Pros: Some refreshing and unexpected gags.
Cons: Messy action and heavy reliance on audience goodwill, occasionally too much.
There are lots of reasons why you just don’t tell people you’re about to tell The Most Original and Funny Joke in the Universe: ‘Inevitable failure’ and ‘public humiliation’ are up there in the top three. Clearly this wasn’t something that was going to bother the inimitable Gabriel Bisset-Smith – an artist well respected for his work as a sharp comedy writer and director, as much as for his performances. From the moment he barrelled onto the stage in a Hawaian shirt, a cape and a plastic crown, demanding a ‘warm-up’ standing ovation from the (almost comically up-for-it) audience, you knew Gabriel Bisset-Smith was going to fail.
Of course, failing to (1) tell a funny joke, let alone (2) an original one, is really the gateway to the show’s story. The joke – a long list of ’emoji’ – was original in the worst way. Of course it was. I was mildly surprised that it happened so early in the show (10 minutes after lights down, at the most) and surprised again that the ‘where next?’ moment was a springboard into a sprawling and chaotic ‘personal’ narrative. A YouTube star ex-girlfriend and a dead grandfather inspire Bisset-Smith’s quest for originality. A trio of ‘friends’ picked at random from the audience, a sign-language translator friend who only ever appears on a projector screen (and whose accidental on-screen antics almost steal the show), and a cameo from Kanye West himself (not really) are the ones to help him achieve it.
Despite everyone’s best cheerleading efforts, originality escapes Bisset-Smith. His success at getting the audience to do, well, anything he wants (one of them ate an onion, I kid you not) can’t help him do something New. Like a fairground clown show, the best gags are all about well-meaning sentiments resulting in utter failure. How about setting up his own Reality TV show? Nope. Dressing up in bondage gear for a wedding, and ending up dancing with a girl in a lizard suit? Not happening. With each failure, the audience laughed harder – and fell a little bit further under Bisset-Smith’s spell.
For all its silliness and chaos, it was obvious by the end how carefully engineered the show had been. Projector screens were expertly incorporated into the live action (despite a couple of technical hitches), gags neatly ricocheted between ‘watch and cringe’ and ‘total [willing] audience participation’. And Bisset-Smith presided, cajoled, and positioned his crazy anecdotes into a show which really DID have something to say – about originality, and about how our desire for it is hilariously at odds with our need to conform.
It was a joyfully anarchic and amusing performance, yet its story managed to finish with hospital-corner level neatness. Like everyone else in the audience, I was charmed by its cleverness, and I’m always a sucker for the whole ‘success through failure’ story-type. All the same, it was a bit ‘knowing’ for me. But sore as I am at having my own lack of originality spelled out to me quite so clearly, it was a pleasure to watch Bisset-Smith lead such a receptive audience with his charisma and hear his writing – just a little bit too clever for its own good – work its magic.
Produced by: Gabriel Bisset-Smith
Running Until: Soho Theatre Run ended 30th April 2016