Kate Moxon reviews...
After his effortless success on ‘Live at the Apollo’, Tom Ward is bringing his new show ‘Anthem’ to Hyde Park Book Club. Along with his incredibly witty observations, Ward is known for his ability to meld music and comedy into a seamless concoction of cultural relatability.
On his first solo national tour, Ward covers themes including love, the 90s as well as gender, mental health and the planet. His laddish image (a self-proclaimed caricature of someone transitioning from being an Oasis fan to a Blur one) only scrapes the surface of his extremely nuanced and thoughtful comedic voice. Ward is a seasoned pro in the comedy sphere with many prestigious awards under his belt including best newcomer at the 2017 Chortle Comedy Awards and a finalist at the 2013 BBC New Comedy Awards. Both have a reputation for breeding highly acclaimed comics and Ward is no exception.
I was lucky enough to see his show ‘Anthem’ at Hyde Park Book Club as well as have a chat to him about his inspirations, themes and the importance of music in his life.
What made you choose the title ‘anthem’ for your show?
I wanted something punchy. Not something too whimsical and strange. The Big Boys and Big Stars always go for something naff, so I went for the opposite.
Inspiration for the show?
Mainly about hijacking social movements by people - here I am I’m not hiding come and get me
Does your show have any main messages that you want the audience to take away?
There’s a bunch of stuff in there but there’s no movie ending. People can take away what they want to take from it. There’s no sort of moral message. It’s more about identity and how we’re in a nice time yet everything kind of seems to get hijacked by the mainstream corporations.
Who are your main inspirations as a comic?
I love John Kearns, Daniel Kitson, my friend Rich Hardesty who’s doing his debut show, Jim Carey, Chevy Chase, Eddie Izard, Ben Elton, Jack Dee. Yeah. Quite a collection.
When did you know you wanted to do stand-up?
I’d already kind of started compiling things into a word document and thought this feels like something I want to do. My mate’s housemate suggested I should give it a go after the band I was in broke up. I originally wanted to be a singer but it wasn’t happening. Honestly, stand-up didn’t go well for about a year which is a long time but I felt like something was there an I got there eventually I guess.
How tight is your show? It’s quite tight. I have around 50 minutes of material I want to do but I don’t like to ignore things. If something happens in the crowd, I’ll reference it and say something but it really depends on the crowd. I like to muck around with them.
You incorporate a lot of music into your shows. What made you want to start doing that? I always have from early on. I did a few advert style songs in my first year or so. I love singing and I find that music adds to the show. It makes it more exciting and breaks up any rhythms which seem to form. It keeps me and the audience alive.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? I like to stretch. Breathe. Well, I guess you’re always breathing but lots of deep breaths. I like to be on my own to calm down for a bit. Also, on tour I’ve been having a couple of pints beforehand.
Do you have any songs you like to play before you go on? Before I go on stage there’s a short remix of a U2 song called Lemon that I made. No one knows it’s a U2 song. Then ‘Eye of the Tiger’ plays. Very cliché but that along with the lights flashing makes me feel ready to smash it.
Do you have a favourite place to gig? I’ve never gigged in Leeds before so unfortunately, I can’t say Leeds. Bristol seems to like me and I like them. London as well, especially East. Where all the wannabe hipsters live. Brighton as well is a good place to gig. Manchester is a bit odd. I don’t think Manchester knows what to think of me and I don’t know what to think of them. You’d think with this haircut I’d be fine but no.
What’s your favourite gig you’ve done? Live at the Apollo went to well it’s hard not to say that one. I’ve honestly never had a gig go so smoothly. I couldn’t have asked for more. I felt weirdly calm even though I was sick within about 10 minutes of arriving there. It was a mixture of travel sickness and nerves, I think. But everyone there was so lovely. The runners were amazing. It was such a good environment
Do you have a show that you were the most nervous for? I’ve definitely been more nervous than I was for Apollo. It was very clam there and I had a lot of time to walk around and collect myself. It was a very zen experience all in all. I’ve honestly been more nervous for the shows on this tour. Going to a new city is always weird. You never quite know what to expect.
Lastly, describe your show in three words Hmmm. I don’t know! Ok. ‘A lovely evening’ but said in a very well-to-do accent.
