Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: September 29 2017
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
Although comedy has evolved into many different forms that we enjoy today, there’s nothing like sitting back and enjoying the way that comedy used to be, especially when it comes to stand-up. Back in the day, a comedian would come on stage and tell jokes as opposed to telling stories, and while there’s nothing wrong with the latter, there’s something truly endearing about the former. Indeed, if one joke doesn’t rattle your tickle bone, another one will come along shortly, and more than likely, you’ll come away with plenty of jokes that you’ll want to tell your family and friends.
Stan Boardman was one of the most popular stand-up comedians from the 1970s and 1980s, generally considering something of a peak period for the art of stand-up comedy. He’s one of the more well-known local lads, and while his local dialect and accent are trademarks, it is his fondness for retelling stories relating to the Second World War and, in particular, the Germans who “bombed our chippies” which is most associated with Boardman. It’s an act which was very popular at the time, and while later controversies and the modern political correctness have reduced Stan’s public profile and the potential for him to grow his younger fan base in the manner of his contemporaries, he still has a large and loyal following, and he remains a popular figure on Merseyside.
So, it was a treat to sample his latest show at the Epstein Theatre, itself a hark back to the traditional ways of the good old days. Stan’s act went down a storm with the audience, many of whom will have grown up watching Stan and, as detailed in the opening paragraph, a crowd who preferred the days when simple and enjoyable jokes rather than the occasionally bloated and increasingly outrageous stories of modern comics. As such, the laughs came often, and they came loud. Sometimes, it was Stan’s delivery and facial expressions which made the joke rather than the material itself, but there were a plethora of classic jokes on display here. They also tied into modern culture on occasion, ensuring that this wasn’t a recycled routine from years gone by.
Stan’s act is such that whilst it appeals to the older generation, it’s very easy for a younger attendee to understand how Boardman works and to “get” his wit and wonderful sense of humour. It doesn’t take long to get comfortable with Stan, and the quick-fire nature of his jokes means that you’re bound to be laughing within minutes of the show getting under way. The show would occasionally focus on specific themes, such as holidays and the recent celebration of his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Vivienne, but they were packed with their own specific jokes rather than taking on a true story form. Case in point: Stan noticing that Vivienne’s eye was caught by a diamond ring in the window of a jewellery shop, and Stan subsequently treating his wife … by walking her back past the shop window to see the ring again.
What made this show a little different was the use of video footage from Stan’s career, such as his appearances on The Comedians and The Des O’Connor Show (the latter of which led to some big controversy at the time due to the use of a joke where he frequently said “Fokker”, live on television, before the watershed), as well as footage of other classic stand-ups from The Comedians and other television appearances. This helped provide some further structure to the show and some context to Stan detailing his life and times, dating back to his talents being discovered nationally on Opportunity Knocks. Actually, in the most positive tone that I can use to say this, some of the jokes featured on these clips were amongst the highlights of the evening due to their sheer simplicity. For instance, Mick Miller (one of the most underrated stand-up comedians ever, in my opinion) noted that there was a man at the door with a bald head, so he suggested that someone tell the visitor that he already has one. There were some production issues (an assistant named Jack was working on the show for the first time that day as a last-minute replacement, and did his best under the circumstances), but the audience were forgiving, and Stan even incorporated this into the act, as any great comedian will.
I also appreciated the manner in which Stan approached his material and his audience. Stan’s jokes were occasionally a bit off-colour, but they were never malicious, and they were always designed to be a rib-tickler as opposed to a verbal bullet aimed at those he may not care for. It’s all about making the people laugh, and in this environment, while it would be wrong to say that anything is fair game for a laugh, he can turn just about any situation into one that results in chuckles. As noted, it was clear too that Stan genuinely appreciates his audience, and moved the show along at their pace as opposed to his own, taking questions from attendees about his career and his opinions on various matters to close proceedings.
A mention, too, to Johnny Kennedy. A highly-experienced singer and entertainer, and a longtime friend of Boardman’s, Kennedy opened both halves of the show with some musical numbers, most notably Nessun Dorma. Again taking on a light, nostalgic feel, these renditions were extremely powerful and occasionally emotional to Kennedy for personal reasons, and they added to the warm, fuzzy feelings of the show taking the audience back to a friendlier and freer time period.
Overall, then, I would definitely recommend Stan Boardman’s show. While some lines may raise a few eyebrows, they are more than off-set by the wealth of classic jokes that you will hear, and the chance to hear one of the top comedians of the genre’s most artistically-profitable period at work, at the age of 79 no less, is an opportunity that one rarely receives. Comedy has changed and it will continue to change, but don’t ignore the work of a comic who will have inspired many of today’s top stand-ups. If you’re a fan of The Comedians and that era of comedy, and if you’re of the generation who grew up watching the likes of Ken Dodd and Frank Carson, you’ll love An Audience With Stan Boardman.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good