This comedy event was a mixed bill of comedians from around the country and was organised to raise money for the Old Fire Station itself and the work it does with the community and for the arts in Oxford. Sadly 'mixed' is a term which could describe the acts in terms of style but also in terms of success.
The show started off on safe footing with the compere introducing the acts and warming us up by picking members of the audience and chatting to them. It was well done, and he went on to deftly weave the threads he cast on at this point through the whole of the show, which was impressive. He did his job well, and was warm and likeable.
Unfortunately the mood plummeted as soon as he introduced the first act. It was comedian Nick Doody, whose set started with a joke about squeezing excrement out of a dog and eating it, which he illustrated with a series of violently performed gestures. This joke set us up very well for the twenty minutes of vile comedy which followed. Doody seems to have got confused about the difference between punching down and creating solidarity with members of society who are subject to institutionalised abuse by making jokes about the issues they live with. He thinks he is doing the latter but he forgets that as a heterosexual white man he doesn't have the right to laugh at the problems which people have to face. Not only did he do this, he proceeded to tell off the audience for not finding his jokes funny.
After Doody finally left the stage, Jonny and the Baptists, made up of Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers, thankfully took his place with their fast-paced, hilarious comedy songs. The were also joined by Kirsty Newton on the piano. The range of the topic choices was broad: from a love song to Angela Merkel which involved every rhyme for 'Merkel' you could ever imagine and some you couldn't have, to a song about swans. It was uplifting, self-deprecating, light-hearted comedy. You can catch Jonny and the Baptists at the Old Fire Station's in-house Christmas show, '30 Christmases' all through December, and if their set at Bah Humbug is anything to go by, their Christmas show will be fun.
After the interval Kirsty Newton had her own set, in which she performed comedy songs, including a great one about life as a pale-skinned ginger-haired woman who's allergic to everything. It was a shame that out of the whole bill she was the only woman, but I suppose it is at least a start. Her set was somewhat timid and I wonder whether it was related to this inequality. Certainly there were members of the audience who responded to her work differently in a way which suggested a gender bias. Strangely, she also (like the first act) kept telling us that it seemed we were a delicate audience. I thought this was odd until I found out later that she is married to Doody.
The acts who came after Newton both delivered comedy which was poles apart from each other's work as well as from that which we had already seen. First was Ben Targét with his absurdist, deadpan jokes. His style was so far removed from what we had already seen that the audience was caught off guard, but his effect as a result was heightened. It was delivered with poise and punctuality, something essential when the humour hinges on the pauses as much as the words. He was fantastic. Finally, to finish the evening came Andy Zaltzmann, with an assured stand-up set of political satire. It came as somewhat of a relief after a rollercoaster evening on the edge of my seat, but did seem an odd way to end. His commentary on current affairs was astute and clever but also brought the energy down considerably and as a result the laughter he received was reduced.
Comedy is such a can of worms; styles vary so drastically and opinion on what is funny and what is inappropriate does too. This evening of comedy at the Old Fire Station, with its jagged curation and acceptance of comedians who teeter on the edge of what is acceptable served to underline this variation with a heavy bold black line, which while interesting, made for a disconcerting evening's watching.