CRAY CRAY CABARET
_REVIEW. it’s about _LIVE. words _MATTHEW SEAMAN. at _THE COMEDY STORE. tickets _OFFICIAL SITE. booking until _MONTHLY.
Nestled directly between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, on the second Wednesday of each month, London’s iconic The Comedy Store comedy club presents its new Cray, Cray Cabaret night, boasting ‘top headliners, a world-class house band, the hottest comedy talent and brilliant musical guests’.
Venturing there for its October outing, it’s safe to say it certainly delivers on its promises.
The venue itself holds plenty of significance within the comedy world, having existed in some form since 1979. Upon entering, the interior is initially reminiscent of something akin to a New York jazz club, whilst still maintaining its London heart. There’s little in the way of traditional cabaret set-up that you might expect, though (not a round table with chairs to be seen), instead offering up a more intimate, less spacious setup. If you’re expecting a perfectly polished evening of entertainment, this probably isn’t for you. It’s rough and ready, with exactly the Earthy kind of feel that city comedy should have.
The food and hospitality sweetens the deal, with generous portions, reasonable prices, and a notably extra effort made to promote the special ‘Cray Cray Cocktail’ which, at £6, proved difficult to turn down.
On with the show, and stand-up comedian and West End star Phil Nichol leads proceedings – an amiable host with just the right balance of craziness, charm and wit. He brings the audience on side instantly, always finding a way to pick out and isolate members of the crowd without making them uncomfortable. He proves the perfect host for a venue of this size, making it clear he could do just fine without a backstage area, spending as he does most of his time off-stage mingling amongst the audience. At a previous show – at Camden Comedy Club – he was even spotted collecting empty glasses.
Cray Cray Cabaret MC Phil Nichol is known to many for originating the part of ‘Hugo/Loco Chanelle’ in the West End production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (pictured above, photo © Geraint Lewis). Nichol briefly returned to the show & role in 2021 ahead of its temporary closue.
Nichol’s material is often bizarre – see for instance a lengthy Billie Holiday impersonation that primarily consisted of him asking the band to slow down – but in its zaniness he somehow manages to tick all of the boxes, and it’s clear throughout that his number one priority is to put his guests at ease. If at times you’re left craving an even greater degree of his trademark craziness (such as the lunacy of his 2011 Edinburgh Comedy Festival set), toning down slightly does allow him to remain the stable, responsible compere the evening required.
Split into two sections, the night reviewed offered a brilliant cross-section of the industry, with loveable ventriloquist Nina Conti opening, and TV regular Shaparak (formerly Shappi) Khorsandi closing the evening. Both formidable and entertaining comediennes in their own right. The highlight, however, was Javier Jarquin, a.k.a ‘The Card Ninja’, who served up a witty, subtle and fast-paced act that sees the gags come as rapidly as the playing cards he hurls around. With some particularly strong audience engagement and interaction, he proved a big hit.
Similarly, the ‘Big(ish) Band’ who underpin the entire evening do a solid job, never failing to engage in back-and-forth with each act, though given the theming of the event, a musical act or two would have been a welcome addition.
That being said, the night ended on a musical high, with Khorsandi and Nichol closing proceedings with a raucous rendition of Pulp’s ‘Common People’ that felt ripped straight from a slightly out-of-control office Christmas Party.
A suitably bonkers note to close on, the audience were on their feet singing along; irresistible, laugh-out-loud funny and charmingly peculiar.
And of course, more than a little ‘Cray’.