Review: ‘Chortle Student Comedy Award’

On Sunday night the Durham Student Union held the Chortle Student Comedy Award 2020. During the show, ten talented performers competed against each other in 5 minutes sets. The MC, Rich Wilson, promised the audience for a “safe space”, and this was certainly delivered by the intimate mood and atmosphere of the small café.’ To start the show, Wilson engaged with the audience to spread a chill joyful ambiance, immediately broking the fourth wall and made the show more interactive and more comfortable. He asked some of the members to introduce themselves and made some jokes about the peoples’ responses he received which did set-up the mood for the show. 

All of the comedians did an amazing job in their performances, and they all seemed impressively confident. Each act had its own style, its own timing which offered diversity and made it very enjoyable and held the people’s attention until the end. Some actors told long stories and made jokes on one theme and others would tell some anecdotes or more random jokes. You could also hear that bursts of laughter were regular during the performance which created a fun atmosphere.

The stand-up comedy format allows the actors a lot of freedom in the way they discuss topics which enables them to shine on stage according to their own experience and their own personality. A lot of the performances had recurring themes in their jokes. Many of the jokes were about race and sex, something that always makes an audience laugh. Patchanon Tungkiatsilp, Ryan Lion and Henry Millard made jokes about the fact that they were Asians, referencing the stereotypes that they are affected by. By using humour, performers can highlight an important issue or denunciate some flaws about the society. In the environment of the university, I think it was a good idea for Joey Abels and Serena Smart to make some jokes about their degrees. Abels said he treated his jokes like his degree: a 40% laugh is a pass and 70% is a first. Smart talked about how her degree in philosophy is useless and that the only way it was possible to succeed was becoming a stripper, a cliché pun but one which got a fair few laughs nevertheless. Rez Bhatt used a lot of imagery in his act, and one of the highlights of his act was when he talked about the English: “they have curry, they don’t need us anymore”.

The performers who interacted with the audience were especially engaging and succeeded in creating empathy and connivance. Hugh O’Neill’s set was particularly touching, with the stories he told about his past relationships. At the very beginning, people reacted to his opening sentence with an “aww”, and it built up throughout the set. A very original performance was Joe Kent-Walters’ who appeared from the back of the room and walked his way up to the stage, where he removed the microphone saying he would not need it. He adopted excessive postures and engaging gestures and he would make the audience laugh with his range of intonations and the way he told his jokes. His acting was incredible and his delivery was hilarious.Stand-up comedy has its own codes. Most performers do not have a costume and almost no accessories which makes closer with the public in a way. One exception: Kent-Walters who was wearing an unusual outfit, a way of distinguishing himself to stand out.

The general impression that came to me on that night was that people really enjoyed it. Even if some jokes went a bit too far, the general vibe was really good and everyone left with a smile on their face. Congratulations to Joe Kent-Walters and his soliloquy who won the competition and made it to the next round.

By Anne-Victoire Mancret

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