Review: Smoker

Good acts are stifled by their three minute time slot and bad acts get laughs no matter what. Welcome to the last Smoker of term.

Ahir Shah Phil Wang Smoker

Tuesday 9th, 11.00 at The ADC Theatre.

The Footlights' Smoker audience is the most obliging, generous and compliant audience of any comedy show I’ve ever seen. To the point of complicity. At least at the Howler, the acts know if they’ve been shit; at a Smoker, everyone is applauded with the same raucous enthusiasm you’d get from a room filled with your friends. Which is, of course, exactly how the Smoker audience is constituted.

It dawned on me yesterday, as I cast my eye over the bar in the ADC, how dreadfully close-knit the Cambridge comedy ecosystem is. You only had to listen to the “Darling, how are you?”, the “Sweetheart, lovely to see you!” and the “You were wonderful, babe!” to realise it. I’ve always hated ostentatious mutual admiration, but the luvviedom in that bar was something to behold. Lanky sycophants in skinny jeans, wanky cardigans and retro specs. How very predictable, and how very tiresome.

Every Smoker is identical to the last. The same acts, the same jokes, the same fucking ukulele. I can barely be bothered to comment on this one. Even the female acts have me outmanoeuvred: once they’ve come off stage, there’s no room to wheel out a trademark misogynistic quip, because they’ve done all the work for me with sets that hang off little more than how crap it is to be a woman. Yeah, I suppose it must be. Get over it.

It’s worth praising Jacob Sharpe, I suppose, who’s the highlight of any show he’s in. When I wasn’t salivating over his good looks, I was admiring the quality of his material and the fluency of his performance. But I’ve come to expect more from Abi Tedder. Pulling silly faces and shuffling around nervously on stage will get you a Ritalin prescription in no time, but it won’t get you a far as a stand-up any more. And tone down the Ricky Gervais nods, for fuck’s sake.

Other familiar faces – Phil Wang, Ahir Shah – turned in serviceable performances, though none had time in the three minutes available to execute a proper set. A few one-liners, then off. Shame. The whole format is problematic, really: endless little monologues that go nowhere, with imperfect punch-lines, abruptly terminated. I don’t like it.

But like I said, it’s the audience that’s the real problem. Laugh at good comedy, by all means. But that screeching from the man in E5, at little more than the expectation of humour, drove me barking bloody mad. (Then again, starting a show at 11pm – when most of us are already half cut – is a recipe for obnoxious hyenas.)

The fact that I have such little to say after an hour of comedy speaks for itself. But the Smoker always sells out, and has done for years. Why? It shouldn’t: the acts aren’t funny enough; it’s too expensive for such a short show; the bar at the ADC is pricier than, say, the Wolfson Howler’s, and the people there are unbearably pleased with themselves.

This is the point at which my editor will be expecting me to supply a “but.” But I can’t. If you're not one of the Footlights posse, don't bother trying to get tickets. The money's better spent on booze. If you are… well, I don't need to tell you book in advance, do I? You probably have a reminder set already. And you'll probably be foaming at the mouth by now, too – so by all means leave your abuse in the comments below.