In days gone by, I used to control the stage lights for student comedy nights. As a result, I came to associate such evenings with the panic of a scene change and half-heard punchlines muffled by the thick glass of the lighting box. I like to think I’m the sort of person that enjoys fun, but I hadn’t been to another student comedy night since then. As a result, when I climbed the steps to the upper level of the Wheatsheaf pub to attend the charity gig Comedy vs. Climate Change, I wasn’t really sure what to expect and half-wished I could just go home for an early night.
The host of the evening, Alison Middleton, quickly addressed the dichotomy of the subject matter: comedy is funny whilst climate change is sad. She warmed the audience up with shouts of “I say climate, you say emergency! Climate! Emergency!” This set the tone for the night: just because comedy is light-hearted that doesn’t mean it can’t successfully address complex and uncomfortable issues. Alison’s act exuded a sense of competence, with good comic timing and a friendly rapport with the crowd. What it lacked in spontaneity it made up for in content and the jokes came across as rehearsed but slick. I particularly enjoyed her routine on why we should fly less: “No-one can step onto a Ryanair plane and think that mankind is meant to fly.”
Next up was Verity Babbs who looked very comfortable on stage, deftly handling microphone problems with humour and messing around with a bit of audience interaction. She seemed like an experienced performer, mastering the art of giving a clearly well-planned set an improvised air. By contrast, Simona Della Vale had a polished set. Her manifesto for how “lesbianism is fundamentally sustainable” was a fun angle to take but one which resulted in a set of fairly predictable punchlines. However, I did find her description of her postgraduate studies as a “PhD in applied anxiety” particularly relatable.
The best visual performer of the night was probably Rosalie Minnitt, whose raised eyebrows and good use of the microphone to change her voice heightened the comic effect. Approaching the topic of climate change she struck an effective balance between seriousness and light-hearted humour, with a very good routine about the horror of realising you’ve left your reusable bags at home once you’re in the supermarket queue. Dominic McGovern adopted a laid back, chatty style and was willing to open himself up to the audience. For the most part I found his subject matters, though handled with confidence, quite predictable. His ending routine however, on how statues of Jesus are always incredibly well-muscled, took him a little way off the beaten track and landed particularly well.
It was clear by this point of the evening that the running order for the night had been very well planned, mixing in students finding their comedic feet with seasoned performers. We ended the first half with an excellent set from Olley Matthews, whose whimsical but sharp humour took us to all sorts of unexpected places, including his climate change motto “Reduce, Reuse, Revenge.” I’ve always found musical comedy the hardest medium to enjoy, but he made good use of the structure and rhythm of songs to bring some strong comic timing to his punchlines.
Back at it again after the interval, I enjoyed the high energy performance of Anna Dominey, who still eats dairy but has cut out beef to reduce her consumption of ‘single-use cows’. Her puns and snappy punchlines were well contrasted by the relaxed style of Fran Best who followed her, whose extremely compelling story about a pregnancy scare kept me simultaneously laughing and tense as I waited for the payoff.
Next up was Eddie Maza’s debut stand-up performance, though you’d never have guessed it. His impressively poised set centred on Judaism and the time, aged 12, he met an apologetic former Nazi whilst buying ice cream – a surprising and very well told story. In the penultimate slot of the night Declan Amphlett was clearly in command of his show, with a high-octane performance that had people laughing just from his tone of voice. He had some clever twists: nobody should eat meat other than vets, because if you’ve spent all day saving animals, why not stab a pig? I thought he ended particularly well, describing the nightmares of teaching English to French children and drawing the audience right into the story.
Much of the night kept close to the sort of subjects one might expect from a studenty crowd in Oxford, with Brexit, sexuality, veganism and, of course, climate change, all repeatedly being addressed. There’s nothing wrong with this: such topics have more than enough scope for interesting and relevant material and were handled with aplomb. To me however, the best moments of the night were when the comics moved us into more unexpected topics. From this perspective Chelsea Birkby absolutely deserved her slot as headline act, with an effortless set that covered the philosophy of existentialism and the comparative wisdoms of Jean-Paul Sartre and Kim Kardashian West.
Chelsea’s performance rounded off a very successful night, ably organised and hosted by Alison Middleton, who was selling home-grown spider plants in the interval. In addition to early problems with an intermittent microphone, the venue was crowded with many more attendees than seats so that, by the end of the evening, it was much too hot. Nevertheless, the feel-good factor of the comedy meant everybody left in a good mood. This night was a charity gig and the first of a series, with a follow-up event next term and another the following term. I intend to return to the audience if I can and I would encourage readers of this review to do the same.