Oxford Comedy Festival 2024

Over 50 acts previewing their Edinburgh Fringe shows
Tap Social Movement, The White House by Tap Social, Trinity College Bar. Fri 28th Jun - Sun 28th Jul, 2024

Events

Yuriko Kotani: The Meanings of Life at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Join BBC New Comedy Award winner, UK-based Japanese comedian Yuriko Kotani's work in progress show.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Rob Auton: The Eyes Open and Shut Show at The Oxford Comedy Festival

This is a show about eyes when they are open and eyes when they are shut.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Bilal Zafar at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Bilal was nominated for the lastminute.com Best Newcomer Award for his debut show, CAKES, is back.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Jordan Brookes: Fontanelle at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The usual mix of stand-up, clowning and utterly stupid ideas presented as if they mean anything.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Rachel Creeger: Ultimate Jewish Mother at The Oxford Comedy Festival

A joyous, hilarious, interactive comedy show from Rachel Creeger, multi award-winning stand-up comic
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Huge Davies: LIVE at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Huge has been a professional musical comedian for 5 years and so far performed no music or jokes
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Alexander Bennett: Emotional Daredevil at The Oxford Comedy Festival

A show about risk, for the unsatisfied and traumatized, from a Chortle Award nominee.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Marise Gaughan at The Oxford Comedy Festival

A show about addiction, but not the serious Ted talk kind. All grim topics, but it’s no sob story.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Adele Cliff Has Some New Ideas You Might Enjoy at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Amused Moose Award shortlist-ee & Pegasus Comedy Award win-ee Adele has a year of new ideas to share
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Michael Odewale: Of Mike and Men at The Oxford Comedy Festival

This show contains musings about death, legacy and whether he has done enough to access VIP Heaven.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Laura Lexx at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Join multi award-winning stand up star and viral sensation Laura Lexx working on her brand new hour
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Pierre Novellie: Must We? at The Oxford Comedy Festival

In July Pierre will perform a stand-up show about life, fairness and expectations. He simply must.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Ania Magliano: Forgive me, Father at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Edinburgh Best Show 2023 nominee Ania returns after two critically acclaimed, sell-out runs.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Jen Ives: I'm Straight Now at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Jen (Joe Lycett's Big Pride Party, and Don't Hug Me I'm Scared) returns with her new stand up show.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Amy Mason: Free Mason at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Funny Women Award finalist explores what it means to be a human animal (nightmare, tbh).
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Tom Ballard: Good Point, Well Made at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Australia's #1 most-tolerated comedian Tom Ballard has returned to the UK with a brand new show
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Derek Mitchell: Double Dutch at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Debut hour of stand-up and characters from the 'out-and-out hilarious' (Stage) Derek Mitchell.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Adam Flood: Back of the Spoon at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The wonky and worried award-winning comedy of the Stoke-on-Trent urchin comes to Oxford
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Erika Ehler: I Got Some Dope Ass Memories.... at the Oxford Comedy Festival

Erika Ehler Has Some Dope Ass Memories With People That I'll Never F*ck With Again.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Katie Norris: Farm Fatale at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The hotly anticipated debut show from an agricultural icon, likely to cause delight or distress.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Kathy Maniura: London Cycling Man at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Work in progress character comedy/drag king show about an obnoxious London Cycling Man.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Esther Manito at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Esther Manito is back at the Oxford Comedy Festival preparing for a brand new tour and tackling life
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Ola Labib: Polarising at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The debut hour from one of stand up’s most exciting breakout stars.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Kathryn Mather: Please Just Give Me A Chance at The Oxford Comedy Festival

slightly dark, slightly whimsical show about working for the NHS, finding love and finding yourself
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Eddy Hare: This One's On Me at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Eddy Hare (BBC New Comedy Awards Nominee) serves up his debut hour.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Michael Akadiri: Trust Me, I'm a Daddy at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The awinning comedian & junior doctor arrives in Oxford with a preview of his new show.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Alex Kealy: The Fear at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The ‘almost sexily cerebral’ (???? (Daily Telegraph)) stand-up presents a show about fear.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Chloe Petts: How You See Me, How You Don't at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Chloe Petts returns to Oxford with a brand-new show… and this time she’s getting personal.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Chelsea Birkby: This is Life, Cheeky Cheeky at The Oxford Comedy Festival

A meditation on lust for life. Playfully combining pop culture and philosophy
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

