Review: Father Austin Purcell delights crowd… within a two metre radius

Last night was my first time at Merc With A Mouth Comedy – the monthly comedy night held at Lincoln’s “world beer free house”, the West End Tap.

This month was, we were told, a very special event. The headline act was no less than Father Austin Purcell, the Father Ted character described as “the most boring priest in the world”. He was advertised as running a pub quiz. In spite of this (although, really, because of this), I decided to make the effort to go along.

There was another reason, I suppose. I’ve been to the West End Tap before – it’s a brilliant little pub at the end of Nelson Street – and it intrigued me as to how they’d actually fit a stand-up gig in such small premises.

When we arrived, it was very much standing room only. The pub was the busiest I’ve ever seen it, with pub locals and comedy frequenters packing out the venue. The bar was doing a roaring trade, and we had to take the seats towards the back of the pub, in a small area slightly behind the bar.

It seemed to be incredibly difficult to fit a stand-up gig in such small premises, because the quantity of people made it not only slightly cramped, but also effectively impossible to hear what was being said.

So, we popped our heads and our wallets round the bar, and tried to take a proper look at the night’s action.

Fr Purcell was the headline act. After a short but brilliant stand-up segment came the part we’d all been waiting for – the pub quiz.

It’s not particularly hard to make a pub quiz funny, but it is incredibly difficult to make it funny in a unique way. This is what Fr Purcell managed to carry off without a hitch, despite the best efforts of the PA system, the chattery audience, and any other acts of God.

There were the inevitable Father Ted questions in there, but not to the point where it would have alienated anyone who wasn’t familiar with the show. The round on the Holy Family was especially good, with each question – be that the number of branches of a hotel chain or the day on which Ascension Tuesday falls – somehow relating to the gospels.

Our team didn’t do very well at all, due mostly to our constant struggle with being able to see and hear the questions (or so we’re still telling ourselves). Our experience was perhaps best summed up in another team’s name: “We’ve had our fun and that’s all that matters.”

In spite of my earlier comments, I can’t help but think that, in retrospect, this may have been because of the venue. The fact that it was possible to sit and enjoy a pint for those who didn’t want to listen to the comedy removed the frequent awkwardness at pub gigs of those people who don’t quite want to be there, and allowed those who did want to listen to the comedy to do so in relative peace. The bar staff were friendly and the bar itself was even nicer.

The bottom line is that, even with the unpreventable difficulties, I’d still recommend the whole event. Not only was it a good laugh overall (is there ever a bad kind?), it’s still great to go along to these smaller comedy nights. You may end up chancing upon acts who astound you with their excellence, and in the unlikely event that you don’t, you’ve enjoyed a night out with a nice pint or two.

Merc With A Mouth Comedy usually occurs naturally at the West End Tap every third Wednesday of the month at 8pm, and is bottled at source, but the review above was for a very special event held on Thursday 6 November 2014. Part of this post was redacted upon one performer’s request.

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