Altitude Festival 2012 - Gala Comedy Night One review

Opening night of the Austrian comedy festival reviewed

Photographer:Anthony Upton

Chris Swindells - 30 March 2012

Howling down the side of mountain on his way to present the opening gala night of Altitude Comedy Festival 2012 in Austria, Andrew Maxwell (9/10) is a whirlwind of giddy energy. The long established Irish comic is a safe pair of hands with these compere gloves on, and the crowd of 800 comedy fans watching have every opportunity to become part of the show as he storms through personal introductions for the first night of the festival.

Aussie opener Brendon Burns (6/10) might have got his bad boy reputation handing out mushrooms on a Glastonbury stage but he's a different man now. Sober and clean - thank god his material hasn't gone the same way, stuck as it is in the stew of mucky metaphor and sick similes that have the usual dividing effect, conquering as it does a good half of the audience tonight.

Michael Winslow (8/10) is about to work on Police Academy 8, seriously - eight. In Austria the madcap film franchise star is far from the glitz of the Hollywood sign, but the voice of a thousand men - or man of a thousand voices, Winslow, has nothing to fear tonight but a sore throat. From overdubbing Star Wars to serenading the grand hall with a 'Wonderful World', it's moments of vocal hi jinx that come together best when they're spat; gurgling and growling out of the speakers. Some would question how this has come to constitute comedy today, be it as it is with no discernible gags or punchlines, but this would make a captivating show with honest laughs in any decade. A one man multi-sensory spectacular.

Following a Hollywood star wouldn't suit everyone, but Frankie Boyle (9/10) isn't everyone. He's the vile outsider, the condemned commenter, cast out to dig up the evil living deep within us all, and his increasingly close-to-the-bone jokes are met, typically, with the most primal of responses. Faces wince in either the pain of laughter or the pain of disgust, as he takes the black slope to the dark place: "Say what you like about the Yorkshire ripper but least he has a good wank bank."

Now free of the restraints of BBC television, Boyle is at his most potent when he's off the leash and left to chuckle at the cruel absurdity of his own gags. A reference to Michael Jackson and a children's hospital walking so far from civility and the acceptable it's hard to see how Boyle's final tour this year could do anything but wet the appetite for more.

The closing act of the gala is a man who, like Boyle, parts public opinion as Moses does water, but only with a couple more rape gags. Boyle can trump this for relentless material but Jimmy Carr (8/10) in slick suit and rigid, camera-ready smile gives it a professionalism that's hard to fault, even when he works against the more boisterous corners of the room, hecklers chancing their card. The pace-setter works to double step the crowd, 'If you're scared of pedophiles.. grow up' he says, stopping just long enough to allow laughter before he drops in another gag-bomb.

It's a strong finale, even if some of the material feels familar. Carr doesn't resolve to using slideshows or audience interaction as he has previous, instead a tight 'greatest hits' routine. Spending just four hours in the resort it seems a brief meeting of great minds, and Carr leaves a worthy headliner. Tonight will inevitably belong to Carr and Boyle, for pushing the boundaries of the conscious and mind in Mayrhofen.


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