Wiseguys at the Wheatsheaf

What makes a pub funny? There may be an occasional funny sign above the bar: Beware of the Mother In Law, Beware of the Wife, and so on. Yet the pub itself is usually but a vessel, empty of mirth after closing time. There is one pub, however, which contains comedy in its very mortar. The Wheatsheaf is unassuming, tucked away, served by its beard-sporting, Sepultura T-shirt-wearing landlord. Strangely, for all this pub’s attempt to ward deathly students off with the garlic and crucifix of gruffness and obscurity, it is the hub of Oxford’s burgeoning comedy scene. The Oxford Imps, the undisputed masters of improvisation in Oxford, have been doing a weekly show at the Wheatsheaf for four years now. The Imps were not to have the limelight to themselves for long, however, as their Monday night show was soon joined by Ministy of Mirth’s somewhat more stationary stand-up comedy. The Ministry of Mirth are an ever-changing collective of aspiring standups who appear on Tuesday to carry out their own devious and subversive ends. In the sweaty, cramped upstairs of the Wheatsheaf the audience can hang off the bar and gaze up at the small box that constitutes the stage. They heckle or marvel at the (t)wits of Oxford’s coolest comedy scene and embrace the expectant clamminess of the moment. The student crowd tends to be a more hospitable dry run than lonely nights in front of disinterested Londoners whose heckling skills have been honed through years belching obscenities at the contestants on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. But for now, you’re safe, you’re in the Wheatsheaf. For the audience too the Wheatsheaf is the ideal venue, the principal advantages being the drink, obviously, as well as the value for money. Tickets at the OFS and the Playhouse tend to cost £7-8. But for only £3-4 you’ve got an Imps show – a damn sight more entertaining than, say, an a cappella group. The twinkly-eyed grandpa of Oxford comedy, the sketch group The Oxford Revue, is the latest addition to the Wheatsheaf’s diary, starting out last term with one-night shows called ‘Write Offs’. The Revue has previously been accustomed to week-long runs in theatres, with a term to prepare material and a healthy cut of the receipts at the end. By contrast, a ‘Write Off’ is written and rehearsed in two weeks and a barely any budget. But it can be a great night. The somewhat shambolic nature of the night makes the whole thing more precarious, but more fun, too. In the end, it’s that precariousness, that need for a real juicy comedy atmosphere, for proximity to the audience (and to the bar) which has driven Oxford comedians underground, or rather upstairs. Comedy in Oxford is very much alive, feeding off that funny pub down Wheatsheaf Yard.
By Kieran Hodgson

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The Revue (left) are looking for sketches and inviting auditions for one of three guest performer slots in their shows. Sign up for auditions or send sketches to theoxfordrevue@gmail.com