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Jesterval delivers the laughs on Tyneside

If you've crossed the Millennium Bridge this weekend, there’s a decent chance you’ll have heard the echoes of laughter ringing out across the Tyne

Ben Norris and Jason Cook
Ben Norris and Jason Cook

If you’ve crossed the Millennium Bridge this weekend, there’s a decent chance you’ll have heard the echoes of laughter ringing out across the Tyne.

And what a lovely sound it was too.

Jesterval, the Newcastle Gateshead comedy festival returned for a second year, opening up its considerable box of funny tricks on Thursday for a five-day event.

And on the basis of our on-the-ground experiences over the weekend, it seems to have been a roaring success - on both the audience number and raucous laughter fronts.

Friday night’s late show offered us our first foray into the 350-seater Jesterval marquee, with a four-strong bill of comics assembled to bring the night to a close.

While it was undoubtedly the show-closing observational charms of 40-something Irishman Ed Byrne which had tempted many inside (although some may have thought they were coming to see Chris Huhne’s ex-wife Vicky Pryce, apparently), there were no weak links to be found on stage.

MC and veteran Geordie comic Mickey Hutton was an old school treat, while festival organiser Dave Hadingham also offered more than a few belly laughs with a catalogue of double-layered gags testing the boundaries of taste in a very funny manner. But it was penultimate act, father-of-triplets Ben Norris, who we agreed stole the show with a combination of sharp observations and warm audience interaction. Bravo indeed.

Saturday evening saw us prepare ourselves for a triple bill of fun from 7pm onwards.

First up was Jason Cook’s new show, which promised to ‘make our lives better’. And for the hour or so we were in his company, the award-winning writer of BBC2 comedy Hebburn, made good on his pledge.

After sharing a few tales from the set of the recently-wrapped second series, including a local who congratulated him on not portraying his native countrymen as, shall we say, ‘unmentionables’ and the fish and chip shop lady who offered him his most cherished freebie of fame yet - an extra fish at closing time - the very likeable Jason went on to take us through some rare and memorable holiday experiences - most recently those endured at Center Parcs.

Mixing characters from Narnia with a case of baby goat vandalism and feeling at odds with the friendliness of strangers, Jason offered a tailor-made show for his home crowd and seemed genuinely humbled at the jam-packed turnout.

Dave Johns
Dave Johns
 

Next up was Tom Binns’ camp clairvoyant creation Ian D. Montford

It’s been 23 years since Mel Smith’s hilarious Doris Stokes parody in Alas Smith & Jones but such is the comedy mileage in spoofing psychics, Tom - or Ian - had no problem filling an hour with fresh, original material.

Dressed in the floaty white garb of a self-appointed guru and with a haircut last seen in Black Lace’s Agadoo video, Binns has wisely chosen a mackem accent for his brilliantly observed character which somehow ratchets up the laugh count exponentially.

From mind reading, tarot and astrology to doodle-ology and psychology (the latter, he assures us, is ‘a real thing’), we are treated to a selection from a New Age pick ‘n’ mix.

Audience skeptic Tony is labelled early on and becomes an excellent fall guy while one woman is told she’ll come into money soon. ‘Look out for the initials… P.P.I,’ he says with perfect timing.

It’s clear Binns has spent many hours studying the mannerisms and language of the Derek Acorah brigade, but he’s also learnt the card reading tricks of the trade too and earns a few gasps from the audience when he gets things right.

Like Jason Cook before him, for £5 it was a steal.

Finishing the night was another interactive show - the Impro Comedy All Stars - in which five comedians improvised bizarre scenes such as a musical set in Greggs.

If you want to see slightly unhinged middle aged men pretending to be teapots or trapped in a lava lamp, this is the show for you. And as it’s all based on audience suggestions, it was a complete one-off, which is part of the appeal.

Although there were no weak links and all threw themselves into each new challenge with gusto, it was satisfying to see local comedian Dave Johns stealing the show and getting more laughs than the infinitely more famous Marcus Brigstocke, Andy Smart of the Comedy Store Players and ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ stalwarts Steve Frost and Steve Steen.

It was their chemistry and exuberance as a team, though, that held everything together.

Now all the organisers have to master is getting everything to run a bit more on time and they really will be laughing.

Jesterval closes today with Simon Donald at 6.45pm; Luisa Omielan at 8pm; and Andrew Maxwell at 9.15pm. All tickets are £5. Visit www.jesterval.co.uk for full details and booking information.

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