‘I was going to have a cucumber down my pants’ says compere Marc Smethurst, removing a cucumber from his pants, ‘but there’s a reviewer in tonight.’ It was a theme that dominated the final performances of four talented comics from Newcastle University, whose plans of games and gimmicks were abandoned in favour of a straighter rendition of their nightly material. These antics were instead suppressed into asides and throwaways – one-liners that alluded to a wilder and stranger show that might have been.
Smethurst and his three counterparts are all competent comics, with confident, energetic sets that demonstrate their high performance values and will to please the audience. The first set from Charlie Rowley exemplifies this. He’s having fun and the feeling’s contagious, as he flies through impersonations of his grandfather, thoughts on the deterioration of the word ‘legend’, some impromptu dancing from an audience member, and a great story about a microwave fire. His set-ups have too much explanation and his jokes rely too much on funny things that have happened to him rather than formal interest, but like the rest of the guys, he has more than enough potential.
Alan Fletcher takes slightly more risk with his set, and his bit on changing children’s names like Pokémon’s as they grow older is particularly inventive. But perhaps the biggest risk is his bartering with the reviewer in his midst, a gambit just audacious enough to hold the good will of the room. It culminates in Smethurst rushing from the back to offer me a free yoghurt for a five-star review. Broadway Baby, of course, can’t be bought.
The show’s headliner Johnny Pelham is by far the most sophisticated writer of the group, relying on detail and structure rather than confidence and bombast. It takes a lot of inventiveness to shape material on having an indeterminate number of nipples around a twin political comparison with Martin Luther King and Sarah Palin. I get the impression that Pelham is the sort of comic the others look up to, the big name on campus, despite a distinctly more nerdy sensibility than his laddish counterparts.
The Newcastle University Comedy Society Showcase is always entertaining and if occasionally short on laughs, never fails to raise a smile. Their material lacks ambition, and wants for the sort of formal inventiveness coming out of other emerging Russel Group comics. It’s pound-a-pint stuff that plays very well to its own age group whilst staying traditional in its tone and style. They need to take more risks, try more things, take it to more places - whether that’s something wildly creative or simply leaving a cucumber down their pants when there’s a reviewer in the room.