New gags for old rope

Posted on May 16, 2012


When it comes to being a guinea pig, I draw the line at drug trials and cosmetics testing. Having top comedians try out their new material on me, however, is something I can certainly cope with.

This is the unique twist given to traditional stand-up at the Old Rope Comedy Night. The weekly Monday night residence brings a whole host of comics to The Phoenix in Oxford Circus, to practice unperformed jokes and sketches in front of a live audience, before they hit the wider comedy circuit.

A tattered noose dangles from the ceiling, which comedians are only allowed to let go of when trialling new material – so it’s new jokes for old rope. Although as far as I could tell there was no need for any rope grabbing this week as each act went entirely off piste with all brand new gags.

I’ve been to plenty of comedy gigs but this was a completely new experience. It was a privilege to see the art form in this rawest of incarnations – each performer clutching scribbled notes in their hands and releasing a relieved sigh every time a new joke gleaned chuckles from the crowd, and a resigned shrug when other material crashed and burned. Which it frequently did, but that was part of the fun.

You literally become part of the creative process which lends a really intimate feel to the night, with some sketches ending in a surprised and quietly smug ‘oh really? That actually works?’ from the comic. Plus there’s a sadist in me that enjoys seeing these wit and hilarity spewing geniuses in such a vulnerable state. Razor-sharp, funny and confident comedians can often appear God-like and invincible on stage, but nights like Old Rope remind us they’re mere mortals, just like you, me and Steve.

As the name of the game is experimentation, performances are fairly rough around the edges and spontaneous, which is great. It’s a chance for performers to totally let loose and try their luck with any weird or wacky idea that takes their fancy. We had an air-humping Irish girl, a whiskey swilling, profanity-bellowing bloke masquerading as his own agent, and a pretty lengthy monologue on the down sides of smear tests. Apparently big names like Jack Dee, Ed Byrne and Robin Ince are all regulars – although I’ve yet to be lucky enough to see one.

At just £7 a head for a plethora of comedic styles – we had eight performers – and an atmosphere that forces each act to abandon their safety net, it’s a hidden gem of an evening and is becoming unsurprisingly popular. Plus with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival coming up in August, now is a great time to catch comedians honing their routines.

Be warned – some of what you see won’t actually work, heads will hang in shame and you’re sure to be in for a few awkward silences at the punch-line, but it’s worth it just to see talented stand-ups make this voyage into unchartered territory.

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