Preview: Comedian Dies In The Middle Of A Joke @ Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club

Oh no. Not interactive theatre. That’s the very worst kind of pretentious, cringeworthy, watch-checking cock, isn’t it? Dominated by the one person in the room who is only slumming it on the trading floor of some international bank until they can be bothered to grace the waiting nation with their Hamlet.

But it’s OK. This is interactive theatre from Ross Sutherland, ingenious poet who you just know would be brilliant company down the pub. He’s reconstructing the last five minutes of the life of comedian Joe ‘Pops’ Pooley, who was shot on stage at the Crack Me Up Comedy Club in 1983. Who did it? Why? One thing’s for sure: it’s someone in the room.

The audience is assigned to tables, each of which has a number of set roles and instructions. Don the wig, work out your heckle and call it out at the right time. Then move to the next table, because tonight will be about replaying the same five minutes over and over. The fear, of course, is that this will rapidly become tedious; what saves it is that everyone quickly gains foreknowledge of what’s to come and learns how to play the game. So you end up waiting to hear what ridiculous things will get shouted, things that must be incorporated into the comedian’s unchanging script, and the stupider and ruder the better. It’s a bit like playing a huge game of Mad Libs while drunk.

There’s also a quiet option on each table for shy and retiring types who would rather be sucked into the ground than be the centre of attention, however briefly. But even the biggest participation role, that of comedian Joe himself, feels like a safe space. There’s a tight script (take your glasses), no pressure to act (it’s actually better if you’re not funny) and nobody minds if you get it a bit wrong.

The next show is on Wednesday, but it’s sold out. We recommend booking soon for future shows on 6 and 20 March and 3 and 17 April.

Comedian Dies in the Middle of a Joke at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Pollard Row, E2 on 6 March, 20 March, 6 April, 17 April, 8pm. Tickets £5 advance / £7 on the door.

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