SOLD OUT! - Lou Sanders at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Just like Tom Cruise does all his own stunts, I’m going to do all my own jokes.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

SOLD OUT! - Shappi Khorsandi at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Shappi Khorsandi works through her new stand up tour show. Expect everything.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Kate Cheka: A Messiah Comes at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Kate Cheka fleshes out an hour where she wonders why she is always trying to save everything.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Celya AB: Of All People at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Celya is good in a crisis but cries at flashmob videos.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Josh Jones: Put a Sock in It at The Oxford Comedy Festival

this marvelous Manc is back for the first time at the Oxford Comedy Festival with his best show yet.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford

Fatiha El-Ghorri: Cockney Stacking Doll at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Underneath Fatiha's colourful hijab is a mind full of cutting observations and engaging witticism.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Andrew O’Neill’s History Of Heavy Metal at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Cult comedian returns with an all-new version of their smash-hit comedy show.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Sophie Duker: BUT DADDY I LOVE HER at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The sexiest comic alive (please do not factcheck!) brings her delusional new show to the Oxford
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Sara Barron: Anything for You at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee, Sara Barron (Would I Lie to You?; Live at the Apollo) has a new show
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Tez Ilyas: Before Eight at The Oxford Comedy Festival

One of the most most celebrated stars in British comedy is in Oxford working on his new show.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Jacob Hawley: SPACE at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Politics for idiots, feminism for lads, love stories for louts & self-care for those who don’t care.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Katie Green: ¡Ay Mija! at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The eagerly anticipated and unashamedly feel-good debut from Latina rising star Katie Green.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Olga Koch Comes From Money at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Money™ brings you yet another little white b*tch you will love to hate: Olga Koch.
Tap Social Movement
27 Curtis Industrial Estate, North Hinksey Lane

Rachel Fairburn: Side Eye at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Rachel is going to introduce you to some new mates in this work in progress solo character show.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Micky Overman: Hold On at The Oxford Comedy Festival

This year Micky finds her life at the point of no return.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Caitriona Dowden is Holier Than Thou at The Oxford Comedy Festival

Caitriona spends a lot of time thinking about saints. In fact, she's pretty sure that she can be one
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford

Louise Atkinson: She's Got The Look at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The Amused Moose Best Debut Show winner revisits the unsolicited feedback she once received.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford
Thu 25th July, Doors at 8:30pm/Show at 9:00pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Amy Matthews: Commute With The Foxes at The Oxford Comedy Festival

The critically decorated comic returns with a show exploring the transformative nature of context.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford
Thu 25th July, Doors at 7:00pm/Show at 7:30pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Kaytlin Bailey: Whore's Eye View at The Oxford Comedy Festival

A mad dash through 10,000 years of history from a sex worker’s perspective.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford
Fri 26th July, Doors at 8:30pm/Show at 9:00pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Chloe Jacobs: Twilight: Breaking Down at the Oxford Comedy Festival

Join her as she guides you through the hilarious & fevered imaginings of her vampire-obsessed youth.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford
Fri 26th July, Doors at 7:00pm/Show at 7:30pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Desiree Burch: The Golden Wrath at The Oxford Comedy Festival

What happens when the mask slips off & beliefs are betrayed– about youth, body, identity or...
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford
Sat 27th July, Doors at 8:30pm/Show at 9:00pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Pauline Eyre: Body at The Oxford Comedy Festival

She’s had it all her life and, finally, comedian Pauline Eyre is ready to celebrate her Body.
Trinity College
Broad Street Oxford
Sat 27th July, Doors at 7:00pm/Show at 7:30pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Caroline Mabey Will Ruin Your Life at The Oxford Comedy Festival

A joyful, angry, thoughtful show about getting older and owning up to who you really are.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford
Sun 28th July, Doors at 8:30pm/Show at 9:00pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

Sam Lake: Esméralda at The Oxford Comedy Festival

An uplifting new show about coming out as Spanish, grief and the Ice Age movie franchise.
The Market Tap
Avenue 2 Covered Market Oxford
Sun 28th July, Doors at 7:00pm/Show at 7:30pm
£8 for one show/£14 for both shows this night

July 16, 2024
Huge Davies and Rob Auton, Tap Social Movement, Monday 15th July

Monday night saw us back in the Tap Social to another packed house, which is saying something given that the heavens really decided to open for business that evening. It’s no surprise, though - between Huge Davies’ rise as one of the most in-demand musical comics on the stand-up circuit and the cult status Rob Auton’s one-topic shows have gleaned at the Fringe and beyond, there’s bound to be a loyal following trekking to Botley with blown-out umbrellas.

