The Establishment, Ronnie Scott's, London


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The Independent Culture

Pre-dating the birth of the Comedy Store and the explosion of the "alternative" club circuit by nearly 20 years, Peter Cook's short-lived club, The Establishment, was ahead of its time in showcasing politically nuanced live comedy.

In an age where it's no longer necessary to hide from the censor, as The Establishment did in the early 1960s, tonight's line-up were under extra pressure to follow in the footsteps of those who appeared at the club at its original Greek Street premises, such as Lenny Bruce.

It wasn't a promising start. Host Keith Allen (who helped put together this revival with Cook's widow, Lin, Victor Lewis Smith and comedy record label boss Mike O'Brien ) invited controversial MP George Galloway to, laboriously, tell the first joke in the evening, one about a man wafting a blanket over another man having sex with his wife.

Galloway's observations of bedroom antics was a theme reprised soon after when Allen invited the politician on stage again to talk about Julian Assange. Galloway spoke about the rape allegation against the Wikileaks founder as if he'd been there - wafting a blanket perhaps? A heckler demanded "were you there Mr Galloway?" before revealing that she too thought Assange had been framed. Herein Galloway's true talent - to turn anyone off from his view whether or not they agreed with his point.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, at a comedy gig. Before Galloway's reprise, fellow Glaswegian, veteran comic and Comedy Store contemporary of Keith Allen, Arnold Brown wheeled out his vintage brand of dry humour ("drugs lead to terrible things - like jazz"), after which Marian Pashley's disinterested deadpan failed to make an impression. It was left to Phil Nichol to inject some genuine comic energy into the room with classic comedy songs from his arsenal including "I'm The Only Gay Eskimo", a song that this largely middle aged audience (which included Peter Richardson and Jeff Beck) had not heard before.

Described by Allen as an attempt to get away from "conveyor belt comedy" and the likes of Michael McIntyre (heaven forbid anyone should have talent and be funny and successful), the re-establishment of The Establishment did not threaten to break new ground nor split any sides. A succession of either vaguely political or apolitical acts in the second half, including Mark Nelson, Ria Lina and Terry Alderton, were either too rushed or too demotivated by the audience's listlessness to make a huge impression and, ultimately, this tribute to Pete was a dud.

Runs 19 & 20 September then as monthly "pop up" nights; Box Office 020 7439 0747 |