Footlights Smoker

With its peaks and troughs, this smoker relied too heavily on already established Footlights, claims TOMMY SHANE.

ADC Emma sidi Footlights harry michell jack gamble lateshow matilda wnek

Smokers are always a mixed bag. And that’s good – they serve as a platform for new Cambridge talent, especially for aspiring Footlights. But sometimes that bag is a Mullberry, and sometimes it’s an orange plastic bag from Sainsbury’s.

Though this Footlights smoker was by no means the latter, there were numerous sketches that were so suffocatingly stifled that it did feel like I was choking on discarded polythene. Strangely enough, one stand-up piece of the night actually centred around the ingestion of synthetic chemicals, in the form of Cillit Bang and Febreeze. This was actually a really funny premise, but Andrew’s nerdy character was compromised by incongruous and abrupt swearing that didn’t seem to suit the persona he had initially crafted. A few clichés and derivatives later, the audience were relatively silent.

The same was true of Milo Edwards, whose observational humour often just didn’t seem to work. He spent a long time explaining how he wasn’t named after the Tweenie’s character, which was occasionally funny – but when people ask if he was named after a Tweenie, they’re probably being mildly ironic, not hopelessly illogical. The originality of some of Edwards’ material was let down by a tired, rehashed joke about Ryanair’s random landing locations.

Derivative but well acted performances, like teaching kids not to do drugs, a strange Matrix style sales pitch, and an inventor that couldn’t make his robots love him, unfunnily followed.

But as I said, it was a mixed bag. And with the orange plastic came the – well, whatever Mullberry bags are made out of.

This came in the form of a totally distinct, second tier of comedic talent. These sketches were simply on another level – the types of sketches that you hope for in a Footlight’s show.

One of the real up and coming performers of the night was Ryan Ammar, whose subtle, un-hammy performance as a snail resuscitated the evening into terrific life. Failing to remember if he was born or hatched, and later realising his asexuality meant he couldn’t be gay, Ammar and Ben Pope found the laughs that had been lost in earlier sketches. His later sketch about an eroticised self-service machine at Sainsbury’s was just brilliant.

And then came a one-two punch from Emma Sidi and Harry Michell. Sidi, with her exquisite Spanish persona, performed a long monologue about the preparation of her favourite food, cat. Her accent was so nuanced and convincing that the audience hung off her every syllable.

And then straight after came a sketch about the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the three wise men. The sketch ingeniously switched round this familiar story and transposed it onto the modern awkwardness of present-giving, and the odd foresight that this day would probably be quite important. Michell’s bewilderment, followed by his fearful disbelief that someone was writing it all down, combined brilliant writing with perfect execution. And then, as if it could get any better, Michell’s humungous frame accidentally slipped on spilt milk from an earlier sketch and he came tumbling down like a giant oak – it was spine-splittingly funny, though admittedly accidental.

It would be a gross injustice not to applaud Matilda Wnek, who truly was the unsung hero of the night. She played roles that didn’t steal the spotlight or the punchline, and instead propped up some of the weaker sketches. Sometimes she should perhaps have used her experience to prune some pieces, like the seemingly endless ‘Star-Gate-Trek-Wars’ sketch. But if it wasn’t for her, the night would have seriously dragged.

So, a mixed bag. The smoker had some of the best comedy Cambridge has to offer, but was let down by pieces that the Footlights committee should have, if not cut, played a larger role in developing and shortening. It was a shame that a platform that seems designed for developing new talent depended so heavily on comedians of old.