Comedy: And here's one for the ladies

Jeff Green Apollo, W1

Tobias Jones
Sunday 29 November 1998 01:02

It's part of the strange attraction of comedy that it's very hard to laugh along with someone you don't like. This is especially so when watching straight stand-up. The public hand-wringing, sexual stories and political jibes have to strike at least a few chords. Jeff Green - you might know him from various TV cameos on shows like Never Mind the Buzzcocks - has the advantage of Ally McCoist looks, and the same line in cherubic cheek. Probably doesn't play fitba as well, but opening at the Apollo this week he was - to judge by the female sighs going on around me - eminently likeable.

There's nothing startlingly original about his choice of material or the manner of its delivery. There were a lot of exaggerated personal yarns about alcoholic and sexual escapades ("drink was a factor" became a regular closing line). The fliers advertise the show with an 18 age- rating and a warning of adult content, but then that's the case with any comic worth his equity card.

But his material on gender differences - that staple of stand-ups - is in a different class. It is blunt, but also gentle, unusually teasing rather than aggressive (hence, I suppose, the female swoons). "We might not be able to experience all the true majesty of child birth," he said of men, "but at least we can open all our own jars." He did a series of one-liners about things you'll never hear a woman say: "my feet are boiling", "another chocolate? Couldn't possibly" or "thank you, that's quite enough foreplay".

In his sarky Scouser voice, he talked about the cloying nature of relationships, like going round roundabouts in fifth gear because you're holding hands. Then came his observations about candles, about a lot of candles. "I never knew how many I needed," he said, "even just for a bath. The first time it happened I thought, contacting the dead? ... or did I miss a really old man's birthday?" The flip side is the separation, when the man's "underpant fairy" and "washing-up pixie" goes AWOL.

Green is one of those impish comics, like Eddie Izzard, who charms rather than provokes his audience, offering them glimpses into the workings of his bizarre mind. Still on the male-female thing, he talked about possible ways to improve the standards of male driving by fitting cars with airbags in the shape of a giant penis. The threat of such safety equipment emerging on impact would reduce crashes: "20 miles per hour?" he said, pretending to hold the wheel at arm's length, "now that's plenty fast enough". He's that rare thing, a comedian of explicit material who gives no offence, a commentator on the so-called sex war who doesn't take sides.

There were some very slick ad-libs. With professional comics, it's always hard to tell if those moments are genuine; whether the breaking out of the act and the asides about the night's audience and its reactions are for real. But comics know audiences expect something on-the-hoof, something to show that they're listening to a quick mind rather than a much-repeated routine, and Green didn't disappoint. He milked applause by saying it reminded him of dropping the tray in the school canteen, and picked on a man who kept laughing out of time (first rule of comedy: never sit in the front row).

Then, momentarily losing his thread, he started talking about memory; about that schoolboy walk to the exam room, the student trying to balance all the last-minute revision going on in his brain: "Don't anyone nudge me. Make way, family disappointment coming through."

It's easy to see why so many stand-up acts turn to novel-writing. Green's gags work as much by great phrase-making as by punchlines. He's the master of the incongruous, comic anti-climax: women, he announces, are an "enigma wrapped in a conundrum, shrouded in a duvet." On being drunk, Green described himself as typically "red of eye, foul of breath, licentious of thought and floppy of deed." He talked about the vapid pleasantries of America, as compared to the gruffness of Britain, conceding "I would rather be told to have a nice day by someone who doesn't mean it, than to f--- off by someone who does."

He ended the night coming back on stage, faux sheepish, having been urged to do an encore. His stand-up routine, he said, was like a first date: he's never sure how it should start or finish. But by that stage the audience seemed happily won over.

Apollo, W1 (0171 494 5500), to Saturday.

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