Corpus Smoker

Kids, step away from the ADC: there’s more to comedy than the Footlights. FRANCESCA HILL reviews the Corpus Smoker.

Ben Pope Comedy Corpus Playroom Ian Samson jamie fraser jon payne Ken Cheng milo edwards Smoker Sophie Williams

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, 4th February, £6/5

It’s a bit disconcerting how many people in Cambridge believe “stand-up” is synonymous with “Footlights”. Their smokers sell out time after time, no matter how many decidedly mixed reviews they get. However, half-filling that tiny, bizarrely-shaped space just down the road at Corpus Playrooms is a rare and virtually unqualified success.

And yet last night was great fun. Sure, not everything worked, but it never does. Ben Pope was a great choice of compere: bouncing around the stage without shoes, and instead with a retriever puppy-like enthusiasm. He led us skilfully between the six sets, occasionally predictable regards material, but compensating for that with lines so beautifully crafted they bordered on poetry. Single, you say, Ben? Call me.

Also scoring high on the likeability factor was Jamie Fraser, which was a pity, because whilst I liked a joke about juice in the UAE, a lot of his content just wasn’t as good as I hoped it was going to be. Think quiet chuckles rather than any major outbursts of guffawing.

Milo Edwards on the other hand had somehow accidentally written stand-up specifically for me. Sure, excessive British politeness has been covered before, and my less Waitrose-obsessed guest didn’t really get the appeal, but jokes about supermarket advertising and an errant deer in Chelmsford town centre had me sniggering appreciatively.

A masterclass in “How to convince the audience you’re funny before you’ve actually said anything” was given with flair by Jon Payne. His glasses are a massive advantage, making him look vaguely reminiscent of Joe 90, but it’s also just how he stands. You can tell that he’s very comfortable on stage, and he delivers some solid material about an Italian phrasebook with relish.

Probably the weakest sets of the night came from Ian Samson and Sophie Williams. The former adopted the “shock tactics” approach to comedy: sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. A line about a dead family member went down well, but another with c*** as the punchline just wasn’t shocking enough to be that funny. There was a collective “So what?” from the audience.

I had the impression that Williams’ already understated performance was made even stiffer by nerves. The use of photos as props did get a good laugh at one point, but was also slightly awkward as she fiddled around trying to pick up the right one, and the Take Me Out-based premise failed to grab the audience.

Last up was Ken Cheng, with his familiar combination of awkward geekiness and casual racism. As ever, inappropriate subject matter abounded, from 9/11 and waterboarding to paedophilia and Jimmy Savile. And yet, as always, he somehow managed to convince us that it was all fine. Some people seem awkward on stage; for Cheng however, the stage is perhaps the only place where he isn’t awkward. He knows how good he is.

Corpus Smoker was yesterday like any other smoker in Cambridge, but that’s a mostly good thing. It had enough experienced comedians to really entertain an audience, and provided a great platform for the next generation of potential stars to thrash out what works and what doesn’t. Kids, get off your bottoms and step away from the ADC: there’s more to life than stalking the Footlights.