The Pembroke Players

Last Friday night, the Pembroke Players presented their 2021 Virgin Smoker. The evening showcased Cambridge’s wannabe comedians and their first stand-up routines in front of an audience. The 50-min show mainly reflected on the world’s current state, with many performers lamenting their home-life situations.

The format worked better than many other streamed comedy shows I’ve seen. The Pembroke Players live-streamed a Zoom call to YouTube, with each person taking turns to present. On the call, there were around ten other participants who served as a laugh track to the show. This format helped created the atmosphere of a live comedy show and encouraged the comedians. The only drawback was that the laughter was a little loud or occasionally oddly placed due to feedback issues. However, despite the technical difficulties, I think that this format replicates the atmosphere better than pre-recorded sets, as the laughter seemed to help relax the comedians and let them play to the audience a little bit.

“The format worked better than many other streamed comedy shows I’ve seen.”

The show was compered by Flo Sharkey, which really helped thread the acts together. Flo’s introductory monologue was humorous and original, and unfortunately, better than many of the upcoming routines. However, Flo was not a virgin performer like the rest of the night’s comedians, so most of the unoriginal and slightly cringe-worthy routines can be put down to inexperience. Despite some moments of awkward delivery, having a compere really brought the acts together, so the show felt more like the kind of comedy night we’re used to.

Marek Szeles’ unique act certainly set him apart from the other performers. Rather than bringing palm card notes for his routine, Marek screen-shared a PowerPoint presentation that effectively critiqued current Cambridge teaching and tore apart Toope’s stance on academic rigour. What started out as a satirical lecture soon developed into a surrealist presentation, that somehow concluded with images of Stephen Toope as a baby. I would be lying if I pretended that I followed Marek’s logic; however, perhaps that was his intent, bringing a genius critique of Cambridge’s online approach to learning.

“Ben Mulley’s set was one of the few acts of the night that I could not stop laughing through.”

The night’s stand-out act was absolutely Ben Mulley, who came to the Smoker with a vendetta against Kelly Clarkson. Ben is a multi-talented comedian whose routine featured parody and original songs, which he accompanied himself on the piano. His first parody really came for Clarkson’s ‘Stronger’. Ben particularly takes issue with the line ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, which he riffed on his parody and reminded the audience to be more cautious as ‘What doesn’t kill you could have future implications’. His parody was hilarious and was one of the few acts of the night that I could not stop laughing through. His second song enlightened the audience on the wonders of growing up to become a bin-man. One of the many benefits of said profession, according to Ben, is the countless ladies it attracts as ‘Love is found where the trash is’. Ben has a fantastic singing voice on top of his sense of humour, and is exceptionally talented at the piano. His set was extraordinarily professional and well-rehearsed, so much so that it’s hard to believe that this was his first live routine. I hope we’ve found another rising comedic star for Cambridge to churn out.


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For their first attempt at stand-up comedy in inarguably tricky circumstances, the performers did a very good job. I would also like to congratulate the Pembroke Players on finding a better approach to streamed comedy nights than the Footlights. Despite the Pembroke Player’s best attempt at a normal Virgin Smoker, the pitfalls of streamed entertainment make me long for a regular night at a comedy club more than anything.