Huge Davies had, to put it mildly, a lot to contend with; a broken keyboard, thunderous rain, our audience’s appalling lack of rhythm. He apologised at the act’s closer for not being as polished as he could have been, and I won’t pretend there weren’t a few stumbles here and there - lyrical flubs, technical hitches and the like. But honestly without that disclaimer, I wouldn’t have thought twice.

The gag throughout is that Davies is going to regale us with his life story, which invariably ends up actually being a riff on a beloved pop culture IP (he grew up in a shack, only has cabbage soup to eat, his four grandparents shared one bed - wait a second.). Playing on these moments of dawning realisation works well, but sometimes the musical arrangement isn’t enough to distract from the fact that a few of these observations are a little stale in the year of our Lord 2024. Maybe I’m outing myself as chronically online here, but the possibility that Batman might not actually be a stand-up guy, the practices of Pokemon trainers are probably less than ethical, and Charlie Bucket’s Grandpa Joe was probably a bit of a scumbag, have been part of the internet’s wallpaper for quite some time now. There were moments throughout the set, in fact, where a ping of recognition would go off in my brain as I recalled the tweet or Tumblr post that got there first - see also Davies’ song about using yoghurt in a mayonnaise jar to fend off potential seat mates on public transport.

It’s when he uses those starting points as a springboard into truly original high silliness that the gags really start landing in earnest. The mayo jar song ends up going in a direction I would never have seen coming, an out-of-nowhere tangent that had the audience in stitches. Davies also rides the tension beautifully in the ‘love song’ allegedly composed to Davies’ grandma by her wartime lover, which culminates in him forcing the audience, via unblinking eye contact, to sing “Pearl Harbour, Pearl Harbour, what could go wrong?”. The Gary Numan-esque arrangement and bizarre escalation of a voice note from his mum’s attempt to buy green beans is also a standout. When Davies’ material goes full batshit, his deadpan delivery treating it as seriously as a heart attack, it’s a joy to behold.

While I was already familiar with Davies’ work, Rob Auton was a new one on me, and after last night you are reading the words of a convert - an Auton-aton, if you will. Where Davies finds the humour in convincing his audience to get on board, Auton’s approach is a little gentler, sailing down his stream of consciousness and trusting you to find the same current. In researching Auton after the show, I learned that he is also a poet, which didn’t come as a shock - even as someone completely unfamiliar with Auton’s work, his lyrical delivery makes his poetic sensibilities apparent even in a bit as silly as which words never appear on gravestones. This is a man that relishes the taste and texture of words and wants to share it with you.

Is it possible for a comedian to be Imagist? Auton is so adept at visualising the strange visions his mind conjures. An alternate universe that’s exactly the same as ours, except blinking is audible. The steel workers of the Empire State Building perched along the bar of your collarbone. It’s hard not to be swept along for the ride. Auton cites a review that described him as “an underprepared best man”, and I won’t pretend there isn’t a flavour of that. But there’s also a hint of the guy in the corner of the pub that’s gotten just tipsy enough to achieve a higher plane of consciousness.

And there’s something weirdly comforting about that presence. Auton jokingly makes full eye contact with every single member of the audience to open the show in an effort to make us “feel seen” (“Kylie couldn’t do that - she plays whole stadiums, it’d take forever”). But by the show’s end, we’re all happily looking through the same peculiar lens, closing with a short verse about embracing the absurdities of existence that’s as life-affirming as it is endearingly odd.


July 16, 2024
Ola Labib and Marise Gaughan, Trinity College Bar, Friday 12th July

The comedy festival continues it's glorious pre-Edinburgh run, and on Friday night, I caught two refreshingly blunt acts - Ola Labib and Marise Gaughan. Labib, who performed first, was on the first date of touring her show Polarising. If the title of the show was a clue for her spiky, no-holds-barred persona, her portrait on the poster was not - dressed in a sunshiney yellow with a big smile, she appeared whimsical and self-deprecating.

Instead, the Labib who greeted us on Friday evening was razor-sharp and perpetually annoyed by our ignorance (not this audience specifically, I should clarify, but rather in that the material was written as if it was rapidly running out of patience).

