Pleasing an audience is difficult at the best of times, when they’re on your side you can read the room, and you’re in safe hands if tech and logistics all go to plan. So, imagine then a conventional stand-up gig with a multiple guest line-up, including the usual variety of styles, techniques, and experience, and then plunge that image into intentional, total darkness. Anything could happen, right?
Tez perhaps engaged most with the audience, using the anonymous heckles to his advantage.
Kicking off with a voiceover to ease us into the concept, Comedy in the Dark looks like an intriguing experiment to begin with. Self-described beige lesbian Jen Brister, briefly illuminated just to prove she’s actually there, was first. Her self-deprecating humour, pointing out her resemblance to a stereotypical, liberal Brightonian, got a fair few laughs from the somewhat skeptical crowd; yet, much of her set focused on “demographic” jokes and the ails of getting older.
The colourful compère of the night, Joey Page, took second slot looking like the love-child of Josh Widdecombe and Milton Jones and channelling a bit of surreal, playful anti-humour. Joey kept up the energy in the room before Tez Ilyas’ arrival, a man who describes himself as “openly.... Asian”. Tez's charming, cheeky persona got the room on side pretty quickly, before basting us with his linguistic setups, then savouring the resultant subverted expectations. Of the four, Tez perhaps engaged most with the audience, using the anonymous heckles to his advantage.
Surprise headline act, Paul Foot, closed the evening, utterly shambolic as ever, gloriously unpredictable and subversively, strangely effete. Foot earned his headline billing by stumbling around both metaphorically and literally, and brashly throwing his whimsically surreal earnestness and conceptual propositions out into the void, overstaying his spot in the darkness but not his welcome.
Unfortunately, and despite promising the excitement of unpredictability and risk, Comedy in the Dark only engaged with its conceit incidentally. A variety line-up show like this will inevitably be a mixed bag. Yet, the comedians were neither hugely emboldened nor terribly cowed by the cloak of anonymity offered by darkness, which was, in part, the result of a lack of commitment to the idea. Bringing the lights up to mark the end of each slot, all of which inevitably overran, served only to demonstrate how flimsily the show had been thought through, as each occasion that the darkness was lifted, it revealed nothing the audience had not already seen.
Nevertheless, spending an hour, intermittently, in the darkened and distinctly Victorian Hall of Mirrors on Brighton beach and listening to these talented stand-ups was by no means a bore, even if the line-up proved to be the only real surprise.