Danny Baalbaki, Patrick Sylla, and Hasan Al-HabibSaskia Borchardt-Hume

Hasan Al-Habib, Patrick Sylla and Danny Baalbaki bring the house down with their fresh stand-up routines, offering comedy which is at once political and universal. Even the very title of the show exemplifies the kind of social commentary which defines their performances; as a clever play on the world-renowned Footlights — the Cambridge comedy troupe of which all three are members — the reference to themselves as the FootDarks not only confirms the centrality of race and ethnicity to their routines but also hints at their use of comedy as a form of exposure.

Through their gags, they bring to light the various ways in which social interactions are underpinned by insidious attitudes and unconscious (or conscious) bias, particularly in environments such as Cambridge University. Their brand cleverly asserts that they are both associated with, and yet also breaking away from, established modes of comedy — what they refer to as ‘that Cambridge Monty Python humour’ — and they deliver on this promise spectacularly. They expertly subvert stereotypes and address issues surrounding the lack of diversity, both in comedy and beyond, while simultaneously creating a show that is immensely enjoyable regardless of background (and regardless of whether or not you’re a few pints down by the time it starts at a quarter to midnight).

Whilst it can very occasionally feel slightly unpolished, this is only to be expected from a show which is ambitiously pushing various boundaries

The group open their show together, and are extremely adept at riffing off each other, immediately demonstrating a rapport that both attracts and envelops the audience. One lucky audience member is enveloped more than most: the audience participation is certainly cringeworthy – maybe overly harsh on the targeted member of the front row – but undeniably funny, and perhaps this is the point. Throughout the individual routines which follow, the moments when the comedy edges into the realm of the uncomfortable are mostly well-judged and important to the impact of the joke in question (although even after twenty years it might still be too soon to bring Princess Diana into this). Whilst it can very occasionally feel slightly unpolished, this is only to be expected from a show which is ambitiously pushing various boundaries and constantly refreshing its predominantly personal material. The gags rarely fall short of their mark, and incite an overwhelmingly positive audience response.

The trio were also very professional when dealing with audience members who were overly-zealous in their responses to the show: midnight is primetime for drunk hecklers, but any unwelcome interruptions were woven skillfully into the routines and firmly prevented from stealing the spotlight.

Al-Habib offers an intelligent mixture of material built on anecdotes and elaborate pre-prepared gags, as well as some references to very recent experiences at this year’s Fringe which add a sense of freshness to his set. He is drily witty and not overly theatrical, while also demonstrating excellent character and accent work. Sylla is very charismatic, lulling the audience into a false sense of security with his smile and then refusing to pull any punches with his perfectly pitched gags — his commentary on hip hop is particularly good. Baalbaki rounds off the show with a cheerful navigation of the stark differences between Tottenham and Cambridge, fantastic in his biting satire of various lecturers as well as other Cambridge traditions. The bop (bizarre college-based disco featuring copious amounts of alcohol and cheesy tunes, for any non-Cambridge readers) spoof is especially amusing.


Mountain View

Improv Actually review

While the trio frequently draws upon Cambridge-specific material, they do so in a way which refers explicitly to classic stereotypes: they critique problematic aspects of the university and its culture which are easily imagined, if not already universally comprehended. Having attended the show with a mixture of friends from both home and university, I can comfortably testify that the humour does not discriminate: we were all in perfect agreement that these three comedians pull off a vastly enjoyable show which is ambitious, accessible and politically incisive - not to mention laugh out loud!