It’s Saturday night, a hot summer evening in Queen Square, where the sun is shining, cider is flowing and laughter is in the air.
The delicious smell of street food clashes with the odd overpowering deodorising scent, as Brits battle to cope with unseasonably hot temperatures, and crowds file good naturedly into the big top tent for the penultimate night of Bristol Comedy Garden.
Fin Taylor, our MC for the night, started performing stand-up while at Bristol University and is clearly revelling in returning to the place where it all began, as he gets things off to an energetic flying start.
Deftly taking out vegans, leave voters and anyone over 60, the comedian takes a risky line, but, with a combination of his quick-wit and overgrown schoolboy charm, gets away with it.
He throws in a couple of local anecdotes and by the time he’s covered a recent break-up and Tinder-related medical mishaps, Taylor manages, against all odds, to have the audience on side and revved up ready for the first act.
Striding into the centre of the stage, Kerry Godliman voices what every member of the audience is surely thinking, it is bloody hot inside this canvas-clad venue of ours. “I stink,” she announces in her flat London accent, launching into a funny and frank set about health and beauty maintenance.
A comic who presents as ‘one of the lads,’ Godliman is definitely someone you could go for a pint with and have a right old laugh, but her down-to-earth manner belies a perceptive intelligence that is successfully woven into her stand-up.
Her description of gentrification, ‘you know an area is becoming gentrified when there is the smell of sourdough in the air,’ is spot-on and while there are some lines throughout the act that fall a bit flat, she pulls it off with a great show of personality and is met with loud applause. Definitely one to watch.
Next up is Stewart Francis, a Canadian comedian who gets things off to a stomping start as he fires off a couple of killer one-liners with his trademark deadpan delivery. Alas, the rest of the set, for me at least, fails to live up to this early promise.
The puns keep coming thick and fast and are undeniably clever, but I soon begin to get a bit tired of the steady stream – performed, as it most certainly is, with the great skill of a seasoned stand-up – and looking around, I can see I’m not the only one.
Clearly an audience divider, Francis probably raises some of the loudest laughs of the night and there were many who chortled through the entire set, but I was happy when it was time to head back into the evening sunlight for the final interval.
From the moment he walks onstage, Rich Hall is clearly a deserved headliner, ambling in with a toss of his hat, the famously grouchy American comic sips his bottle of beer as he addresses the ‘elephant in the room’ – four temporarily empty seats in the front row – and commands a passing man to come and take one to appease his ego.
His anti-Trump rant is a clear crowd-pleaser as he moves seamlessly onto Brexit and details the differences in American and English people with brilliant perceptiveness and deadpan delivery.
Picking up his guitar, Hall’s truly unique skills as a comic crooner are beautifully showcased as he interrogates a couple near the front row and performs an off-the-cuff ‘love song’ in their honour. He plays three songs in total in his gravelly drawl and I strain my ears so as not to miss any of the inevitable one-liners.
Hall says he loves returning to perform in Bristol and it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual.
Bristol Comedy Garden continues until Sunday, June 18. For more information, visit www.bristolcomedygarden.co.uk.