Festival has provided a welcome hub for the latest comedy shows, many of which have been hits at the preceding Edinburgh Fringe. The opening-night charity gala has, meanwhile, principally relied on special turns from big beasts [represented by the Off the Kerb agency], such as Lee Evans, Michael McIntyre and Alan Carr, to make waves.
Tonight, Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Sean Lock fell into that category and their experience ultimately shone through a bill that had its share of bright sparks.
Jo Brand's off-hand delivery might not sound ideal for hosting duties, but, her no-nonsense approach, dispensing with facile audience participation in favour of gag salvos, kept up a consistent energy tonight. "I've always had a soft spot for Nick Clegg: face down in Hackney Marshes with my boot on his head," ran one of her opening lines.
The likeable Adam Hills, first up after Brand, also had some winning lines on serious subjects, including a take on homosexuals in the army: "Saving Private Ryan would have been a lot shorter film. There's no way gay men would have taken three hours to find Matt Damon."
Mark Watson's game of playing the wide-eyed awestruck innocent was helped along by a gag about nearby Hassocks being "quite clearly fictitious" and a "front for some other kind of organisation." Meanwhile, Andi Osho's set initially pleased with a dismissal of badminton as "a board game at best" and a sweet subversion of the Match.com dating advert. Unfortunately, her build almost literally went down the toilet as she probed more scatological territory.
The second half started as the first had begun, with Phil Nichol and hip-hop improv outfit Abandoman, respectively, providing high-octane but low-return stints, the former with a ditty reprised from last year's gala.
Jack Dee took more risks with his opening quip: "Wow, I haven't heard whooping and cheering and clapping like that since yesterday morning at the Microsoft offices." The risqué joke about the late Steve Jobs was followed by a number of routines that invoked his trademark petulance with targets ranging from people with OCD to post-riot sentencing.
The Brighton Comedy Festival runs to 22 October (01273 709 709; www.brightoncomedyfestival.com)