Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster Live | Southbank Centre

“This is what happens when people have been starved of live entertainment for a year and a half. They’ll lap anything up” – James Acaster



“This is what happens when people have been starved of live entertainment for a year and a half. They’ll lap anything up”

Once upon a time, I had never been a podcast person. I couldn’t get into one, it felt weird listening to someone talk for an hour without seeing them. But then, after being blown away by James Acaster’s Netflix specials Repertoire, I gave his podcast with fellow comedian Ed Gamble a go, and didn’t look back.

The format of Off Menu is (fairly) simple; each week a guest is invited on, from comedic friends including Aisling Bea or Tom Allen to singers like Anne-Marie and actors like Martin Freeman. They are asked in turn whether they would prefer still or sparkling water, poppadoms or bread (iconically shouted by James when the guest least expects it), and their ideal starter, main course, side dish, drink and dessert, to form their dream menu. This sounds like a simple concept but it is brought to life by brilliant comedy and the fact that anything is possible – guests are allowed to choose any food from any place in the world and any time in history, making for some wacky and wonderful suggestions.

It feels surprising that although the podcast has been going since 2018 and recently begun its sixth series, their shows at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on 30th July and 1st August 2021 are the first ever live episodes – perhaps COVID got in the way. But fans lapped up the opportunity to get a chance to see it live; it was an absolute nightmare trying to get tickets, especially as the first time round it was sold as socially distant. As restrictions eased, the Southbank Centre sold a second round of tickets, and the hall was packed to the brim, a symbol of the podcast’s huge popularity (it often makes number 1 on the podcast charts each week). My seat was row B of the balcony at the side, I managed to get it in the first round of tickets when they went incredibly fast, so even though I did feel fairly far away from the stage, I was glad to be there at all!

Like the traditional podcast episodes, the live shows on the Friday and the Sunday each had a different guest to share their dream meal – my show featured the comedian and writer Isy Suttie, who although I wasn’t too familiar with previously (other than her being on James’ episode of Pointless), I really warmed to. Side note: she recently published her first novel which I was almost tempted by before going to the show as it sounded so up my street, and liked her so much I have now gone and bought it.

However, before introducing the guest of the night, Ed and James took to the stage and treated the audience to two little performances linked to moments of the podcast – Ed first as ‘Edwin Coffee’, the persona of a comedian from New York whose entire routine is about coffee, a callback to the intro and outro of the Josh Groban episode, and then James came on to sing some songs featured on the podcast, including his iconic Cawston Press song. Both were absolutely hilarious and got the audience ready. Then, the audience got the chance to choose the secret ingredient for Isy – if she chooses that ingredient, she’ll be kicked out of the dream restaurant! Although how we would choose it wasn’t really thought through, with members of the audience incomprehensibly shouting out a range of foods, it was decided to be tinned fruit, or ‘tanned frut’, as the Scottish member of the audience’s suggestion sounded.

Once Isy was welcomed to the stage, there was so much chat and brilliant food-based anecdotes shared between them that we had gotten to half way through the allotted time of the show before they even asked if she would like still or sparkling water. I imagine there are lots of guests like this, and therefore what was really fun about the live podcast concept was getting an unfiltered, unedited version of the show. Each course was introduced by Isy as how many colours made it up – two for the starter, six for the main and whether there was ‘something that was once alive’ in it or not. We spent far longer than you’d expect guessing what type of pea was part of her main course; all hilarious snippets that make you realise how much must get cut when putting the episodes together. I won’t spoil her choices as I’m pretty sure from the sounds of things it will be eventually uploaded as an episode, but I was very, very happy with her dessert choice as it was almost exactly what I would choose too!

Something worth mentioning as I round off is that the show was live captioned on a screen behind them which I thought was a really wonderful idea, making the show more accessible and generally easier to follow – often with a huge audience laughing and making plenty of noise throughout the show, you miss little words here and there so it was a great touch.

Going to see Off Menu live was a brilliant opportunity to almost have a behind the scenes look at the podcast recording and the atmosphere with over two-thousand other fans of the show laughing away was really sensational. You can listen to the podcast on every streaming platform and head to their website here to see all of the episodes, a run-down of every restaurant ever mentioned on the show, and updates of future live shows. Have you seen a live podcast before?


Image source: Off Menu twitter, except the last photo, which is my own (from my view up in the balcony, seat B44!)

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