Imperialism didn’t work out all that well for the Brits in the end. But don’t fret — they just decided to conquer the world with a charm offensive instead.
And they succeeded.
We love their accents. We freak out about their royalty. We want to be Colin-Firth-cute and Adele-righteous all at once. So the performance of the Cambridge Footlights, a celebrated comedy group from Britain’s almost-as-good version of us, caused quite a stir this past Wednesday at the Off-Broadway Theater.
“If you don’t find us funny,” their general demeanor seemed to say, “you might at least think we’re cute extras at History Boys.”
Yet Mark Fiddaman, Alexander Owen, Ben Ashenden and Adam Lawrence — the four Footlights on tour — did not disappoint on the humor front.
One hour of sketch comedy offered the audience fresh, energetic sets that mixed comedic staples (predatory masseuses anyone?) with interesting takes on more modern phenomena. At one point, we think Owen is taking a bathroom break to check himself out in the mirror — until we discover that Ashenden, who’s been mimicking Owen’s gestures, is a real person, not a mirror image. Scandalous!
(I guess you had to be there.)
A key element of the Footlights’s success was the strength of their group dynamic. A series of sketches that involved the four as several different individuals in the same situation (e.g. various party guests — enter obnoxious billionaire and intrusive senile neighbor — conversing with an invisible host) exemplified this. Each character had a wackiness going on, and, with slick moves into imaginary situations, they collaborated to bring out the bizarreness of each character.
Even an audience accustomed to good humor groups on a regular basis sensed something different about the Footlights. It could have been the way they squeezed comedic value out of the tiniest details of a situation, like a car-salesman resting his knee on thin air and then stumbling as he tapes a commercial. Or maybe the sophisticated use of lights, sound effects and physical coordination. And one can’t disregard Lawrence’s creepiness and how ridiculously flexible his arms were.
Whatever it was, it won them uproarious applause.
Yet there were moments when it seemed as though the aforementioned ‘difference’ was actually a handicap. A couple of their darker jokes, such as the moment when the overly-permissive parent admitted that he let his son drown, didn’t quite have an impact on an audience — at least not on this side of the pond.
Indeed, they seemed eager to play up British and American stereotypes themselves, opening with several jokes about their experiences in America. And it was these stock comments that often fell flat. I mean, we get it, the British are emotionally repressed. Gold star.
The overused jokes took away from the professionalism of the event — cheap laughs taking precedence over pushing the envelope — but they were perhaps unsurprising, considering these guys are, you know, amateurs. And they definitely beat the obscure jokes that no one got (what was that piano mime thing?)
In any event, Yale’s comedians turned out in droves to see how they matched up against the internationally renowned Footlights. And they probably picked up a great deal: with just a few gaps in an otherwise flawless show, the Cambridge Footlights lived up to their legendary reputation.
Here’s to that blond with the imaginary teaspoon and the fantastic voice impressions becoming the next Stephen Fry.