GABRIEL BISSET-SMITH TELLS THE MOST ORIGINAL AND FUNNY JOKE IN THE UNIVERSE – Soho Theatre, London.
Gabriel Bisset-Smith Tells the Most Original and Funny Joke in the Universe is part stand-up, part Theatre and wholly encumbered by a title so long that even the show forgets what it is about. However, that is not to say that in the 60-minute running time there is not a wealth of original and funny jokes.
Bisset-Smith is engaging company for the hour; his simultaneously nervy, geeky and blokeish demeanour propels him through the show as he relates his life, which leads to him telling the audience the best joke ever.
As a stand-up Bisset-Smith seems most comfortable when he gives himself the freedom to interact with the audience. The show relies heavily on audience participation and he deals well with the crowd’s answers to his questions. He also receives major help from volunteers encouraged to come on stage. However, some of them are so popular with the crowd they threaten to overshadow the star turn. It’s worth the battle though, as these skits are cleverly interpolated into the show’s conclusion.
As a theatrical piece, Bisset-Smith has given the production a satisfying narrative arc. Most of the scripted material is easy on the ear and eye, in the style of an American sitcom. Similarly, the show is structured around repeat jokes and a full-circle narrative that ties all the strands together.
There is also an innate theatricality in the presentation that goes beyond the expectation of a stand-up gig. Projection plays a big role, and while naive in its execution there are some particularly fun moments, such as the wedding scene where he meets his future girlfriend and the increasingly banal World of Cheese videos.
Through the projections Bisset-Smith is able to make some commentaries on modern society that lend the show a more satirical purpose than is originally expected. However, it is these images that also confuse the performance: is it stand-up or theatre? Is it shocking or pedestrian? To try and satisfy everyone, Bisset-Smith allows the tone to veer from pillar to post, without ever letting it decide what it wants to be. There’s almost a lack of trust in the material, which is unwarranted, although some of it does seem unnecessarily bad taste. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Bisset-Smith is trying to make a point or get a cheap laugh, but he does manage to do one or the other and sometimes both as the evening progresses.
Crucially, however, what is the most original and funny joke in the universe? It’s certainly not the one he tells at the start or the end. Maybe the joke’s on us? Or him? Early on Bisset-Smith says that comedy is about sharing experiences and it looks like he may have been right.
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by Robert Pearce
29th – 30th April 2016
Soho Theatre, London, W1D 3NE.