Review: Josh Widdicombe: Incidentally @ The Oxford Playhouse

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Josh Widdicombe has no pretensions to comedic grandeur. He shuns political satire, eschews social commentary and abstains from using the polished one-liner, instead favouring a comfortable brand of astute observational humour. ‘Michael Gove is a f***** d***’, he remarks early in his show, then reassures the audience: ‘Don’t worry, that’s as high-brow as it’s going to get’.

This mop-headed Devonshire stand-up rose to fame in 2011 when he was nominated for the Best Newcomer award at the Edinburgh Fringe. Since then, his star has risen continuously. He has appeared on Mock The Week and Live At The Apollo (twice), co-hosted Channel 4’s The Last Leg, and now hosts his own weekly show on XFM.  His new tour, Incidentally, has been playing to full houses across the UK since last August.

As he openly admits, Widdicombe is not a ‘big issues’ comedian and this confident acceptance of his style lends him an endearing charm. He is refreshingly honest in his approach to comedy, sticking resolutely to light-hearted comments about the various banalities of his life: his dad, his flatmate, himself. Yet despite these well-worn topics, Widdicombe still finds originality, managing to carve a unique niche of high-pitched exasperation and mock surprise. The entire second half is a well-structured, if palpably rehearsed, routine centred on a collection of items that happened to be on his coffee table one day last year (presumably when he was stuck for ideas) and his material on a packet of Super Noodles is particularly memorable.

He is at his funniest, however, in his interaction with the audience. For most of the first half, he improvises comedy through chatting with the front row. Whilst in some stand-ups’ cases this bold approach would have one cringing for fear of calamity, Widdicombe’s easy-going manner and laudable confidence alleviate any apprehensive tension. He seems entirely at ease talking to audience members and this translates to the entire crowd, whose consequent comfort provides the perfect platform for his prepared material.

One could criticise Widdicombe’s act for its lack of ‘edge’, for its hackneyed topics and the scarcity of horrified ‘did he really just go there?’ moments, yet in truth such comedy would not befit his style. Offensive jokes designed to shock as much as amuse would sit ill with his floppy blonde hair and tangible West Country accent. No, Widdicombe is a comic entirely suited to his material.

He is supported by Suzi Ruffell, a Londoner originally from the south coast whose self-deprecating comments on sexuality, touring, family and life in the capital are enjoyable if only mildly amusing. Unlike Widdicombe, however, whose minimal movement compliments his act well, she is expressive, utilising the physical in her routines and gets well-earned laughs in doing so. Also, her impression of Josh is bang on.

For those seeking comedy with a bite, Josh Widdicombe is not the answer. His act is devoid of scathing satire or grimace-worthy tastelessness. Instead he embraces the commonplace and does so proficiently, raising big laughs with both his confident audience interaction and well-structured routines. He is a comic whose star deserves to rise even higher.



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