Leicester comedy festival review – Jackie Weaver whips the Comedians’ Council into line

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<span>Photograph: PA</span>
Photograph: PA

Available online
Weaver chairs as Suzi Ruffell and Paul Sinha field questions from the crowd, Nathan Caton riffs on lockdown with a new girlfriend and Jessica Fostekew talks no-nonsense parenting


You can’t accuse Jackie Weaver of not seizing the opportunity when a meeting of Handforth parish council, Cheshire, that she chaired via Zoom a year ago this week, became a viral sensation. She has since written a book, launched a podcast, and starred in The Archers. Live comedy was only a matter of time – and so it comes to pass with Comedians’ Council, which casts Weaver as chair and three standups as disputatious councillors fielding parochial questions from the crowd.

I encountered the event as part of the streaming platform NextUp’s coverage of the Leicester comedy festival, which runs in the east Midlands and online this month.

You won’t find the biggest names on NextUp’s livestreams – but this collection of up-and-comers and bubbling-unders offers a choice cross-section of UK comedy, particularly for those of us feeling festival-starved by Covid. The opening event First Night Funnies mainlined variety, with a character act, a Gen Z newcomer and a sketch double-act alongside dependable Live at the Apollo vet Nathan Caton. As Caton pointed out, this mixed-bill event at a “pizza shop in Leicester” was a far cry from the BBC’s bright lights. But it set the ball rolling, with likable material from Anna Magliano about a teenage trip to a sexual health clinic, sub-Flight of the Conchords spoof R&B from Good Kids (AKA Kieran Ahern and Tom Dowling) – and Caton on being locked-down with his recently acquired girlfriend.

On Saturday night, Jessica Fostekew also talked Covid cohabitation, in her case with a six-year-old son. With strong, no-nonsense material about parenting in London, and discovering her queerness in her 30s, Fostekew’s set was the standout on a bill that also featured giggling bundle of musical nonsense Katie Pritchard, and Richard Stott riffing on his Poland syndrome, which led him to have surgery so that he had two fingers replaced with toes on one hand.

Like Stott’s, Jamie MacDonald’s set Reasonably Adjusted zeroes in on his disability, taking its cue from a poll in which blindness was voted “the worst thing that could ever happen to you”. In front of a small and tentative crowd, but with jokes that deserved a bigger, louder one, the Glaswegian doesn’t suggest life without vision is any bowl of cherries – see his gag about feeling “like a municipal pinball” on bin day, when everyone leaves their wheelie bins on the pavement. But, ranging from his school years, via the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, which changed his life, to a droll gag about “disabled appropriation” in the present day, he offers an upbeat if unsentimental take on visual impairment.

If I’d known in advance the format for Weaver’s show, I’d have submitted my own question for the council’s consideration. “Is it a comedy festival when you watch it all from your own front room?” Instead, the two-and-a-half participating comics (Suzi Ruffell arrives late) ad-lib to the likes of “should you wear Crocs over the age of eight?” and “how big a dog is too big?”

The council-meeting conceit is stretched very thin, but Weaver makes up in spirit, and occasional humour, what she lacks in slick presentational skills. (Awkward pauses abound.) By the end, the arbitrariness of the questions has defeated Sunil Patel, and it’s only Paul Sinha’s quick wit and Ruffell’s eagerness to make amends that keep the show afloat. If this is a TV show in utero – and with Weaver’s recent record, you wouldn’t bet against it – it may need a little more development.

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