Comedy: Hands-on performer

Johnny Vegas looks like being the next big thing. Michael Pennington's larger-than-life creation is a failed cabaret performer with bad hair and even worse trousers. And audiences at his shows have a chance of doing something unique - throwing a pot on a potter's wheel with Johnny

There is a buzz louder than a wasp's nest surrounding Johnny Vegas. A hugely successful Edinburgh run last summer had critics lionising this spoof failed showbiz entertainer as the man who came from nowhere to set the Festival alight. Time Out, for instance, raved: "You'll regret it forever if you miss this one!"

In 1998, Vegas looks set to step another few rungs up the ladder of fame as he moves from circuit celebrity to TV stardom. A Channel 4 special is being planned, and a national tour, "Balls of Clay", starts later this month.

Just why is there such a hullaballoo about an embittered, overweight LE type with bad hair and even worse trousers? After all, a lot of his act involves tedious ranting about journalists and some rather tortured imagery. Urging the audience to join in, he says at one point: "Johnny Vegas has a love child and his name is laughter. This mike was the midwife and these speakers the stirrups."

What distinguishes Michael Pennington's creation, however, is his sheer unusualness. Sure, we see a lot of send-up acts on the circuit, but how many of them indulge in on-stage pottery? In a mesmerising climax to his show, Vegas unveils a potter's wheel. Calling an unsuspecting female volunteer on stage, he proceeds to snuggle up behind her and help her throw a pot. Original or what?

To top that, he climbs aboard the wheel, beckons the audience on stage and leads them in a singalong version of "New York, New York". If this man does not get considerably bigger this year, I'll eat my glazed pot.

Another act likely to win promotion to the big league in 1998 is the sweet American stand-up, Arj Barker, who confirmed his promise by landing the Perrier Best Newcomer Award at the Edinburgh Festival last year. He is an almost old-fashioned, back-to-basics comic - the archetypal one man and his mike.

He has mean way with a one-liner, too. "I'm in love with a philospher, and she doesn't even know I exist," he complains. "What's worse, she can prove it." Later he reflects that he'd like to ask his doctor for a prescription for some medicinal marijuana: "I set my car-keys down, and five minutes later I know exactly where they are."

One more face to watch in 1998 is the likeable, confessional stand-up, Adam Bloom. Just watch him grow.

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