“Why did the skeleton cross the road? To get to The Body Shop!”

“That’s quite a suave little set” my friend comments as we walk into the Ilkley Playhouse auditorium. It consisted of a raised bridge and stairs at either side, with a hamper and treasure chest underneath. But descriptions of the upcoming “Under Milk Wood”’s set aside, we chose a nice little table at the front of the room. That is to say, my friend chose a nice little table at the front of the room.

“Do you like the stage?” asked compere, Anthony J Brown. Being the Jongleurs/Metro “Stand & Deliver” Award winner and former BBC New Comedy Award Runner-up, he presented a tremendous compere to cover the transitions between each act.

Anthony has regularly contributed to Radio 2′s “The Arthur Smith Lectures”. As well as being  seen on ‘Phoenix Nights’, ‘The Stand Up Show’ and ‘Attitude’.

I quickly discovered why my friend wanted to sit at the front, as Anthony engaged the two of us in conversation – he spent a while trying to pronounce my friend’s Italian name and then talking about my less interesting English name.

Brown’s comedy had the occasional dark twist, but was most memorable for it’s audience engagement and saying one thing and meaning another, for example talking about getting a free pair when he bought his glasses and then producing a pear from his pocket.

Our first act was former professional wrestler, Lee Kyle. In the three years he has been performing stand-up, he has been runner-up in both the Crooked Smile Comedy Award and the Laughing Penguins New Act competition.

Kyle’s performance involved a number of flags, some of which he had apparently paid his son to paint, and various puns related to these. At one point in this vexillology lesson, he told a story that integrated the names of the countries of various flags which was genuinely hilarious.

These flag based puns were separated by the occasional interlude of insanity. One of these involved Kyle running around the auditorium shirtless in celebration at his joke, and then attempting to crowd-surf. At one point, he invited me up on stage to dance – I’m not sure what it was in aid of but apparently it means we are friends now. At least that’s what he said when he started drinking my beer.

I could not find any background on the elusive Mr. Finlay, because he did not appear on the program for the evening. Never-the-less, his character for the evening was a businessman, trying to organise a meeting. This was interrupted by a brilliantly awkward story about his ex-wife and a genius attempt to chat up a front-row, married member of the audience.

Mr. Finlay’s performance was short, but sweet. In an ideal world, I would have liked to see that act for longer because it was really funny.

After that, we saw Glen Moore. Moore was Crooked Smile Comedy Award winner 2012. Chortle Student Comedian of the year runner up 2011. Moore opted for a form of comedy that revolves around very corny one-liners. This quickly dissolved into a side-splitting story of Nazis during World War Two, but with the twist of constant boy-band puns. It was brilliantly well performed act that worked on the cleverest puns I have heard for a long time.

Richard Hodkin was the penultimate act. He used a very smooth tone to give whole room a constant amused chuckle as he delighted with stories of how he was an animal lover and feminist. This led up to the eventual climax of his school nickname. His anecdotes about his time in America all added to the great middle-class image he presented. He finished with the thought that while smoking kills people, it also cures mackerel… Hodkin was genuinely comical and I thoroughly enjoyed his act.

The grand finale was Weakest Link comedian’s special winner and creator of ‘It Started With A Quiz’ at the Edinburgh Festival – Andy White. White’s comedy played on really crude sexual references, as well as energetic, yet dark stories that appealed to my similarly dark sense of humour.

“I transmute the lead of my mundane experience into the gold of comedy” he announced at one point during a story about when his wife was in labour with their child. Of course these stories were interspersed with things like an erotic rendition of the Flintstones theme song in French.

White used a good amount of audience involvement as he related the whole performance back to Kyle’s flag act with a brief section on national anthems.

“I’ve deliberately created an awkward silence so that ‘the big bit’ will seem even betterer that this mediocretesness” he said, before launching into an impression Rolf Harris sleeping with Louis Armstrong. “Once again, I’ve created an awkward silence…” he continued after finishing the performance.

At the end of the evening, I was thoroughly entertained. I loved every second of every performance because they all knew what they were doing. Each act had an amazing grasp of their own chosen style, and while puns were a running theme in the show, they never outstayed their welcome or became uninteresting.

The Stage Fright Comedy show was a joy to watch and had me laughing all the way home.

One of the UK’s most loved poets.

“They weren’t lying when they said ‘sold out’” I mutter to the woman sitting next to me; the packed auditorium alive with the constant murmur of interest. It was this extreme demand for Zephaniah that ensured I had to sit towards the back despite my early arrival. A quick Google search before the show informs me that the Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah grew from a Jamaican born and raised in Birmingham, into one of the UK’s best loved poets. I had the feeling that the dolled-up Kings Hall (and Ilkley in general) were a far cry from the habitat of a man brought up on reggae and hip-hop. That said, Zephaniah demonstrated an exceptional understanding of his audience when he emerged to a round of applause, did a little jig and called out: “Hello Ilkley! Are you ready to rock?” Kings Hall’s first poetry event was set to walk hand in hand with absolute belly-laughs.
When posed the question of how many people had attended his event at the festival two years ago, less than ten people raised their hands. I definitely did not know what to expect, and the solitary keyboard in the middle of the stage confused me even more. It turned out that Zephaniah had recently met a choir named “Noteworthy Women” that had adapted one of his poems into a song. This loving rendition of “We Refugees” was an exceptional opening as it really reached out to the audience. The performance certainly touched Zephaniah, as he told the audience that when he first heard it he “really wanted to cry, but [he is] a macho man.”

The giddy, juvenile energy of Zephaniah really propelled the whole show. When he was not pacing passionately around the stage, Benjamin was compelling the audience to laugh at memorable phrases like “I rave like a lover, I love like a raver” and his schemes like the “‘Get Rich Slowly’ method.” The audience even broke into a unified “aww!” when they discovered one of his poems had not been broadcast because of it’s content. He cast a spell upon everyone, causing them to become so wrapped up in the poem “I love my mother and my mother loves me” that in the following silence he suddenly scowled and cried “clap!” Of course, we all met this demand with a roar of laughter.

At this point, the audience was completely hanging on his every word. This allowed Zephaniah to engage in a more serious talk about the current state of racism in Britain and the rest of the world. This quickly reverted back to a side-splitting rampage through his thoughts on ‘Bushisms’ and ending on his glorious hit “Talking Turkeys!” Throughout, he had engaged in hilarious discourse and casual flirting with the interpreter for the hearing impaired, who he shared the stage with. He offered golden chat-up lines like “I love the way you’re signing, baby” but finished his performance by, rather sheepishly, bobbing over with a giddy display of affection and pecking her on the cheek.

At the end of the event, I was genuinely delighted that it overran, despite it only being by a few minutes. Benjamin Zephaniah was a genuine joy to behold. Whether it was an annecdote about taking three weeks to come up with the title for his exceptional poem “Money” or the possibly deliberate slip-up from ‘elected’ to ‘errected’, I had an evening of utter heart-felt enjoyment. Zephaniah held me in awe of his work, and I would completely reccomend seeing him perform if you ever get the chance.