Review: Stewart Francis ‘Pun Gent’ at Ipswich Corn Exchange, February 10

Comedian Stewart Francis, at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, February 24

Comedian Stewart Francis, at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, February 24 - Credit: Archant

“Nine of diamonds. Sorry, my mind is playing tricks with me.”

Within seconds of sauntering on to the stage, poker-faced (sorry) Canadian comic Stewart Francis had the old Ipswich Corn Exchange grand hall echoing with laughter.

But we weren’t expecting anything else from one of the best in the business. His gags are varied and creative, intellectual and not signposted. They are based on current events and simple wordplay, but can also involve physical comedy. This results in a significant payoff for the audience.

But the night began with the dreaded, unknown warm-up. This Wednesday night crowd took a long time to thaw out and become responsive, and fellow Canadian Allyson June Smith did an adequate job in facilitating this.

Her best joke involved lampooning Britney Spears. She compared her singing to a chipmunk suffering an asthma attack, and then performed a sustained impression of this.

She got some sections of the audience going. But I noticed, rather awkwardly, that after around 15 minutes myself and the guy sat next to me had not laughed once.

This all changed after the interval and the emergence of the headline act, though. I have loved his witty one-liners made famous on several television programmes over the last five years or so, and this was the first time I had seen him live.

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He did not disappoint. His one-liners are superbly crafted and well-timed. His parents are British and he is clearly well tuned-in to the notorious British psyche and sense of humour. Although I was disappointed pretty much no-one got his Leslie Nielsen Airplane reference of “Shirley/surely”. Stewart, if you’re reading, I got it, and loved it. I love it! (That’s a Naked Gun reference).

He told 12, 24, 36 – dozens of jokes – and changed his pace and altered his volume at appropriate times. He mentioned attending a reunion for Vietnam vets in his usual sober and measured tone, but then shouted when pointing to a member of the audience: “YOU WEREN’T THERE MAN! YOU WEREN’T THERE!” It was superb.

He even danced to The Stylistics, when he pretended to be under the illusion he was dancing and singing along to The Four Tops. A large projector screen behind him informed us it was The Stylistics. The screen was also used to parody the likes of Russell Brand and, to some dismay, Stephen Fry. Does he really use his superior intellect to shame us?

When he occasionally flirted with controversial topics such as gang rapes and paedophilia, the innocent essence and tone he adopts meant it was okay to laugh without being afflicted by sharp pains of guilt. This distinguishes him from contemporaries and out-of-favour comedians clinging on to 1970s fame.

He finished strong and justified his billing. I would be very interested to see him interact with the audience more, like Al Murray. When he did, like with “New York guy”, he seemed very relaxed and confident, and funny of course.

So well done Stewart Francis for living up to my expectations and livening up our Wednesday night with your Pun Gent show – his third tour of the UK. Although I won’t be going to India any time soon (you’ll have to buy his DVD to find out why).

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