By Helen Murphy and Nick Pelling

As we all know, the Covid 19 virus lacked a sense of humour. Instead, it came with an instruction to stay at home and watch a man called Matt Hancock – taking a break from his bottom fondling duties – dribbling on about the need to stay in your cupboard. Not much of a laugh. So, a certain mysterious Mr Anthony Benelux deserves great credit for starting a sequence of comedy nights that are helping to kick start the Hastings comedy scene back into life.

The back room of The Pig has all the desired qualities of a comedy spot. Last Friday it was dark and yet illuminated here and there with red and purple lights:– creating that perfect sense that this club is actually a clandestine tavern for a conspiracy to be hatched against reality. (Apparently, ‘to conspire’ literally means to breathe – or laugh – together) and Mr B was our compere and conspirator in chief.

(Left) Lauren Douglin; (Right) Juliet Brando

His thing seems to be to pretend he doesn’t quite know what he is doing. But after a while, we realised that this might not be a pretence. But the shtick worked well in soliciting sympathy from the punters. Later, he thanked us all for being “quite a good audience” and told us that he was “very pleased with us.” To be honest, we were just relieved and amused that his shambolic strategy seemed to work. 

The comedians on show were incredibly different.  First up was the rather youthful Ben Morgan who told us that in one of his very first gigs he was told to “fuck off back to your gap year.” Such are the pains of apprentice jesters, I suppose. But, he was very funny.

In the more grown-up corner was ‘Riggs,’ who seemed to think that if you were involved in a Brighton-style naked bicycle ride in his hometown of Darlington it could only mean your clothes had been nicked. For a northerner, he was really not keen on the north. In fact, he came across as an escapee from a grim world yearning just to be levelled. Not in the bogus-Boris sense, more in the sense of aerial bombing. 

I suppose most comedians end up inhabiting a persona. Kitty Cassis was the modern beautician from hell and probably what we all deserve. She was caked in heavy make-up with a leopard skin top –it was what she called her “natural look.” The painful contortions of the modern woman featured quite a bit in the show. Juliet Brando pitched herself as a sort of overwound human sex toy, thrumming with dangerously demented self-confidence: she was, in her own words, “quite a catch.” She was also “starring” in a film, as an extra, “down The Carlisle.” And then there was ‘Sue the cleaner’ who was perhaps the most warped creation of the entire evening, being a kind of bizarre drag incarnation of a rubbish care-worker. Sue had a nice line in catty put-downs, disparaging a woman who “had a haircut like a waitress from Harvester’s.” In sharp contrast, Natalie Bryce is a subtle Scottish comedian who seemed to say that she had “walked 500 miles” only to end up on a naff ghost tour of a house in Portsmouth. Confusing. 

On the more surreal comedy seashore was Brad Jon Kane: a soft and slow speaking member of the Brighton bewildered community, but incredibly hilarious. He was very worried about shops that say ‘we welcome dogs’ but don’t mention ‘humans.’

Lauren Douglin is one of Hastings’ most successful performing artists: – she is an actor, writer and comedian and probably one of the town’s funniest exports. She is upfront about being mixed race: being from Barbados and Bexhill. Or at least Bexhill College. She captures the agonies of youth very well about how the Bexhill college boys thought she was Rihanna’s cousin, which she was quick not to deny. And yet, her attempts to be the sex umbrella were undone by the simple fact that, according to her, she had “enormous fucking feet.”  The bi-pedal hugeness was apparently magnified even more by having to wear her brother’s bright white trainers. And yet of course the boys kept coming, so to speak.  Although as she said – in a delightfully obscene riff on rings – she was most likely to say, “No, No Frodo.” Lauren Douglin has tremendous wit and charisma and that definitely makes her one to watch. 

Mr Benelux we salute you. Whoever you are. The Hastings comedy conspiracy is very much alive and chuckling and growing. The acts were wonderfully diverse but we can say that they all obeyed the first rule of comedy – be funny.

The next Comedy Cuisine at The Pig is on 8 July. The Hastings Comedy Festival is on at various pub venues from 15-19 June. Go to hastingscomedyfestival.com


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