WIP smart | Tim Harding on some comedy works-in-progress, and the musical talents of Jazz Emu

WIP smart

Tim Harding on some comedy works-in-progress, and the musical talents of Jazz Emu

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

June and July in London can be better than the Fringe if you know where to look. In pubs and clubs and weird underground conference rooms, comedians are running in their work-in-progress shows, often for less than the price of a pint. 

Sure, you’ll sometimes find yourself sitting in the dark in an audience of six people while the rest of the city plays outside in the sunshine, but just remember you didn’t choose the life of a comedy fan because it was easy.

One preview that definitely was easy to enjoy, though, was Bella Hull’s new work in progress, Piggie at Aces & Eights in Tufnell Park. With so many great young comics knocking around North London, all tackling similar subject matter, it can be easy to get lost in the fray, but Hull deserves to stand out for the bubblegum sharpness of her wit. 

A meticulous wordsmith, she has a habit of pinching the air to emphasise her point, almost a symbolic gesture of getting precisely to the nub of her subjects, which this time include passive consumption, appetite, and questions of faith, and I appreciate that there’s some level of concealed earnestness behind the acidic, glamorous irony. 

Which other Gen Z comedians are investigating spirituality as a way to deal with disillusionment and the ever-present malaise? It feels like fertile territory for a deep dive. There’s something of Katherine Ryan to her persona, but with a little more sensitivity. I dig it.

One of a handful of big names returning to the Fringe this year, sketch group Sheeps are loping up with their first new material since 2016’s Live and Loud Selfie Sex Harry Potter. The new show The Giggle Bunch (That’s Our Name for You), currently running as a WIP at Soho Theatre, is some classic sketch stuff of the Footlights school, but still somehow feels like a breath of fresh air, partly because it’s not trying to elevate itself. It’s not dark, nor maudlin, nor ever really cynical, and the sketches tie into a larger narrative only on a gestural basis. 

Most of the juice comes from the chemistry between the three players. Liam Williams stands out among sketch performers for his intensity; he brings an atmosphere of haunted aggression to the stage that’s rare in that space. 

Al Roberts has a drab but unbreakable comic poise – as he ages he’s more and more resembling a maths teacher who seems unaware that he’s one of the great comic actors of his generation. Bonny and blithe, Daran Johnson lands somewhere between the two poles of his co-stars, but provides an impetus and energy to the dynamic that is totally integral. 

There’s probably no point cataloguing the daft scenarios that constitute the sketches, but watch out for Roberts’ performance as a self-flagellating Michelangelo, and Johnson as an ageing British indie rock star. Generally the advice is just go and catch it if you can, it’s a real pleasure.

Archie Henderson, aka Jazz Emu, has scored a hefty Soho Theatre run for his new show Knight Fever. Working with a full band for the first time, he’s also making extensive use of video footage and other forms of tech, leading to a pretty full-on show, with the narrative conceit that he’s pulling out all the stops in order to smash the Royal Variety Show and score a knighthood, all of which is happening in the next hour. Echoes of Spice World: The Movie?

I’ve often found with Jazz Emu’s shows that his fictional devices feel smashed together in a way that’s alternately charming and confusing, and that's certainly true here. The persona has the same issue – you get that he’s a preening goofball with a patina of disco-era sleaze, but he plays the character too old, and the songs seem to come from an entirely separate second viewpoint; one that’s much more perceptive and connected to the world around him. 

I imagine the best strategy is simply not to worry about these things, but I’ll admit to finding myself distracted by my struggle to bridge the logic gaps.

That issue aside, it’s a banger show. As a comedy songwriter, Henderson doesn’t get the credit he deserves for creating such absurdly catchy funk hooks. I once spent months during lockdown being tormented by My Brothe [sic] which gets a welcome reprise here. 

When the songs are so good it can be a double-edged sword – just like when you go to see a non-comedy band you might notice feelings of wanting him to get to the next one quicker, or perhaps the phrase ‘just play the hits’ might rise unbidden to your mind, when really we should be reflecting on how impressive it is that he can do a 70-minute show full of songs and still leave an album’s worth of gold on the table.

More and more with each show, he’s proving himself an indispensable talent, and I have faith that he'll one day find a way to make that character make sense.

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Published: 29 Jun 2024

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