Footlights Smokers

Tue 14th February – Tue 13th March 2012


Simeon Wallis

at 17:48 on 16th Feb 2012



It sounds like damning with faint praise, but I mean it as a high accolade: last night's smoker was not in the least bit disappointing. The Award Winning, World Famous And Culturally Significant Footlights will probably continue to sell out the ADC long after Fry and Laurie are a distant memory. But being an institution has its drawbacks – a famous name and a guaranteed packed house raise the bar fairly high for what is basically a night of fairly funny people 'trying stuff out'. With expectations so high, and imperfection so inevitable, leaving so many people feeling satisfied (and on Valentine's day!) is no small achievement.

With a view to ending on a high, let's get the criticism out of the way. Most of the sketches stayed well within the familiar territory of established schtick – snooty waiters, the indians of the Pastiche tribe ('Have you come up with a more convenient unit of time than moons?'), newsroom interviews and awkward blind dates all made an appearance. We were on well trodden ground. Similarly, most of the (mercifully small) number of stand up acts spent a lot of time on material that felt very familiar from the college bar, or the Tab's comment pages; though I can't fault 'Monorail. There's a one-liner' as an opening joke or 'Oedipus Rex as a sitcom: How I Met My Mother' as a finale. Most guilty of crushing unoriginality was the performer with the heart-shaped balloon who punctuated the first half – it turns out that seeing someone embody a few 'girl on V-day' caricatures in quick succession doesn't make any one of them much funnier.

Turning to the brighter side, while a lot of the sketches were on safe ground and had a tendency to peter out, almost all contained some well crafted lines. A sketch showing God discussing the great flood with his advisors is hardly novel (the bible must surely now be about to dry up as a source of comedy) but the having one of His assistants plea for 'Noah, his family and their unfeasibly large menagerie' to be sent something better than a 'double decker boat' was a nice touch, as was the inexplicably funny decision to name the angelic aide 'Jemima'.

Other sketches were saved by strong comic timing and delivery (though the opposite was true too), 'Jemima' and Emma Powell did a particularly good job in making a joke about lesbian dating and sock puppets get bigger laughs than it deserved. It did prompt the thought, though, that comediennes must prepare themselves for the day when their use of the phrase 'wank sock' is no longer quite so hilariously shocking. On the day when women making spunk jokes ceases to surprise, truly, feminists will know our work is done.

The best act of the night for my money was Charlotte Jefferies, by far the most polished and engaging of the stand-ups, who managed a hilarious riff on child abuse without seeming like she was working hard to cause outrage. The marathon, 5 jokes a minute one man farce that turned out to be a plug for Pilot, Corpus's week 5 'Cockpit Cock-Up' (based on this taster it's Airplane for the 21st century and worth a look), also deserves particular mention. So too do an amazing piece of physical time delay comedy and a single joke act with the enduring, funniest punchline of all; a naked man running across the stage, clutching his tackle.

A review of a show that's only on for one night is inevitably a tad pointless – you're either reading this in the hope of having your opinion confirmed, or to see how hard to kick yourself for missing it. Since I can't tell you to go tonight, I am reduced to providing you with the usual array of cliché (mixed bag, more hits than misses, something for everyone and so on) and telling you it's probably worth your money if you decide to go next time. Actually, since it'll all be different again it might be worth trying to find some way of getting out of paying to avoid disappointment. Did you know you can go for free if you write a review?


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