Wolfson Howler

OLI THICKNESSE is thoroughly entertained by a stellar line-up that throws something new into the mix of Cambridge comedy.

Comedy dan leigh Ken Cheng Liam Williams oli thicknesse Tim Key Wolfson Howler

Wolfson College Bar, 8pm, Monday 29th April, £5

Note: this review has been amended. Last edited 01/05/13.

To say that the Wolfson Howler has an excellent track record would be like claiming you’re dodging some quality revision time to read this review: some things appear to be eternal truths. And again, the team behind the Howler managed to create a stellar line-up, and one which struck a nice balance between the new, the slightly older, the dropped-out and the big-fucking-name. An eclectic mix, to say the least, and there was enough variation in their respective comic stylings to make sure that I went away happy, though not guffawing retrospectively, into the night.

Whenever I go to comedy nights, I beg and pray that there is a good compère: somebody who understands how to amuse, warm-up and play with the audience simultaneously. Personally, as a typically nervous observer of comedy – I am that guy who looks away from the comedian if they look towards me, as if to say “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” – I was delighted to see the ever-reliable Nish Kumar taking the reins for the evening. To sum him up in a word: funny. In two? Hysterical excellence.

Relative-newcomer Dan Leigh took to the floor first, in front of a semi-warmed audience. Not that the subdued atmosphere held him back. No Sir. There was a lot of solid, original material here, which was delivered at almost perfect pace, flitting between his non-alcoholic induced moral superiority on nights-out, sexual innuendo, and a lovely exploration of nihilism.

Although seeming nervous at points, it was reassuring to see a smiley, bouncy comic for once, something which the often miserable or aloof comedy scene in Cambridge is definitely missing. Go see him: Cambridge comedy needs more happiness, and this is the guy to bring it.

Next into the void was Siân Docksey. A far-more seasoned performer, there was some equally good stuff here, although it was frustrating to see her linger over highly-unoriginal topics, or Cambridge staples: careers and relationships. Frustrating in the sense that she’s obviously a hugely capable performer, and was perhaps let down by the lukewarm crowd.

(I blame you, exam term. Damn you, exam term.)

Nevertheless, individual moments were great: drunken shopping, lesbian cruise ships, and, above all, a pun on ethnic cleansing. In an otherwise pun-light evening, this was manna from above.

The mysterious Ken Cheng appeared next. Mysterious in the sense that I felt sure that I had seen him before somewhere; maybe on The Tab at some point? Anyway, there was no time to ponder over this, with him plunging into the jokes straight from the off. Another confident performer, far more so than I had seen him for some time, he has obviously found his feet.

His confidence affected the audience too: after a second side-splitting spiel from Kumar, dwelling on the Daily Mail and his school-days, the crowd was now fully in the swing of it. I was disappointed to hear some old stuff from Cheng about online dating, but otherwise his set was superb, although he seemed to distract his own flow with his thought process at times. Come his final well-crafted call-back (ANOTHER PUN!), the audience was in stitches. Great stuff.

Liam Williams opened with the same opening gag as the last time I saw him. No matter: the rest of his stuff was sparkling with wit and verbal dexterity, and his aloof delivery was a nice contrast to the rest of the performers (save for Key himself). New ground was broken for the evening too (though not in reality) by the intrusion of politics; instead of a typical session on UKIP-bashing, it was good to see a more indirect assault, focusing on the views of a would-be councillor. If you can make a list of political Q&As funny, then you have my vote.

As you would expect, Tim Key was an excellent climax to the evening. I won’t linger too long over him, but needless to say, his rough, mumbled swearing was superb. Individual poems were fantastic (HE DOES POETRY!), and the punch lines were never obvious; moreover, it was a sign of a consummate pro that he could hover over ideas and skits for a moment longer than any other performer on the night, and produce gold. Such is celebrity and his awesome skill. You don’t need me to say this, but I will anyway: GO SEE HIM. SOON.

Overall then, the Howler produced again: great stuff throughout the night and some memorable performances. However, the fact that the first few acts fell a bit flat on a semi-baked audience (not what you think, dear reader) detracted from the evening slightly, while a few of the later performers faltered at moments in their respective acts. But still a fantastic evening: all hail the Howler.