Smoking virgins

Florence Wales Bonner 30 October 2007

3 minutes. That’s how long each act at the Virgin Smoker has to prove themselves as worthy human beings to the bloodthirsty mob. Sweating into their virgin boots, each performer waits his, her or its turn, listening for noises behind the black curtain, running their precious material around in their heads until it is just a mush of meaningless words. Then comes the moment of truth: It’s their turn. Into the glaring spotlight the virgins wander, awaiting their fate. Comedy has called – will they answer?

Some might say that this process is a little bit daunting. Daunting schmaunting. We came here for a good show.

And a good show is what we got. It got off to a fabulously unsavoury start, with Chris Lander’s musings on Manchester’s ‘phantom poo-er’ followed by a well-executed sketch of one of Professor Twatspangle’s chess masterclasses. The rest of the show continued in the same vein, with a wide array of material to sate the appetites of the comedy-hungry crowd, the stage becoming a glorious mess of panda costumes, banjos and half-squashed tomatoes.

There were slow points and fluffed lines, and many acts could have done with a bit of tweaking: oh, and there are only so many Ron Weasley-based jokes an audience can take (one), something a few performers learnt in due course. Unfortunately the compères, Sam Sword and Jack Gordon-Brown, were the doppelgangers of obnoxious TV duo Dick and Dom, their attempts to get the crowd going proving painful – shouting ‘Virgins!’ is probably fun if you’ve got the sexual maturity of a five-year-old, but for the rest of us it was not. Well, only a very little bit.

These points aside, the Smoker definitely provided some beautiful moments of comedy magic, including Nate Dern’s poem ‘Things in the kitchen that I am like and not like’ (he is not at all like the spatula, in any way), which not only had the audience in fits but also showcased a brilliantly edgy wit. Pete Riley’s parodic anti-establishment rally lampooned politics in an approachable and non-self-indulgent way, plus the combination of a character monologue, audience interaction and deliberately incited heckling made for a refreshing and original act.

It was not only performers like these that made the Virgin Smoker a success, though. It was the whole picture – the melee of ideas, the nerves, the acts that didn’t quite succeed, and the wonderfully awkward silences – that made the show so enjoyable. A great night.

Florence Wales Bonner