Chortle Student Comedy Award 2022 final | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

Chortle Student Comedy Award 2022 final

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review

It may sound immodest to say so, but it feels like the Chortle Student Comedy Award has unearthed a cracking batch of new comedians again this year. Nothing to do with us, of course, and all to do with the stand-ups who entered.

The final at the Pleasance last night kicked off with a flash of energy from Jack Dearnley, who has a touch of the Russell Brand in his hyperactive delivery. His opening gag about forest fires is darkly imaginative, and his Mr Men routine is a fine example of a disproportionate rage against the petty. A song about masculinity didn’t share the same invention, but he got the night off to a lively start.

‘Me and Jack, we have very different vibes,’ admitted the more conversational Alex Mason, one of many comments that showed her willingness to go off-script and address the energy in the room, including her own infectious giggling.  She’s at home with a corny pun and is friendly and relatable as she uses talk of her ideal man to frame a few other jokes. Her material’s not spectacular yet, but she’s a thoroughly engaging presence.

A little more awkward, Henry Whaley has a witty smart-but-dumb take on binmen and a hopefully exaggerated tale where his social clumsiness definitely got the better of him. The second half of his set was put to a smooth jazz background, giving it the air of a noirish detective voiceover – which is a little distancing for the audience but showcases some creative writing, and enforces a languid pace of delivery.

Even more deadpan, Caitriona Dowden performs in a monotone that reflects the lack of emotion and empathy she describes in her set, including her apparent misunderstanding of the tragedy in the six-word short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ This is typical of her unique and imaginative set, which ranges from arguing why Fleabag shouldn’t be hailed as a feminist breakthrough to the words of medieval writer the Monk of Byland. He barely ever comes up on Live At The Apollo – and the distinctiveness of Dowden’s voice combined with her clear attitude led to her taking the first prize.

Jin Hao Li also served up the unexpected, from imagining a spider in a nightclub to a needlessly aggressive rap about a toothbrush. The surrealism can be hit-or-miss, but often leads to a proper punchline in its roundabout style. He’s a little confrontational with the audience – but in a good way, as  leaning right into them, gives the performance added dynamism.

Hasan Al-Habib is probably the slickest of the class of 2022, with a club-ready set based around his Iraqi background, and how Birmingham compares to war-ravaged Baghdad. There are some great jokes here – especially in a story about a visit to the 9/11 memorial in New York – although it would also have been interesting to see what other topics he had in his kitbag. He might not have been placed but I feel he’ll do just fine in comedy.

Charlie Humphrey is a lot less polished, and some of her set-ups – such as comparing possible dates to buffet items – seem contrived. But she has a charming, if underpowered, energy and some relatable content, ending with a depiction of a terrible meditation app.

Something very different next as Stepan Mysko von Schultz took to the stage in a modest vintage dress to perform a monologue in the guise of a woman whose husband is away in the trenches of the First World War. A bit of a slow burner, the routine gradually built thanks to the ingenuity of the writing, mixing anachronisms, surrealism, witty metaphors and a wistful naivety in one appealingly quirky package. He took send place in a crowded field, taking home £250 – the price of a small stately home in 1915…

Ethan Willmer-Anderson’s signature routine, taking literally  the cheesy chat-up premise ‘if I could rearrange the alphabet’ and doing just that, is a similarly inventive one, and quite some feat of memory. Other gags are a patchier, especially his technique of offering up a hoary old dad joke set-up then giving a literal answer – even if it does fit his slightly nerdy persona.

Harry Shannon is a new sort of prop comedian – using bespoke items he 3D-printed himself, making real some memorably absurd and disturbing creations like a comedy Doctor Moreau. There’s another fantastic visual gag as he takes a drink mid-set, and while the stand-up links could benefit from more polish, these set pieces display enjoyably offbeat comedy sensibilities.

And finally Sascha LO in character – we can only hope – as an awfully entitled ex-public schoolgirl telling us about her gap year, and her struggles to find a ‘boyf’ without having any decent male role models to measure potential partners against. It’s a winning variation on the many ‘posh boy’ characters on the comedy circuit: a mild-mannered monster unaware of her own privilege, and with some solid punchlines to boot.

Another act – like all those tonight – we are likely to be seeing a lot more of.

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Review date: 16 Aug 2022
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