Written and Performed by Rachel Mars
Pros: Thoughtful and relevant subject matter delivered by a charming performer.
Cons: Not all elements come together well, and several moments feel forced or contrived.
Our Verdict: Not the feel-good romp it might initially seem, but a worthwhile and well-delivered exploration of the role of comedy.
Many people argue that irreverent humour is the most interesting, and while individual taste makes this difficult to prove, it is without a doubt the most-talked-about brand of comedy on the circuit today. In some ways, it can allow us to address topics that are otherwise completely taboo, but this method of coping can also breed some potentially harmful habits. In her current show at the Camden People’s Theatre
, writer and performer Rachel Mars
confesses to a comedy-addiction, a need to laugh about anything and everything, and her show slowly unveils her conflicted relationship with this compulsion. As recent media events such as the Tosh 2.0 scandal have taught us, people can joke about anything, but that doesn’t mean they should, since jokes have the potential to cause as much harm as happiness, for hearers and tellers. In The Way You Tell Them
, Mars ponders her identity as a joker and explores several difficult questions: just because we can joke and laugh about everything, should we, and if we do are we excused from the consequences?
In the show’s initial moments, after a goofy and charming entrance and introduction, Mars invites audience members to share jokes. She quickly encourages offensive ones, rattling off a role call of topics which are just as sure to offend as entertain. She ticks of disabilities, AIDS, current affairs, and the list ends uncomfortably at gang rape, with Mars’ eyes searching the crowd for an offer. The audience is surely too busy wincing in anticipation of the blow-back to even consider volunteering a joke. Mars assures us that comedy allows us to joke about anything, but with no hands raised, she shrugs nonchalantly and moves on to the next topic. At this early point, I was starting to worry that the show and my tastes weren’t going to have much overlap – I’m all for funny, original, and subversive material, but Mars’ apparent disregard for her audience’s sensitivities found me cringing. But this, as I was to discover, was part of the plan. Mars uses this seemingly insensitive opening as an initial jolt to get the audience on her wavelength, to have us asking the question: is that ok to joke about?
Throughout the piece we learn about Mars’ family and young life, the intoxication of the first moment she made someone laugh and the pressure and inability to be serious in certain situations. Though the opening moments are funny, the humor tapers off entirely by the end. While I see where she was going with this, the shift in gears is quite a bit less subtle than it should have been. By the final moments, you end up feeling a bit guilty about laughing and judging comedy in the past. Whether this was her intention, I’m not sure, but it was unpleasantly disorienting.
Some elements really work, such as her parallel of a waiting-room joke with a real life medical tragedy. This particular arc exemplifies the struggle between comedy and sensitivity in a natural, unique, and moving way. Other parts feel forced, and unfortunately this includes Mars’ final monologue and manifesto, leaving you with a sense of having received a sermon or public service announcement. There are also some bits that just don’t make sense, some fast back and forth switching between jokes and drama that doesn’t give you time to take in either element.
In the end, Mars’ charm and earnestness carried the show – her ruminations on comedy are interesting and genuine, and she is a poised, confident performer who seems truly interesting in understanding herself and her work.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Way You Tell Them runs at the Camden People’s Theatre until 25th January 2013.
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or book online at