Nervous excitement filled the room as Ryan marched onstage. With the audience packed into a small, stuffy room, it was a very intimate atmosphere. Ryan made it clear from the onset that, as this was a preview show, we would be guinea pigs for his latest material. Let’s be clear, Ryan’s material is dark. Meandering from material about abortion to incest to the Irish Potato Famine, he leaves little off the chopping board. If you like this kind of humour, which I do, then you may find this set to be a refreshing change from safer routines which tend to draw in larger crowds.
Ryan has a knack for making up jokes off the cuff, and many of his jokes landed excellently, but I felt that his routine was limited by a reliance on giving us sometimes stilted pre-written material. At times he was just relaying a series of jokes, one after the other, without much of a framework. For this reason, I felt that the rhythm of a good routine was missing. I’m thinking of times when a comedian has the audience like putty under their thumb, so much so that they could say virtually anything and get roars from the crowd. As for the jokes themselves, they were a little hit-and-miss. Ryan clearly knows how to craft a gag, but some of his best were wasted with lacklustre follow-ups. Cautious of sounding like a pompous prick, I would say his material needs to be more thematic so as to keep the audience on the same page throughout, rather than darting from topic to unrelated topic. This would keep the laughs coming and avoid those dreaded moments of bemused silence.
Ryan was very clear, often in real time, on which of his jokes he felt had landed, and which would be guillotined from the later shows. I appreciated the way in which he made the most of the intimate space, giving audience interaction a good stab. Most of the audience members, your reviewer included, made their way into the routine by some means. One guy was even pulled up onstage to undergo a ‘try not to laugh’ challenge, though he remained steel-faced throughout the interrogation. Some of the audience were quite capable of holding their own against Ryan, namely a puckish Canadian man, cross-armed and kilted, with a disarmingly thick Scottish brogue. Our comedian backed off where he felt he had met his match.
Ryan’s deadpan delivery and bleak frown, worn throughout the set except for when he paused to snort at the occasional joke, giving him some comedic personality. However he could do a lot more than this. His material is good but needs a good deal of culling – though of course that’s what preview shows are for. His routine would benefit hugely if the audience felt they knew a little more about the character who was delivering the jokes. Context is one of the most important aspects of comedy, and his gags would have benefited from some more of it. That said, I enjoyed Ryan’s set, and would recommend readers make the most of his 2 for 1 offer on the 8th and 9th, by which time they will doubtless see a more chiselled performance.
Ryan Cullen, Caveat Emptor, The Stand, 20:00 (1hr), 5th-14th; 16th-28th
Press images courtesy of Ryan Cullen