Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net

Improvised stand-up is a tricky business, but luckily the organisers of The Set List continue to get some of the country's most well-known comedians to take part. The topics that the performers have to use are projected on a screen and supplemented by suggestions from the audience. Each show has different comedians and different topics so you know you're seeing a unique show. The particular performance I saw was astonishingly good. So good, in fact, that I'd happily see another one before the end of the festival.

First up was Phil Jupitus, who has a marvellous way of turning a thing on its head. He managed to explain why Jesus never had pudding and why dating an amoeba requires a lot of patience. His material might just as well have been carefully scripted, since he seemed to make connections and find punchlines without thinking about it at all.

Up next was Lloyd Langford, who makes anything adorable when he talks about it in his boyish way. Richard Herring followed with some the invention of a dubious new sport, karate for pregnant women. This entertained the audience, but also demonstrated why it’s a relief Herring is not the Health Secretary.

Cariad Lloyd, who usually sticks to character comedy, showed herself to be a talented storyteller. She came up with sharply observed comments off the top of her head, also delving into her own past and telling the audience of her parents affinity for Erhard Seminars Training, which she regards as a cult. She was funny throughout, but really delighted with the interpretation that the Garden of Eden was a cult and that this was Eve's reason for eating the fruit.

Last on the bill was the freakishly talented Mitch Benn, who improvises comic songs as easily as most of us breathe. Given the topic ‘Lucifer Intervention’ he had the angels saying ‘you're heading for damnation, and that's not been invented yet, but it doesn't sound very nice’ and advising the rogue to keep his head down since Michael is very big and looking for a fight. Each of his songs was in a different style, so we had a rock 'n roll tune called Sperm Cemetery, a Leonard Cohen-style ode to Lobster and, upon pulling the word 'Beatles' out of the audience suggestion box, a nonsensical song about enjoyable grenades in the style of the Fab Four.

I left vaguely convinced there's some sort of witchcraft afoot. How does anyone manage such great comedy off the cuff? There's a reason why these people are at the top of their profession. The line up is different for each show, so check at the venue's box office who will be performing - or just get a ticket because it's likely to be good.


The Blurb

Whose Line? type challenge for stand-ups. Comedy stars get a never before seen 'set list' of topics as they walk onstage to create spontaneous stand-up! ***** 'The must see show of the festival!' (Scotsman).