“The BEST of the Fringe? Maybe it should just be the good of the fringe? Or just of the fringe?”: Beginning his set with this self-deprecating joke, Joel Stanley humorously tackles the pressure of a show whose title broadcasts the word ‘best’. Certainly, the name of the Oxford Revue’s Fringe showcase set a bar of excellence that inflected my own expectations as I sat down for an evening of stand-up comedy.
And yet, despite this, I was not disappointed. What this show brings may not be the polished coherence of professional stand-up comedians, but it is witness to the exciting experimentation and energy of young comedians with new material and fresh characters.
Will Bearcroft’s brilliant magic-comedy routine that combined telepathy, a mechanical whisk and effortless confidence was a particularly impressive set in the evening. Likewise, Alison Middleton’s hilarious performance left me in stitches as she asked some ‘big’ questions with a philosophical sharpness perhaps only seen before in Kylie Jenner’s ‘realizing stuff 2k16’. Middleton’s facial expressions and delivery were a sight to behold, possessing a kind of clown-like control over her facial movements that makes her very watchable. Both Bearcroft, the ‘Bear’, and Middleton showcase a masterclass in confidence and delivery, their sheer self-assurance holding the audience like putty in their palms.
There are some fantastic one-liners in this show, particularly in Bill Freeman’s set in which he plays the persona, ‘Andrew the Serial-Killer’, a character pretty self-explanatory. Character comedy is a hard task to pull off and I was slightly dubious at the start of this ‘serial-killer’ set, feeling that the creepy-psycho-murderer character was perhaps well-trodden ground. Yet I was completely won over by Freeman’s terrifying, wild energy and the unflinching silliness of some of his jokes. His entertaining use of props and dynamic characterisation made him a highly watchable act.
Joel Stanley’s set began the show and, although the self-confessed least experienced of the night, he showed off some exciting originality and hilarious one-liners. He also delivered the only poo joke of the night and, for that, I am thankful to him. The night showcased a range of comedy from the more observational in Stanley’s set to the utterly absurd in that of Freeman’s, yet each made the terrifying task of stand-up look both natural and enjoyable. I felt quite at ease in the hands of these performers and from numerous less pleasant experiences of professional stand-ups at the Fringe, I know that this is no mean feat.
The best comedy, in my humble opinion, is always charged with ideas and thoughts that underpin the laughs. There were moments in the evening where I felt the content to be a little thin on the ground and longed for a set that attempted to probe or challenge ideas or assumptions in its jokes. Perhaps this was an unfair expectation in a student show, but I felt occasionally the comedians and MC strayed into the realm of anecdotes without much purpose. Yet there were a few, truly brilliant, incisive moments in the evening, a highlight being Stanley’s sharp mockery of the expectations placed on his stand-up content as a black comedian.
If at moments I searched for a meaty handle, a through-line or edge to direct the ideas or questions of these set-pieces, I was kept continually delighted by the humour and verve of these comedic performers. These are emerging talents. Albeit varying in experience and craft, they are each, nonetheless, genuinely entertaining and they warmly serve up an evening packed with laughs.