REVIEW: Wolfson Howler

Adam Hess, owner of ‘the softest lips in Croydon’, nailed a headline set at Wolfson’s comedy night, says Jamie P. Robson.

adam hess ADC Bhargav Narayanan Comedy Corpus Playroom isa bonachera rosie wilby Theatre wolfson college Wolfson Howler yaseen kader

The Wolfson Howler had some considerable expectations to fulfil.

Not only had I encountered an appreciative, hype-building rumble of praise from those to whom I had mentioned the show, and not only does the name ‘Howler’ — compared to the more chilled breed that is the Cantabrigian ‘Smoker’ — promise guffawing (at the very least), but I’d just endured a merciless whipping by howling January winds, so I felt that the universe owed me a bloody fun night of comedy.

And I must say: I’m pleased Google Maps and I made it.

As my cold-gnawed hands were slowly warmed by an ice-cold G&T, Ed Gamble took to the stage to thaw the crowd. As compère for the evening, Gamble was the lynchpin of the show, tasked with warming the audience up before and in between acts. His combination of easygoing charm and quick-witted, crowd-fuelled ad-libs (touching upon topics ranging from Apartheid to ‘Tinder live’) kept spirits high for the entire evening.

"Playful" – Yaseen Kader. (Photo Credit: Karlos Brown)

“Playful” – Yaseen Kader. (Photo Credit: Karlos Brown)

Grad student Isa Bonachera kicked off proceedings proper with a delightfully deadpan (if intermittently stilted) set notable for a pull-no-punches approach to self-deprecation, and a wry, somewhat merciless eye for comic observation. Yaseen Kader followed, presenting a thoughtful act centred around the arbitrary gendering of clothing, and around his own mixed race heritage. Kader’s delivery remained playful throughout, unloading criticisms of prejudices in a teasing tone; without straying into polemic or lecturing, Kader’s comedy deftly opened eyes.

These more inexperienced acts were impressive, but as soon as Rosie Wilby scampered on stage her confidence and smoothly flowing set signalled her greater experience. She proceeded to deliver highly polished material stemming from her experiences with love and sexuality, including coming out to her parents on April Fools’ Day (it offers a convenient potential exit strategy).

"Highly polished" – Rosie Wilby. (Photo Credit: Karlos Brown)

“Highly polished” – Rosie Wilby. (Photo Credit: Karlos Brown)

You don’t expect to see a Cambridge Fellow performing on the college circuit, but Bhargav Narayanan insisted to the crowd that he’s not just some old, creepy fellow — he’s a young, creepy fellow. Narayanan trades primarily in witty one-liners, throwing them to the audience in an extremely laid-back, genial fashion, switching gears to gently rib the audience every so often when they don’t quite get his cleverest jokes. A deft, unflappable operator.

So far, so good. But when Adam Hess took to the stage, the aura of an experienced comic was immediately apparent. He expertly escalated the energy of the crowd, keeping the 175-strong crowd laughing constantly with an incredible density of gags-per-minute. He performed semi-hyperactively, giggling sporadically — his love of performance, the thrill he derived from it, made for utterly joyous viewing.

"Standup superfood" ... Adam Hess. (Photo Credit: Karlos Brown)

“Standup superfood” – Adam Hess. (Photo Credit: Karlos Brown)

Hess flew from joke to joke, barely pausing for breath. Before you’d finished laughing at the previous gag, the next was gathering steam — relentless in the very best way, there was rarely a dead moment. The sheer concentration of good comedy in any given ten seconds might just make Hess a kind of ebullient standup superfood. He was easily worth (more than) the price of admission on his own.

The Wolfson Howler — and particularly its headline act — successfully injected some much-needed warmth into a freezing January night, and helped to kick the Week 1 Blues back into their rightful Week 5 spot.

4/5 stars