Set List
A whole mess of comedians @ Rhino Room – Upstairs
I was having a brief “Happy Fringe!” chat with SA Comedy superhero Craig Egan prior to my first show of the year, and he’d asked me what I was looking forward to; when I’d finished my list, he looked at me and – in a manner that indicated that he was not fucking around – said “Mate – Set List. It’s insane.”
He explained the premise to me: comics get onstage with no planned material. TV screens display bizarre topics – or just groups of words – to the audience and the comic at the same time. The comic tries to make jokes based on the topics; when they fail, another topic is thrown onscreen. Repeat. It’s an incredibly risky proposition, I reckon, but it would surely sort the truly funny comedians from the average… right?
10:45pm, Thu 26 Feb 2015
My first Set List experience featured Mickey D as host, and he was his usual polished self, geeing the audience up and giving the comics due admiration for their efforts. And the night started strong with Gordon Southern ripping through a heap of topics, rarely failing to garner laughs. The middle trio of comics were a bit patchier, however: Tom Ballard, Dave Campbell, and Evan Desmarais all managed some good material, but struggled with some of the topics thrown up onscreen.
The final comic for the evening, Greg Fleet, absolutely smashed it, though: his current show is essentially improv, and maybe that practise has put him in good stead with Set List.
I suppose the thing that struck me most about the topics that were flung at the comics was the fact that most of them bordered on nonsense; just globs of words, really. But I suppose that prevents comics with a massive backlog of material from dropping into their standard routines… still, this Set List performance was interesting enough to warrant a further look…
10:45pm, Wed 4 Mar 2015
I was thankful for a late start, as my previous show ran long and I had a panicky run through a busy East End to make it to the Rhino Room… because there was no way that I was missing this Set List, based on the list of comics on the Rhino chalkboard. Sam Simmons? Oh hell yes, I wanted to see what that man could do… and Craig Egan had really bigged up Wil Anderson. I had expressed my “lack of connection” to Wil’s comedy, but Egan had immediately dismissed me: Anderson’s incredible at Set List, Egan had insisted.
Again, Mickey D hosted with aplomb, and again Gordon Southern provided a great start. James McCann provided some solid laughs as well, but I distinctly remember looking at the topics on the screen and wondering whether they were even more abstract than before…
Lawrence Mooney made the concept of Set List look easy, stretching the flimsiest of phrases into abstract comedy. Scary abstract comedy. Violent, scary, abstract comedy… the best kind. And when Sam Simmons took the mike… well, it was exactly as bizarre as I had hoped. I’m pretty sure that the “topics” were little more than random consonants separated by vowels to create things that looked like words at this point, but Simmons’ trademark faux rage worked a treat.
Wil Anderson, though, was utterly disappointing… I tried and tried to appreciate what he brought to the stage that night, but… nope. It just didn’t work for me, and – judging by the drop-off in laughs from the rest of the audience – I don’t think it worked for them, either. Maybe Anderson just had a bad night.
Still, I walked out of that second Set List happy that I’d experienced it… but not really interested in seeing any more. It feels like competitive performance practice for comics… and whilst that can be amusing to see – and impressive to watch a great comic summon laughs from nowhere – I think I’d much rather see a meticulously crafted set.