Laughing is good for you. Laughing 100 times is roughly equal to the exercise you get cycling for 15 minutes, and it’s definitely a lot more enjoyable.
The ability to make someone laugh has been highly prized for thousands of years, and that is why I have always been in awe of comedians. I envy their confidence to stand up in front of a crowd eyeing them with scepticism, to make them laugh and clap, to entertain them with no props, no gimmicks, simply them, their body and their voice.
The Wentworth Comedy Festival was no exception to my awe, as we were treated to an array of home-grown comedic talent, from improvisational comedy to stand-ups and sketch-shows heading for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August.
Seated comfortably in the classy-looking Wentworth Edge bar, a glass of wine firmly ensconced in my hand, it was time for the first taste of the comedic menu, York Uni’s resident improv comedy troupe, The Shambles. Despite a few technical difficulties with the squealing microphone to begin with, The Shambles bounded onto the stage to rapturous applause.
As the show relies on audience suggestions, if the energy in the audience is lacking, things can quickly fall flat. However, not tonight. In a boisterous mood, the audience shouted out suggestions quicker than they could be written down, feeling engaged as the talented Shamblers acted them out, developed them and before you knew it, were acting out the funeral of a donkey. Only once did they resort to a ‘Your mum’ joke, which may not have gone down so well with a less receptive audience. However, with their quick wit, acting abilities and likeable personas, The Shambles thoroughly impressed.
The Sketch Emporium, comprised of Tom Stokes, Heather Wilmot, Miranda Crowhurst, Daisy Bunyan and Ed Lewis-Smith, were very well-received, combining well-written sketches with perfectly judged performances. Particularly entertaining was the sketch in which fortune cookie predictions become personal, as well as the one involving a skipping rope and lemonade; Tom Stokes achieved the impressive feat of generating hysterical laughter in a scene with virtually no lines.
Stand-up comedy can be slightly hit-and-miss, as you may well know if you have visited any sort of open mic night. It is easy to misjudge an audience and have a set quickly descend into deathly silence. Thankfully there was no deathly silence here as the various stand-ups each brought their own brands of comedy, varied enough to not feel repetitive.
John Rushton tackled the theme of science, talented enough to bring religion into the set without alienating the audience, though an expletive-filled rant against the Pope for his penchant for “f**king children” felt a little obvious. Ian Angell satisfied our guilty pleasure for bad puns, his understated performance letting the jokes do the talking. Whilst generating as many groans as laughs, he cheerfully observed that “the groans make it all worth it.” Freyja Winterson brought some much-needed female presence to the stand-up, successfully not falling into the trap of making her material gender-based, delighting and amusing with maths conspiracy theories.
A clean-shaven Adam Whybray produced an excellent set about OCD, both amusing and poignant at the same time, backed up by a friendly and engaging delivery. Lewis Gray’s theme was the environment, revelling in clever word-play which was made more effective by the dead-pan delivery and well-judged pauses. Next, Ben Reynolds’ cheeky demeanour and boundless energy carried his set along, bringing it close to home as he compared “men who do English and Drama” to women as both not understanding football. To finish the evening off was Robbie Birchall, who delivered polished and quirky one-liners, generating the most audience reaction and ending the festival on a high.
Laughing is most definitely the best form of exercise, and thanks to ComedySoc, I felt as if I’d cycled for miles. Look out Edinburgh, the York invasion begins this summer!
Originally published on The Yorker 17th June 2010