The Humble Quest For Universal Genius

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

One of the most pertinent questions that could be asked in this comedy quiz show is: Why aren’t there more people here?

The Humble Quest For Universal Genius has plenty of funny, quirky rounds, a winning spirit of silliness and decent-name comics taking part – tonight Richard Herring and Thom Tuck. But despite more than two years of shows in London, Brighton and Edinburgh, Mark Allen – who puts quite some work into each instalment – struggles to half-fill the Leicester Square Theatre’s tiny studio space.

The game show pitches the two comics against each other over a series of disciplines, in a bid to find a modern-day renaissance man, able to demonstrate mastery of everything from anthropology to hunting, poetry to art. It’s a flexible enough format to allow Allen almost entirely free reign for any game which takes his fancy.

Largely these are based on found oddities, from the weird lyrics of Eurovision song contest entries to the even weirder colloquialisms included in an phrase book aimed at helping Hungarians employ such everyday English phrases as ‘gull-groper’ or ‘milk the pigeon’. Allen has scoured the bargain bins of second-hand bookshops and the cobwebby corners of YouTube to find obscurities on which to build his games, and in one instance films his own hidden-camera footage as a benign experiment in human behaviour.

In all this, Allen is assisted by his trained gimp, a small, semi-feral hairy man called Eli Silverman, whose tasks include demonstrating the correct and incorrect dining etiquette – though somehow it all looks incorrect in his coarse hands – and being the prey in that hunting round.

Tonight’s clash of potential polymaths is a grudge match after Herring trashed-talked Tuck in that vipers’ nest of putdowns, Radio 4’s You And Yours, in which he made allegations of cheating in online Scrabble. Reviving this is one of several in-jokes to delight the comedy connoisseurs, but it’s not overplayed for the newcomers.

Generally, there’s a loose, playful spirit to proceedings, even if that means they occasionally lull. But then anyone who thinks TV panel shows are recorded as unedited half-hours of pure wit are only kidding themselves. Although, ironically, the ‘wit’ round, where our combatants deliver five minutes of clearly scripted stand-up is at odds with the free-flowing tone of the rest of the night.

So provided you can forgive a little indulgence and inconsistency, this quest provides plenty of fine banter – and a good starting template for the next cult panel show hit on radio or TV.

Review date: 11 May 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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