Corpus Smoker

JUAN ZOBER DE FRANCISCO and ALICE CARR wonder who will take over Pierre Novellie’s crown when the king steps down at the Corpus Smoker this week.

Charlie Palmer Corpus Playrooms Corpus Smoker elly nowell Essex funny Ken Cheng Marc Shalet Pierre Novellie Sophie Williams

Corpus Playroom, 20th February, 9.30pm, £5-6


The scene was set by 60s rock and groupies headbanging in the front row. We were ready for another stellar performance from Pierre Novellie – and he didn’t disappoint. The line-up, however, didn’t quite match up.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that some of the most offensive (and yet tastefully funny) lines came from the freshest act. Sophie Williams shone, despite it being her inaugural performance at this event.

The crowd, which had been reticent at the beginning of the night, instantly warmed to her. Sophie exuded a nervous, affable energy that was arresting from her first pervert joke. She came across as a natural story teller, and her performance did this justice.

Unfortunately, this was not the case with the preceding comedians Ken Cheng and Marc Shalet. Cheng’s new one-liner approach sometimes put the crowd in hysterics and the occasional miss was gracefully saved by his ungraceful awkwardness; the product of years of comedic training. However, Cheng didn’t need to tell us it was a new approach – it showed.

Shalet’s stories were devoid of content and failed in delivery. He has previously delivered some outstanding performances; it was a shame this week’s routine didn’t quite work. Attempts to shock the audience dropped flat – but that’s probably our fault for being such desensitized bastards.

Likeable and new, Charlie Palmer will go far. He ripped into Elly Nowell with fury and deliberate petulance. After destroying Nowell’s letter, Palmer created a funny and fresh skit based on awkward sexual experiences – something we thought impossible given that most Cambridge students seem to have had a life-time of awkward sexual experiences.

Novellie’s segments, by contrast, were a tour-de-force from a South African demi-God of comedy. He has the ability to create new, consistently funny content – a difficult skill in comedy. Novellie began the night like a big, ginger Santa Claus as he gave his presents to the audience, and ended it like a king on his throne, looking for an heir amongst his subjects. With skill and confidence, he turned the most awkward moments into fun ones and coaxed a difficult audience well.

And it truly was a difficult audience. There were five people from Essex, for example. The reviewers were under the impression that people from Essex are loud and jovial. However the Essex-members whispered amongst themselves distractingly during performances and were quiet when they were most needed.

Smokers provide new comedians with a space to try new material. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t – but if the event hadn’t been as open to new blood as it is, we wouldn’t have seen some gems. In comedy, where a leg-up can be hard, this can only be a good thing.