Wolfson College Club Room, 8.30pm, Mon 12th March
The Wolfson Howler has established itself as a staple part of the Cambridge comedy canon, and deservedly so. The integration of new, up-and-coming faces with already established names is an intriguing one, providing an eclectic mix of styles that ideally should cater for everybody.
The evening was presided over by veteran MC Ed Gamble, who kicked off the show by urging all those seated at the back to relocate to the largely vacant front three rows. The apparent reluctance to take these seats was explained almost immediately, as Gamble struck up spontaneous and genially piss-taking conversations with the unwitting audience members who were not quick enough to avoid eye contact. Karl, a long-haired, tattooed web developer who had the misfortune to be sat in the front row found himself contributing as much to the evening as any of the stand-up guests, and perhaps more than some. This audience participation made some of the strongest comedy material of the event; at Cambridge and, let’s face it, most especially at Wolfson, you are guaranteed a varied range of eccentric and sometimes downright odd characters who in themselves make fertile grounds for hilarity with the most minimal prompting from the MC.
But to give the impression that this was Ed Gamble’s show with a few intermittent interludes from less entertaining comedians would be a bit unfair. The first stand-up guest, up-and-coming comic Jon Bailey, was admittedly disappointing; his series of disjointed, over-rehearsed and at times pitiful one-liners couldn’t really compete with the ingenuity and spontaneity of Gamble’s ad-libbing interaction with audience members. Perhaps the only really entertaining and genuinely impressive moment in his brief set was when he started juggling three oranges in one hand. The following three acts also gave little to write home about, even that by critically- acclaimed Footlights President, Phil Wang.
But the headline act, MTV’s Joel Dommett, did not fail to disappoint. A blistering, unalloyed rollercoaster ride of a stand-up that certainly differentiated him as the professional act of the night, and constituted a clear refusal to let Ed Gamble walk away with the show. An evening that had already lasted nearly three hours might usually have begun to thaw by this point, but he immediately injected a syringeful of nervous energy into the proceedings, through a rapid stream of animatedly narrated anecdotes. The best stand-up comedians can find hilarity and surrealism in the most prosaic of scenarios, and Dommett certainly has this gift, always bringing the audience back to the local and familiar. He also proved to be a most gifted physical comedian, with a diverse array of erratic gestures and movements illustrating his wonderfully engaging tales.
Overall, a long evening that most definitely could have been shorter, but Dommett’s energised delivery, Gamble’s ingenious improvisation, and Karl’s hilariously pathetic tattoo made the long walk to Wolfson well worth it.