No individual comedy show is replicable. Even those that are scripted and rehearsed cannot produce the exact same content and flow over consecutive performances. Audience interactions may vary, the comedian might take a swill of beer at different intervals, a stronger emphasis might be applied to a line that’s “killed” over the past few nights. A show like Comedians Against Humanity takes this idea to the extremes, because its improvised and disorderly nature means that every performance is bound to barely resemble its predecessor. For this reason, it’s difficult to review; the next incarnation of it, for all I know, might be much better, or much worse. Or even of the same pedigree.
The show is essentially just a bunch of comedians playing Cards Against Humanity, with some degree of audience input (many of whom, unfortunately, fancy themselves as comics). For those unfamiliar with the game, it means that the performers must enact sketches by reference to strange and bizarre cards they’re handed, that say things like “I’ve created the world’s newest religion” or “Nicholas Cage’s face”. The only other constant of the show is that it’s always hosted by Agisilaou. The comedians called upon to play, I’m told, are different each show. The performance I saw featured Australian comic Rama Nicholas, and Brits Mark Watson and Chortle Editor Steve Bennett. Agisilaou kickstarts the night with a bit of an explanation of the game, its rules and decorum and what to expect (beware to those who dare to come in late, you might stumble in at an inopportune, apparently offensive time). Then they proceed to play several games: pretending to pitch a movie, hold press conferences, and preside over interrogations.
The very nature of the show is up-and-down. Some moments are riotous, and others are quiet and still, as the performers mine their brains for something funny to say. The first thing that strikes you is how hard the format of the show is on the comics: they’ve got to be lightning quick in spitting out jokes, and their comedic prospects are dependent, basically, on what’s written on a card or two. Not all the jokes and utterances deliver maximal impact. But that doesn’t matter because at other times, there can be spates of jokes that come off well. I think the key to this kind of show is momentum and rhythm: when you don’t have any you’re in trouble, when you’ve got it you better make the most of it.
There’s also a sense that one night you might have the comedic touch, and the next you mightn’t. At this performance, Mark Watson and Steve Bennett were in fine form. They delivered the largest and most regular laughs. Despite a modest showing in his first solo game, Watson proved himself a quick-witted comic; you can’t help but be impressed by him. I, for one, am now inclined to check out his stand-up routine. Bennett was consistently funny across the show. His comedy is of a quirky, definitive kind, and his awkward disposition on stage invariably engages us. The two of them complemented each other; Watson’s verbosity combined well with Bennett’s concision.
Nicholas felt a little off her game. She said the least in the group games, and her jokes were hit-and-miss. Although, her “press conference” as a redneck American author provided numerous laughs. Maybe another night might’ve been friendlier to her. As the host, Agisilaou was reliable. Through the night, he acted more as a facilitator than as a participant of the game, so this meant the best lines were usually reserved for the players. When he had the stage to himself at the start of the show, though, he was able to display his ample comedic talents.
Comedians Against Humanity is showing at the Athenaeum Theatre until April 21.
Tickets are available at: https://www.comedyfestival.com.au/2018/shows/comedians-against-humanity-hosted-by-yianni-agisilaou