Alfie Brown belongs to that class of comedians for whom crowd interaction is more than just foreplay – it constitutes the main event of the evening. Indeed, he’s up on stage partaking of it before the show has even begun, playfully ribbing some audience members who continue to chat to one another, scroll through their phones or just happen to find themselves in his eyeline. It’s a pleasant stroll to begin his set which showcases his ability for off-the-cuff wit and wordy badinage.
Unfortunately, an early exchange with a Latvian in the front row leaves Brown (by his own admission) at a rare disadvantage and the incident seems to rattle him for the rest of the night. Another of his own insights attests that stand-up comedy is 20% writing and 80% delivery and for whatever reason, Brown just isn’t quite on the ball tonight. His pre-planned material about Dubai as a sulky child is clever and insightful, but doesn’t quite elicit the laughs it should. Ditto his other set pieces on Liverpool FC, his growing financial problems and his tempestuous family life.
It’s with audience interaction where his talents mostly lie, however, and it’s clear that he’s a deft hand at cajolery and gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) ridicule. This style of comedy carries with it an inherent swagger, and though Brown surely possesses the eloquence to back up his arrogance, it’s found a little wanting on the night in question. For a show that depends so heavily on the mood of his paying public, Brown should have been on easy street with an obliging audience, but an off-par performance means that things don’t quite go to plan.
To his credit, Brown embraces rather than ignores his own discomfiture and gets some good mileage out of his own momentary lapse of aptitude. As such a confrontational and often abrasive figure, it’s harder to sympathise with his plight than it might be with a more amenable comic, but that’s probably to his advantage – pity is anathema to humour, while mockery is its bedfellow. Brown himself attests that, among comedians, he “might not be the very best, but [he is]… fine.” That’s probably an apt description of tonight’s show overall, but if he’s a satisfactory but unsatisfying “fine” when out of form, he’s surely got several more gears on a good day.