Rob Newman: No Planet B, Old Red Lion Theatre <br/> Shappi Khorsandi: Asylum Speaker, Soho Theatre <br/> Reginald D Hunter: Pride, Prejudice and Niggas, Arts Theatre, London

Old material for a new year
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The Independent Culture

Yuletide always sees an even spread of crisp comedy talent in the capital, and the opportunity to reheat an Edinburgh offering or to play around with past material can make for some quality Christmas cheer. And Robert Newman's residence at the Old Red Lion is a not irregular example of such fare. His show this time around, No Planet B, has travelled from Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre (in July) to Islington, and in that six-month period has shed more than an hour and been shaped into something very appealing - if not vintage.

Newman takes us back in history by reversing the passage of time, so that, for example, Isaac Newton has already discovered gravity, but forgets everything he knows about it when an apple strikes him on the head. Further tomfoolery is directed at Nelson Mandela, who "enters prison a sweet-natured Spice Girls fan but emerges from long incarceration an embittered revolutionary bent on the armed overthrow of the state". And, in this parallel world, the plane used in the bombing of Hiroshima, the Enola Gay, was named after the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark hit, rather than vice versa.

The undercurrent to all this frivolity is the uninvention of technology, the loss of the car and the plane, our reliance on which Newman has consistently questioned. Meanwhile, the requiem for the planet that ends the show plunges us bittersweetly into the Ice Age and the return of life to the sea, an allegory for the environmental catastrophe that looms on the horizon.

The show is still a little lightweight in comparison with the previous epics of its author, and the history- backwards device also makes the distance between punchline and surprise shorter. Nevertheless, No Planet B is a subtle tapestry, restitched to let the simplicity of the premise and its comic potential breathe.

Taking a breather is something that Shappi Khorsandi would be well advised to do, as her infectious energy and charisma often mean that she throws away her best lines. Another problem is the overwhelming amount of material she wants to impart about her Iranian upbringing - in particular, a story about the assassination plot against her father, a dissident of Ayatollah Khomeini's regime. Building up to the climax of this story, Khorsandi delivers a decent 40-minute club set, but finds it tricky to shoehorn a narrative of such potential into the remaining 20 minutes.

Structural damage aside, this immensely likable performer has some neat lines. For example, quoting her matter-of-fact Israeli friend on the occupation of Palestine: "They were gazumped." Or, on the need for moderation in the Middle East: "What we need is a Mullah Lite."

The comedian Reginald D Hunter is no stranger to controversial material, either, but, as is often the case, the truth behind the headlines is less sensational. Rather than repeat verbatim his joke, first made in Edinburgh, about being arrested for denying the Rwandan holocaust in Austria, Hunter talks us through the gag that he describes as "more clever than funny", further diffusing something that was merely a firecracker to start with. If Hunter suffers from being more of a smart alec than a bigot (though he treads a deliberately fine line when he says that he's not misogynist and doesn't hate women "any more than the average woman"), then so be it.

Both smart and funny are his Richard Pryoresque revelations about his father's sexual past and his unintentional intimidation of his white flatmate's son, which is so bad that his flatmate asks him to stay a night with one of the women that he assumes Hunter must have in tow. "Yeah, sure," muses Hunter, imagining a phone call to one of them: "Cook me some food, be naked, and have Shaft playing. I'll be over in 20 minutes."

Shappi Khorsandi returns to Soho Theatre (08704 296 883) 17-20 January

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