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Review: Andy Zaltzman at The Lowther Pavilion

The Lowther Pavilion is a venue which reminds me of my childhood. I remember playing hide and seek in the woods and strolling out with my sister on Halloween to show off our handmade costumes. Although I am familiar with the park I am less familiar with the Lowther’s theatre. Last Thursday I went to The Lowther Pavilion, with the intention to see a show, specifically Andy Zaltzman’s stand up show Satirist for Hire. The premise of the show was simple: before the night the audience coming to see Zaltzman would send the man an email stating a topic they wanted to be seriously satirised. And when I say seriously satirised, I mean satirised with a heavy dash of flourished analogy and some, well how to put it, imaginative props.

I must preface this review by saying I am a massive fan of The Bugle, the podcast Zaltzman records with John Oliver. In general I am a fan of Zaltzman and his perhaps unusual and often punchline-less style of satirical comedy. Therefore, to get a balanced review I brought my friend Pip along with me, a man with no Bugle or Zaltzman experience. I know for a fact that some people did not enjoy the show. A considerable number left after the first half. Andy Zaltzman is not everybody’s cup of tea; his jokes are often so dry that you don’t know whether to laugh or grab the nearest glass of water and his delivery can be so relaxed it’s on the verge of sleepiness. I, however, did enjoy the majority of the show. Perhaps this is because I’ve eased myself into Zaltzman’s style through The Bugle. I can see that for the uninitiated this performance would be a difficult and perhaps disappointing one.

We were ushered into the relaxed studio space where a healthy yet intimate amount of chairs were laid out about ten feet from the bar. I got two Cokes and sat down next to Pip who was reading an article on his phone. Then, after a moment, a figure came into the room from a door cut off from the audience. He stepped, head down, onto the small stage and addressed the audience who were already in good spirits. There was a problem. Unfortunately, Zaltzman did not have enough suggestions from the audience to start the show. Quickly he began to take suggestions from the immediate, live audience. Suggestions for satire included: Ebola, babies and Yew trees.

After a tenuous but friendly five minutes Zaltzman left the stage promising to return in five minutes or so. To some extent this small section which came before the show set the scene perfectly and foreshadowed the rest of the act; whilst Zaltzman took suggestions the audience laughed and, perhaps more importantly, the audience talked. Audience participation was a large part of the night in general and gave the stand up a unique edge. An edge which allowed for constructive heckles and a relaxed atmosphere. This preface also set the scene for a night of non-traditional satirical comedy.

I looked around the room. A few rows in front I saw the stage. On it lay an odd assortment of items which would no doubt be weaved into comedy gold through the power of Zaltzman’s delivery. However, many of these items were left untouched at the end of the evening. The items used, which included an empty beer bottle prone to fizzing, a stack of books, including Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography, and a musical stand made up of all of the major political colours, were appropriately woven into satirical brilliance. Andy Zaltzman entered again and this time started the show properly. Instead of jumping into an overwhelming round of jokes and quick one-liners Zaltzman leaned into the gig, perusing the audience, skilfully building up a rapport with the admittedly small group of people.

Despite the audience’s size the laughs were regular from most. Quickly, Zaltzman moved onto the emails. My email was the first to be discussed: “Is there a Kieran Wyatt here tonight?” I raised my hand surprisingly confidently and a strained yet funny dialogue commenced between Andy, Pip and I involving holy apparitions, my journalistic credentials and a cat named Derek. Eventually Zaltzman had squeezed everything out of my email, as he stumbled on I shouted out, with a well-meaning voice: “I think you should move on, Andy.” This wasn’t a criticism, or even a heckle; this ‘shouting-out’ is simply evidence of Zaltzman’s power to make an audience feel comfortable. This was key in an act which hinged on audience participation.

The show ended with a suitably patriotic crescendo. Zaltzman banged the microphone stand on the stage and yelled forth the praises of Great Britain. At this point the audience, although slightly smaller than at the beginning of the gig, made a great raucous noise – a joyous mix of laughter and yells of ironic agreement. The crescendo fizzled and there was only one more item to address – the selling of Bugle merchandise after the show. I am pleased to say that whilst writing this review I have kept on my Bugle scarf (bright orange and garish) and my Bugle cap (black and orange and equally garish). I am also pleased to say that I shook the hand of Andy Zaltzman, the man who created one of my favourite podcasts. At the end of the evening I turned to Pip, just before we got into the car to go home and he said to me: “Well, are you gonna be honest in your review?” I said yes. I’m guessing, however, that his idea of an honest review wouldn’t have been the same as mine.

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