Her material covered the complexities of being a practicing Muslim in the UK: An overbearing coworker trying to pressure Labib into drinking, or getting stopped by the police because they were looking for a 'small Asian Man wearing a turban'. It also illuminated the cultural differences of her Portsmouth-upbringing vs. that of her Sudanese parents, such as Labib watching the Jeremy Kyle show with her deeply traditional mother and being tasked with explaining the meanings of 'wasted' and 'threesome' without causing offense (which later leads to a hilarious misunderstanding at the family's Mosque).

She talked about her long seven years as an NHS pharmacist, which sounded relentlessly grim, a perfect storm of the daily humiliations of retail, coupled with the responsibility of working in medicine and the customer entitlement and bigotry of customer service. Labib's style, of fiery retort and cheeky asides, kept it from feeling too bleak however, coupled with a memorable medical horror story.

Things took a more lighthearted turn as the show entered it's final quarter, with a playful aside on pet cremation business, a wild story of being mistaken for a Muslim actress at TV industry party and going along with it, and the heart-warmingly crazy story of how she met her husband.

If there was a weak link, it would be a nervousness from Labib - she clearly knew her material extremely well and seemed at time to be hiding behind the pre-drawn routes of her jokes rather than bringing organic dynamism to their delivery. I think a more casual to her delivery may contrast well with the cutting tone she takes for much of the material But this is par for the course for the first night of a tour, and she is clearly a comic with a very well-defined voice and bright future.

Next up was Marise Gaughan, whose show was either untitled or its title went undisclosed. Gaughan had flown in from America earlier that day and opened the show by admitting she was profoundly jetlagged. Thankfully this worked very well with her deliberately off-hand tone. Gaughan is Irish, but spent much of her early twenties in Los Angeles, and she brought a sort of Valley Girl detachment to her delivery, like the message of her words never quite reached her eyes, as she told us about addiction, rehab, her surfer boyfriend in Morocco ('if we're all really quiet and listen close, you can hear the sound of him cheating on me' she joked). In her bio, her material and style is described as 'dark and serious' so I was braced for a sad (but hopefully funny) time. In reality, while the topics she covers are heavy (she's had a dramatic and frequently difficult time of it), there's a real warmth and lightness of touch to her delivery that made hearing her stories oddly uplifting (and yes, very funny). Her crowd work was blunt and impulsive without being intentionally mean, and she had a gift for getting the audience on her side. As with many Oxford Comedy Festival sets, there were moments where she needed to check her notes and jokes tried for the first time that evening (the festival acts as a useful dress rehearsal for comics, and an exciting glimpse-behind-the-curtain for comedy enthusiasts). Instead of these moments dragging, they added to the sense of goofy intimacy she cultivated. She told a delightfully screwball story about her time as a Sugar Baby a decade prior, involving an older man, calligraphy and a bounced check. Elsewhere, she got loads of laughter out of the varying severity of addictions her fellow rehab in-patients presented with (everything from Class A drugs to shopping), the hit-and-miss knowledge of Western pop culture in Morroco (Pimp My Ride is apparently still huge there), a profoundly awkward doctor's appointment and a hilarious analogy involving a Cornetto. Ultimately, there was method in her decidedly unpretentious madness, Gaughan's was a brilliant hour of comedy and I will be seeking out opportunities to see her perform again.


July 12, 2024
Tey Ilyaz and Sara Barron, Trinity College Bar, Thursday 11th July

Another evening of cracking comedy from the Oxford Festival Fringe Preview Comedy Festival!

Tez Ilyaz - Before Eight

Tez Ilyaz delivered an hour of stand up featuring some extremely smart, up to the minute political comedy. He presented subjects like the rise of Biscoff jostling with terrorism, the World Cup with the recent election, in a deeply structurally pleasing show. Ilyaz managed to be genuinely edgy without being annoying or ever seeming to seek to offend for the sake of it - a difficult trick to pull off and extremely refreshing to see. Much of this skill lay in a well crafted persona I was never quite sure whether to believe or not. Ilyaz is playing in Oxford again in September - there are only a few tickets left and my advice would be to grab them now. A charming, engaging and whip-smart comic.

Sara Barron - Anything For You

Sara Barron is incredibly sharp and delivers her work with a huge amount of energy and verve, blasting the audience into submission in the best possible way. Here she gives us a show about her mother, with anecdotes that had the audience gasping and howling. Like Ilyaz, Barron is walking a fine line here along what is acceptable, and, like Ilyaz, I felt she always made the right call. This work is high energy and high speed: you get a huge amount of jokes per minute, with one liners and physical comedy interwoven with some surprisingly tender moments. I particularly liked Barron’s audacious crowd work - it was a real delight to watch the audience squirm (I did NOT get picked). Sara was extremely clear that she was working on the structure of the show still, which came off not as messy but as truly collaborative - it felt like a gesture of respect that she’d trust us to help shape the work, but despite being unfinished this show was energising and satisfying.

