Billed as the “second greatest show on Earth”, trailing only slightly behind the spectacle that is the race to become “the leader of the free world”, Erich McElroy’s Imperfect Guide to the Presidential Debates, sees an innovative crossover between the largely separate realms of politics and stand-up comedy. Although, as guest panellist Lembit Opik quips, the cast of both spheres probably get laughed at in equal measures, so perhaps the two aren’t that dissimilar after all.
Located in the basement of The Slug and Lettuce, just a sneeze away from Waterloo station, the American McElroy, who boasts an impressive resumé in both journalism and television (and comedy, let’s not forget), enters the stage to the applause of a sparce audience (though slowly growing in size throughout the first ten minutes). Here, he explains the layout of the evening. Two comedians and the aforementioned Opik will introduce themselves the only way they know how: via two short stand-up sets and some tunes on the harmonica respectively. Next, they will form a panel to discuss and reflect upon the present political situation in America, headlined by a screening of the complete Democrat Debate from the previous evening. An interesting format indeed.
The stand-up is good: we are treated to performances from the sharp, camp and often scathing, David Mills and the eminently likeable Ola, a regular with The Comedy Store’s Cutting Edge. I can’t help feeling that both, in their separate brands of comedy, have in common that they are not playing to their chosen demographics. Or perhaps it’s that the night has been billed as wholly centring on the debate so we aren’t readied for stand-up in its pure form. Opik then demonstrates his aptitude at making people laugh… and the harmonica, giving us a few tunes to introduce himself.
The four then meet, following a break, for a panel discussion that begins with an obligatory discussion of ISIS given the tragic events of the weekend, and then turns more specifically to the Democrat candidates. The panel display a vast knowledge of American politics and make illumined individual critiques of their subject matter, an interesting tension occurring between Opik and Mills, the politician in the former exhibiting itself in his ruthless conviction in his stance, caring little for the feelings of his fellow panel members.
I would really like to see some blend of comedy and politics in this show, however. Forget the stand-up: make it a comedy panel discussion. The format seems segmented into comedy and politics, in separate spheres. Perhaps the showing of the debate that is displayed in the last two hours could become the meat of the show, with the panel discussion coming at various intervals throughout, centring on the debate itself rather than the politics of America at large.
However, in the words of McElroy, “this is a new experiment”; he is still fiddling with the format, which I’m sure will be perfected in the coming months. As it stands, however, it’s a cracking, consistently intriguing and innovative formula, the metamorphosis of which I would urge you all to follow in the coming months. McElroy certainly deserves a devoted following.