Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net

In Set List, spontaneity is the name of the game; a selection of comics perform completely improvised sets in front of your eyes, with nothing to guide them but key phrases which are projected onto screens at the side of the stage.

The jokes aren't always the strongest, but it's an interesting idea to absorb, a novel format that really tests the mettle of a performer.

The comedy here is not always clever or meaningful, but the laughs come from a sense of danger and a feeling that anything could happen. Compere Paul Provenza creates good feeling throughout and the audience are willing the comics to succeed, and even when they don't there's a such positive feeling in the room that it hardly matters - first timer Eleanor Conway struggled to improvise under the pressure, but managed to derive humour from the situation nonetheless.

It's fascinating to watch such a varied selection of comic styles struggle with creating a set, and each of the comics goes about it differently - Janey Godley for example, manage to create a fairly coherent narrative from the nonsensical phrases given to her, relating each one back to her own life experiences. Robin Ince too managed to string together a set that seemed to exist as an entity outside of the format. His stream of consciousness style meant that he took the task like a duck to water, and gave a performance that lifted the quality of the whole show. On the other hand, comics like John Robertson, Rhys Nicholson and Imaan Hadchiti used the list format to their advantage, performing improvised set pieces about each of the topics in turn, although Rhys Nicholson in particular managed to infuse each disparate part with enough individual personality to link the whole thing together. Mitch Benn performed comedy songs that literally described the phrases he had been given with style and professionalism. The instant lift of having a musical instrument helped greatly in this case, but Benn managed to come up with some well constructed jokes, one about an Ant Farm in particular had the audience in stitches.

The jokes aren't always the strongest, but it's an interesting idea to absorb, a novel format that really tests the mettle of a performer. The key to success is excellent comic timing - being able to create humour even though you might not have a good joke on the subject in front of you. The technician operating the screens on which the phrases appear has to be applauded for his own sense of comic timing - many of the biggest laughs arises when a performer is faced with a nonsensical phrase at just the wrong moment in the flow of a set.

Reviews by Jane Thompson

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The Blurb

What if someone else wrote a set list of outrageous and original topics for the world’s best stand-up comedians, and they had to perform from it with literally zero seconds to prepare? Top comics create unforgettable acts of spontaneous comedic genius. Now a series on Sky Atlantic and the Nerdist Channel.