As with the rest of the comedy festival, these shows are works in progress. At some points, both comedians referred to notes, visibly changing their mind about the structure of the piece as they went. I find this peek behind the curtain of how the shows are constructed fascinating - its easy to watch a finished show and experience it as almost a chat, or the comic following a train of thought, being completely surprised by a callback that closes the circle on the structure. Of course, this never happens by accident, but I hadn’t realised quite how much some comedians work this out on stage, testing audiences to see what lands or not. I’m not a stand up myself, but if I was trying to be, I’d certainly be seeking out these kinds of shows to learn more about the process. As a fan, I still love them, out of interest and also as an opportunity to see these shows first - although still unfinished they have all the charm and energy that I’d expect from the finished pieces. And they really are an astonishing bargain. The Oxford Festival Fringe Preview Comedy Festival is on until the end of the month.


July 11, 2024
Caitriona Dowden and Micky Overman, Trinity College Bar, Friday 5th July

Oxford Comedy Festival is in full swing, and I went to see two acts last Friday night at Trinity College Bar to join in on the fun. Performing that evening were Caitriona Dowden, with her show Caitriona Dowden is Holier Than Thou, and Micky Overman with hers, Hold On.

First up, Dowden performed what was ostensibly a high-concept set about her plans to achieve Catholic Sainthood. To her credit, she attended Catholic school growing up and has already gathered a crowd of adoring believers (aka the audience) but still, being a queer atheist might prove to be a roadblock.

Dowden was the recipient of Chortle’s best student comic award in 2021, and after seeing her perform, it’s easy to see why, beyond her talent for comedy. She is the embodiment of the Oxford Student as a character - I guarantee if you’ve lived here for more than a couple of years and spent time with any twentysomethings, you’ll easily recognise the portrait she conjures. The fiercely smart kid turned bewildered and exasperated adult. A perpetual student whose degrees have dubious transferability into the job market. An anarchist-on-paper who's too introverted for frontline activism but will happily make spreadsheets for the revolution. There’s a Sally Rooney-eque flatness and looking askance to her material and delivery. Her hour covers the absurd labors of young adulthood in the 21st century, the gaslighting and enforced positivity of retail work, how organized fun is superior to the spontaneous kin and her dislike of photos of acquaintances’ babies and pets.

She gives off the energy of your mom’s favorite of your childhood friends, and it felt at times like we were now the ones she was dazzling with her politeness. The themes gathered around religion, student life, capitalism and queerness, but there wasn’t a sense of a storyline particularly. It felt like a succession of five and ten minute routines stitched together (as in, more so than all comedy shows do), and the saintly thing was perhaps simply a framing device. I think this would have felt more cohesive had Dowden presented herself as a more pungent character.

She has the underlying likability to pull off a bit more smug, spiky and deliberately out-of-step with the audience, and this would help keep the show from drifting into mildness.

Dowden herself highlights that her delivery is deadpan, her energy is intentionally low, and there is a very unassuming quality to the whole show. At the beginning, she says she likes to do some crowdwork to get the audience warmed up, greets a woman in the front row, and then says ‘Great, that should do it’.

It was a great way of setting the tone of deliberate awkwardness, but I wish the piece had leaned into making the audience squirm more as it went along. Most of the anecdotes related back to her own awkwardness or alienation, and I wanted her delivery throughout to be a bit more in line with that.

Nevertheless, it was an entertaining hour from a distinctive, witty comedian who has carved out a clear character and will no doubt continue to make waves in Edinburgh next month.

Next up, Micky Overman brought a zippy exasperation and relentless cheer. While both were deeply entertaining, the two comedians perhaps couldn’t have had more different energy if they tried.

While many (perhaps most?) people fear change, Overman lets us know she dives headfirst into it, as if the adage ‘anything is tolerable so long as it’s temporary’ is her life motto. The challenge she struggles with now is the absence of one: she’s finally achieving her dreams, now what?