Before his hour began, Ward came on and did a quick survey of the crown including the classic questions ‘who’s in their 30s’, ‘who’s ever been expelled from school’, ‘who’s forgiven their mother’ etc. Before he could even get to these questions, a woman handed over a doll she’d knitted of him (including his penis). As an audience member, I felt like I was witnessing the prequel to an inevitable arrest and restraining order, however, Ward joked with the ladies about their strong Yorkshire accents and slightly creepy ways of showing affection.
Support was from Leeds local comic Peter Brush who absolutely smashed it and warmed the crowd up perfectly. His extremely long setups managed to grip the audience’s attention and the punchlines felt very much worth the long and winding road to get there.
By the time the main event commenced, the crowd were warmed up (from Brush’s support and also the amount of beer consumed). Ward took to the stage (to ‘Eye of the Tiger’) with the confidence of someone who knew it was going to go well but without the cockiness which can often come with that mentality. He started humbly by refencing the fact that he still lives in a house share in case anyone in the audience thought he was doing too well. Then navigated a call and response of ‘house where?’ ‘House share!’ which he made into a jingle featuring a man called Dave stealing the spoons to smoke crack and the perhaps more relatable feeling of when the shower goes cold when someone’s doing the washing up. He detailed themes of class through the medium of a gentrified coffee shop which plays a jazz version of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and is run by an Aryan 26-year-old called Theo. A place where eggs benedict is £42- and middle-class women are addicted to in order to keep up their caffeine charged charade.
Tom’s appearance is memorable to say the least or as he put it ‘James Blunt on glue’. However, the most successful musicians are skinny white boys wailing (including but not limited to: Sam Fender, Coldplay and Kings of Leon) to disguise the lack of chorus and for the fans to impose their issues on the blank emotional landscape. This lead nicely on to the fact a corporation can put anything over a ukulele back track and get away with it such as McDonalds or a nuclear corporation claiming their detonators are now plastic free! The way Ward incorporates music into his comedy is effortless and always provides big laughs. It adds to the show without pulling focus away from what he is trying to say. As he said in the interview, it breaks up any rhythms and prevents the audience from becoming too comfortable.
To anyone worried about climate change, Tom says it’s fine. We’ll be the first generation to witness the end of the world and if that isn’t groovy, I don’t know what is. His take on climate change deniers feels fresh as well as hilarious. To anyone who says climate change is part of a cyclical structure, Ward argues that pooing on the floor then claiming it would’ve smelt like poo anyway is the same difference. His sheer hatred for Vernon Kay made for a split audience however, his mid-barrel-change ‘Vernon Kay vs the people’ paedophilia case improv took this to another level. Both sides of the fence united in laughter.
At this point in the show, Ward had the crowd in his hands but an audience favourite was the ‘Mental Health Games’ in which he played an arguing couple fighting in the style of a wii sports tennis game. Truths were told in a way which felt controlled and funny as well as tragic. He claimed he was out of the love game until his current (and much younger) girlfriend Freya came along (sidenote- Freya is also a very talented comic and has almost 80k followers on TikTok @freyamallardcomedy – her hair tutorial also changed my life). He also claims that this is the perfect time for him to be in a relationship as each ex has tweaked him a little bit to make him more manageable. He of course said each thing in the style of a northern poet which included not pissing in the sink while an instrumental version of ‘I Wanna be Adored’ played. He then played a Kurt Vile song which reminded him of his heartbroken era and invited a man from the front to come up on stage, wear a wig of his hair and sing an improvised song which resulted in being about balls. My personal favourite moment of the night was a quiz section with the lucky volunteer in which Tom asked ‘Who do I base my haircut off of?’ and the man said ‘Oasis’ to which Ward responded ‘Wrong. It was Hayley Cropper from Coronation Street’.
The show ended with an acapella version of ‘Believe’ by Cher in which no words were said, only noises. All in all, the show was well structured and hilarious. Ward was a joy to watch and truly lit up the stage. He had the crowd in the palm of his hands and set the bar for comedy in Leeds very high. I felt very lucky to witness such a show.
You can find Tom on Instagram (@tomwardcomedian) and on his website (https://www.tomwardvoice.com/)
Words: Kate Moxon