Andy Zaltzman is perhaps best known for his political podcast The Bugle, which he originally presented with Brummie comedian John Oliver, before Oliver (as Zaltzman jokes, “the notorious Birmingham traitor”) moved to America to present the satirical talkshow Last Week Tonight on HBO.
Indeed tonight’s show, Satirist for Hire, has the air of an off-the-cuff, topical podcast. There’s no co-presenter, so instead Zaltzman bounces off the audience with the show based on our suggestions of topics that we would like to be satirised. It’s a clever way of creating a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, with the crowd in the packed and stuffy Glee Club studio space – comfortable enough to join Zaltzman in the spotlight, as they make suggestions and talk about their interests.
This does mean that Zaltzman isn’t always the one with the funniest lines, however. The biggest laugh of the night comes when Zaltzman, tongue in cheek of course, asks the audience if there is any way at all that America is better than Britain. Someone shouts out, “America has John Oliver”. Ouch. But Zaltzman is a humble and generous enough performer to not let this faze him – hecklers are gently chided, rather than brutally put down.
It’s also almost inevitable that, when the premise is that the jokes are based on issues suggested by the audience, the resulting show is going to be patchy and disjointed. No matter how good a comedian is, there are always going to be some subjects that they just don’t know enough about. Tonight is a real mixed bag, with suggestions including Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, “standards of driving in Birmingham”, The Ashes, “graduation and despair” (Zaltzman quips, “my favourite Mike Leigh film”) and “the oeuvre of 80s hair metal band Kiss”.
Some of these subjects work better than others. Zaltzman‘s section on Brexit, where he examines some of the reasons people voted the way that they did (“let’s not forget that there were fuckwits on both sides of this”) is really funny. Less successful are attempts to tell jokes about Kiss and Star Wars – two things Zaltzman admits to having little interest in. Jokes about sport, including cricket, football and even snooker, are strong, though sometimes a little niche. After a gag about French nuclear testing gets a lukewarm response, Zaltzman jokes, “this gig’s got everything”.
Zaltzman himself admits that the show is “a bit up and down, not sure I’ve been on the top of my game”. If a comedian is delivering basically the same scripted set for every show, having an off-night isn’t going to have such a big impact as it does in a freer format, like this one. Having said that, not even the pre-prepared sections of the evening completely hit home. Zaltzman ends the set with a twenty-minute section about Trump; the idea is that if he can turn Trump into a cricket fan he will naturally become a better person, as all cricket fans are good people. It’s certainly a novel way of addressing Trump comedically, but it’s much too long and the final punchline just isn’t funny enough.
In essence, this sketch sums up the whole gig. It’s a fun evening, but the show would have benefit from a tighter structure and some sharper gags. Zaltzman’s likeable comedy persona isn’t quite enough to hold things together, resulting in a gig that has its moments, but never reaches the heights of the very best satirical comedy.
Andy Zaltzman brings his 2018 tour of Satirist for Hire to The Glee Club (B’ham) on Friday 19th January. Tickets are £12 (adv) and doors open at 8pm, for a 8.30pm start. For direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.
Stand-up comedian, broadcaster, author and cricket fanatic, Andy Zaltzman has been lauded as ‘Probably one of the finest satirical comedians this country’s ever produced’ (Time Out).
Zaltzman is perhaps best known as the writer and presenter of satirical podcast The Bugle, one of the most popular comedy podcasts on iTunes, attracting over one million downloads a month. Zaltzman originally presented The Bugle with Brummie comedian John Oliver, who has since made quite a name for himself stateside, antagonising politicians and world leaders as host of HBO’s excellent Last Week Tonight.
Zaltzman and Oliver originally started The Bugle back in 2007, as an audio newspaper for The Times newspaper. When the phone-hacking scandal broke (incriminating staff at Rupert Murdoch’s other papers The Sun and News of the World) the duo were scathing on the subject, which led to them getting fired. Which goes to show nothing should get in the way of an important satirical joke – even if your job depends on it.
As well as regular appearances on the now independently runBugle, Zaltzman pops up on panel shows on TV and radio and is particularly known for his love of sport. He has previously hosted an Ashes show for BBC 5Live called Yes! It’s the Ashes! and over the past few months has presented an Ashes podcast with Felicity Ward for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. If you’re a cricket fan I very much recommend following him on Twitter.
Satirist for Hire debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival back in 2013, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it will be a stale repetition of an almost five-year-old set. Zaltzman has asked the audience to email in topics that we would like to be satirised beforehand (you can do so right now, on his website). Topics can be any issue/person/concept or thing that you would like Zaltzman to discuss – ‘All issues considered (within reason)’.
This format is a clever way of keeping a topical show fresh and relevant, which is difficult if you’re touring the same material for 18 months, especially considering the speed at which the news moves. It should make things fun and current, with Zaltzman utlising his unparalleled verbal dexterity to explore the news of the day.
Let’s just hope that he puts in a better performance than England’s cricketers managed Down Under.
Andy Zaltzman – Satirist for Hire
Andy Zaltzman brings his Satrist for Hire tour to The Glee Club (B’ham) on Friday 19th January. For direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, visitwww.glee.co.uk/performer/andy-zaltzman
January 1st… no finer day to cross off the calendar. But as the world crawls out of bed with hangovers and resolutions, Birmingham’s events diary looks forward to a pretty vibrant January. It seems the ‘quiet month’ is not so dormant this year. Which is a good thing, right? I mean, who needs to stay in and save money? Food and heating are for quitters.
For more film, mac hosts Playback from 7th to 24th Jan – a touring and ‘interactive exhibition’ of over 200 short films from ‘krumping and parkour dance shorts, to an animated tale of teenage love that unearths our desire to be as cool as the zines we read’. Held in the arts centre’s First Floor Gallery, with free admission, Playback carries a Tubbs and Edward local angle too, as ‘some of the films were originally made in and around Birmingham, where young people based in the Midlands were given the support and funding to create a short film.’
And with Louisa Ellis (The Wilderness), Mark Walsh (Opus Restaurant), Luke Tipping and Leo Kattou (Simpsons) and Olivier Briault (The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel) all chipping in a course, it should do just that. Although, the non-fixed donation approach is gratefully received in mid January.
Now if I can just find an energy provider with the same approach…
In memoriam of her paternal auntie and namesake, Lady Gaga’s latest song, album and tour appear as personal an affair as you can offer when delivering it to millions of strangers. A curious dichotomy, but one Birmingham will get to see on stage first as the Live Nation machine sets down in our city before anywhere else in the UK. Kudos.
And with tickets being transferred from the previous dates in October 2017, it’s fair to say there may be a bit of a bun fight to get in to these gigs. No doubt it’ll be worth a few scuffed elbows though, but even if ‘I’m never going to know you now, I’m gonna love you any how’. OX Joanne.
Tickets for the originally scheduled Lada Gaga shows at the Genting Arena (12th Oct ’17) at Arena Birmingham (15th Oct ’17) can be transferred to the new dates. According to the venues’ websites, ‘if you cannot make the new date, refunds can be obtained at your point of purchase for a limited period’.**
Playback @ mac 7th to 24th Jan
For more on any of the events listed here, click on the highlighted hyperlink.
Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, which issues both the Birmingham Review and Birmingham Preview titles.