The jokes circled around the themes of commitment: to a job, a relationship, learning a language, having children, whether-or-not to get married. While Hold On was not billed as a high-concept show, it had something of an emotional arc and many brilliant tie-ins back to itself. It reminded me of Nathan D’Arcy’s excellent show last year, Present/Tense, in that it had this indie dramedy poignancy. Portrait of the comedian as an extremely likable screw-up fumbling towards a meaningful adulthood.

Overman has a sparkling energy and Amy Poehler-eque delivery, made funnier by her Dutch accent, which sounds loose, almost American, until she emphasizes something, at which point it becomes ultra-precise and patrician.

It might be kind of a hard sell as there’s no immediate hook in the show’s description, but anyone who sees it will be won over by its idiotic puns and whimsy, goofy voices delivered with a profound sincerity. One metaphor comparing anxiety to a rat problem was particularly hilarious.

The shows pair nicely together as snapshots of ‘Now What?’ angst, experienced at two different points in life. While Dowden’s show is in part about the dystopian aimlessness of Gen-Z life in one’s mid-twenties, Overman’s captures this sort of elder millennial ennui.

After such a fun night, I’m excited to see more of what the comedy festival has to offer as it continues.


July 11, 2024
Fatiha El-Ghorri and Sophie Duker, Tap Social Movement, Wednesday 10th July

Kudos to Oxford Comedy Festival attendees, we don’t let a last-minute time change deter us from getting the yuks in. There were a few empty seats in the Tap Social as the double-bill of Fatiha El-Ghorri and Sophie Duker kicked off earlier than planned, but the sun had come out of hiding and the energy was high.

So let’s get one thing out of the way - Fatiha El-Ghorri will fight you. That’s certainly the main takeaway from the British-Moroccan stand-up’s work-in-progress hour, Cockney Stacking Doll, which takes us through the quirks of dating and divorce as a Muslim, white cluelessness and her loving, if blunt, relationship with her mum. El-Ghorri’s brash, suffer-no-fools delivery makes clear from the jump that she doesn’t owe you polite, and if you’ve got a problem with that, she’ll see you in the car park.

The set has plenty of well-observed bits - her segments on code-switching and her reaction to people observing she doesn’t “look” North African are particular standouts. But at this stage there are still some issues with follow-through. El-Ghorri leans on the “I’ll fight you” crutch a little too often, which is a shame since it kneecaps her from expanding on some killer set-ups. The guy who asked her if she wanted to go to dinner, only to pull a Tupperware out of his rucksack? Gold! There’s so much room to play in that space, but that anecdote, and others like it, are too often capped off with some variation on “What a weirdo!” and then left by the wayside.

The show really comes alive when El-Ghorri’s mum comes into play. Her anecdotes about her mum are the most fully fleshed-out moments in the show, helped by the fact that a good sense of humour runs in the family (she’s right, Dale Winton doesn’t grow old!). I think as it develops, Cockney Stacking Doll could really benefit from making El-Ghorri’s mum a more central part of its structure, something for the bungee cords of her other (very good) observations to jump off and bounce back to. What we saw seemed to be in its early stages, and I’m excited to see the direction El-Ghorri ends up taking it; there’s so much potential here if she gives herself a touch more time to explore.

Next on the bill, Sophie Duker’s But Daddy, I Love Her comes out the gate with a set so slick I was shocked to learn it was also a WIP. It’s nice to see Duker, as a former Oxford Imp, getting her well-deserved flowers on an international stage thanks to the massive worldwide appeal of Taskmaster, and you can see those improv chops pop to the forefront in the sincere engagement she has with her crowd back on home turf. She may not identify as ‘cool’, but her goofy charisma is undeniable.

But Daddy, I Love Her is a show about a lot of things; trauma, queerness, how we’re perceived and how we perceive ourselves. I realise I’m making it sound a bit ‘National Theatre one-act play’ with that description - I can assure you there is not a hint of self-seriousness to be seen. Because the show is built around the gooey bubblegum core of ‘delulu’ - that particularly chic, Gen-Z coined brand of delusion that tells you you are the main character; the icon, the legend, the moment. It also centres on when that bubblegum core gets unceremoniously popped by reality, whether that’s the cost-of-living crisis putting an end to your ambitions of being a sugar baby, or your therapist not committing to your bit during your session despite the fact that his name is objectively very funny.

The therapy in question, which Duker has embarked on with her father, is a great framing device for this. In terms of oversharing with strangers, the connection between therapy and stand-up is an easy one to draw, trying to bring someone round to your narrative. But therapy also cultivates the kind of self-awareness that makes Duker’s observational comedy shine. You’ve got to step outside the delulu to harness it, and she manages to do this without a trace of cynicism. Speaking as a queer, as a lefty, as an alum of an all-girls school so upsetting it made me opt out of being a girl, Duker’s roasting of each of these groups cuts to the quick but clearly comes from a place of both affection and personal experience.

