An Audience with Bob and Barry Cryer, Tara Arts, London ★★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Now aged 81, Barry Cryer has been a comedy writer and performer for over 60 years, and so has accrued an endless array of jokes and reminiscences that his anecdotes are said to hunt in packs. While billed as an evening to promote Cryer’s forthcoming crowdfunded collection of parrot jokes (to be co-written with son Bob Cryer), in reality this is a gentle reflection on a life of incident and humour.

Like many a chat show, the interviewer is primed with prompts that, once fed to the ‘turn’, will prompt a mini-routine. Unlike the Nortons and Parkinsons of this world, though, Bob Cryer’s feed lines have not been compiled by a researcher, but through decades of hearing the anecdotes repeated and refined over the dinner table.

An evening which traverses much of Cryer Senior’s life starts with his work as one of the writers for Kenny Everett’s television programmes, where he and cowriter Ray Cameron contributed ideas that included the genesis of Everett’s character Cupid Stunt. As with all his reminiscences, Cryer is keen to talk about the qualities of the work colleagues and friends he has made along the years, painting a picture of Everett as a naturally funny performer whose extrovert sensibilities belied a shy and quiet off-screen persona.

Other comedians Cryer has encountered do not fare so well as he relates tales from his first gigs at the Leeds City Varieties to his London debut at the world-famous Windmill Theatre and beyond. Comedian Jimmy James’ antics whenever he did not get the top billing he thought he deserved are related as jokes, but with an eye of faint disapproval. John Cleese’s own recent, and rather more bitter, bouts of nostalgia, are similarly presented with a less than appreciative air, before being speedily dismissed in favour of recollections based in fondness and appreciation.

Many such stories start at Danny La Rue’s cabaret club, Winston’s, where Cryer met his wife Terry (on the same day he met Ronnie Corbett) and encountered customers including the Kray twins, before he and Corbett were both recruited by David Frost for his TV programmes.

Perhaps the most poignant of Cryer’s personal anecdotes are his memories as working as dresser to stage magician David Nixon during a pantomime in Leeds as Nixon was grieving the sudden death of his wife, who had been due to appear in the same panto. It is one of several stories of Cryer’s that do not have a punchline in mind, the joke scribe keeping his powder dry for those moments when he knows he will be able to reduce the audience to hysterics.

And of course, those moments are in plentiful supply. Whether describing his own bad auditions – from turning up to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in a toga, to performing a risible self-penned song when auditioning for Expresso Bongo – to relating several anecdotes of sharing jokes with Alan Bennett, Cryer combines nostalgia and humour to hilarious effect.

When Cryer ends the evening with a wry, “Same time tomorrow?” to the audience, it’s the only time of the night when you wish he wasn’t joking.

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