According to Jonathan Swift, ‘Humour is odd, grotesque, and wild’, and on the evidence of this week’s ADC Smoker, I’m inclined to agree with him. Smokers usually have their fair share of the absurd but this week’s offering reached new heights, or possibly plummeted new depths, of the bizarre. There was, for example, a song about sex with chickens, a sketch pivoting around a deranged museum curator and his vase (‘Jennifer’) and a scene about farming albatross. That said, the general standard was very high: Joe Kay ruffled some feathers with his theory on the bird flu epidemic; Alastair Roberts lead an accomplished sketch of a Radio play complete with sound effects, and there was a nicely observed parody of the Gap Year cliché – ‘I distributed wrist bands that said ‘Stop Poverty’ to children in Africa. What did you do?’. The songs included in the evening – by Marieke Audsley, Joe Kay and Alastair Roberts – offered comedy in a different yet effective form: more audience members than would admit to it perhaps identified with Marieke’s complaint about being a ‘thesp through and through, but I’m sick of theatre boys. I wanna go out with a BLUE.’ Well quite.
The success story of the evening however, was the stand-up; though the standard varied, among all the comedians who were fearless enough to brave this lion’s den of theatre, there was not one dud routine. On the contrary, stand-ups provided some of the best comedy of the night: Greg the vet tickled the audience with his tales of tallness, Chris Lander appalled and amused with gags from the gynaecologist’s and Abby, who finished the evening with an ode to Essex, made the earlier forays into the absurd seem almost worth it.
While there were flat moments, such as the acknowledged ‘tragic accident’ of Sam Sword’s Australian monologue, the Smoker was a success because it was fresh. After the less than lack-lustre Committee Smoker earlier in the term, it was a relief to see old and new hands side by side and it was perhaps this ‘new blood’ which gave the evening its vitality: although long, new faces and new material meant that this Smoker was never dull. A mixture of songs, stand-up, sketches and monologues meant that interest rarely dipped and, thankfully, the reliance on the bizarre was confined to only a few sketches. The prospect of more comedy of this standard in Cambridge is a hugely welcome one: though it may take an influx of Smoker Virgins to do it, it seems that this old Footlight’s Dog can be taught new tricks.