That said, one of the show’s few stumbles is that Duker’s relationship with her father is less of a consistent through-line than the show seems to want it to be. We only get an insight into Duker’s initial solo therapy session with Michelangelo (see? Objectively funny). And fair enough - we’re not entitled to a story that’s not entirely hers to tell. But her anecdotes involving her father are spread a little too thin for it to properly form a narrative thread throughout - given his implicit namechecking in the title, I was expecting him to recur a bit more consistently. And I also wanted to hear more about the sociopolitical utility of delulu, which Duker touches on briefly in her closing monologue but feels slightly tacked on to a more introspective leaning set. But I’m sure these minor hitches will be ironed out come Edinburgh - if I’m delulu enough to convince myself I can afford to go, you’ll be seeing me there.


July 4, 2024
Alex Kealy and Olga Koch, Tap Social Movement, Wednesday 3rd July

The Oxford Comedy Festival is a wonderful place to see comedians on the cusp of stand-up greatness. And on Wednesday the audience was treated to a pair of stellar acts from performers who have honed their skills over many years. Alex Kealy writes for Mock the Week and co-hosts a podcast with Ivo Graham. And Olga Koch is one of the must-see acts of this Fringe, bringing her sixth show to it. And they were vastly different and equally compelling acts.

Up first was Kealy who previews his hour The Fear, where the comedian deals with the source of his fear and anxiety – the audience. Kealy presents a likeable, charmingly awkward figure; someone who, as he puts it, builds a fourth wall between the audience and himself and fires jokes at us with a trebuchet. But during his hour, he engages with us, pushing past his phobia. It helps that his roster of jokes are funny, each bit working to build an increasingly nuanced view of the comedian. Its an hour that’s comfortable with the audience, Kealy often pausing between jokes and letting them breath. There’s a nervous energy to proceedings and it can feel like Kealy is bringing us through the journey of a work-in-progress. I was charmed and left with a big smile as Kealy brought his hour to a close.

After a half an hour break, it was Koch’s turn to preview her new show, Olga Koch Comes From Money. And if Kealy was an awkwardly charming ball of nervous energy, Koch is something all together more confident, pugnacious and often abrasive. Her show explores the wealth she comes from, but it feels so much more - part political statement, part reckoning of her family roots, part a machine for discomfort. It’s brilliant but also a lot. Koch is willing to edge up to offence, with jokes that could land poorly with a different performer. She often accosts the audience for not laughing enough (my sympathies to the one audience member in particular she returned to). And yet the momentum sustained is thrilling, the messy threads endearing, the performer impressive and, crucially, likeable. Koch will surely take the Fringe by storm.

This was another terrific evening at the Oxford Comedy Festival, watching two opposing comedians that seemed to bleed together well. They both grapple with big topics, both come with a compelling energy, and both left me eager to see what they do next. We still have over three weeks left of the Comedy Festival and it is highly likely that your next favourite comedian is nestled amongst the line-up.


July 2, 2024
Michael Akadiri and Chloe Petts, Tap Social Movement, Monday 1st July

The excellent, but ridiculously named, Oxford Festival Fringe Preview Comedy Festival, is back for another year. For £15 you get two preview shows that will be going to Edinburgh this summer - an astonishing bargain as many of these shows will be back in Oxford for £30 a go in a few months time. The shows are still in preview stage, so a little rough, but honestly I like that - especially with an act you’ve seen before, it can be really interesting to see the process. Moreover, because you’re heavily incentivised to see two shows in a night, this festival recreates one of the best parts of the fringe - a sense of genuine exploration, of discovering something new.

Michael Akadiri: Trust Me, I’m a Daddy

I hadn’t heard of Akadiri before and would certainly go to see him again. He delivered a show taking in his new fatherhood, the end of his medical career and his relationship with his own father. I was particularly impressed by how engaged the overwhelmingly child free audience was by the content around parenthood and birth. Not me, though - I have a toddler, so I obviously loved hearing someone call out how unhinged baby sensory can seem as a new parent. The structure of the show was satisfying and robust, but the real strength here is in the delivery. Deeply engaging and just the right side of cocky, Akadiri effortlessly draws you into his world.

