“Twenty-six years doing stand-up comedy, just to become an overnight success,” is the predicament that 67-year-old stand-up comedian Jeff Innocent has found himself in. This meteoric rise was the result of a younger comedian suggesting he upload some clips of his performances onto social media. Innocent was then met with a rapid influx of millions of views and thousands of followers, giving him the audience required to start his very first UK tour. A rise to fame this strange is only appropriate for someone with as peculiar a route into comedy as his own. Starting at the age of 41, after being gifted a comedy course for his birthday, he was taught by none other than the architect of British alternative comedy Tony Allen. 

I arrived at Komedia and was directed down into the basement where I was led to a seat at one of the tables. Looking around, I took notice of how the audience was comprised of a wide range of different age groups. One of the many benefits of having an audience coming from social media is that it doesn’t self-select certain groups of people, unlike a regular comedy club-going crowd. It seemed that this brought in people who wouldn’t regularly be coming out to see live comedy, which is great!

After a short wait, Innocent’s support act Sam Picone was sent out to warm up the crowd. We started out on rocky ground with some relatively awkward crowd work and then moved onto some Brighton-based material which was a bit too predictable to really stick. He then moved onto some appearance-based gags about him looking just like every other guy in London, which goes down pretty well but leaves something to be desired. The unassuming appearance when paired with his laid-back, flat affect doesn’t lend itself to the sort of observational comedy which requires something with a bit more bite to avoid slipping into grey mediocrity. We then got a bit more crowd work and a few more observations which went down to limited laughs. The set ended with a story of bemoaning the concept of cultural appropriation, a premise that is not handled in any particularly interesting or contemplative way. Not much to write home about.

This middling performance was put into stark contrast when Innocent came onto stage to an almost triumphant reception. Adorned with a spiked collar, orange tracksuit jacket, and camouflage trousers, his striking appearance was the first thing to be comically deconstructed. He got some good laughs through reconciling his East-London geezer image, with the silly profession he ended up in. The mismatch between his tough image and comedic style is a central aspect of his act, saying in a recent interview with Richard Herring that his “whole act hangs on that idea”. While there is a good amount of comedic mileage in this, I believe it is his extremely sharp cultural insights that make him shine. He gracefully navigated through a wide range of different topics, from immigration to pornography, and got consistent laughs as the evening rolled on. It was apparent that he was absolutely in his element; decades on the circuit have resulted in a well-polished array of anecdotes and observations which he delivered with comedic precision. He even displayed some great adaptability when unprompted audience participation ended with the room erupting in hysterics. While the lack of a through line did lead to a few lulls, there was little reason to not enjoy this honed hour of great material.

Categories: Arts Theatre

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