If you were in the mood for a dose of old-fashioned, clean-as-a-whistle, stand-up comedy – not the ‘modern’ version laden with swear words – then Belfast’s historic Grand Opera House was the place to be this week.
Aptly entitled ‘You Must Be Joking,’ four of Northern Ireland’s most experienced comedians took to the stage and offered up a non-stop series of gags, impersonations and light-hearted songs that easily curried the audience’s favor.
John Linehan, better known as female personator and panto queen, May McFettridge, acted as compere, quickly creating his characteristic mock-critical rapport with listeners, referring to one individual as being so thin he was “a sniper’s nightmare” and another so old, “you couldn’t hit your age with three darts.”
Gene Fitzpatrick, who is also a well-known event compere and entertainer on cruise ships, stepped up to the mike next, armed with a bundle of light-hearted anecdotes. Describing himself as “a sex symbol for women who don’t care,” he talked about how when he got married he knew nothing about sex. “Everything I knew, I learned from my dog – how to sit up and beg,” adding, “My wife learned how to roll over and play dead.”
Illustrating his age, William Caulfield, who once hosted his own show on BBC and played lead on-stage roles such as Henry Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’ and Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ said he remembered when the term ‘web designer’ meant ‘spider.’
Caulfield’s act included a tale about a hit-man who misidentifies his victim in a supermarket, resulting in a hilarious headline in the next day’s newspaper including the words ‘Artie Chokes.’ With the so-called Northern Irish ‘Troubles,’ ended, he also told a story about a man who – wanting to be rid of his wife – sent her into a Catholic neighborhood with the word ‘Protestant’ secretly emblazoned on the back of her T-shirt. Much to his dismay, she returned the next morning happy, with fifty pounds in her purse. When asked what happened, she replied, “You misspelled ‘Protestant.’ ”
My favorite act of the evening was the last one, James Mulgrew, best known as Jimmy Cricket. Appearing in his trademark outfit of cut-off evening trousers, dinner jacket, hat and Wellington boots marked ‘L’ and ‘R’ for left and right, but worn on the wrong feet, his routine was a fast-moving, gag-a-minute, focusing on his unique interpretation of Irish logic.
Among his highlights was a joke about a man in a taxi whose fare comes to six pounds but he only has five – so he asks the driver to reverse a bit. Another involved a man complaining to his neighbor, “I was going out for the newspaper and your dog went for me.” The neighbor replies, “That’s strange. He’s never gone for my paper.” There was also one about a man going to the opticians. “Have your eyes ever been checked?” the optician asks. “No,” the man replies, “they’ve always been this color.” Then there was the game-hunter who said to his followers, “If you see a leopard chasing us, shoot him on the spot.”
After bringing on stage a battered suitcase filled with paraphernalia, the ever-energetic Cricket proceeded to perform a series of impressions including a carrier pigeon and Facebook using items from his ‘bag of tricks.’ His creative juggling routine also deserves praise. Stopping mid-juggle, he impersonated a range of individuals and groups including footballer Lionel Messi and the entire FIFA board of governors.
Cricket’s parting message for the audience was an example of pure logic. “If you want to live longer,” he said, “find out where you’re going to die, then stay away from there as long as you can.”