As blurbs go its pretty irresistible: “John-Luke Roberts performs quirky, whimsical, esoteric comedy to distract you from the bloody, brutal and sickening murder he will be committing during the show.”
That the show doesnt quite live up to this promising premise is no reflection on John-Luke Roberts comic ability. This is an inventive and very funny show.
Roberts does visual and verbal jokes the esoteric element is present and correct – and he makes an attempt to link the various elements together through the taunting and eventual slaying of his off-stage colleague. His shows slogan could well be: “please ignore the screaming.”
Part of the Invisible Dots coterie of shows, Roberts set is occasionally ingenious. Playing with the comics customary habit of making digs at the expense of the audience, Roberts pulls out a clump of note cards and proceeds to put down each audience member in turn with an arbitrary, pre-prepared insult. I am told that In a dystopian future, you would be just the same.
When hes not parcelling out offbeat put downs hes showing public health films, sharing the details of characters in development with names like sex judge and Spanish Jeff or previewing some of the punchlines to come later in the evening (which has the effect of making them twice as funny when they do arrive). At one point he dresses in a leotard for an abortive Kate Bush sketch, at another point he sits cross-legged, Jackanory-style in a cosy armchair for the anecdote section of the show.
His stand up persona, for this show at least, is dapper and blank-faced, suitably sociopathic. The murder aspect of the show is both freeing and constrictive. Roberts need not make much of an attempt to connect with the audience, he can simply churn out his one liners and sight gags, while urging us to disregard the blood curdling shrieks offstage, but he also has less tools at his disposal to win people back over if things are going awry.
Not everything works, a few jokes fall flat, and sometimes the audience response is lukewarm, but its hard not to argue with the inventiveness, originality and wit of much of the material. If anything Roberts has set the bar too high for himself. The set-up promises a slightly more structurally ambitious and unified piece of writing. What he delivers is amusing and smart and nicely executed in places but still essentially a series of gags, albeit gags that are rather black and bloody in tone.