Comedy In The Dark, Udderbelly Festival.

Lightbulb and microphone Courtesy of Udderbelly, Southbank Centre.

Comedy in the Dark is exactly as it sounds; an hour of stand-up comedy performed in pitch darkness. On the evening I attended, four comedians and a compere took to the stage in a bid to entertain and amuse their audience. The show emerged in 2008 at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival a has since played sell out shows across the UK and Europe. Comedians have been enthusiastic about taking part as it provides them with an opportunity to explore the nature of their performance without having the visual aspect to rely on. I imagine the success of the event much relies on the style and creative approaches of the line up on offer. There are many highly successful acts who have taken to the ‘darkness’ in the past, from Sarah Millican and Seann Walsh to Patrick Monahan and Josie Long, yet word of mouth ranges from 2-5 stars. 

Unfortunately for me, my experience of the event wasn't an especially positive one. I must firstly say that I am keen to see the acts who took part ‘in the light’ as I'm fairly certain their skills were not ‘showcased’ to their full potential on this occasion. For this reason it seems only fair to withhold judgement until such time as I have ‘seen’ their act.

This being the case, I started to consider what type of act is needed to successfully entertain under these circumstances. The most obvious challenge would come for comedians whose primary source of amusement stems from the physical or visual. Imagine an artist like Lee Evans without all the sweat, wild gesticulations and extreme physicality. Would his act as it is currently shaped have any impact? As an audience member, the focus is placed entirely on vocal delivery, meaning that the humour must be transferable through the tone of voice and expression of the comedian. Perhaps an expert vocal mimic, or some kind of set which focuses around the aural experience would be more effective.

Another aspect of being placed in the pitch dark, which could be exploited in an event like this is anxiety. Sitting squashed up close to a group of strangers is quite an awkward situation to find yourself in, especially if you're of a nervous disposition. Therefore the opportunity to play with stage conventions and proxemics should be maximised. Stand-up comedy instinctively breaks the fourth wall, so why not take it to the next level of interaction ‘in the dark’? There's no reason the act cannot emerge within the audience, or encourage participation of some kind. The key here is to think creatively.

Comedy in the Dark is an interesting concept, but it's worth considering the possibility that an audience will react differently to certain things; some might love the element of play, whilst others may be scared by it. I'm not sure that I could put together a line-up guaranteed to provide the perfect hour of entertainment; I am in no way an expert and can only speak from my own experience. This being the case, I can only say the merely standing at the microphone recounting stories isn't enough and my party left feeling awkward and unenthused.