First Night: Wandering away from the jokes

Jimeoin Ealing Comedy Festival

A SCRAWNY man in a red leotard, bovver boots and crash helmet was unicycling around a big top trying to free himself from a strait- jacket to the accompaniment of the theme from The Great Escape. No, the Edinburgh Festival - home of such attention-seeking student japesters - had not started a week early. It was merely the opening night at one of the myriad smaller comedy festivals that are popping up all over the country this summer like anti-GM food protesters.

Dave Holder, the aforementioned novelty act, set the tone of complete daftness at the Ealing Comedy Festival in Walpole Park last night. It was continued - in spades - by the main attraction, Jimeoin.

The Northern Irish-born stand-up is big in Australia, but don't let that put you off. His style is hard to render on paper, because it's all in the rambling. The meandering between gags appeals more than the gags themselves. After 20 minutes of amiable digressions, he promised: "I'll start now. I'll tell a joke soon."

He is one of those rare comedians - Eddie Izzard is another - who is funnier when he wanders off a comedy track and tries in vain to return to it. He interrupted himself during one routine to reflect: "This doesn't go anywhere. I've got to think of jokes." But with Jimeoin, that's not actually the case; the fewer punchlines, the better.

His best lines are Izzard-esque musings a propos of nothing. At one point, he wondered why we so rarely hear the words "Bunsen burner" as adults: "You're not allowed to talk about them when you leave school. The headmaster says to you, `Good luck in the real world, and let's not mention Bunsen burners.' "

Also out of the blue, he performed an impression of the noise made by Chewbacca in Star Wars - by dragging a chair across the stage. "It very nearly got the part. It was down to two - a chair and a big hairy guy."

Jimeoin's roving approach does lead to longeurs, and he struggled in last night's outdoor arena against the twin problem of low-flying planes and weak-bladdered people.For all that, Jimeoin's act is proof positive that in comedy you don't need gimmicks such as unicycles or strait-jackets to win over an audience: a charming persona will suffice.

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