by Eli Lambe
In preparation for their upcoming show at Brighton fringe, Eliott Simpson and Elliot Wengler took the stage armed with their Tinder profiles – to proposition the audience for friendship. Closing a mixed bag of a night, their set contained some much needed reminders of how comedy can work without the tired, “edgy” humour that so often seems to haunt the stand-up world and which, in my mind, ruined so many of the night’s previous performances.
The self-deprecating intro specified a move away from humour which punches down, something previous acts had relied pretty glaringly on
The host, Alexander Oliver, had been making a valiant effort at recovering the mood with an endearing mix of awkwardness and warmth, but the fact that a lot of the earlier acts had overrun meant that Elliot and Eliott had to cut their set short. This was a shame, as there was a lot the duo got right – the friend-seeking theme/gimmick helped add structure and focused in on the style of stand-up they’d be doing. The profiles gave the audience a navigable introduction to the core topics. The self-deprecating intro specified a move away from humour which punches down, something previous acts had relied pretty glaringly on, and which, in their lack of inspiration and general mediocrity, had naturally fallen flat.
Wengler’s set offered a classic teenage-cringe-anecdote as well as some pop-culture observational stuff, which worked in some ways and needed a rethink in others. For some of it, the commentary did rely a little on a specific audience with specific interests and knowledge rather than the more general culture. It could have done with more context or comparison to up the relatability factor. Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with playing to a specific audience or finding your niche, but it does take careful attention, as you risk alienating more people than you attract.
A great example of pop-culture commentary that strikes this balance was included in Wengler’s set – the observations (complete with pictures) around Skinner box-style train/truck/traffic control simulator games were both accessible and absurd, and resulted in one of the best received jokes of the night. The extended bad-first-ever-date anecdote played into a classic stand-up trope, but worked with the theme and produced some solid comedic moments, using the familiarity of the trope to bring the audience along with him. With more rehearsal, this will be a very solid set.
excruciating puns were complemented by intense facial expressions and an affected accentuation that can only be described as Boris Johnson with a chest infection
Simpson’s set was definitely more polished, but this may have been due to the incorporation of previously performed and perfected material. He seems to have grown most in his delivery, and the self-deprecation and excruciating puns were complemented by intense facial expressions and an affected accentuation that can only be described as Boris Johnson with a chest infection. His set worked with, and through, actually witty wordplay, shameless (but effective) prop-humour, and his own experiences as an asexual man, complete with a pretty genius impression of a straight lad. Given the contrast between this set and the rest of the night, it’s hard not to see the broader commentary on the structure and purpose of comedy which Simpson embodies through his act. It refuses to be deliberately mean-spirited, it refuses to punch down, and it refuses to rely on lazy tropes and easy laughs at the expense of the marginalised.
All told, it was an interesting night. Had the running order been switched round – with Eliott and Elliot going first rather than last – it might have not only allowed the headliners more room, but also set a very different tone for the night. As far as the other acts go – look, I understand. Stand up is hard, going up in front of a room full of strangers is scary, and it can be tempting to either follow the formulas of comedians you admire, or deflect attention from your own nerves by attacking easy targets. But it’s worth being aware that punch-down comedy has had its moment, and it’s tired. It’s really tired. It’s not enough to rely on shock factor anymore – you need to actually have decent material. We see what you’re doing, and we’re tired of it.
Catch Elliot and Eliott Need Friends at the Brighton Fringe in May.
Featured image by Viktoria DeRoy
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution and fund a better media future.