Review: Wolfson Howler

Imogen Sebba 26 November 2013

8pm, Mon 25 Nov 2013, Wolfson College Bar

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Wolfson Howler, it’s that comperes will unfailingly be astounded that people applaud an interval after they’ve just been asked to applaud an interval. Perhaps the reason that this one moment of familiarity stands out is because the rest of the show is so refreshingly varied. The acts’ different styles complemented each other perfectly, with some bearing remarkable similarities to the earlier stages of some of the cream of British comedy today: it’s a microcosm of the circuit, and how lucky we are that it deposits itself on our doorstep.

In all fairness, compering is a tough job to do well – finding the right mix of material and off-the-cuff banter, but Nish Kumar did an absolutely sterling job.   His precision when he changes pace and tone to create a dialogue seems like it must be rehearsed but there’s no way he can have been prepared to riff a sitcom pitch for ‘Lab Partnerz’ when he arrived. He strikes the perfect balance of audience interaction so that I’d bet, for all they’d protest, everyone in the audience secretly wanted to be the next ‘potential friend’ he spoke to.

For a newcomer to the Howler, Ted Hill’s set was incredibly natural and stuffed full of great material. He sets a great pace in the first ten seconds but could do with more confidence to keep this going in moments of lull. There’s no lack of talent, though, and a meta-thread about French accents in a Spanish bread shop proves this completely. In contrast Adrian Gray opens with jokes older than a T-Rex, but soon has the audience completely in the palm of his hand, manipulating their expectations in all sorts of different directions with high-pitched whimsy.

Bhargav Narayanan is certainly not scared of silence: sadly with his set it doesn’t quite work. With more familiar jokes he opens himself up to heckles and laughs in the wrong places as other people reach the punchline before he does. It’s a confusing set where the best moments are buried within anecdotes, and might be improved by responding more to the audience: enjoying doing live comedy. Pierre Novellie bounds through his set joyously, positively Izzard-esque in his tangents, whether on Welsh Law or immortal barmen. His energy is infectious and it’s impossible not to enjoy this set immensely.

Nick Mohammed as headliner was an absolute breakthrough. His character Mr Swallow may have fed off discomfort (his accent, his cartwheel, his too-small t-shirt), but, rather than distancing himself, Mohammed properly inhabits his character: somewhere between ridiculous, obnoxious, and pitiful. The '12 Days of Christmas’ material is fantastic on its own, but Mr Swallow voices it in a truly unique way. Clearly Mohammed has all the gifts for excruciating audience control, and managing somehow to make a Rubik’s Cube entertaining: it’s particularly amazing that he’s bestowed all these gifts onto a character.

The Howler is home to a plethora of talent: of that there’s no doubt.  As long as you don’t mind applauding intervals, I can guarantee that anyone will find something to their liking here.