REVIEW: Pembroke Black Tie Smoker

Dani Cugini has never regretted hating wine more.

Comedy Music musical comedy Pembroke Pembroke Old Library Smoker songs Stand Up stand up comedy standup Standup Comedy

The Pembroke Black Tie Smoker offers a more high-brow atmosphere than smokers usually provide.

Upon entering Pembroke’s intimate, classical Old Library to the faint strains of flute music and seeing the sizeable amount of free wine on offer, I could tell that paying double the price (£12) for a normal smoker ticket was going to be swiftly recompensed. More acts and sharper comedy than typical smokers also justified the price, despite the unfortunate dropping out beforehand of previous winner Ken Cheng and Footlighter Rob Oldham. Despite this, the lineup was stellar and both veteran and new comics alike failed to disappoint.

Yaseen Kader (Credit: Karlos Brown)

Compère Tom Fairbairn appeared a little uncertain in the role, but the show flowed relatively smoothly; I’d argue a 10-minute interval after the first two acts was unnecessary, but the next interval was shortened so perhaps they agreed. A problem with the microphone muffled some of first act Yaseen Kader’s lines, which was a shame because his deadpan, cynical delivery and expert pacing provided an excellent start to the night. I was a particular fan of his sarcastically vitriolic follow-up to an unappreciated pun (‘I was under the impression I was addressing a group of adults, and not a fucking daycare’).

A full audience meant the energy never slackened throughout the night, and performers Charlie Robb and Robert Eyers both provided a new slant on the regular smoker fodder, with Robb breaking out the guitar for a hilarious ‘constipation song’ complete with various grunts and expletives, and Eyers hosting an innovative ‘game show’ in which members of the audience could participate (including a certain rather pleased reviewer).

Neither reached the illustrious heights of the top 3, since both had aspects that could be improved – Robb’s improvised bit with the Pembroke Master fell slightly flat, and Eyers’ routine, based on essentially a single pun, could only be taken so far – but both were still better than the usual smoker performances, and provided a shot of vivacity to break up the usual routine.

Ruby Keane and Luisa Callander. (Photo Credit: Emma Kavanagh)

Most acts were stand-up but two sketch groups, both coincidentally coming off recent shows at Pembroke New Cellars, also featured in the lineup. Ruby Keane and Luisa Callander had a well-written set clearly polished from Mavericks, transitioning effortlessly from hilarious and surrealist short skits (or ‘shits’) to longer pieces, from an absurdly brilliant GCSE speaking and listening assessment to a less funny but still entertaining translated alien speech (including one of the finest lines of the entire show: ‘His gaze fell upon me, but I fought them off and they retreated’).

Three members of Quinoa II: No Pain No Grain rounded out the show though their set didn’t reach the standard set by the general lineup and some of their sketches were patchily delivered. However, I did enjoy three connected sketches about items being knocked out of a man’s hands.

Photo Credit: John Hughes, Art Festival 2015

At opposite ends of the experience scale, returning Haydn Jenkins and first-year John Tothill took first and second place respectively (though if you’ve seen Haydn, you’d know my use of that word would irk him), with Jenkins scooping a £50 prize. He fully deserved the win, since the polish on his routine was exponentially better than when I saw him a few weeks ago: jokes about failed social interactions, how to pronounce ‘fajita’ and the sexual position ‘691’ all landed, and he was the most professional of all the acts, pacing the stage with an awkward grace that matched his jokes perfectly.

I’m also extremely excited to see John Tothill on the comedy circuit over the next couple of years since I would have selected his monologue as a bitter 3 AM radio host as the single best bit of the entire show, employing his acting and comedic talents in full force. I almost wish ‘Miles Davis: The Ketamine Years’ were a real album.

All-in-all, a strong selection of Cambridge comics in the kind of elegant setting that makes your average first-year think ‘How did I even get here?’

If you frequent comedy shows here you’ll have seen a good chunk of the material, but it’s still an entertaining night. Look out for next year’s offering, since it’s worth going just for the experience.

4/5 stars