Graham Linehan at Comedy Unleashed review: not a cohesive live set

Graham Linehan  (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Graham Linehan (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan is writing a book about his TV career and recent notoriety as critic of the trans rights movement. Tough Crowd will chart his life since his sitcom success and will “explain my situation and why I do the things I do”.

Linehan, 55, broke the news during his stand-up set last night. He has recently been performing live and this was his first gig since the Edinburgh Fringe in August where he was due to appear at a Comedy Unleashed night until two successive venues dropped the booking. Linehan eventually performed outside the Scottish Parliament.

In London he was given a standing ovation by parts of the audience, but this was only his eighth gig and it showed. He initially fumbled with the mic and halted a yarn about Frankenstein mid-riff when he realised it was not going down well.

His material steered clear of anything contentious, apart from a section on the Vagina Museum and an anecdote about being caught up in a Soho Pride event when he felt like a Jew crossing occupied France. He quipped that if he was bringing out a DVD it could say on the box: “Too hot for the Edinburgh Fringe and The Conservative Party.” Last week it was reported that an invitation to speak at the Tory Conference had been withdrawn – although he was later reinvited.

Comedy Unleashed was set up five years ago by Andy Shaw and Andrew Doyle to champion free speech. There is certainly a market, judging by the vocal full house. When Sadiq Khan was mentioned there were spontaneous boos. Acid-tongued compere Bruce Devlin was kept busy wrangling noisier elements.

Any edginess jostled with jokes of varying quality. Opening act Junior Booker was the latest of many to skewer self-identifying. He said it was fine if it meant he could identify as a child and get reduced bus fares. Cressida Wetton bemoaned her blunt northern father who says tapas is “Spanish for rip-off”.

Unleashed co-founder Andrew Doyle had a stand-out routine about pop star Jamelia appearing on TV to talk current affairs. Doyle’s style, repeating minor details to grind his fans into comedic submission had echoes of Stewart Lee. Headliner Andrew Lawrence took potshots at comics who avoided cancellation by issuing apologies.

A chunk of the crowd left when Linehan finished, so it was clear who they had come for. Linehan is yet to construct a cohesive live set in return. On the basis of this show his upcoming book might be a more suitable vehicle for his talents.