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Comedy: The Green Room/Duke St

Angie Sammons goes to Ricky Tomlinson's latest venue see if Mick Miller, Duncan 'chase me' Norvelle and Jimmy Cricket have moved on since the 80s

Written by . Published on August 5th 2010.

Comedy: The Green Room/Duke St

MYTH of the day. Everybody in Liverpool is a comedian.

This is an idea originally given legs outside the city - and now believed universally.

However, it's not true. Granted, you crack a fast quip in any Liverpool pub and someone will come back at you as quickly as Albererto Juantorena to a starting pistol at the 1976 Olympics.

It's not every day you come back from the bar to the sight of Duncan “Chase Me” Norvelle, skipping across a stage, to music, with one happy Herbert Howe linked in his arms

So you whack one back. They instantly slam another across the pumps. And on it goes until one of you gives up. It's funny, but it's not funny. These are the hard and very fast rules of engagement here, and, if you are sharp, you win.

Crack the same line in our nearest big city and it's a bit different. There's a seven-second delay. Think Ron Pickering reporting, via crackly satellite from Montreal (“there goes Juantorena down the back straight, opening his legs and showing his class."). At best, your quarry at the bar will smile politely while they wait for the whole line to stop twistin' their melon. But, by the 'eck, they do get there eventually.

Fact of the day: There are lots of comedians who are from Liverpool – but that's entirely different

We don't all spend our lives in stitches. The natural Liverpool banter is too serious for that, honed by generations taking the piss out of one another. And It plays in the background. Dads stinging young lads coming in with their mates; the cruellest and most barbed jibes you could ever expect from any woman lashed at the man of her dreams.

So if the wit of unprofessional scousers washes over us 24/7, how about a professional one or two?

You have to be pretty good to make the indigenous Liverpool crowd howl with laughter, and Ricky Tomlinson appears to know which buttons to push.

His new venue, the Green Room in Duke Street, is not quite what you expect as a 21st century follow on from such venerated venues as “The She”, which must surely have been a Bobby Grant favourite.

For a start it has a huge shop front window like a tool hire showroom. They have done their best though to put on the Ritz. There are photo-collages of Hollywood legends on all the walls, interspersed with mug shots of the man who made his interchangeable alter egos, Bobby Grant and Jim Royle, household names: “Holly Go-Lightly-Ratzo-Ricky. Sugar Kane-Victor Lazslo-Ricky. Etc.

Ricky and co want to bring back old fashioned cabaret. Complete with waitress service and his big contacts book.

And so welcome end-of-the-pier comic Jimmy Cricket, the most famous son of Cookstown since George Best and who probably hasn't played a late room audience like this since Jamesons claimed GB's first healthy liver.

At the height of his fame, Cricket was to be found with various stuffed creatures and a letter from his mammy on the insufferably dreadful The Good Old Days.

Here, in 2010, the packed audience finds this helplessly funny: “I went to the optician. He said 'Have you come to have your eyes checked?' I said, 'No, I'm keeping them blue.'” And on and on and on like this for 45 mins of “Irish logic”.

I am suspicious of people who use phrases like “post modern irony” to try to explain or describe a crowd's enjoyment, in 2010, of watching acts like this. You either embrace it and get it for what it is or you go and watch a Jack Dee video.

This lot are variety, not modern stand-up: they do a song, a dance, get a puppet or a toy out, bit o' magic.

Ben Elton at the vanguard of alternative comedy did none of this, just a bit o' politics, and all those in his wake ditto. That's no bad thing. However, if Jimmy Carr were to try the old way now, it would just be another reason to want to kill him.

But back to tonight, and it's not every day you come back from the bar to the sight of Duncan “Chase Me” Norvelle, skipping across a stage, to music, with one happy Herbert Howe linked in his arms. But of course in the Green Room, life is a cabaret, old chum, and that's what the rapt audience were loving as an opener to the second set.

Now in his late 50s, still cutting a dash, Norvelle, Midlands boy who was once deemed too camp to host Blind Date, is still affecting the ultra gay persona. This is despite having been married three times and with kids. In the pub the next day, all this led one pal to wondering if pretending to be gay was the same, in political correctness terms, as blacking up. I didn't really know, as Les Dennis, as Mavis Riley, might have offered if he'd been across the bar.

After Herbert, Norvelle calms down by sitting on butch balding men's knees and flirts with the waitresses for more drinks from the bar. “It's all right Ricky, just knock it off my fee....I know you will,” he observes witheringly, crowd baying for more.

Under 35s look away as Duncan, with engaging slick, launches into his stock-in trade impressions – ah, Frank Spencer and John Inman – and then the pre-formatted show-stopper ballad.

We were wrung out with Summertime Special memories by the time compere Ricky came back on to tell us that Norvelle was signing a selection of merchandise in the corner.

Just when we thought we should do one, on came Mick Miller. Now 60, and with his trademark bald head and long hair, Miller epitomises the polish and professionalism of old school, working- -mens-club comedy with the new. From stints on New Faces and The Comedians and acting in Alan Bleasdale's 1978 Play For Today, Scully's New Year, where he played the part of a wannabe stand up comedian, you'd have thought it would be all over for Miller long ago. Not so: He now stars in Ideal with Johnny Vegas, for god's sake, and brings the house down on the comedy stages at Glastonbury.

Miller, unlike the others, has evolved with the zeitgeist. He does cracking observational comedy that gets down with both the old bastards and the kids. When my camera does its fuzzy sensor flash thing, he immediately shouts across so everyone looks: “Police in with those bloody tasar guns already?” Smart as a whip, and no surprise, then, that he's from the Dingle.

