Comedy Club 4 Kids | South Street arts centre | Reading | 10.02.08

BBC.co.uk - 11/02/2008

James Campbell is a veteran of the kids' stage – it's possible he invented the idea of performing proper, healthy, intelligent stand up comedy specifically for the audiences who are not allowed into the licensed late night clubs where comedy usually happens.

But of course, kids see comedians on the tv and hear them on the wireless and, in fairness, they might actually enjoy going out and seeing them too.

Campbell is a guileless compere of the event, talking effortlessly and at length about squeaky foods, games to play in hotels and infant school attempts to recreate Picasso's Guernica.

This is all linked by a thread of school that keeps the kids attention, even if individual beads on the string are perhaps outside their sphere of general knowledge – and this is Campbell's strong point: he trusts his audience enough to not always be asking them, 'Do you know what x, y or z is?'

The first guest, Janice Phayre, is amusing and lively, riffing about her native Ireland in response to one kid's contribution, talking about George Bush's visit there and the EU's generous roadbuildng.

She then reconnects with the younger audience members by being embarrassing on a plane, doing silly things with her hair and miming the effects of having a rucksack stuck in the doors of a tube train.

The second guest, Stan Stanley, was the most physical of the three, really throwing himself around the stage and using all the space he could find.

His jokes and his mimes often merged together, as in his slow-motion Matrix-style display of how he avoids being kissed on the mouth by his mum, or in the rabbits-playing-shadow-puppets skit.

Other examples include his 'pigeon on a crisp packet' impression of the Christmas scene outside his window - in this age of snowless Christmases ("your parents broke the environment"), and his international sign language interpretation of the simple question 'Are there any poisonous spiders in the woodpile?'

He really does this very well and has the kids on his side the whole time.

Campbell has hit on a winning formula here, which clearly wouldn't work for all comedians (as he says, a comedy club is generally "some grown ups swearing at other grown ups who are drunk" - and some comedians wouldn't pass muster outside that environment, which isn't necessarily a condemnation), and this afternoon's show was as funny as any adult comedy show I've seen.

Perhaps more so even, because the artists have to think more about what they're doing, knowing all along that kids are the most truthful audience around, who can't be put down with any of the standard hecklers' responses.

A great show and probably, like youth itself, too good to be wasted on kids.