day 10: somewhat less than perfect

Sunday was the first day things stopped getting better.

Ross, Anneliese, Chuck and myself started the day by waiting nearly an hour for eggs benedict in the Café Victor Hugo (it’s a nice but pretentious little deli-café by the meadows, which for a festival Sunday seemed to be woefully understaffed. The proprietor was wearing an apron which proudly said ‘Slow Food’ on it, but when that slowness is because you’re taking twenty food orders an hour and you’ve only got one person working in the kitchen, it’s hardly something to be proud of).

In the end we had to leave without eating because the others had to catch their train. That meant at least I could briefly get back to enjoying the festival: we went on a Flashback group trip to see the Penny Dreadfuls in the afternoon, which I think was very useful – the Dreadfuls are good performers and their show had a wonderful throughline with all the strands of sketches coming together at the end. But they are clearly actors rather than stand-ups, and as a result they don’t have the immediacy or engagement with the audience that Pappy’s do, or even that the Flashback do. They can address the audience and improvise, but in a way that never really endangers the fourth wall; in that sense, their clever, well-structured show still felt relatively dull to watch. And that is without even considering the horrible crackly sound problems they had throughout the gig: why on earth anybody insists on radio mics when Pleasance One is a perfectly well-designed theatre for carrying sound is beyond me. I’m sure that trained performers with decent voice projection were no doubt quite audible there long before radio mics were invented, and now it’s just another thing that can go wrong.

After that, I went to flyer for the showcase feeling a little drained. When it came to the gig, I was a little bit too tired to really keep up the energy in the room. To be honest if it wasn’t for the whole cast of a youth theatre play turning up (they said they would come to the show on condition that I come and see their play too) then there would have been hardly any life in the room at all. Which is not to say that the show was bad – Darshan Sangrajkha did well, and when James Sherwood took to the stage he seemed a little tired too but it didn’t stop him from being very very funny. But the whole thing just felt a little muted.

On the upside, after the gig things picked up: James, Darshan and I got to have a really interesting chat about the politics of stand-up – whether the comedy club is a dictatorship of the comedian or a democracy where the audience hold the power to approve or disapprove. And James suggested that perhaps the best way to describe the power-structure of a comedy club is to say that the audience functions as a duma – they have a certain advisory power but ultimately they can’t stop the comedian from doing what he or she wants.

The advantage of this analogy, of course, is that it likens the event of a comedian getting booed offstage not just to an electoral rejection but to a full-on revolution, which creates a lack of stability but can be quite exhilarating as long as you aren’t a comedian of subtlety and planning. Perhaps this explains the popularity (but ultimately unsatisfactory nature) of gong shows.

The flashback had a very small audience, and we started frustratingly late again because Dr. Brown, who has the show before us, finished late. This is starting to become annoying. Still, we had a really good show and afterwards I managed (with Darshan’s help) to drink a few drinks and relax for the first time in the whole festival so far…

Showcase: Audience – paltry; Performance – 5 (I was tired)

Flashback: Audience – small but friendly, and a good show.

Overall: DRAW

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