Review: King’s Freshers Smoker/Open Mic

Giorgio Ragozzino 5 November 2019

The inaugural King’s Freshers’ Smoker sees students old and new deliver plenty of laughs, across a charming evening of stand-up and sketch comedy.

The word ‘fresher’ turns off some prejudiced ears, especially in Cambridge where student comedy has such a presence, although such doubts needn’t apply here. The revival of King’s College Drama Society is very welcome, and the director, Molly O’Gorman should be commended. To its strength, though held at Kings, performers from elsewhere were not excluded, and there was an encouraging atmosphere to the evening. It’s a shame attendance wasn’t higher, given the talent on display; those who came were rewarded with a chance to see some promising potential contributors to Cantab comedy.

First was Andy Bucks, who, he said, as ‘look[ed] like Louis Theroux – if he were the subject of the documentary’, segueing from superior Star Wars prequels’ to Astronomy (“the one that isn’t bullshit”), to royal primogeniture. A good choice to open with, setting the bar high with a well-delivered, enthusiastic set which didn’t outstay its welcome.

Next came Isaac Kean, channelling a bloke-ier Josh Widdecombe, telling his life story: from a ‘rich’ man, with family and friends, to a rich man, an investment banker, in a biting monologue, perfectly satirising middle-class double standards. Despite some near the knuckle lines on distance runner psychopathology, he finished strongly, with an admirable effort to tie things together. The evening’s only sketch, from Bob Hewis, Izzie Harding-Perrot, and Jack Engels, depicted a confessional between a recent follower of Jesus and the jealous priest, a promissory goldmine, suffering slightly due to some missed opportunities and the lack of time available to rehearse. A diamond in the rough – sketches are notoriously difficult to perfect.

Calum Macleod, with some brilliantly terse one-liners, easily wove together disparate material (medieval fruit flies + golf). Utilising a precise undercurrent of skeeviness, such as comparing paying with Scottish banknotes to paying with human tongues, he would give a hilariously wry implication, before swiftly moving on. Concluding quickly, he confirmed the adage that it’s best to leave audiences wanting more.

When energy might be expected to flag, Adam Al-janabi burst onstage, bemoaning the impossibility of sounding clever in a northern accent, and how he’d consequently been given a mop by the porters on moving in day, with effortless wit and urbanity. Tonally, like many student comics, he seemed influenced by mainstream stadium comics, which can come off slightly false in front of smaller groups. That said, he succeeded in delivering an energetic performance, fortunately avoiding this pitfall.

Finally, Sophie Challonder gave easily one of the funniest performances of the night, jumping from the religious euphoria of rugby for her Welsh father to the horrors of wet food, and provided such a fantastic observation on umbrellas that I was surprised I’d never heard it before (‘8 tiny daggers which no one is paying attention to’). A fantastic set to end on, as unfortunately nobody volunteered for the open mic segment which had been scheduled, which was a shame, but the rest of the evening had been enjoyable enough, so perhaps it was for the best.

Overall, the evening was a very pleasant surprise, with performers from across the university providing an accomplished showcase of talent and potential.

The informality meant both the acts and audience were at ease; almost every punchline landed, in a way that seemed more honest than other events can sometimes, when friends of performers feel the need to show their support by laughing hysterically at every little thing. Hopefully all of the acts will continue to contribute to Cambridge comedy, as there was a wellspring of talent on display.

3.5 stars.