A pastime of mine lately has been going to local stand-up comedy shows. Namely, fairly small comedy shows, headlined by "up-and-coming" acts. The venues have been an interesting mix, ranging from a club, the grounds of a castle, and even strewn out on punting boats on the River Cherwell.
Live events have suffered for the past 18 months. I'm sick of writing about COVID at this point so I'll keep this bit brief. Music, theatre, comedy; they'd all been put on hold, and all the Zoom calls in the world weren't ever going to fill the void that their absence created. Independent businesses and communities alike bore the brunt of the economic impact of lockdown, with live events essentially dead in the water for the longest time, but communities are bouncing back! Locally-organised live events are popping up again, and there's never been a better time to get out and enjoy some local live entertainment. And, best of all, it's supporting local businesses and communities which have suffered throughout the shitstorm of the past year.
What I have found most appealing about each show I've seen so far is the true uniqueness that each night has brought. Each performer I've seen has been so different. Despite the seemingly limited parameters of stand-up - say words, make audience laugh - everyone I have seen perform brought with them their own signature flair and style, and it has been a joy to behold. Some of them played caricatures, leaning into absurdity or self-deprecation, whilst others were wholly themselves, pulling entertaining personal stories from their own lives. Some incorporated music into their acts, some relied solely on interactions with the crowd, whilst others proudly exclaimed that they wouldn't be picking on anyone in the crowd, as they, and I quote; "don't give a shit about any of you lot."
...Fair enough. Anyway, you get the picture. Each performer's own brand of comedy has been entertaining it its own way, and the juxtaposition of styles when performed one after the other is always interesting and keeps the shows feeling novel throughout.
I have a lot of respect for the art of performing, in any capacity. The ability to maintain composure in front of a crowd - a crowd who have paid for you to entertain them, who are often getting increasingly drunk and increasingly likely to heckle you - cannot be overstated. Before even being funny, simply not crumbling under the pressure is more than most could manage. But then to also manage to entertain - it's impressive. Although much of the performers' sets will have been rehearsed, there is still an element of improvisation to any show like this. Show timings and schedules may be off, the crowd may be more or less bombastic than you were expecting, there may be breaking news noteworthy observations that spring to mind in the heat of the moment, or, there may be a torrential downpour to contend with. Throw in the unpredictability of audiences and their responses to even the simplest questions, and you have a surprisingly diverse number of variables at play at any given time, regardless of how well-rehearsed and tightly scripted your routine may be.
I've nothing particularly profound or life-altering to conclude with here, I just wanted to give a little shout out to the local comedy scene and encourage you to give it a try if you can. It's been a great way to get back into the swing of "normal" social events, and there are plenty of open-air outdoor events with adequate spacing if you are concerned about social distancing and safety measures. It's a really nice way to spend an evening, especially if you can bring someone along with you and enjoy a couple of drinks. And I can promise you that whatever happens, there will not be another show that plays out in the exact same way.
If you live in the Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire area, then here are a couple of pointers to get you started if you're interested.
Jericho Comedy - Oxford-based comedy production company with pop-up shows in all sorts of interesting places around the city.
Northampton Comedy Club - runs on every last Thursday of the month, in and around Northampton.
Atic Banbury - an Oxfordshire bar which frequently hosts event nights such as open mics and new acts/new material comedy events.
Just the Tonic - a collective of comedy clubs across a range of cities including Birmingham, Reading, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, Edinburgh and more.