Hebditch is mortally funnyJyothi Cross with permission for Varsity

It’s difficult to summarise Skeleton Out of the Closet, Ariel Hebditch’s debut stand-up hour at the Playroom. I think the epilogue offers the best way in. Desperate to become the next Grim Reaper, Hebditch informs a member of her audience that they will be sacrificed by the end of the performance. She picks her victim from the front row at the start and teasingly calls back to them time and again, holding us in suspense while we await the inevitable reaping. Cue the finale. As she caps the evening with a disarmingly thoughtful speech on mortality, Hebditch suddenly grins, snaps into character, and charges at the audience with her large, imposing scythe. The lights go dead.

The whole show might be described as one big, daring swing in the dark. And (unlike her would-be-victim) Hebditch does not miss her target.

“These opening ten minutes are a mortal assault on the funny bone”

It is a struggle to capture the show’s breadth and variety – credit to Hebditch and her script team for moving seamlessly between a diverse array of bits. What connects them? The theme of horror and undeath, right down to the skeletal goblet Hebditch necks at various points. We’re treated to an opening sequence in which she steps out, decked head-to-toe in suitably Grim attire, and hits us with a routine about the trials of securing a job with Death. These opening ten minutes are a mortal assault on the funny bone. The laugh-a-second quips land each time, shrewdly speaking to the anxieties of graduating students (like Hebditch) and the struggles of finding employment. The gags that followed were equally inspired: a witch’s concoction of the expected groan-worthy puns (not that I’m complaining) but also genuinely brilliantly original material (a tip from Hebditch: if you want to pay for passage to the Underworld nowadays, use Bitcoin instead of gold – it’ll land you straight in the eighth circle of hell).

Woefully, I can’t quite capture the aplomb of her delivery. I’d say Hebditch belongs on 8 Out of 10 Cats, but I wouldn’t want her to read that as an insult. She’s a great deal funnier and more interesting than the inhabitants of that middle-aged male haunt, and besides, she’d stand out like a sore thumb. Can we talk about that get-up? Those of us who spied the posters around town were not disappointed by the final reveal, where she whisks off her cape and struts around in a devilishly morbid fit. Deathly slay.

“Can we talk about that get-up?”

Laughs accounted for after the opening sequence, Hebditch affords herself the space for more experimental, long-form humour. She sees her show divided into two parts, explained by the title: ‘Skeleton’ (for the goths) and ‘Closet’ (for the gays) – she’s a proud confluence of both. Now we learn about the person beneath the unholy attire and spiked pink mohawk: her upbringing in the rural North, her pansexuality and asexuality, her infinitely cooler parents. What stuck out for me was what a nimble impersonator Hebditch is; from the gag about irregular periods (coded as a werewolf’s transformation) to her inquisitive mother dropping hints about her sexuality. This came to a head in the show’s most wildly original creative peak (and that’s saying something): frustrated with people’s lack of understanding of asexuality, Hebditch dons the persona of a campy ace vampire and struts around dispelling stereotypes of both the ‘sexy’ vampire and ‘sexless’ asexual in a deceptively cutting routine. Sure, she lightens her foot on the pedal in terms of immediate laughs, but like a spectre she seamlessly glides through what is often the graveyard of so many comedians: delivering serious, biting commentary while remaining nothing less than completely ridiculous.

“What stuck out for me was what a nimble impersonator Hebditch is”

There were less than a handful of falters that night. Was Hebditch nervous? She needn’t have been. Like a sorceress, she had us firmly under her spell (a strong one too: stepping out of the Playroom I couldn’t believe over an hour had passed). It must have sounded like madness to stitch together something both Mock the Week and Hammerstein horror, but in doing so Hebditch breathed life to something far more interesting than the sum of its inspirations. I’d watch her over James Acaster or another Mummy reboot any day.


Mountain View

Cambridge Does Comic Relief: Blackadder Goes Forth

What I saw from Hebditch rivalled television comedy in poise and execution, and outpaced it in creativity. I don’t know if she has ambitions to go pro when she graduates, but I hope there’s room for her out in the real world, if she wants it. It’s something she deserves a lot more than the ‘special place in hell’ she joked was reserved for her. Entertainment is a cutthroat world though; it’ll take a lot to carve out a unique space for herself. Just as well she’s got that handy scythe.