Spoiler alert!

Katie Jenkins urges reviewers not to ruin the surprise

When I go to see live comedy, I tend not to know what’s going to happen in advance. This is mostly because my psychic powers are rubbish, but also because I’ve stopped reading reviews for new shows that I might want to see.

I’m always surprised by the quantity of performers’ material that gets printed across the myriad reviews in newspapers and blogs, especially around Festival time, and have to wonder whether the people reviewing the acts are doing it for the right reasons. Surely the point of a positive review is to encourage more people to go and see a show, not to show off about having seen it first.

Quite rightly the best shows from an Edinburgh run will get plenty of great coverage. However, it would be good to see a bit of restraint, in terms of not revealing most of the jokes and stories that make up the routine.

Even though the lines that are repeated most often in the press/cyberspace may well be performer-sanctioned sound bites, the repetition has the unfortunate effect of giving the jokes an element of déjà vu when you eventually hear them in person.

Nobody really believes that comedians are pulling their gags out of thin air, but the audience colludes in the illusion of spontaneity because it makes for a funnier performance. It seems that the more reviews a comedian gets, the more likely it is that the audience members will start heckling them with ‘Hang on, you missed a bit’.

If I was recommending a new band to a friend, I probably wouldn’t start singing my way through the standout songs, maybe with a bit of air guitar thrown in for good measure. As I am completely tone deaf this would prove more of a deterrent than anything else, but the point remains.

Although I appreciate it is not always possible to review a performance without mentioning something of its content, running through all of the highlights verbatim seems a bit of a cop-out. It is possible to convey that someone is eloquent, acerbic or whimsical or has a great way with rhyming couplets without needing to demonstrate the point repeatedly.

Half the fun of live comedy is in the immediacy of the performance, and the genuine, spontaneous laughter is exactly the reaction that the performers will have been working for. That little nugget of wit that the reviewer felt really made the show? I might well have felt the same, if I hadn’t been sitting waiting for it. If you want to titillate us, a flash of ankle will do.

Published: 30 Aug 2010

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