The Ironworks, Inverness, 11 March 2011
AS I approached the Ironworks for comedian Craig Campbell’s gig I was met with a strange sight. Outside the venue it appeared that a small group of protesters had gathered, for there, in the icy cold, were an assortment of folk swathed in duvets and sleeping bags sitting as though in mute protest against the comedian’s presence.
I was surprised and thought that his material must be much more controversial than I’d supposed. It turned out that these folk were in fact queuing for tickets to see Mumford & Sons that were to go on sale the following day. You have to admire their commitment in waiting all night in the freezing cold, if not their taste.
Canadian comedian Craig Campbell took to the stage looking like a lumberjack who had parked his axe at the stage door after felling a giant redwood. His flowing locks and bushy beard fit the image of the woodsman perfectly. In fact Campbell has been living in the UK for the past twelve years and, in all that time, probably hasn’t chopped down so much as a daisy. He is one of a growing number of comedians from places like Canada, the USA and Australia who have chosen to make Britain their home. There are many reasons for this; for the Canadians, I suspect it has to do with the difficulty of finding audiences in their beautiful but largely deserted country.
Canadian comedians must have to travel thousands of miles to follow their comedy circuit, so for Campbell, who lives in Dorset, coming to Inverness must be like popping next door. Although not at capacity there was a good crowd of several hundred folk at the Ironworks on Friday night, which bears testimony to the growing popularity of stand up in the Highland capital. Inverness audiences are beginning to broaden their taste in comedy. In the past it was difficult for acts who were not household names through TV appearances to draw audiences, but now an increasingly comedy-literate audience is developing who show a willingness to turn out for up-and-coming comedians in greater numbers than in the past.
Campbell certainly did not disappoint with his dry, down to earth wit. He easily broke the ice with an audience that had come to listen, and was happy to be entertained. Only one lady, who had perhaps had one or two small sherries over dinner, persistently heckled, and Campbell dealt with her easily in a warm and inoffensive manner. Campbell is a story teller and entertained with his tales from his travels from across the globe. Sweden, New Zealand and the Far East featured in travellers’ tales that were instantly engaging and drew the audience in.
As might be expected from a Canadian comedian, the subject of encounters with bears came up more than once. Here he was hugely entertaining, and his insight into how to deal with these furry monsters was hilarious. I have some interest in coping with the odd grizzly as I have an ambition to walk the Pacific Crest Trail one day and bears are not uncommon on that particular expedition. Apparently a debate rages over whether it’s best to be equipped with a revolver or a pepper spray. I can’t see the problem, largely because no one has ever found themselves facing a charging bear, taking aim with a revolver and thinking, “Damn, I wish I had a pepper pot.” That’s never happened.
Another interest Campbell and I share, apart from not being eaten by bears, is mountaineering. Anyone interested in the outdoors will know that mountaineering has its own sub-culture of story tellers and raconteurs, and I have heard a great many climbing tales. Here Campbell excelled as he told what has to be the ultimate mountain story.
We can stop all that talking round bothy fires about our exploits, regaling our mates in the pub with stories about how brave we are, all that is now redundant because Campbell is king of the mountain storytellers. That story alone would have been worth the entrance fee; it concerns his attempt on the fearsome Mount McKinley, Alaska’s highest peak. As far as I can tell this was Campbell’s first mountain climbing adventure, and I suspect it will be his last. I’d love to be able to relate this story but that would be to commit the ultimate sin for a stand up reviewer and give away the comedian’s material. So if you want to hear this tale, I’m afraid you’ll have to go along and see Campbell for yourself – trust me it will be worth it.
Overall Campbell provided a great night’s entertainment. I think the show might have benefited from a supporting act, perhaps something to bring a little variety, and the interval was a little too long. All that, however, is to quibble over details, the Ironworks audience left that night happy with Campbell’s performance and thoroughly entertained. He is a comedian at the top of his game and one not to miss if only for his mountain story and to get advice on how to avoid bear attacks.
© John Burns, 2011