Review: Wolfson Howler

I have been to the 'Wolfson Howler' many times. Of course, there are moments when this is a drawback (I’m sure I’ve heard an economist asked on more than one occasion ‘what’s your favourite money?’), but for the vast majority, the 'Howler' remains as unpredictable and spontaneous as ever. The main credit for this has to go to compere Nish Kumar, who, almost before he’s established what the show actually is, has been sidetracked by a man in the third row wearing a three-dimensional Christmas jumper. Kumar refers to the audience members he talks to as ‘new friends’, meaning that any contributions from them are overwhelmingly friendly – being ‘heckled by IMDb’, as he puts it. Of course there’s top quality material in his stage time as well, and whether it is getting worked up about why we play Monopoly or being bewildered by a t-shirt, it never feels like he’s on autopilot when delivering this.

It’s a real treat to see such variety amongst the styles of the student acts. The best joke Rachel Tookey had was the complete absence of one in a set that mocked the very idea of stand up comedy. Although at times Chris Page’s delivery seemed a bit laboured, the newest material – which he describes as ‘penis jokes with footnotes’ – was perfectly pitched for a Cambridge audience, who of course appreciate a few jokes about pornography, but it’s nice if they’ve got a good structure to them as well. Jamie Armitage’s mime is a really charming scene; in its best moments, it feels as if the clown is a fully fledged stage persona, not just a character bound to a script. Ted Hill has great flow and confidence to his set – there’s no doubt he’s a great gag writer. It would almost be a shame that his best lines come from other people – whether that is the child who confuses an owl with a land-turtle or his father suggesting he makes his bike racist – were it not for the great delivery he inflects them with.

The evening concluded with a headline set from Sara Pascoe – having just been announced as one of the guests on the next series of ‘Live At The Apollo’, she’s very much in the ascendant, and from this, it’s easy to see why. Her anecdotes are wacky – whether it’s her mother drawing pictures of genitals, her misunderstanding of what joining the ‘mile high club’ entails, or her belief that NATO is instructing her trousers to lie to her every morning – but her delivery verges so close to the deadpan that these never seem exaggerated. Even when making really sensible points about the myths surrounding female sexuality, she does so wearing her ‘female sexuality hat’, which, she tells us nonchalantly, has fallopian tubes dangling over her face. One suspects that she could turn absolutely anything into comedy, as long as she found it worthwhile.

This was certainly a night of top quality comedy, even by the high standards of the Wolfson Howler. Often comedians watch the other people on the bill to check there’ll be no overlapping material between sets. So varied and unpredictable was this Howler, I doubt the worry of that even crossed their minds.


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