before you can slip him a Xanax. You see. Phil Nichol is not demented. He's just outstandingly good at what he does. (Sam Healy)

I The Stand ll. 558 7272. until 28 Aug, 70.40pm. E8 (E7).

STEVE HUGHES Weird answers to strange questions I...

When the lights go Out in the Baby Belly‘s dank grotto. Steve Hughes carries on. After ten minutes he realises he's been pOintIessly holding a dead microphone in his hand but it doesn't matter. as his material needs no amplification. Hughes‘ main thrust is that we're all one peOple: it's not a case of ‘us' and 'them'. It's just a shame that ‘they' haven't realised that yet.

Taking in Australia. death metal. women. Buddhism. Jimmy Nail. ninjas. non-dualism and shoes. in between attempting to spark up a particularly tightly-rolled ciggie. he never fails to find the good joke. and every so often that's the obvious joke too. How do you offend a Satanist? Why are there so many asylum seekers in this country? Who's on their way to becoming an alien? What's wrong with a 90-year-old racist? Not the answers you‘d expect. anyhow. Or maybe they might be.

Hughes" timing is impeccable. Unhurriedly delivering the lead-up in silence. the punchlines cause a mass forward-creasing of the audience like a jolting train. The only disappointment is when he peters out into a philosophical arc. because ‘he doesn‘t like to write an end'. But sometimes life finishes on a joke. doesn‘t it? (Robin Lee)

I Baby Bel/y. 0870 745 3083. until 28 Aug. 9.30pm, 28.50—29.50 (27-28).


Breathing life into the well-worn comedic trails 0000

There are some rather delicious incongruities in the adventures of Alan Carr. Son of a professional footballer and effulgent queer: histOry buff and avid tabloid reader: compassionate friend and bilious soapboxer; call centre alumnus and fine comedian. These contrary forces make for a difficult childhood (boo) and an entertaining show (hurrah). Using oversize TOp Trump cards to introduce the audience to the largely familial influences on his early life overbearing father. ginger brother. tempestuous mother. assorted deeply obscure Northampton football teams Carr unlocks a keenly rendered. curiously warm-hearted dystopia of orthodontic braces. sexual

inadequacy. inventive bullying and made-up sports before moving on to adult observations. These include the 21 st century obsession with document shredding. dire holidays and the perils of adOpting chav pets.

Most of them are as wry and slick as the biographical stuff. though Carr occasionally punches below his intellectual weight. He's smarter and more erudite than some of his populist routines. and his act COuld benefit from a mite more faith in his audience's sophistication. The ‘Troubled Childhood' is one of the most timeworn gambits in stand-up. A lesser comedian than Carr would struggle to keep it fresh. but this quizzical queen approaches the conceit with enough exuberance and insight to make it sparkle. (Sam Healy) I Assembly Rooms. 226 2428. until 29Aug, 70pm, £7 7—272 ($70—87 7); 27 Aug, 7.30pm. E74 (E73).


A return visit with a ‘happy' ending 0...

1984 was a very bad year for Rhod Gilbert. His clan may have been awarded ‘Family of the Year' in Llanbobl for 1983. but the following 12 months were one long hell. There wasn't a single Gilbert among them who didn‘t experience some cruel misfortune. whether it was gOry dismemberment or gross disloyalty but it certainly makes for a superb one-hour set. They say that the greatest comedy is based on truth. Quite an irony then that all of this is. as Gilbert freely admits. completely made-up. Every single word of it.

What wasn't fake was Gilbert’s abject deflation at the end of his show when the video-projection mini-movie failed to work. The sighs and frustrated grunts from his tech suggested that this was no comical set-up. and as the Voice of Wales silently slouched from the stage. you could tell a rammy was on the cards. So. in an act of total respect and

sheer professionalism, I thought it only right that I should return to experience the full glory (whether I would have bothered had he been rubbish is a matter for pure conjecture). The grand finale adds a slice of poignancy to the whole and to see Gilbert deliver the same material again was a pure delight.

(Brian Donaldson)

I Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550. until 28 Aug. 8.25pm, 88.50—29.50 (£7—E8).


A trio of ribticklers with Scouse sensibilities 0000

We all love a good regional stereotype. Geordies are just Glaswegians with their brains kicked out. Aberdonians are as mean as Geordies with intelligence and as for those Brummies: oh dear oh dear. But the one that gets us time and again is that Scousers are absolutely hilarious. natural wit oozing from their open veins. Whoever propagated that theory has clearly never spent time in a room with Lily Savage. Derek Hatton or

Jennifer Ellison. Yet. on the basis of this

show. we may have to rethink that one and conclude that Liver boys are capable of comedic genius.

The whole thing actually starts With a scary Cockney. entertainment agent

Terry Diamond. a widower twice over.

having had wives die in the most mysterious of Circumstances. This light- suited gangland guru has some new proteges to thrust upon a Willing public

and they all happen to hail from the

Liverpool area. There's Nige. a dopey scally with a song in his heart but

without a proper guitarist to realise his dreams: Craig Kilkenny. whose slick

Bryan Ferryisms shroud a different

personality: and Gerald Roberts. a



driver to the stars with many tall tales to tell. This hysterical trio is the creation of Keith Carter. a man whose name should remain a secret for not too much longer. (Brian Donaldson)

I Cafe Royal. 556 2549. until 28 Aug (not 23), 9.20pm, E 7 (£6).

STEVE FURST Bad men and big women 0000

The ginger. balding one from those mobile phone adverts at the cinema is also a rather good actor. and on this evidence. a skilled reader of characters. Steve Furst presents five suburban eccentrics in person and one on video. Not only are his peOple Cleverly drawn. but he puts some absolutely fabulous turns of phrase in their mouths.

Dave Pike is a stuntman. and a bad one at that. ‘The Pike' is accompanied by his protege Mark while he talks about his broken career. Then comes the impotent middle manager who's joining the Farmside Posse. They might beat him up but at least they talk to him. unlike the chaps in the office. Jineed Al-Sharif is a terrorist: he's under house arrest but is more concerned that his codename is the same as an ex-member of Steps.

The man in the high-waisted slacks and nondescript jumper loves big women. Madeleine is upstairs. 38 stone and rising. and he's about to give her some more cake. Next is foppish throwback Queenie. with a penchant for violence developed after a stretch in prison for defrauding a private bank. And finally. a lesson in why young offenders shouldn't be allowed to watch daytime television. (Robin Lee)

I Assembly Rooms. 226 2428. until Aug 28 (not 22), 8.45pm, 29—2 7 7 ($38—$70).