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Lemon Custard @ Harlequin Cafe


reviewed by Alan Sharp Feb 2008

Like most artistic media, the world of stand-up is a ladder for the aspiring to climb. At the top there are the theatre tours, and below that the club circuit, chain clubs featuring established acts, independent clubs with a mix and giving opportunities to the up and coming. Then there are the open mic nights for the newcomers. And somewhere in there, there are the underground clubs.

Often run by a comic who acts as host themselves, and featuring their friends or anyone they could talk into coming along to do a set, shoved into whatever venue they could blag for free and run on a budget of tuppence-ha’penny and a packet of juicy fruit, they tend to be informal, sometimes chaotic, and often a lot of fun.

Lemon Custard is the brainchild of Dee Custance, who co-hosts along with Sian Bevan. They make a good pairing. Custance does the “excitable girly-girl” thing, a style that has become popular of late thanks to the success of Josie Long, while Bevan has a more straightforward and grounded style and is the more natural MC of the two and whose "New Year on Calton Hill" story is a highlight of the night. They make their guests feel welcome by handing out lollipops and liquorish allsorts and going round the audience finding out a bit about everyone. This doesn’t take long, the paying public initially numbering ten, although more arrived as the night went on.

Held in the Harlequin Cafe, a little basement organic food eaterie below a bookshop off Buccleugh Street, it was a bizarre location for a comedy night, the room having no real focal point at which to perform, but this helped to create an informal atmosphere where the comics seemed to be more talking with the audience rather than performing for them, and all three of the main acts seemed to cope with the circumstances well.

First up was Austin Low, a spiky haired youngster who has been performing since he was 15. And a very good start it was, Low was a bundle of nervous energy and threw himself into his performance with gusto. Introducing himself as the “Urban Joker,” much of his set was taken up with his campaign to end false advertising, including questioning what exactly is mega about the Megabus, and whether there is any scientifically proven basis for claiming the existence of a Lynx Effect. It was an excellent opening set and left me wanting more, which is always the sign of a good comic.

Following this, the night veered off into the slightly surreal as the audience were invited to participate in a giant game of scrabble, with the slightly altered rule that any word was acceptable, real or not, as long as you could use it in a sentence. As such, between us we managed to enhance the English language with such gems as triangley, zebravem and wankmap, along with my own submission, antifloaty.

Next we had Jim Park, who I had previously seen less than a month ago and was less than impressed with on that occasion. Although understandable, it didn’t really help that his set on this occasion was not merely word for word but pause for pause identical to the previous one. It reinforced my opinion of his set being too calculated, even while he tries to give the impression of a stream of consciousness. It isn’t that I disliked it, just that I found it a little too rigid and structured. That said, however, for the second time I seemed to be in the minority and he went down very well.

Last up was Keir McAllister, who I had also seen recently, and who again performed much of the same material. However, he is a much less rigid, more fluid performer and easily capable of thinking on his feet and adapting his set to the circumstances. As such, although the punchlines were familiar, the setups were often fresh and interesting. And with a headlining spot giving him more time to build his gags rather than rushing from laugh to laugh, and there was also plenty of material I hadn’t heard before including a good routine involving having fun with religious bigots.

Overall it was a strange but fun night, the kind of night that makes you feel a part of, rather than a spectator of, the action. It isn’t a night for the shrinking violet comedy goer, there is no possibility of hiding at the back here, but equally there is no possibility for the performer of hiding behind the stage lights and keeping the audience at a distance. Audience and comic thrust together at close quarters, it makes an interesting dynamic, and a very enjoyable night.