Heads Up: Set List

Riff and ready – 'An idea of cruel and wonderful genius'

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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

Subtitled "Comedy Without the Net", Set List comes to London for six nights of spontaneous, on-the-spot stand-up. The cream of the comedy circuit will be sent on stage with a previously un-glimpsed "set list" of topics they've got to riff on.

Elevator pitch

On the stage but off the cuff.

Prime movers

Set List was "created" by writer/filmmaker Troy Conrad, while comedian/writer/filmmaker Paul Provenza (he directed The Aristocrats) produces.

The stars

Britain's best comics must be feeling brave: the line-ups include Phill Jupitus, Tim Minchin, Rich Hall, Robin Ince, Dara O'Briain, Andi Osho, Greg Proops, Zoe Lyons, Josie Long, Brendon Burns and more. With four or five acts on each night, it seems likely someone will soar to hilarious heights – although watching a normally slick act floundering may also be part of the appeal.

The early buzz

Set List ran throughout the Edinburgh Festival; The Scotsman was full of praise: "For anyone genuinely interested in comedy and comedians, this is the must-see show of the festival. Much more than an improv show, Set List not only gives you an hour of comedy, but also the clearest view there has ever been into the comics' minds." Chortle wasn't so won over at a preview in Montreal, although it acknowledged that there's "always some fun in seeing comics under pressure, even when it doesn't quite come off". Richard Herring, one of the show's willing victims, blogged that "this is an idea of cruel and wonderful genius and a real test of a comic's nerve and ability to bullshit".

Insider knowledge

Some of those on the bill for the London run have already proved their skills in the summer: Phill Jupitus and king of improv Greg Proops, at least, should be able to show how it's done.

It's great that...

The topics on those lists are enjoyably odd: previous phrases cooked up by Provenza have included "post-coital crayon", "educated narcissist", "cookie Auschwitz", "haggis versus burgers", "deluxe armpit" and "masturbacon".

It's a shame that...

Some shows don't start till 11.30pm. Fine when one is in Edinburgh mode, possibly a tad late for a Thursday in December.

Hit potential

It's unpredictable by its very nature, but watching the comics sweat and their brains churn is all part of the fun.

The details

Set List is Downstairs at the Soho Theatre, London (sohotheatre.com), 1 to 10 December.