Comedy in the Dark is exactly what it sounds like: a comedy performance in pitch-black darkness. Lead by the production company, Just the Tonic, a selection of acts including Carl Donnelly, Lloyd Griffith and Patrick Monahan performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017, each bringing something different to the unique experience of blind comedy.
Unless you’ve experienced it first hand, it is difficult to imagine what it’s like. In brief, the lights are on while the audience get seated, and for the first few minutes of the host’s set (Carl Donnelly). Then the lights go down and every single source of light is covered, including the fire escape signs – two men had the amusing job of holding rectangular boxes on sticks over the fire escape sign for the entirety of the set. This in itself elicited a chuckle or two from the audience. After an introductory set from the host, where the audience acclimatise to this new style of comedy and the unfamiliar atmosphere in general, the lights come on, the host exits, and the next act comes on. The audience get a good look of the new act before the lights go down again a few seconds into his set, so they never overcome with curiosity about the appearance of their entertainer, but equally, they don’t see them for the majority of the set; they can only listen.
It was odd to start with, even quite claustrophobic. One lady had to leave after the host’s introductory set. This slight claustrophobia was exacerbated by the host informing us that the audience were not allowed to leave and re-enter during the acts due to health and safety reasons, and we were even given a code word in case of emergency that we were to shout if such a situation should arise.
But stick it out; after a while the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere is replaced by an odd intimacy between both the comedian and audience and between the individual members of the audience. You are all enjoying this unique experience together, and the vulnerable blindness is all part of the fun. The darkness provided things that normal comedy shows just cannot give; the fact that the comedian could not see the audience meant the audience were more confident, giving more frequent and assertive responses. For example, Lloyd Griffith’s sketch where he proved to the audience that he knew a fact about every single cathedral in the UK (however tenuous or dubious this fact may be) relied heavily on the audience’s input, calling out names of cities for him to respond to; at least a dozen members of the audience took part, without hesitation, making the sketch far more fast paced, adding to the farcical hilarity. No doubt this extraordinary readiness to participate was largely the result of the darkness shielding the audience, giving them confidence. In comparison to most other comedy shows, Comedy in the Dark thrived in the high levels of interaction between comedian and audience.
Comedy in the Dark was perhaps more relaxing than regular comedy too; there was no pressure to be seen to laugh at everything, no pressure to even incline your head to the stage and strain your neck. It works well in small, non-tiered venues where a good seat is often key to enjoying the experience if you have a particularly physical comedian or someone who relies on gesticulating for a lot of their humour. With Comedy in the Dark, everyone is equally involved as no one has a superior experience with regards to his or her position in the audience.
Notably, two of the comedians in particular interacted with the darkness especially well, incorporating it into their set to produce something completely unique and hilarious. Lloyd Griffith, for example, demonstrated his singing abilities as a short part of his set, making the most of acoustic nature of the gig. Since the audience had been using their ears alone throughout, they were perhaps more finely-tuned that they would have been during a normal comedy performance, meaning his singing was appreciated all the more – the audience felt almost entirely consumed by one sense. In addition, Patrick Monahan’s set, which was completely off the cuff improvisation, arguably used the darkness to its full comedic potential with a set based around blind dating. Four teenage boys were paired up one by one with various members of the audience, with Monahan playing the sidesplitting matchmaker. One he decided a couple were made for one another, he instructed the boy to make his way over to his match, and sit on his new partner’s knee – obviously a rather difficult and comical task in pitch black darkness. Not being able to see the members of the audience who had been matched was exciting too, and meant that the big reveal at the end of Monahan’s set was the climax of the performance: Seeing these great teenaged boys perched on the laps of men and women of various ages was the perfect end to the show.
Over all, Comedy in the Dark was a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience, one that cannot be replicated in a regular comedy show. It was something different that encompassed and enhanced all the best things about comedy, while providing a brand new way to experience it.