Bad comedy can be fun to watch. That’s partly what makes the Edinburgh Fringe so good: we all love to laugh at a terrible pun or an awkward punchline. But far too often in the Oxford Revue’s two comedy shows, it felt like the joke was missing entirely.
While watching Wasted, the Revue’s sketch show, I kept wondering how much time the team had actually spent writing the script before they began rehearsals, as a lot of the gags felt like the kind of adolescent banter that’s only actually funny to the people involved. It’s not that the acting was bad: the four-person cast weren’t lacking in charisma or chemistry. Moments of really excellent comic timing from each of them managed to get chuckles from weak lines. It was just a pity that the lines were so very weak.
A sketch about a fifth member of a Swedish band called ABBCA being kicked out to make a neater-sounding name fell flat, as did an imagined meeting where M tells James Bond that if he keeps introducing himself as “Bond, James Bond” he will ruin his reputation as the “most secret spy”. Other jokes made me cringe – such as a sketch revolving around a captain wanting to hide a rude word in his ship’s name (Tit-anic), and a scene where a girl’s boyfriend is seduced by her father and runs off to “lick the back of his stamps”. Had I somehow missed the funny bit?
Entry was free for the stand-up show, Group Work, which gave it a relaxed atmosphere more suited to the group. The opening act, by Olley Matthews, consisted mainly of repartee with the audience that they were amused by (although I think more by their own answers than anything else). Laura Mckenzie’s set, that focused on her loneliness, had some laugh-out-loud moments, but lines such as “people think I’m chill because I dress casually, but actually if my personality were an outfit it would be a Ted Bundy-style skin suit of people that I’ve loved” provoked more grimaces than giggles.
I began to think maybe I was simply not the right audience for this kind of comedy. The (mostly middle-aged) crowd were definitely enjoying it more than I was. Maybe my headache and general Fringe fatigue was making me too miserly with my laughter. However, others I spoke to after shared my disappointment.
The shows were at their strongest when they touched on issues we’d consider particularly relevant today. Elaine Robertson’s set about being a northerner at Oxford was funny and energetic, as she joked about southerners thinking she was “feral”, and recounted how a woman recently congratulated her for leaving her home town of County Durham. And a sketch about toxic masculinity in Wasted got some rare belly laughs from the audience.
Perhaps that’s the direction the Revue should look towards in future productions. Or perhaps they just need to develop what they already have. Either way, a lot more time in the writing room is necessary: otherwise the group’s talent is wasted on telling jokes with no punchlines.