My hottest comedy tip for 2024 so far | Tim Harding's comedy diary

My hottest comedy tip for 2024 so far

Tim Harding's comedy diary

Tim Harding's comedy diaryReviewer Tim Harding gives a rundown of the best comedy he's been watching in London this past fortnight... 

With the Fringe somehow only three months away, I’m starting to see a handful of previews with real promise emerge. 

While it’s by no means necessary or even advisable for a comedian to have their show nailed down in April, it’s fun as a preview-goer to see these early hours where routines are being stitched together and themes are beginning to emerge.

John Tothill, my favourite newcomer from last year, is looking in fabulous shape, making a smooth shift from the introductory material of his debut The Last Living Libertine into something a little more narrative-based. 

At the moment, his new show Thank God This Lasts Forever is grouped around the three plagues that visited his house over the previous year: mice, scabies and malaria – all handled with his winning metaphysical camp. 

He talks a lot about high and low church, notions of the infinite, heady ideas of the relativistic experience of time in the universe of the parasites that infested his body, but it’s also as slick and glamorous as Katherine Ryan, and so funny, couched in a blinding turn of phrase. This is my hottest tip so far for 2024 – I can’t wait to see how it develops.

Time will tell if this is a good idea, but I’ve been trying to get into improv recently, or at least reframe it a little in my head, and try and approach it on its own terms, taking more pleasure in the speed and the improbable collisions, worrying less about the artifice and the lack of structure. 

Testing the approach, I went to see They Seem Nice at the Soho Theatre, which is a semi-regular showcase of rotating improv champs led by Kiwi comic Nic Sampson, with this instalment featuring Steen Raskopoulos, Emma Sidi, Lola-Rose Maxwell and Graham Dickson. 

The format is this: a topic is solicited from the audience and a cast member is given the job of speaking extemporaneously on that topic for a few minutes. Whatever they happen to say then forms the common ground for the improvised group sketches that follow. 

It’s such a quicksilver thing, with so much pleasure to be found in watching a scene suddenly spark into life from nowhere. In each sketch I found myself watching the members standing in the wings waiting to perform, wearing inscrutable expressions up until the moment they jump in to deliver a new banger or twist on the scenario. 

Emma Sidi is particularly good at becoming a real character with just a few brief words and gestures, but they all shine in what seems like perfect choreography. It’s a very entertaining way to spend an evening even if, like me, your system purges all memory of the show’s events in the three days that follow.

Next, I caught up with a double bill of 2023 Fringe shows as Liam Withnail and Sam Lake both came to Soho Theatre. Withnail’s Chronic Boom exceeds the hype. In covering his own chronic illness he’s created something really wonderful about working around illness, being thankful for your time and understanding what other people are going through are powerful – all messages that are confidently woven into the show’s fabric but lightly worn under the long brown raincoat of stories about shitting himself in public. There’s a lot of well-deserved swagger here for a man in skimpy clothing dealing with such humbling subject matter.

Sam Lake, a delightful and charming presence as ever, is more modest with his reach, and his show less successful to my mind. A loose collection of routines themed around the idea of acquiring ‘big daddy energy,’ Aspiring DILF trades a little too heavily on pre-established comedic patterns. 

Perhaps in a bid for accessibility, his stories are predicated on familiar tropes of sassy huns, gossip-loving gay men and what it’s like to work in an office. Obviously there’s nothing wrong or necessarily untrue about these tropes, but Aspiring DILF sometimes lacks the level of detail or texture that suggests reality. Whether his stories are true or not, they often don’t FEEL like they’re true. 

Finally, for something a little different, I attended the touring show of Found Footage Festival Vol. 10. FFF was started in 2004 by Wisconsinites Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, who over the years have amassed a staggering collection of thousands of weird VHS tapes from charity shops, jumble sales and petrol station bargain bins. 

Every couple of years, these boundless treasures are distilled into an hour’s worth of clips, and these are presented in cinemas around the world with live quips and added context from Prueher and Pickett. It’s basically Mystery Science Theatre 3000 for public access TV.

There are a handful of great UK nights that incorporate found footage, like The Paddock in London and Manchester’s Adult Film Club, but FFF is really a masterclass, partly because the footage they use isn’t available anywhere else. They’ve got you covered for poorly-made erotica, footage of a 5ft turd lying in a bath like a dead anaconda, and a woman in a dating video inexplicably holding the world’s largest slice of cake, but among the oddballs there’s also pure art. 

I had my mind blown by The Club, a series of amateur films made by a man who has a Gollum-like relationship with a big stick he found in the forest, which stick he handles with prophylactic socks and stores in a custom-made leather bag. 

His face is never seen in the films, you just watch him swinging it around in first person and breathlessly rhapsodise that it’s ‘simply plumb awesome’. These strange passions and unique visions are exactly what Tim and Eric were trying to tap into on Awesome Show, but Prueher and Pickett are backstreet dealers of the real thing. What a valuable service they provide.

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Published: 19 Apr 2024

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