As a founding member and co-host of the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society, John-Luke Roberts is no stranger to absurdist, experimental comedy. With his radio vehicle Spats, one-man plays and his well-received stand-up, as well as formerly being one half of sketch combo The Behemoth alongside Nadia Kamil, Roberts has always played fast and loose with convention, and his current show – with its MIA-referencing title, All I Wanna Do Is [FX: GUNSHOTS] With a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy – held plenty of surprises.
Despite the more avant-garde leanings of some of his output, there’s always been an acutely accessible streak to Roberts’ comedy, which was especially evident in the sitcom Bull, co-written with Gareth Gwynn, and also his use of clowning techniques on stage, fusing chiselled gags and non-sequiturs with anarchic energy.
Through leftfield stand-up, character comedy and a host of theatrical devices, he performed his “nonsense manifesto” – a glorious paen to surrealism replete with a healthy strain of universality – even at its daftest, dizzying heights, this set was highly relatable.
Coalescing around the concept of hordes of hitherto unheralded Spice Girls, Roberts’ show lurched in myriad directions, with an extended routine as an “old crone” proving to be a highlight; the character’s disparate and deliciously inventive curses were a clever spin on the audience insults which have become something of his trademark.
His ability to switch between characters and take routines in surprising directions was also a notable feature – a love triangle between connoisseurs of Roman history trivia was neatly conveyed, with the Dawson’s Creek theme tune provoking big laughs, during a bit which emphasised his clowning skills to great effect.
As the show drew to a close, he explained the premise of the show – a quest for the laughter of confusion, and the purity of silliness in both art and comedy, not least in how it better reflects the absurdity of what life is really like. It’s a testament to Roberts’ comic writing and performance that his latest effort was both nonsensical and often profound. Like his brainchild ACMS, it’s a noble pursuit – and one which really hit the mark.