The University of York’s annual Comedy Night took place on 30th September, and as expected, it was a barrel of laughs. Performing for students of all years was Matt Richardson, Sophie Duker and Lee Nelson. It took place in Central Hall, a location that felt at once expansive, akin to a real large-scale comedy performance, whilst small and intimate, providing the opportunity for everyone to interact with the comedians if they so desired.
The comedians made the most of this and were very inclusive of their audience, both asking general questions to pick out volunteer responders, and selecting whoever took their fancy in the front rows. Several of the students who were picked out were notably nervous, predominantly fresher’s, but the comedians struck the perfect balance between exploiting this for humour, and not humiliating their victims. Matt Richardson in particular always managed to make a friendly conclusive comment after the laughter had died down, before swiftly continuing his set. This slightly gentler approach taken by the comedians was largely in response to the lack of heckling they received – likely to be quite refreshing for the comedians. They all responded well to their audience and gave the appropriate level of insulting humour, without making it an unpleasant experience for anyone.
Among those in the front row, there was some kind of look possessed by two first years that screamed, “Ridicule me!” since all three comedians unknowingly selected these same two boys in each of their sets without realising they had all done so. This added an element of humour for the audience to share that the comedians were not aware of.
Matt Richardson acted as host for the evening and opened the show with many jokes on the topic of university. He made cracks about his own experiences at Oxford Brookes, and there also ensued many “posh-boy” jokes at the expense of poor Harry and Anton in the front row. We also heard of some personal anecdotes featuring his Yorkshire girlfriend, including a particularly funny comment that having sex with her was like having sex with the Churchill dog: “oh yes,” he mimicked before joking, “I get an orgasm and a good deal on my car insurance.” Of the three comedians, Richardson was arguably the funniest, with the best delivery of his jokes, inciting the most consistent stream of laughter from his audience.
The second act of the evening was Sophie Duker, a Londoner whose set largely revolved around her own status as a black bisexual woman. She had an interesting technique of creating tension and awkwardness by commenting on sensitive topics like race, and then dispelling this tension soon after. An example was when she abruptly asked a member of the audience to describe the colour of her skin, before telling a joke about how she had done the same thing in the street to a stranger and had received a comically squeamish answer.
Whilst Duker undoubtedly prompted a lot of laughs, she had a slightly odd delivery at times, with a tendency to put on an odd voice, and often slowed down in her speech significantly or repeated phrases several times – presumably for comic effect, but at times it almost felt like a time-wasting technique. On the whole she was very funny and, possessed an excellent stage presence, making good use of both the stage space and proximity to the audience, by offering some comically weak high fives to the front row at the start.
The final and headline act was Lee Nelson, the most well-known of the three comedians. He occasionally raised some eyebrows with his jokes, what with many of them centring around some controversial national stereotypes. Especially since the audience were presented with this straight after Duker, this could be slightly jarring at times. However, he always made his comments more than acceptable, with an obvious and harmless joke that you kicked yourself afterwards for not having seen it coming. He wittily turned many of the jokes back onto himself with classic self-deprecating humour.
Again, Lee Nelson’s performance was very inclusive, interacting with the audience and even the security staff. He made the most of the occurrences within the room, and managed to use them as effective ingredients for his jokes. For example, an audience member had the misfortune of tripping up the stairs while attempting to return surreptitiously to his seat, which Nelson promptly broadcasted to the hall and turned into his own joke. Nelson broke off his set several times to react to things occurring in the audience, such as summoning the doorsafe officers to “sort out” someone who was leaving, as well as expressing utter confusion at the sight of a mature student in the audience. This made for a unique performance that couldn’t be replicated on another night, one that was exclusive and personal to our evening.
While I maintain that Richardson was the most consistently funny comedian of the three, Nelson undoubtedly evoked the most uproarious laugh of the night with a joke aimed at a couple in the audience; he was teasing a girl, asking if she participated in role play with her boyfriend, before enquiring after the biggest role she had ever taken on with her boyfriend: was it pretending to find him attractive?
A singular negative comment to be noted was that sometimes the trajectories of his jokes were slightly incoherent as he would begin one anecdote only to call on the audience for a response to something, fail to make a joke out of the response, and then continue his previous story. But in some ways this rough-round-the-edges approach to his set was effective, as it contributed to the one-off feel of the performance.
On the whole, all three comedians provided a night of excellent entertainment and laughter, and it was the perfect chilled-out end to an exciting week.