Charmian Hughes: When Comedy was Alternative (The Laughs and Loves of a She Comic)

★★
comedy review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 Aug 2015

There are a number of questions which arise from an hour in the delightful company of Charmian Hughes. A collection of anecdotes about the birth and heyday of the alt comedy scene in the '80s and '90s, Hughes is clearly a mine of information. Who else did you see at the Tunnel club? Just how exhausting was Malcolm Hardee's 24/7 anarchism? How much did they fleece you for a pint at the Edinburgh Fringe back in the '80s? Hughes has been there and done it all – a walking, talking scrapbook of comedy's recent history.

For the present purposes, though, there's a more pressing question: namely, how can Hughes have been doing comedy for so long and remain so consistently and spectacularly unable to deliver a punchline? Her comedic training comes from a time before the long form, convoluted narrative shows of modern repute. Where "jokes" were discrete units, to be written, bought, sold, set up and then knocked down. Job done. But time after time, meandering set-ups fade to nothing or trip over their own endings.

In essence, this is a show 'about' comedy, rather than a show which delivers much of it. But in spite of that significant omission, Hughes remains an engaging presence. There's undoubtedly an outlet for her first-person history of alternative comedy. A book or a television documentary, perhaps? An hour of standup? Perhaps not.