The best in improvised stand-up,
Set List is different and it has to be given credit for that.
As seen on Sky Atlantic, Set List has attracted some of the world’s most famous comedians including Dara O’Briain, Tim Minchin, Rich Hall and the late Robin Williams, amongst numerous others. There’s a reason Set List attracts the best of the best and it’s not just because it’s good publicity. Although knack for improvised material isn’t shared by everyone, when it’s pulled off, Set List is the ultimate buzz for comic and connoisseur. But the show doesn’t always go right and even some of the best stand-ups aren’t up to the challenge. So who stands out?
Hosted by Kai Humphries and presenting Ahir Shah, Chris Martin, Laura Lexx, the legendary Paul Foot and musical comedian Mitch Benn, Set List has an almost unrivalled line up at the Fringe. Few people are lucky enough to see Shah twice in one week, but Set List really differentiates between comedians who are just well prepared and those who are funny to their bones. Despite a fantastic segment with the Free Footlights earlier in the week, Shah plays it safe and doesn’t throw everything he has at the comparatively absurd Set List. Speaking on the subject of #meatinmyshoes, rather than giving in to the absurdity, he tries to spin a coherent set out of it. It doesn’t work.
What the others get right, especially Lexx and Foot, is that they don’t force normality out of a wacky idea. They know they’re talking shit but they go with it, and no, not everything goes right, but the bombing is almost as funny as the set itself when they just give in.
Chris Martin and Laura Lexx thrive on their Set List debuts, and both have an awesome mix of ad-lib and absurd one liners. But the real star is Paul Foot. A psycho on the stage, Foot was born to spew rubbish and each word is comedy gold. He’s side-splittingly hilarious and he knows it, throwing everything he has at the brick wall, going above and beyond the brief.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Mitch Benn who seems to have the hardest job of all. It is hard enough improvising stand-up, but a musical comedian has to do so much more than that. They don’t have the same freedom of just bluffing their way through it, they can’t just mess about with the audience like everyone else and despite the lack of preparation, their music is judged just as harshly. Benn makes an admirable effort and the occasional song is amusing, but so much detail needs to go into musical comedy that I just can’t see improvisation working out for him.
As a complete show, Set List is predictably hit and miss. Not everyone is funny when improvising and on the wrong day, the show will bomb completely. But Set List is different and it has to be given credit for that. Although it might not offer the consistency of a prepared show, there is a spontaneity and a buzz so rarely found in other stand-up shows. The ideas given to the comedians don’t always lend themselves to equally good comedy and the hosting doesn’t set off fireworks. But on the right night, Set List could be the greatest show at the Fringe.