BEN BLYTH feels reviewing a mediocre sell-out Smoker is a futile undertaking.
Tuesday 26th, 11.00, ADC Theatre, £5-6.
Well I have to say this smoker was a real ‘mixed bag’. Some of the acts were good. And funny. Some of the acts were bad. And not funny. Overall I enjoyed the evening and would encourage people to go again as on the whole it was a mixed bag with some acts that were funnier than others.
Why on earth would anyone review a smoker? So it’ll sell out in two weeks time? Oh, it already has. To say something profound about the way comedy deals with the human condition? You’ve clearly never seen the Footlights before.
Smokers are tradition. People will book weeks in advance to see them because of the same ideal (or in Norwegian ‘lie’ – thanks Ibsen) imbued upon the UL (why change its name – preposterous!), punting (Cambridge’s ritual summer mating display), or the idea that grass shouldn’t be walked on. As long as they are synonymous with ‘what makes Cambridge, Cambridge’ they’ll do just fine without this little review thank you very much. That said – this evening was a real mixed bag of talent with some acts better than others.
The problem with tradition, though, is that it becomes mired in…itself. Duh. This extends far beyond the concept for the show (it was a mixed bag) and into the construction of the humour. 'You know I don't understand metaphor. I'm like a something in a something'. Ellie Ross didn't say 'something', she used two other words which I don't remember because they were completely interchangeable. That was the point of the joke. Unfortunately, it was also the point of almost every other joke. I know it's been said before that the Footlights tiresomely restrict themselves to their particular brand of wordplay-based humour, and if I weren't able to enjoy the conjunction of unexpected nouns as much as the next man I wouldn't have gone. But the absence of stand-up sets from the stronger regulars, coupled with some especially superficial sketches, made this smoker an example of the Cambridge comedy scene at its most ‘traditional’.
I do think the repetition of the word ‘masturbation’ is funny — hilarious even — but the fact is, I can and do repeat the word 'masturbation' sitting at my kitchen table. More or less all the sketches and monologues relied on the repetition of a swearword, on grammatical contortions, or on imagining the implications of taking a metaphorical turn of phrase literally (like the couple who ‘split-up’) which tactics, when not forming part of a more interesting or intelligent comic conceit, become repetitive and even patronising. However, the team of Ben Ashenden, Mark Fiddaman and Alex Owen provided some sketch comedy with a bit of substance: their opening consideration of life on the hundred-metres track behind Usain Bolt was charming and witty and easily outshone all subsequent offerings (including, unfortunately, their own). They sound exactly like the 'Cowards' boys off of the radio and BBC 3, which is good insofar as the 'Cowards' are professional comedians, and bad insofar as it leaves them very open to the accusation of being derivative (also if you don't like 'Cowards').
The stand-out performer by a significant margin, though, was a stand-up. Phil Wang's assured delivery allowed the audience to enjoy consummately clever material, which apart from anything else was a textbook example of how to do wordplay without resorting to the above-mentioned clichés. His climactic list of similes was artfully constructed and a pleasure to hear — as well as being very, very funny.
Mention should also go to James Moran, whose comic timing, combined with a face that apparently contains more than the normal number of muscles, coaxed significant laughs out of his hit-and-miss material. I think his mind may have been elsewhere. PERHAPS on the absolute carnage he was about to unleash on a very suspecting late-show audience with ARMAGEDDAPOCALYPSE II: THE EXPLOSIONING and its real mixed bag of explosions. Ha! I done a joke.