However one looks at Friday night’s Amnesty Smoker, it was a success: not only did the room teem with talent but the collection tins were overflowing. Undoubtedly this was largely due to the fantastic cause that is Amnesty International but also partly because the standard of comedy was so high that the audience felt it really should have paid to see it. After an introduction by Amnesty’s president Mischa Foxell, proceedings kicked-off with a slick sketch by Alcock Improv, in rhyme: involving a door, the floor (of course) and a talking star.
David Ralfe as compere kept the evening going with panache, delicately balancing his own comedy with reminders of what the evening was in aid of. Among the many high points of the evening were Juliet Shardlow’s scarily familiar sketch on ringing a call-centre and a captivating stand-up appearance from veteran Mancunian comic Chris Lander, with his tales of the phantom poo-er.
Indeed, the evening was, perhaps, not one for the faint hearted: Joe Kay, for example got the ball of controversy rolling with a song on “unconventional love”. As David Ralfe so succinctly put it: “nothing gets a crowd going like necrophilia”. Joe Kay’s short stand-up, prior to the song, was like a breath of fresh air: he looked positively at home on the stage and, unlike so many comedians in Cambridge, understood the importance of building up to a joke, rather than trying to make every word funny. Tom Evans, who had the hard task of drawing the evening to a close, rose to the occasion with a routine composed of witty observations on phallic symbols and, appropriately, given the charitable and political background to the Smoker, on the uselessness of nuclear weapons. (There are 30,000 in the world and it would take 200 to wipe out humanity.)
As with every Smoker, there were some weak links: a sketch revolving around a primary school nativity seemed to have potential but lost its way, and a scene set in the Arctic didn’t really get going. The opening act (stand-up by Marcus King), though funny in parts, seemed strained and fell back all too easily onto the popular track of laughing at “chavs”: which, in this case (as often) amounted to nothing more than mocking people below the poverty line.
The setting, though, was what made the evening. It was so good, in fact, that one was tempted to question why Smokers are put on at the ADC theatre at all! The intimacy of the space and the availability of drinks and food meant that the atmosphere in King’s Bar on Friday could not have been bettered by any theatre auditorium. The audience were ready to laugh and prepared to forgive almost anything – even necrophilia.