Corpus Smoker

ABI BENNETT would have enjoyed this more if everyone had just calmed down a bit…

Abi Bennett Corpus Smoker jamie fraser Ken Cheng zoe tomalin

Corpus Playroom, Monday 15th October, 9.30pm, £6/£5

Nerves are the enemy of good comedy. An audience needs to feel in safe hands. I’m not saying that the only good comedy is Live-at-the-Apollo, floppy-haired, guffaw-guffaw bravado. What I am saying is that there is a difference between the nervy, socially awkward persona, and the performer who is actually petrified on stage. There has to be an understanding, however implicit, between performer and audience, that what is going to happen will be funny, and that can only happen when the performer is able to put their nerves to one side.

Unfortunately, last night’s Corpus Smoker was plagued by nerves. Some great punch lines were lost, as fear stricken performers just word-vomited them on stage. Poor enunciation, lack of structure, and fidgeting with the microphone cord were rife, and they all seriously detracted from some potentially excellent comedy. Instead of allowing jokes to develop, performers raced through their material, arriving at the punch line before we even knew a joke was coming. Yes, stand-up comedy is pant-shittingly terrifying. But nerves shouldn’t detract from the performances as much as they did here.

Take Sian Docksey. Her jokes got surprised laughter, but not due to the risqué nature of her comedy, but because the audience was taken unawares by the punch lines: Docksey sped her way through her material so fast that we didn’t have time to appreciate what she was doing. This was a real shame. Much of her material – especially ‘Project Get-Sexy’ – had the potential to be fantastic.

It’s a much-stated truism that we’re all busy. Yes, I know we all have essays, lectures, seminars, and so on. But several of the acts would have really benefitted from having a little more time and thought invested in them. There were some brilliant comedic personas, such as Zoe Tomalin’s Primary School Teacher/ Bubbles from AbFab/ Judith Butler. Tomalin’s material, however, didn’t live up to the expectations raised by her persona. Other performers, such as Ken Cheng, had great material, but had put no thought into how they would appear on stage.

Cambridge comedy is dogged by some much-used tropes, such as tourists, gowns, and supervisions. Basically, the experience of being at Cambridge. It was refreshing to see some performers looking beyond Grantchester for their inspiration. Jamie Fraser’s racism at countries that no longer exist was a brilliant conceit, and provoked the loudest guffaws of the night. The most challenging (in a good way) material belonged to Ken Cheng. His racist/sexist comments may not have provoked much laughter, but this was due to shock rather than un-funniness.

Overall, it was a night of potential spoilt by nervy delivery. These performers could all become excellent comedians, if they could just get their nerves under control. Granted, it was a perfectly enjoyable evening. But it just could have been so much better.