The Arden's Theatre And Performance students' annual chance at a five-minute stand-up comedy spot this year was hosted at Manchester's Bierkeller, and saw 9 brave students take up the gauntlet and perform their first ever set in front of a live audience.
The Arden is a Manchester-based theatre school, now part of The Manchester College, and this event was presented by students on their degree course in Theatre And Performance (hence the 'TaP' in the title).
The mood convivial, made even more so by the capacious amounts of alcohol being drunk throughout the extended evening, and with each act introduced by professional comedian and compere, Che Burnley [who was by the way, my favourite compere the whole evening!] the atmosphere was made as perfect as it possibly could be for these nine nervous individuals to perform.
Unfortunately though, perhaps due to a lack of advertising, the audience was comprised entirely of fellow students, friends, tutors and family; and as heart-warming as that is to know that these people will support and follow you, it does give a very false impression on the response to the sets. It would have been far more nerve-wracking, but a fairer gauge, if these 9 had performed in front of an unbiased audience.
The ordeal was also softened by a 45 minute long mimed presentation to start the evening involving all the nine comedians. Actually a superb idea, and something I did not expect, and something which was far more within their comfort zones too, as it required them to act! Taking their inspiration from the silent cinema, and the physical funny men who dominated that era such as Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy these 9 performed a few short wordless sketches, thus becoming their own warm-up acts. An inspired idea which worked extremely well. My three favourite sketches in this section simply have to be The Pigeons, Titanic, and Chariots Of Fire in that order.
The last sketch however, a longer more extended sketch based on the Big Brother reality TV programme, was only funny to fellow Arden students and tutors. It was full of 'in jokes' and very Arden specific, and so, perhaps it was a blessing then that there were no members of the general public present this evening!
After a long interval of a very liberal 10 minutes, the stand-up started. and with Burnley very cleverly and seamlessly tying in to his opening gambit the false start and technical hitch which happened at the beginning of the presentation, this relaxed the nine - and us - even more.
The nine 'virgin' comedians taking this baptism of fun were all so very different in their styles and approaches; and considering that for most of them at least, this really was the first time they have stood in front of an audience as themselves, (rather than in character), they are all deserving of the highest of praise. I have been in the profession for more years than I care to remember, and have acted in a huge amount of productions, but I simply could never stand on stage and be 'me'. That would frighten the living daylights out of me.
Comedy is such a subjective beast that it would be both impossible and unfair if I were to try and deconstruct these routines. They ranged from the bizarre and avant-garde, through drag, to gossipy character rants, to observational comedy, word-play and puns. In fact, almost every kind of comedy you can imagine was represented somewhere this evening, and so it is perfectly obvious that certain styles will appeal to some more than others, and therefore I simply cannot be objective in my reviewing of them. What is both interesting and inspiring though is that the material written for these five minute spots was original and, in majority of cases (again at least for me), funny.
And yes, of course I do have a favourite, and that is simply because this comedienne hit my comedy nerve almost absolutely on the button. I am a huge fan of Tim Vine, Milton Jones, Gary Delaney and the like, and am always impressed by clever wordplay, puns, and language based humour. Therefore the slow, deliberate, and poker-faced questioning style of Gemma Childs was a sheer delight!
Of course this does in no way diminish the excellent performances of the other eight, it just simply means that they did not hit on my own personal comedy preferences. They were however assured, confident (although I realise one or two were acting nervously as part of their act), well thought through, and yes, very enjoyable.
It was rather like an Open Mic night, where you can sample a wide range of varying humorists with their own unique styles, and see things and laugh at things you would never have thought possible and maybe even learn something too along the way! My own personal award for the best tag-line though goes to Chloe Grantham-Evans. (again, a purely personal and subjective decision! - stand-up has to be!)
The seven other students taking their first tentative steps in stand-up comedy, and doing remarkably well at it too, were Sam Robson, Sonia Dew-Girdle, Leanne Mole, Keisha Anderson, Ryan Lea, Marcus Richardson, and drag act Shelby Fine. The evening ended with a short set from the dry, acidic style of 3rd year student already working the local comedy circuit, Frank MacDonald.
The event started at 7pm, finishing around 10:30pm, which made the whole evening extremely drawn out. It would have been far preferable had the actual performances all been given within the first 2 hours, and then left the rest of the evening to mooching, chatting and socialising. It was, that notwithstanding, a highly congenial and good-humoured (in both senses of the word) evening.
Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 26/4/18