THEATRE / Schmucks - BAC, London SW11

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The Independent Culture
As a comic, Joey Vallis is very poor. So poor, in fact, that when he tells an audience refusing to take its cue to laugh, 'It's alright, I can wait', it sounds like his catchphrase. Back at his bedsit, Vallis can barely raise a smile when he reveals that his act is known as the Luftwaffe - 'because it bombs all over London'. It seems he's had his last laugh; then in walk Groucho Marx and Lenny Bruce.

Intending to cure Vallis of terminal unfunniness, the dead double-act treat themselves instead to vicious attacks upon each other's work: Marx despises Bruce's formless filth; Bruce dismisses his soulless punchlines; between times, they do old routines. William Marsh needles Marx effectively as the taboo- breaking junkie and brings microphone-popping authenticity to his live turns; Dave Mayberry's Marx is a creditable impersonation.

Neither have a hard act to follow. Writer Roy Smiles has made his bad comic so bad he's awful, reducing Vallis (Malcolm Ridley) to a side-show gawper with a tedious line in 'Why me?' dialogue. Worse, he is lumbered with a fatal father-fixation which adds to his whining ('Why did you have to die') and leads to a seat-squirming fantasy sequence in which Vallis dances with dummies.

Smiles overburdens an otherwise enjoyable conversation piece by relentlessly dragging his characters moaning and shouting back to the Great Comedy Debate. As his own Marx puts it: 'If there's one thing worse than a room full of comedians bitching, it's a room full of dead comedians bitching.'