The Green Room is filling an enormous gap in the market and given those £25-a-shot laughter-seekers who packed the place, is probably going to do well.

Indeed, for a certain type of paying punter “there has been nothing like this since the Wookey Hollow closed,” I observed as we left.

“Except for swingers' parties...” batted back a friend, then weall chorused: “and not everyone can live in Maghull.”

It was a sharp exit.

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16 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Kaiser Bill's BatmanJuly 29th 2010.

The Good Old Days was an awful memory on the childhood. As awful as Friday Night is Music Night or even worse, Sing Something Simple. Then punk. Then Alexei Sayle and the new wave of Ben Eltons. Not all great. But not all as bad as that. Then it stops. Nostalgia shows like The Good Old Days turn my stomach over remembering them.

Putin's Tea LadyJuly 29th 2010.

Yeah! ´Post War Child' must be really old and have an embarrassing record collection.MOVE WITH THE TIMES, GRANDAD!

The Unreal Tommy CooperJuly 29th 2010.

What kind of comment is "The under 35s looked away"?The under-35s are a ludicrously over-promoted group whose importance is wildly over-exagerrated. We must be thankful that their numbers are falling every day.

Mike NearyJuly 29th 2010.

Ben Elton is not privaledged, he earned his money whether you like it / him or not. I'll grant anyone his musicals are awful but his nove;s are great especially 'Popcorn' and 'The First Casualty'.

Post War ChildJuly 29th 2010.

The Good Old Days, and Friday Night Is Music Night eh. What's wrong with that? How about everything. If there was anything that was more wrist-slittingly bad, I wasn't exposed to it, and I witnessed the whole of the Vietnam war on the tele every night for a decade. It was utter shite from tip to toe. If I didn't know better, it would be easy to suspect that V. I. Lenin, or Kautsky was my elderly aunt Elsie, except I know she thinks the internet is the thing that keeps her rollers in place while she does her nightly port and lemon.

Ronnie Gade-KautskyJuly 29th 2010.

MrLenin is correct. The Good Old Days was marvellous. Something they couldn't do now as many of the turns had come from the vaudeville tradition and were fully rounded performers. Yes there were the duffers but it was also a great showcase for acts that were far more talented than some of the pretenders we see today who will soon be forgotten. It couldn't be done now as we simply don't have those kind of artists round anymore. Instead of Leonard Sachs they would probably have Phil Jupitus introducing Jimmy Carr and Patrick Kielty. I think some of the warmth would lost particularly when Lily Allen led us in a chorus of Down at the Old Bull and Bush. As for Ben Elton, I could see he was a phoney from day one. When he first appeared in the ITV review show with Fry and Laurie Robbie Coltraine and Emma Thompson. His stand -up which followed on SatFrid Live was formula drivel to appeal to pisshead students on the either harmless populist no thinking required Socialist Worker Maggie Out level or it was ground breaking Tampon comedy. I' ll let him off with Blackadder although that was sometimes very patchy. the Young Ones was for the most part unfunny and again for pisshead students and now he is an open and complete Multi-millionaire Luvee, which is probably the aspiration of many of the current stand-ups on TV. Fair enough I suppose. I would prefer 15 Minutes with Mick Miller to an hour of Carr or Russel whatsits from mock the week and if I ever see the obnoxious Frankie Boyle again it will be too soon.

Big-Hearted ArthurJuly 29th 2010.

Sheila Steafel is indeed a proper entertainer in theatre, in the sixties satire boom on television, in feature films and 'The Good Old Days' but I bet if you ask any of these blokeish, dishevelled oafs that pass for performers on the BBC these days they wouldn't know what you were talking about.

V. I. Lenin AirportJuly 29th 2010.

‘The Good Old Days’ was not “insufferably dreadful” and privileged richboy Ben Elton was not “at the vanguard of alternative comedy” (unless you count his laughably passé mullet hair ‘style’ and clownish clothes) he was merely a rabble-rouser who told the audience the orthodoxies they wanted to hear. He didn’t even tell jokes.

Tommy CooperJuly 29th 2010.

Sounds a good place to die laughing. You coiuld tell from just looking at him, that Mick Miller would be the only one worth seeing.

Henry KissingerJuly 29th 2010.

People talk about the horror of the Viet Nam war but let me tell you this. It was not as bad as having to sit through Danny La Rue singing "On Mother Killers Doorstep" on The Good Old Days

The Real Tommy CooperJuly 29th 2010.

That man's an impostor! I am Tommy Cooper!

Returning OfficerJuly 29th 2010.

They are good reason to put the voting age up to 36. It was under-35s who caused all that trouble in the polling stations

V. I. Lenin AirportJuly 29th 2010.

I never said he was privaledged, I said he was privileged. His accent was 'mockney' too

Ronnie Gade-kautskyJuly 29th 2010.

Oh alright then. But I still liked Sheila Steafel as Popsie Whopsie singing I'm much too young to know you know, and Billy Dainty in a straw hat and one piece bathing suit.

LYNNIE.17December 14th 2010.

for any members out there who do not fancy being 'chased' by the original chase-me duncan norvelle; go along to the green room and witness the Maestro at work; The incomparable voice of Legendary Joe Longthorne - for a night to remember. Dates of Mr Longthornes performances are available from the Green Rooms direct.

Stage Door JohnnyDecember 14th 2010.

So where is this Green Room?

Tne above rant is rather prejudice-heavy but information-light!

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