Ricky Gervais Behind Save Just The Tonic Campaign

Words: Phil Hasted
Tuesday 28 March 2006
reading time: min, words

Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr, Tim Vine, Adam Bloom, Stuart Lee and more did a gig in London in aid of Nottingham's best comedy club

Just the Tonic is regarded by many, including Johnny Vegas, as “the best comedy club in the country”. No other club can boast Johnny Vegas, Ed Byrne, Daniel Kitson and Ross Nobel as regulars, or provide a decent alternative to the commercialism of Jongleurs.

Since its set up in 1994 by comedian Darrell Martin, his refusal “to book hack comics” has helped keep Just the Tonic at the top of its game. The bad news is, the club where Ricky Gervais famously performed his first stand up, is about to be made homeless as the Cabaret venu. So it’s fitting he’s here tonight, headlining a benefit gig to raise money for a new venue.

Tonight’s event is held at London’s Dominion Theatre, usual home to Ben Elton and Queen’s embarrassingly awful ‘We Will Rock You’. Selling out in 1.5 hours and with an extra date added at the Lyceum, its clear support for Just the Tonic is as high as the giant gold Freddie Mercury that guards the entrance.

Darrell opens tonight’s proceedings, informing those who bought tickets on eBay, “you’ve wasted your money”, as tonight’s show is about “saving a shitty little club in Nottingham”. Our compare for the evening is Ewok in a tank top, John Fothergill. Largely unknown to the audience, John’s relaxed nature and Geordie charm went down well with the virgin audience.
First up is the king of over exposure, Jimmy Carr. For anyone thinking they were at a fundraiser for a “shitty comedy club”, the belief was quickly dispelled. Armed with a clipboard and performing largely new material, Jimmy’s brief spell on stage proved his worth is a lot more than Sunday night countdowns and, despite strong attempts at offending every person the theatre, Jimmy proved he’s still one of the best live comedians around.

After Jimmy and following headliner in his own right Adam Bloom, was the recognisable face of Robin Ince. Robin’s just turned 37 and he’s not pleased. His vitriol was shared through stories of pie faced youths shagging against his bins and his dislike for the Daily Mail. At one point Robin got a little too lost in his own bitterness, having to quickly pull it back as the Dominion Theatre shared in his hate for witch faced Gillian McKeith. 

Three acts in and we’re introduced to the man everyone has come to see, Ricky Gervais. In the short time he’s on stage, Ricky delivers everything we’ve come to expect of him. Cheeky grin: check. Perfect flick of the hair: check. Ample man breasts: check. Ricky’s not one to boast about his charity work but he some how manages it. Usually “its kids with cancer” but tonight he’s raising money for “a very tight and lazy man”. Ricky openly declares his regret for not accepting Darrell’s first request, that he loan the club £50k, “At least I’d have had shares in the place” Ricky spits. Despite protestations otherwise, its clear Ricky is here to give Just the Tonic his full support.

After the headline act, Milton Johns has the unenviable task of following the man many had paid in excess of £150 eBay to see. Milton lurches on, looking like the sunshine coach had driven off without him. It’s a dumbstruck awe only he can pull off and, despite the barrage of puns, his punch lines prove impossible to second guess.

Next up is relative new comer, Stephen Carling. Wearing a smart pin-stripe suit, Carling looks like a young Peter Cook crossed with Pete Doherty at his last court appearance. After the silliness of Milton Johns, Stephen struggled a little with the crowd as they adjusted to his act but won through with his cool persona and dry delivery.

Six acts in and Tim Vine literally bursts on, slapping everyone in the face with an onslaught of one-liners. Like the bastard child of Richard Whitely and Hi-De-Hi, Tim’s act is like every Christmas cracker in the world has been pulled at once. You’ve barely enough time to groan at the last joke before he’s unleashed another ten more on you. Currently holding the record, as world’s fastest joke teller (499 in one hour), its impossible not to laugh, though like a comedic version of McDonalds, you enjoy him while he’s on but feel just a little bit dirty after he’s gone.

The final, if not the headline act, is the excellent Stuart Lee. Stuart appears almost lethargic, compared to the ex-Whittle host, but proves a far more intelligent alternative to memorising your favourite joke book. Fothergill returns to the stage bringing Darrell back on, to end as the show began. There were no big cheques brought on by boy scouts, or any grand totals revealed but it was clear tonight was a success. Perhaps the gig peaked a little too early, or maybe Ricky could have been on stage a little longer than fifteen minutes, but this was an otherwise excellent gig. As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t help thinking Tim Vine got the most laughs, but where else would you get to see Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr and Stuart Lee on the same bill? No where. Except perhaps at a “shitty little club” from Nottingham.

Ricky Gervais played the Just the Tonic Benefit Gig at the Dominion Theatre in London on 19 March 2006.

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