Bright Club

6 July
Kings Arms

There is an argument that stand-up comedy audiences want to be made to laugh. The idea is that the laughter is already in the room and it's the comedian's job to simply milk it out of those on the other end of the spotlight.

Not only does this adage suggest that there’s a finite amount of laughter in a room's mirth-udders, it also ignores the other intrinsic tension on which a comedy gig rests. Simply by labelling oneself as a 'comedian', a gauntlet is laid down that says: 'I bet I can make you laugh'. The natural response, particularly from somebody as adversarial as me, could very likely be 'I bet you can't'. If the laughter well is indeed finite, it’s up to those on stage to wrestle this precious commodity from the audience's grasp.

Bright Club, by definition, bypasses this tension entirely. The nationwide comedy franchise sees six academics - mostly PhD students of various ages - each tasked with performing a short comedy routine on their fields of research. These people are not comedians.

The sets are raw and unpolished, as one would expect, but this only adds to the charm and the level of good will in the room is palpable. It was a treat to witness clearly highly intelligent individuals step out of their comfort zones and deliver unashamedly niche references which somehow remained amusing to the layman.

Highlights included a psychologist's frustrations with obtaining usable data from focus groups formed entirely of hungover undergraduates and an environmental economics researcher lamenting humanity's destruction of the planet.

Aside from the comedy, all of the acts really came to the fore when discussing the nature of their research, delivering impassioned and compelling insights into their fields. Overall, Bright Club offers a good natured, pretence-free evening of informative entertainment.

John Holden

Jo D'Arcy: D'Arcehole

30 July
Kings Arms

On the penultimate day of the Greater Manchester Fringe, Jo D'Arcy brought her show, D'Arcehole, labelled as an Edinburgh preview, to the Kings Arms in Salford.

D'Arcy is a substitute teacher moonlighting as a stand-up comedian and there was notable warmth to her act, with a clear desire to generate an atmosphere of community and inclusivity. The show was structured as a lesson and supported by a rudimentary PowerPoint presentation while serving as an autobiographical account of D'Arcy's teaching career to date. The lesson culminated in a final group assignment which, to her credit, was well managed and brought with it none of the sweaty palms and swollen tongues usually associated with audience participation.

Somewhat awkwardly, the final assignment took the form of D'Arcy explicitly asking whether she should continue with comedy or stick to her day job. There was only going to be one public response here - the room wasn't filled with sadists - but in reality there was very little in the show to suggest a future as a comedian. Warmth and inclusivity aside, the show itself was simply not very funny.

The few set jokes were weak and the smattering of anecdotes felt disjointed and under-rehearsed. D'Arcy appeared to be relying heavily on a sense of affable Stoke patter, possibly to keep things informal and maintain the illusion of a classroom. Unfortunately this was at the expense of any rhythm and structure, which is no mean feat considering the show was based around a slideshow.

It was clear to me that Jo D'Arcy is an engaging speaker and I have no doubt in her ability to command a classroom. This talent does not appear to extend to a comedy audience - in this show at least.

John Holden