Review: Footlights Smoker

ALEX STRIDE enjoys the ‘few gems’ hidden among a mixed bag of sketches from this year’s Footlights

ADC Cambridge Cameron Footlights Mark Milligan obama oliver taylor star wars


As much as I would love to grab your attention with a bold statement, either about how absolutely excellent or crushingly disappointing this smoker was, I cannot. Instead I am going to fall back on the old adage of the ‘mixed bag’. It is certainly true that there were some gems, but there were also some sketches which didn’t quite hit the spot.

I thought that Oliver Taylor’s stand up routine kicked off the smoker excellently. His jokes about reaching the edges of his simulated reality, and obscure character references from Star Wars may have fallen flat outside of the nerd-capital of the UK, and I’m fairly sure I was laughing more than my girlfriend beside me, but that wasn’t enough to detract from the audience’s, enjoyment of set. This was the first time I had seen Taylor in a straight stand-up environment, and I hope that it isn’t the last.

I can honestly say some of the sketches were the best I have ever seen in Cambridge. The piece with José Mourinho reading out his ‘10 books which have stayed with you’, the Ricky Hatton sketch and the Famous Five style diary read by Mark Milligan were definitely highlights, with plenty of others delivering similarly original and well-executed ideas. It was good to see a few fresh faces (an encouraging number of them female), which bodes well for the next few years of footlights comedy.

Milligan was one of the show’s stand out acts. Credit: Johannes Hjorth

However, the turnover of sketches was very high and it gave the impression – with the exception of the gems – of quantity rather than quality. Many sketches relied on a single joke or were just carried through by some strong physical acting. The sketch about Obama and Cameron, for example, is something which is already overdone in mainstream comedy and the only fresh thing about it was the ridiculous acting which in no way resembled David Cameron. It also had the entirely predictable phenomenon of (what I’m going to call) the ‘footlights twist’: two characters stand on stage and have a conversation for a while, until one of them says something along the lines of “Er, Mr Cameron” and the audience thinks “Oh, he was David Cameron all along and I didn’t realise. How very clever.” I am not doubting this format can be funny, but it is starting to feel formulaic and I have lost count how many sketches at footlights smokers which do this.

I apologise to those responsible for that particular sketch. I really didn’t think it was that bad; it just served well as an example of number of sketches in the show which could probably have been better-thought-through. Overall though, it was a very enjoyable evening.

Ok. A very mixed bag. 60% – scraped a 2:1 by the skin of its teeth.