Chloe Petts: How You See Me, How You Don’t

How You See Me, How You Don’t is a show about bullying and identity, presented with incredible lightness and skill. It was so fun to see a work in progress of a show that’s obviously going to be a banger. This was a true work in progress, with Petts reading off paper and commenting on whether the jokes worked as they delivered them, creating a kind of meta comedy effect. It’s possible I’m being thick and this IS the finished show (still well worth seeing, if this is the case!) but what I think I saw here was most of the show but not the ending, and it was clever and well structured and delivered with swagger and warmth. I will be booking to see the finished show but I very much enjoyed the director's cut version - Petts is charming, hilarious and uncompromisingly herself.


July 1, 2024
Josh Jones, The Market Tap, Sunday 30th June

It almost feels unfair to review a 'work in progress' set from any comedian. It is, by its very nature, a chance for the performer to test new material and use the direct audience feedback to help shape the finished work.

Josh Jones is an incredibly warm and personable comic. He very much plays up his naturally camp northern personality and it is there that he gets the greatest rewards in terms of laughs and engagement.

A good proportion of the new material is centred on his interest in history. Whether that is the Tudor period, the space trade or his own eccentric family of native Mancunians, it is clear that he does have a genuine passion there. But the comic returns are not quite there yet. It needs more structure to bring it together into something cohesive.

Being a British audience, we did enjoy the smuttier side of his humour. Having seen his work on social media channels, I was expecting a greater emphasis on this sort of content. It does deliver him good laughs.

Overall, Jones is a talented comic with some unique perspectives. This was a short (35 minutes) set of new material - some of it works, some of it needs tweaking and the rest needs cutting. It will be interesting to see how this routine develops over coming months.


July 1, 2024
Shappi Khorsandi and Lou Sanders, Trinity College Bar, Friday 28th June

The Oxford Comedy Festival has returned for another month jam-packed with acts previewing their shows, and I could not be happier! I went along to the opening night on Friday and was treated to two cracking hour(ish) sets that, while occasionally on the unhoned side, were rich with amusing anecdotes and funny one-liners.

First up was Shappi Khorsandi, and it quickly became apparent why her forthcoming show (and book) is called Scatterbrain. Her hour resembled over a dozen conversations surging in and around each other. This routine had a messiness to it, enhanced by forgotten props (which may be a bit but certainly had an authenticity). But Khorsandi’s clear comedic prowess and experience meant this didn’t impact what we saw. This was a nuanced, fascinating set, often incredibly funny, sometimes utterly heartbreaking. Khorsandi is a compelling performer, wearing a mask of brightness to hide a well of darkness within. I was captivated.

After a half-hour break we moved on to Lou Sanders. Sanders is the name I was familiar with. Like many I have devoured Taskmaster in recent years and seen the comedian lift the gold Greg Davies head as a series winner. And Sanders did not disappoint, offering a tightly-hewn 45 minute set that, which, while yet to fully click with the planned theme of her set, did highlight why she has gained a reputation as one of the best live acts around. Sanders swirled between dating anecdotes and amusingly abrasive interactions, before finishing with some very forward audience interaction. Sanders can be an acquired taste, but for me this was rich comedy gold.

It’s interesting to observe the similarities between the two sets. Both comedians have a status in the community and drop some famous names. Khorsandi has a fun story about sitting next to the current Prime Minister’s wife at a meal. Sanders returns several times to her stint on Dancing on Ice (including how she ended up peeing on herself). They both had confidence to begin their sets with spontaneous material – Khorsandi on sharing a train to Reading that day with Matt Hancock, Lou Sanders on whether she was able to park outside the venue. And they also each reach for darkness (Russell Brand is referred to by both, for example). That darkness feels more expected by Sanders, fitting the image I’d already gained of the performer. But for Khorsandi it's disarming that her bouncy approach surges into an anecdote of taking part in the reading at an ex’s funeral. These moments made the evening richer, something bitter to enhance the flavour palette.

I’d gladly go and see these two comedians again, with each routine still being in an earlier stage of development. For Oxfordshire residents there will be the opportunity see each - Khorsandi comes to the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot on Friday 15th November and Sanders performs at the Oxford Playhouse on Sunday 23rd March.

This was a sold out evening of comedy, but there are several weeks ahead where QED Comedy ping around Oxford bringing over fifty comedians to lucky Oxford residents. If this evening is anything to go by we are in for another month of comedy brilliance and QED Comedy will be providing this service for many years to come.

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