The many faces of a cool comedian

Phil Cool and Paul Larkin at Alnwick Playhouse with Jam Jar Army jars.
Phil Cool and Paul Larkin at Alnwick Playhouse with Jam Jar Army jars.

Phil Cool’s Gems and Jewels – Alnwick Playhouse, Saturday.

PHIL Cool, remember him? The facial contortionist and funny man who changed the face of British comedy in the late ‘80s.

His unique style, combining stand-up with hilarious impressions, won over a TV audience and promoted him to prime-time essential viewing 30-odd years ago.

As he proved on Saturday, he is still one of the best impressionists on the circuit, relying heavily on his incredibly rubber face and not props, but with pretty accurate voices to match.

Lancastrian Cool, now 64, has an amazing ability to contort his features into the gamut of characters and perfectly mimic their mannerisms so that you know exactly who they are even before he opens his mouth. He called it faceology and he is the best exponent.

His Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney, Eric Morecambe, Brian Ferry, Billy Connelly, Terry Wogan to name but a few were good examples of his art and had the appreciative Playhouse audience in stitches.

His collection of politicians and world leaders, John Major, George Bush, William Hague, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown (“If it ain’t broke, break it!”), Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill etc were all uncanny caricatures.

Even fictional characters like Bugs Bunny, Quasimodo and Wallace (without Gromit) were given the excellent Cool treatment.

And it was almost as if Rolf Harris in person had joined him on stage when he donned the goatee beard and dark-rimmed glasses.

Cool’s stand-up delivery was so laid-back, it was positively horizontal, particularly compared to the manic style of many modern comedians. He was certainly more Jack Dee than Lee Evans.

The first half of his performance was more self-effacing and rambling than the confident joke-telling of a seasoned pro as he seemed nervous launching some new material.

But into the second half, he really came into his own, falling back on his tried and tested impressions, merging several of them expertly in song, proving that he was also a very good singer and guitarist.

He did, however, have to contend with a quarter-full Playhouse, testimony, he jested, of his popularity in Alnwick! He quipped it had taken him 36 years to reach that level of obscurity and the reason he was no longer on telly was that he was no good at gardening nor decorating and couldn’t cook!

It cannot do much for much for your confidence, though, to peer into a sparsely-populated auditorium. He praised everyone for spreading out and making themselves look more in number than they actually were.

But Phil handled the small audience really well right through to the end when he disappeared only momentarily before returning for an encore, not wanting to risk a waning of the raucous applause.

It was amazing to see such a professional in town – it was just a shame that more people didn’t come to enjoy the show. If Cool drops in again, you’d be a fool to miss him.

PAUL LARKIN