Venue: Pleasance Courtyard
In his newest show, Whereabouts, Ian Smith goes between topics such as his recent moves, odd neighbours and growing up in the small town in Goole, laughing at everything as he goes.
One of the greatest strengths of Smith’s performance is his ability to interact with his audience repeatedly without resorting to bulling (a style of comedy well suited to the kind of smaller venue in which he was performing). Shortly into the show I attended he began speaking to a man and his two young sons in the front row and asked the age of one of the sons, upon the reply of fourteen (the show has a 14+ entry policy) he questioned whether it was a ‘rehearsed fourteen’. A few minutes later Smith asked the other brother if he was the younger: ‘yes’. He laughed with his audience, congratulated the boys on getting in and then continued with the set. At various points he even spoke to his sound guy and the venue staff so there’s no pretence that he’s doing anything other than talking to a room full of people. Smith has audience participation down to a T; he pulls his audience in, rather than pushing them away, and as a result makes the show feel tailored for the night, rather than rehearsed or repeated. The impression is given that Smith is not the kind of comedian to readily recycle material.
There were also some more manufactured elements drawn in at various points in the show, at one point the theme songs of ordinary people play over the speakers, at another Smith pulls up screen shots of his contributions to WikiAnswers onto the projector behind him. These are clear set pieces, but Smith stumbles upon them fluently, so that their arrival into his set seems almost incidental.
If criticism were to be made, it would be that while consistently funny, his show is not particularly innovative. The content is all original, but is given no angle other than that of the everyman stand-up comic (this isn’t quite as uninspiring as the Michael Macintyre-esqe, wife and kids everyman, but still gives the perspective of the slightly awkward twenty or thirty-something angle which the likes of Mark Watson or Josh Widdicombe have been doing for a long time). If you’re looking for an hour of solid observational comedy the performance is a good one, but there isn’t much that is particularly novel.
Whereabouts is a well-conceived, albeit pretty conventional, stand-up set. Ian Smith builds a show which contains the kind of orchestrated self-referencing you might expect from a more constructed performance blended in seamlessly with a specific rapport for his audience. He seems very well suited to the mainstream of British comedy, and I do not doubt that we will be seeing more of him in the years to come.