From the moment the host of The Comedy Manifesto Kate Smurthwaite gives the audience the power to award points via heckling and gestures towards the Mussolini quote that the restaurant owner has chosen to decorate the wall with to get us all into the dictatorial spirit, we know it will be a lot of fun. However, it’s also furnished with a thick glass ceiling, built from hit-and-miss one-liners and a limited capacity for satire amongst the panel.
Team captains Rick Molland and David Mulholland typify the problem. Mulholland’s opening gags could get away with the imprecision of his comedic rhythm if his satire were more persuasive. Instead he aims to massage our prejudices rather than challenge them, dissolving satire’s social function in a puddle of his own hang-ups. His comments on the right-left divide in American politics is simplistic and his characterisation of right-wingers as ‘unsophisticated’ ‘alien abductees’ speaks of complacent class prejudice more than biting analysis.
His counterpart Molland is at least alive to the irony of his accusation that Jim Davison is to the right of Hitler. However, Davison jokes aren’t exactly hot off the press and after a far more nuanced routine on the topic by Dave Gorman in one of last year’s biggest Fringe shows, Molland just comes over as nasty. For a round in which the contestants make up new laws he suggests being able to murder children. The law I would suggest in turn is to ban all satirical material that Jonathan Swift did better 300 years ago. In fact the show suffers most for its lack of topicality, with much of it still harping on the Olympics – old pulp and chip-paper this late in the season.
However, where it struggles in political prowess it effortlessly gains in genuine warmth and communality, inviting all sorts of audience involvement and using the charm of its small, intimate venue very well. Some of the best moments are some of the show’s least political. The scoring system allows for all sorts of silly scenarios and the popular confectionary snack Jaffa Cakes got a surprisingly good haul of points by the end of the game, as did Molland’s team who were joined by audience member Matt for most of the last half. Guest panellist Keiron Nicholson - whose own material was the show’s most consistent - was especially good at tiddly-winking other people’s set-ups to flick them that little bit further along the table.
It’s an enjoyable hour with plenty of smiles and a few laughs, hosted by people who are big on personality but short on policy. The Comedy Manifesto declares that David Cameron is posh, Nick Clegg subordinate and Ed Miliband ineffectual. The only thing it teaches us is that those who build glass ceilings probably shouldn’t throw stones.