Komedia last week played host to a fun-filled stand-up ensemble who mixed their passion for comedy with that of history, archaeology and philosophy. The MC was Harry Househam who has been with Stand-Up History since its early days while he was studying at Oxford University. He was a confident and jovial host, leaving much of the body of the evening to the other comedians – understandable as there were five of them to get through. He simultaneously resolved and intensified that early show audience anxiety with the assurance: “if you’re not laughing, you are technically learning”.
Each set brought a uniquely interesting spin on the offbeat medley of history and humour. Ella Al-Shamahi weaved in her remarkable experiences as an archaeologist working in active war zones, while Ben Lund-Conlon played with the oddities of popular responses to history such as the bizarrely dangerous results often generated by the “who would you invite to your dinner party?” ice-breaker. Not only is it unlikely that either Winston Churchill or Gandhi would actually want to attend your party, it’s also far from advisable to have them in the same room together for an evening of pleasantries.
Headliner Pierre Novellie demonstrated fantastic scope in his own set jumping from South African racial history to Viking invasions to Tenth Century Welsh law. Going into the show I had been apprehensive that the geeky history knowledge displayed might be the sort of thing we’d all heard a million times in classrooms and in Horrible History books, so the variety of the sets was a welcome surprise.
The momentum of the evening did fluctuate throughout, and some of the sets required a bit of polishing. Novellie’s charisma and improv skills allowed his under-rehearsed piece to flow with ease and charm, but Paul Duncan McGarrity’s came across as a bit rambling and his angry performance style was more awkward than entertaining. Meanwhile, Ella Al-Shamahi was visibly uncomfortable. She made light of the way many of her edgy jokes failed to hit the mark with an audience which she described as “too white” and “too P.C.” – probably accurate observations, but then this is Brighton after all.
Nonetheless the fast-paced nature of the evening meant no dip in the energy of the room lasted any good length of time. The awkwardness emerging from a particularly unfunny heckler was handled excellently by Alex Farrow, founder of Stand-Up History and undoubtedly the strongest act of the evening. When the audience member asked – to his own intense satisfaction – if he could “phone a friend” on Farrow’s ‘Frederick Nietzsche or Kelly Clarkson quote’ quiz, he snapped “no you can’t use your phone, it’s a history gig! Phones aren’t invented yet!” Following the same heckler’s repeated interjections, he gave us some background on the renowned philosopher (that’s Nietzsche, not Clarkson), adding to him “he was a bit of an asshole, you might like him.”
Ultimately the evening presented a playful, rather geeky evening that didn’t take itself seriously, and left one with a handful of intriguing anecdotes to dispense upon everyone they met for the following week, whether they like it or not.
Image Credit: Stand-Up History