Save for incapacitating injury or actual death, you don’t cancel a gig: that was always the showbiz rule. No longer. Estos días, a ping will do it. Nish Kumar was the scheduled headliner for this second night of the Brighton Comedy Garden festival. Then he had to self-isolate, y David O’Doherty was drafted in in his stead. Only the most diehard Mash Report fan could quibble with that. The Irishman pitched in a delightful set, the evening’s highlight, not least for the number of occasions he peeked round the side of this or that gag to remark drolly that “Nish would not have done that joke”. It’s true: home-organ noodling and cuddly quips about leprechauns are not really Kumar’s style.
Not that O’Doherty stayed entirely in his lane. Between the stream-of-consciousness ditties (scansion, be damned!) on his laptop keyboard, the Dubliner engaged in some light social commentary, reviewing his pandemic experience, bringing a raised-eyebrow even-handedness to an appraisal of the British, American and Irish voting systems, and ending with a doozy about a memorial to the Irish famine on its capital city’s main shopping drag. “I want this set to be so good,” said O’Doherty on entering, “that the rest of our lives will feel like an anticlimax.” If he fell just a teensy bit short, at least the ambition (ironic or otherwise) stuck a welcome firework up the evening’s backside.
It’s not that the preceding acts were weak, but the gig – to a thousand-strong crowd spread widely across Preston Park – was not quite taking flight. MC John Robins came at his crowd-work from a few different angles before finding a rich seam when he sports-commentated on the queues for the Portaloos. Lou Sanders, sending up her own egotism and credulity, was as lovably dappy as ever, and the joke about paedophiles and nits is a keeper. But her set meandered rather than coalesced. Ed Gamble’s streamlined set-pieces, on gym-going and hotel buffets, felt just a bit too prefab. It’s not easy whipping up a loosely packed, acres-wide crowd and, of the acts on this fine bill, only O’Doherty nailed it.