Clare Comedy with Ed Gamble

HOLLY STEVENSON blames the audience for her uphill struggle to comedy nirvana

Ahir Shah Ali Lewis Charlie Reams Clare Cellars Clare Comedy Ed Gamble Holly Stevenson Jonny Lennard Ken Cheng Leo Davidson Pierre Novellie

Clare Cellars, Sunday 6th February, 8.30pm, £4

[Rating: 3.5/5]

Clare Cellars can very rarely be beaten for atmosphere, but as a venue for actually seeing stuff it fails miserably. I forgot this golden rule and ended up sitting at the side, between two pillars and right in front of a speaker. In terms of sound quality, this was a flawless position, but it did mean that no amount of gymnastics could make me see more than a performer’s elbow.

Perhaps it was because I was watching the action from this undesirable spot, or that it was the first Clare Comedy of term, but the audience seemed strangely subdued, almost nervous, at the various performers ribbing them. It was as if they were in a supervision they had forgotten to do the work for. This was a shame, as part of the joy of Clare Comedy is giving new acts the confidence to shine. This seemed to have an effect on the first three performers. Pierre Novellie’s set had sadly inconsistent flashes of brilliance, and Ali Lewis’s puns were sometimes inspired but seemed to be mostly delivered at the floor. Jonny Lennard injected a much needed jolt of enthusiasm with a quirky piece on writing children’s stories for Disney. It shouldn’t have worked, but Jonny’s scarily accurarate emulation of child’s speech meant he pulled it off.

Surprisingly, the second third of the show was even more hit and miss. A fresh set by Leo Davidson minus his ukulele (but with a whole new list of ‘potential’ new songs) was well received, but Charlie Reams and Ken Cheng were inconsistent almost to the point of incoherency, and so I’m not afraid to say I cannot remember a single thing about their sets. For veteran comics well known on the college comedy circuit, this was definitely disappointing stuff.

Ahir Shah’s compering slowly let the audience loosen up as the show progressed – he is a natural, almost graceful performer– and his piece on the Union spelling his name wrong so that his member’s card translated as ‘Potato King’ was frenetic and dazzling.

Blaming an audience for a lacklustre performance may sound odd, but for untried comics, a warm and supportive reception is essential. The chilly atmosphere was even felt by unsinkable headliner Ed Gamble, who, faced with an audience unsure how to react even to his cheery ‘hello!’, replied with: ‘I was worried there. There was definitely a pause.’ Thankfully Ed warmed the cockles of even the iciest, most critical heart. Unflappable, energetic, and almost relentlessly cheery, his set encompassed everything from alfresco sex to monkey hanging in Hartlepool. It included his still-hilarious Tim Westwood piece, which includes the line ‘Don’t worry about messing with my homies guys, but if you cut the nose off my brie, you fuckers are going down!’ Once he got the ball rolling, Ed simply bounced from joke to joke, effortlessly bringing the audience with him.

So, it is possible to reach comedy nirvana in Clare Cellars. But it’s a hell of an uphill struggle.