'We're from Trinity College Cambridge', says Harriet Cartledge, introducing herself, three other comedians (John Howe, Vishal Patil and Ken Cheng) and their stuffed Magpie. Not so much a comedy collective as a University Challenge team – even including the mascot – Magpie & Stump are Cambridge's oldest comedy society. Being the oldest, it turns out, is not the same as being the best. The atmosphere in the room is intensely awkward, with heaps of dead air and joke after joke falling flat. These guys die more than Sean Bean.
The central plank of Cartledge's material is a series of observations about advertising. Anyone noticed how advertising has created artificial needs to sell stuff? she asks. Well, yes actually, everyone has. Howe does have some jokes and one or two nice call-backs as he goes on, but they are few and far between and delivered with a timidness that puts the audience on edge. During each set, the other three comics sit behind twiddling their thumbs and looking at the floor: they seem embarrassed to be in their own show.
Patil went for a Milton Jones-style set made up entirely of puns. He stops to appraise each one, like someone who knows they can't skim stones looking wistfully across the water just in case. Some of his lines are very good and his set has clearly taken some writing, but most don't quite have that click you want from a pun-run; and some of them I had heard before.
Cheng - this evening's special guest - is a more confident comedian than his peers and uses the awkward tension of the room to breathe some laughs into the gig. When he tells the old generation in the front row - at least some of them are the comics' parents - that they might enjoy using Snapchat to send 'dick pics', the show probably reaches its peak. But it is the very same section of the audience that already gave the show its most accurate review. Patil, during his set, clocks that one of his puns is received with a nod rather than a laugh. 'Yep, that was constructed into a joke' he says. 'Sort of,' comes the reply.