Jamie Meets The Pope

“Their directness punctures pretence, and lets the audience in.” MATTHEW WOLFSON is impressed by this comedy duo.

Ben Pope Comedy Corpus Playroom jamie fraser

Corpus Playroom, Monday 21st January, £6/5.

Long, long ago, when I naively hoped my future would lie in the theatre, I made the same mistake as many other aspiring actors and seized any role I could find, including a brief but tragic stint as a dancing monkey in a musical about Dr. Seuss.

However, one world into which even I refused to tread was that of stand-up comedy. It’s a different game, I was once sagely told, where not only your delivery, but also your intelligence is under the spotlight. And so it is. Nobody else provides material for you to hide behind.

This is uncomfortable not just for you but also for your audience, who don’t particularly want to see you fall flat and embarrass yourself either. I was reminded of all this by a person sitting next to me at the recent performance of Jamie Meets the Pope, who, right before the lights went down, muttered, “I’m so nervous for them.” Weren’t we all.

But Jamie Fraser’s opening monologue efficiently extinguished any tension: he admitted to nerves, asked if anyone in the audience was familiar with long-form stand-up (many were not), and then acted as our admittedly fallible, though generally knowledgeable, guide to the art. Most shows centre around a poignant moment in the speaker’s life, he said, so he wanted to tell us a bit about himself, though as a white middle class straight guy at Cambridge, he sadly lacked many poignant anecdotes. This introduction set the tone for what was an always skilfully managed and occasionally inspired next hour: a relaxed, direct exchange between two comedians and their audience.

Two distinct approaches were on display. Fraser favoured short comedic stabs and calibrated pauses, whilst Ben Pope went for free-flowing monologue powered by relentless movement. Fraser covered mostly personal ground, whilst Pope tackled social commentary.

Fraser played the loveable neurotic, telling endearing tales of sleep-talk and failed attempts to ingratiate himself with African classmates at the age of nine by triumphantly counting from one to a hundred in the local language. (Lesson: “you can never spite someone into thinking you’re cool.”)

Pope, on the other hand, opted for inventive, intricate prose, contrasted with an earthy delivery: phrases like “mottled latticework of bird nest and pubic hair” abounded. His material covered some of the vagaries and absurdities of modern British life, from overconsumption of Big Macs to the always somehow inhuman demeanour of both Labour and Tory leaders.

Personally, I found Fraser’s performance the more inspired of the two, partly because thirty minutes of Pope’s high octane style is pretty tough on the audience, and partly because Fraser’s personal professions seemed fresher, more honest, and more poignant next to Ben’s less focused social commentary.

Not that it mattered much: I’d happily return to see Jamie or Ben. Their directness punctures pretence, and lets the audience in.