“Not many institutions, comedy or otherwise, last this long”. So says Mark Watson, the third of three headline acts helping us celebrate the 19th birthday celebrations at XS Malarkey. Tonight has provided a reminder for this packed room, as if they needed it, of why one of Manchester’s finest and friendliest comedy clubs continues to deliver as it enters its third decade.
The three special headline acts have been kept a closely guarded secret. Why? Well, as MC Toby Hadoke explains, basically one year they booked Peter Kay and everything got a bit hectic, so now you’re trusting to luck. I actually like it that way, it lends the night an air of mystery and with the queue around the block, it’s clear that many agree.
“I hope it’s not Barry Chuckle. Or Frankie Boyle,” says someone behind me. That leaves quite a broad spectrum of comedy, and as ever, Malarkey doesn’t disappoint.
First up is Nathan Caton, who I remember seeing on telly a few years back. He’s much improved since then (that’s usually how it works, I gather), in a way that my tediously analytical mind finds rather pleasing. He brings his Straight Outta Middlesex tour to Salford on November 9th.
How do I explain Spencer Jones? ‘Alternative’ would be a fair label. He walks around the stage occasionally picking up mundane household objects and looking at us. He also has a loop pedal and wears a funny outfit. It’s incredibly silly and easily the funniest act of the night.
I’ve recounted most of the performance to my Cup of Beans co-creator and flatmate tonight and it’s fair to say I’ve not done it justice. It needs to be seen to be appreciated and believed.
As mentioned already, Mark Watson closes the show. I’ve been a fan since We Need Answers (alright, the TV version, but it still counts) and while it’s lovely to pretend I’m a comedy hipster in front of people I want to impress, it’s always fun seeing ‘off the telly’ comedians tread the Malarkey boards. Fewer surprises, sure, but if it’s melancholic observation you’re after (and I often am), this is a nice way to end a triumphant evening’s entertainment.
Throughout the night, there’s a lot of reminiscing both onstage and off about the history of XS Malarkey. It’s easy to get drawn into a game of one-upmanship here, with 19 years of Tuesday nights to draw on and a somewhat sporadic attendance history in my own armoury.
Personally, I arrived relatively late to the party, although since I was 10 when the first gig occurred, I feel this is forgivable. I lived on Oxford Road during my university years and would invariably head to more central pastures for my entertainment, so the club’s Fallowfield incarnation simply never appeared on my radar.
My membership card reliably informs me that I’ve been attending since August 2013. They were in Jabez Clegg by then, an altogether superior space to their current Pub/Zoo home. That was to see Steve Hughes perform an absolutely mammoth Edinburgh preview set. The next day, Malarkey actually sent out an email addressing the mixed feedback they’d had on Hughes’ somewhat divisive material, but I was firmly in the camp that loved it and resolved to return.
Since then, I’ve seen hilarious and memorable acts such as Justin Moorhouse, Boothby Graffoe, Gein’s Family Giftshop, Steve Bugeja, Lou Conran, Patrick Monaghan, Kiri Pritchard-McLean, Michael J Dolan, James Acaster and (multiple times) Rob Rouse. I also once took a date with me and accidentally kicked my pint into her handbag. Great days.
I should go more often. Malarkey deserves support and values its regulars, and I’ve never left without seeing an act I’d happily pay more than a fiver to see.
For that, if you’re new to Manchester, is all it costs. Five quid – or 80,000 Sam Allardyces in new money (allegedly). And that’s for non-members, comedy nerds like me get in for £3, having paid £8 for a lifetime membership card.
Cheap, and never anything less than cheerful. Happy birthday XS Malarkey, and thank you!
For more info on XS Malarkey, including upcoming acts, check out their site.