Published in Edfringereview
It’s well-known that comedy is a fairly hit-and-miss game. For no brand of comedy is this truer than the student sketch show, from whose ranks have hailed such comedy classics as Monty Python, Lee & Herring and, of course, the Cambridge Footlights, but also the appalling likes of Little Britain, Cowards, and, of course, the Cambridge Footlights. Simply the Jest, Exeter University’s comedy cream, unfortunately belongs in the latter category – but not for want of trying.
Unless, of course, you find appeals to the lowest common denominator to be enjoyable comic forays. It’s perfectly possible to see the funny side to mulling the possibility of a film called Edward Penis-hands, naming schoolchildren Va-jay-jay and Titty, or having nipples in unexpected places, like behind the earlobes or on the back. But an hour long regression to genital humour is tiresome, unoriginal and cheap. (The latter can’t be said for the tickets; without the complementary ones granted to this reviewer, one would be coughing up a tenner for jokes that can be heard for free at any pub in the country).
Occasionally, the humour did rise above the level of pub banter. The pregnancy iphone app, for example, where women pee on their phones to find out if they’re pregnant, was a brutally pointed satire. The audience consistently expressed their approbation through hearty bouts of laughter, though, plied with enough alcohol, they ended up literally laughing at anything; at one point the venue’s manager appeared on stage to make a smoking-related health and safety announcement, and this too was greeted with an inexplicable roar.
Every comedy writer knows that, shorn of inspiration, one’s only recourse is to the pull-back-and-reveal, which works every time, but is to be used sparingly. For example, a drama teacher brings a visitor to school. He mimes – shall we say, canine carnal congress – with him, whereupon the visitor refers to the teacher as his dad. The fact that every other gag adhered to this facile form suggests the writers were not merely shorn of inspiration, but irrevocably expunged of it, much like the several castrated penises referred to during the show.
Nevertheless, the writing was as bad as the acting was good. All of the performers betrayed a remarkable gift for comic acting. The perfect timing, not to mention miming, was not merely proof of the performers’ palpable comic chemistry but also strong evidence that the show must have been impeccably and admirably well-rehearsed. Rosie Abraham deserves special mention for her versatility with comic personae, by turns a retrogressive mother or a precocious schoolgirl, as does Jack Stanley (of Little Britain fame) for his towering stage presence that must have been honed over years of being bullied for being so short. With some good writing Simply the Jest could have been the best sketch show in town, instead of the most mediocre pub banter this side of the Sheep Heid Inn.