Tim is about five or ten years older than me, lanky, thin and has floppy, foppy centre-parted blond hair. His style of comedy is extremely quickfire, almost to excess; he has been timed at up to ten jokes per minute. His jokes tend to be either puns, typically remarkably strained ones, physical humour, absurd wordplay or just plain silliness, leading to comparisons with Tommy Cooper. A relatively unusual aspect of his style is that he avoids blue humour and the most abusive term he used in a joke all night was "stupid cow". For those who care about such things, he's openly Christian (popupmania warning). There are some sample gags of his available if you like.
He came to prominence in 1995 by winning the Perrier Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh comedy festival and was soon afterwards lined up to host Whittle for the nascent Channel 5. I enjoyed his hosting style on the first series and appeared as a contestant on the second. (See anecdote in "interviews" post.) Tonight was very nearly the first time I had seen him since then... this time, in his natural role as a comedian rather than as a game show host. Middlesbrough Theatre has a capacity of slightly over 400; I would estimate tonight's attendance as 100-150, which can't have been helped by the fact that the England football team were playing live on TV that night and even less so by the fact that the match was also taking place here in Middlesbrough at the same time.
Tim was supported by his friend and writing partner, comedy magician John Archer. John has only a tiny fraction of the fame of Tim... and, based on tonight's performance, with pretty good reason. Over his 40 minute set, he did a warm-up routine involving getting the audience to clap in several different styles before the whopping total of four extended tricks. His style is very different from Tim's, almost diametrically opposite; he picks someone out from the audience almost within the first minute and most of his gags are targeted at mocking that person. Now I was the first person to book for the show and so had a front row seat right at the centre, but happily/luckily I was only his #3 target and I think he realised I was more reluctant about it than most.
John's four magic tricks were:
- a simple palming routine based on apparently plucking a light out of thin air and/or sundry parts of the body, throwing it to audience members and so forth. Pretty much Magic 101, really.
- Pass someone in the audience (me) a pack of cards and check they're real. Palm these cards and replace them by a fake deck made up of repeats of three cards. Make a great show of entombing this changed pack of cards in elastic bands. Get audience members to throw it to each other, each looking at one card in the deck. Then reveal the three volunteers' cards. Now he doesn't say who had which card, but each volunteer acknowledges that their card was one of the three he mentioned - so presumably they were the only three cards repeated in the deck. Once you can do the switch, this comes straight from Magic 102.
- Someone in the audience picks a 2-digit number from 34 to 99. (In this case, 40, despite lots of encouragement that they want to swap to 34.) He then produces a highly magic 4x4 square of numbers so that rows, columns, diagonals, corners, corner squares and so on all add up to the requested number. Arithmetic, not magic, but I guess most people hadn't seen it before.
- Someone brings a £20 note on-stage. John then bets the audience member that note that he can't guess the note's serial number - which he does through a very silly cheat. He then gives the audience member a chance to win it back by putting it in one of five envelopes and burning four of them one at a time. The fifth envelope is empty, but the note is found in a sixth envelope (with the serial number written on it!) hidden in his wallet. Again this is palmistry from Magic 102 coupled with an elaborate routine.
The only really funny part of his act was to do with the way he dressed the magic squares trick up. He claimed that he would break his own world record of 28 seconds for producing this magic square; he asked his timing volunteer to call out after five seconds, ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five. Now what happened in practice is that the timing volunteer - who I suspect to have been someone playing silly-bugger rather than a plant - called out after the first four, fairly obviously counting a little slowly, was stopped by Archer and announced the elapsed time to be thirty seconds, clearly on the wrong side of 28. Archer was not happy. He ad-libbed through it to the conclusion, though. Definitely the funniest part of his act.
After a 15-minute interval, main event Tim Vine came on for a set which lasted about an hour. He was great. I recognised about a third of his material, maybe a half, partly from having seen it on TV and seen a number of the gags he's used on e-mails which went around. However, in addition to those, there were lots of physical gags which don't translate into any other format apart from stand-up, which were extremely funny, and a few songs which I hadn't heard before. His songs are largely less funny than his gags, but still decent enough and they do break the routine up. The funniest song was a medley of other songs with salient words replaced with the word "thumb" in increasingly silly and desperate manners, sung in the appropriate style, with the help of an oversized prop thumb for gesture. Now you might recognise this as a variant of the lines from Star Wars rewritten to include the word "pants" gag, about which I have a story, but that's for another day. This is a very good implementation, at least.
Happily, Tim did all the old favourites about animal noises and "I'd like to buy a hat." "Bobble?" "Iiiii'd liiiike to buyyyyy a haaaat." inverted-principle-Tom-Swifties. I'm not going to list them all here, not least because I'm inevitably going to use a large number of them myself over the coming months, but you can look at the samples and Google yourself for more if you like. One favourite joke of his which I hadn't heard before, by way of example:
I went for a job as a builder. They asked me if I had my own plumb line. I said "Hello, would you like a plum?"The funniest one-off happening, specific to Middlesbrough, was that someone had to get up and go to the toilet half-way through his act, caused by a bevvy or two during the interval and excessive laughter. He said he was going to go into a "mind-reading" routine based on the person when he returned, based on information from the guy's mates, but the guy's mates didn't actually know all that much about him - like the name of the street where he lived. Nevertheless, Tim said that he would guess at least half of the name of the returnee's place: "Road. Street. Lane." The returnee shook his head, smiled and said "Close." That got a very good laugh.
The encore concluded with John coming back on and Tim singing a song to him. It had its moments ("Here's a pack of Fruit Pastilles... but I've eaten all the red ones. Here's a pack of Minstrels... but I've eaten all the brown ones.") but was generally played far too straight and didn't work so well. If I had to stretch for negative criticisms, it's that (as was evident on Whittle and, as Tim acknowledged even today) Tim doesn't ad-lib all that well. (On the other hand, he does have the audience on his side and the breaks are welcome.) His look has changed a bit; since his Whittle days, his fresh late-20s face has sharpened into a 30s face. On top of that, he's grown some dubious sideburns - about half a Dave Gorman's worth. Shave 'em, Tim. You're an innocent comic - you ought to look the part.
Nevertheless, bags and bags of laughs. A lot of the laughs were from familiarity rather than from surprise, when I'd heard him tell the gags before, and the sheer pace of his routine forces you to compress each laugh into a second or two before the next joke hits you. All the same, I left the performance (with an autograph - I'd taken a pic of me on Whittle for him to autograph!) sorrowful that it was all over and truly reminiscent of how much fun it had been.
A great night. If you think you like the sound of a pun-filled silly "Joke Machine-Gun Tour" show like that, I suspect you won't find it done better by anyone other than by Tim Vine. His coming gigs are at Whitehaven (12th June), Swindon (13th), Brighton (14th), Southsea (15th), Cheltenham (16th), Wolverhampton (19th), Armagh (21st), Glasgow (22nd), York (27th) and the Soho Theatre in London (9th-12th July). I suspect there may be more with an interest in Tim Vine before long.
Off to Oxford for punt!t00bage in six and a third hours. What a great few days it has been and will be!