For those who know Tim Vine as a comedy-circuit regular, or from ITV's The Sketch Show, which boasted Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais among its production credits, the idea of him holding his own for an hour on stage might seem unlikely, risky even.
For those who know Tim Vine as a comedy-circuit regular, or from ITV's The Sketch Show, which boasted Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais among its production credits, the idea of him holding his own for an hour on stage might seem unlikely, risky even. Surely the self-styled "joke machine-gun" would run out of bullets, or at least start missing their intended targets?
Fortunately for Vine, even if some bullets go astray, many of his gags remain funny on repeated hearing. Well, they say the old ones are the best. For testimony to just how old-style his material is, look no further than the story of how some of his material found its way on to the internet credited to Tommy Cooper, no doubt flattering and frustrating for Vine at the same time. Indeed, if you crossed his material with the body of his colleague on The Sketch Show, Jim Tavaré, you would get a Tommy Cooper tribute act.
As with Cooper, Vine's gags are timeless in that they are puns on everyday situations, as well as being inoffensive and uncontroversial. But with Vine, the gags have go-faster stripes. "You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said, 'Parking Fine'. So that was nice." Even better if he can get two bites at the cherry: "So I went down my local ice-cream shop, and said, 'I want to buy an ice cream'. He said, 'Hundreds & thousands?' I said, 'We'll start with one.' He said, 'Knickerbocker glory?' I said, 'I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes.' "
So well honed is his act that any deviation from the order of it is cause for mirth. "Ad- libbing is not one of my strengths," Vine - who is the brother of the broadcaster Jeremy - admits to the audience. Fixing his smile, he paces within his triangular stage domain, which is mapped out by a box full of visual aids, a guitar and a keyboard. The musical content is largely there to give a different medium for the puns (eg, a song entitled "She's Leaving on the QE2" is just a foghorn tone), but there are inevitably filler ditties that are barely worthy of a Phoebe Buffay set at Central Perk.
My heart habitually sinks when I see a musical instrument on stage at a comedy gig, and only rarely are the two successfully married. Of course, with Vine, even the fillers are fast, and so unwelcome intrusions are brief and forgotten quickly, although the messy ending could do with a rapid- fire execution.
It's all good clean fun, and in fact the show's time slot seems a little incongruous - this is more 3.30pm than 9.30pm entertainment. In terms of consistency, he is hard to beat. Tonight, the rat-a-tat-tat of his machine-gun is accompanied by a continuous wave of laughter.
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