Review: Wolfson Howler

The Wolfson Howler returns with a diverse range of potential- some of it realised, some of it not.

Comedy Emerald Paston Howler Joanna Neary Stand Up Wolfson

Wolfson Howler, Monday  November 9th


I must admit that, upon entering Wolfson College, my so long neglected ego was given a much needed mini stroking session. After all, is there anything more smug inducing than to be ushered in with, what I could only perceived to be, reverence and the always welcome free glass of wine? Call me a simple minded philistine, or just a geek if you will, but at that moment I felt like the Godfather of journalism… or I’m just easily pleased.

 As I sat there with my glass of red watching the anticipated Howler unfold, I started to think about one of the great things about comedy in Cambridge:  people are free to experiment and be as mediocre as they like without the constant fear that the public will crucify them as, let’s be fair, audiences here are divinely forgiving. I would in no way describe the Wolfson Howler as mediocre, but nor was it immune to moments of comedy cringe. It was, however, a strange concoction of potential with the occasional gem of a performance. 

The main event was the ‘Wild Talented Joanna Neary’ who, a bit of Wikipedia will tell you, has amongst others appeared in ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ and ‘Skins’.  Her set of character based comedy was excellent. Each role was delivered with equal hilarity and imagination and a perfect encapsulation of her talents, both as an actress, and as a comedienne. This was epitomized with her opening character, in which a woman gives a somewhat nervous talk on sex toys. The wonderful detail in her trembling voice and shaking hands was indeed priceless. Other characters included Bjork,  a brummy woman leading a ‘Ghastly Ghost Tour’ and the fantastic Pans People inspired dance to ‘I Can’t Live if Living is Without You’. The highlight of her set for me was what I can only describe as a posh wannabe rebel, stoner, and intensive gap year traveller (if you count two weeks in Ireland as worldwide travel). It was a joy watching Neary transform her whole being before the audience’s eyes, so if you have any interest in character based comedy I would highly recommend her.

With regards to the student side, I’d already been lucky to see Emerald Paston perform at the Kings’ Jest in October. I’d had her down as a so-so comedienne, though looking back this was mostly due to her only having had a short slot to perform in. At the Howler, I fully realized her comedic talent and potential, and had the chance to see substantially more of her work. Her repertoire of humorous songs was polished and witty. If you do ever see her perform her ode to drugs is excellent, and my personal favourite was a song about her falling in love with a man who mugged her. Overall, I got the impression that the audience was more receptive to her than to most of the other performers. My extensive theory on this is either she had loads of her friends in the audience, or,  the audience responded to what came across as her having put  greater care into her set than the others, resulting in a tighter and more concise performance.

The most mixed set came from the double act Jono and Liam, which was, in essence, more of a workshop of ideas. Their degree of performance quality varied greatly as a result of this and each idea was received with alternate enthusiasm by the audience, though it’s always fascinating to be privy to different comedy making processes.  Their ideas ranged from one-liners, characters they had yet to incorporate into some structure and the wonderfully random politically correct loo signs.  Perhaps the most simultaneously interesting and disappointing was their improvisation workshop, which bore great focus on audience participation. This was a daring and original idea but didn’t quite come together, mostly due to the unenthusiastic aforementioned members of the audience. 

If you’re a seasoned comedy devotee and fancy something a little different, get yourself down to the next Wolfson Howler. All the comedians contribute to what is overall a great evening; finally it’s a great opportunity to see people like Joanna Neary in such an intimate setting.