It’s all well and good going to a comedy gig at a large venue, especially when the crowd’s roaring with laughter, but there’s something a tad special about shows where more than just the front row are involved. I think audience participation is where comedians really show their talent – in their ability to improvise and do more than just put on a set show.
Where many comedians come on to an empty stage, James Acaster walks onto (or more, showcases himself onto) a low stage already featuring a whiteboard and chair – and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious as to what on earth we were to expect from this. There’s no easy way to start a comedy gig, so James begins his by discussing his strut on, and I have to say that after seeing comedians time and time again start their show by a). asking the crowd how they are, and b). making a comment on the city they’re performing in, it’s nothing short of a relief to see someone find a variation on it.
What struck me as James worked through his show was that he was a very down-to-earth sort of guy, and although I’m probably completely wrong in saying this, one would assume that’s why his show is called Lawnmower. Off hand comments such as the fact that he likes answering questionnaires, because they topic is always oneself, are the sort of thing to leave you thinking “how did I not see that before?” These blindingly obvious comments on every day life require a certain type of delivery, and it’s fair to say that he appears to have that nailed.
I’ve never been one for humour provided by stimulus material or work that isn’t the comedian’s own – often it feels like they’ve just trawled the internet for a fair while to find something that made them laugh, so they retell it; that was my basis for worry when James began reading quotes from members of The Beatles off of cards. However, I was far from disappointed as he spent a considerable amount more time explaining and justifying how ludicrous the quotes were, than simply reading them. It was clear that the strength of his show definitely came from his able to react to the crowd, and have everyone involved. Some of his comments may have been a little on the blunt side, but it wasn’t like the hecklers didn’t deserve it! And I think it’s a given that if you make yourself stand out at a comedy gig, you’re bound to get picked on. The crowd were pretty alive considering the intimacy of the gig, and James handled them all pretty well.
It’s fairly common that a comedian introduces him/herself over the sound system in a different voice – it makes them seem like they’ve got someone to do the job for them. Joe doesn’t go for this approach though, he decides to give himself a little introductory speech before taking the stage. Explaining the title of the show, “If Joe Lycett Then You Should’ve Put A Ring On It”, other titles he could’ve gone for, and giving a short explanation of his love of puns – at one point saying “I’ve lost friends because of punning”.
By the time he came on, there were quite a few ongoing jokes going with the audience, which he dutifully carried on, after thanking James for his show – clearly a decent guy, I have to say. The best aspect of the night’s audience participation was that even though only a few jokes kept running through the whole evening, you didn’t feel as though you weren’t a part of it – at any point any member of the audience doing something suitably bizarre would’ve been welcomed.
Like James, Joe also used a fair amount of printed material, although mostly his own words – emails of complaint etc. This provided regular breaks where most sets would slip into an uncreative and monotone stream. There’s nothing wrong with being able to laugh for an hour straight, but Joe’s set really showcased what he had to offer. This, strangely, included a short “game show” style event towards the end, involving the audience as a whole. It can be pretty touch and go to involve a whole crowd to such an extent, so not only did he have guts to do it, but he kept the pace up throughout, as well.
Generally, both comedians did an impressive and creative job of seeing an alternative yet brutally truthful side to their own anecdotes (some more believable than others!), and it was perfectly understandable why the room was practically sold out – impressed, to say the least!