Will Mars: My Life in One-Liners

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose
Aug 5-28 (14:10)

As any gigging comic will tell you, one-liners are a deceptively simple form of stand-up comedy. The timing, the tone, the pace and the punctuation of every single gag requires a level of dedication and sheer bloody mindedness to master. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the joyous experience of watching one of the masters of the art, Masai Graham, perform 30 minute sets which contained as much consideration and dedication to their crafting as a 2hr Stewart Lee performance. So for Will Mars to dedicate a full hour, and a semi-autobiographical one at that, to the artform, is a bold statement of intent.

To deliver a whole set of one liners one needs to consider that an audience can only laugh for so long without feeling exhausted, and that preceding gags inevitably present an unavoidable economy of diminishing returns if delivered at a tempo which renders them subliminal to the crowd. Mars warmed up the crowd with some nicely high energy Daft Punk tunes which I hoped was to mitigate for the Thursday afternoon, sweat drenched slumber which takes over even the most committed of fans in the inevitable dungeons of whichever large venue one has been allocated by, in this instance, The Gilded Balloon. I murmured a soft prayer that it was not a portent of the pace of the performance to come.

This concern was dispelled from the moment our host’s droll Northern tone came through the PA system announcing the beginning of the show. 3 gags were delivered before Will had begun treading the boards, and rather than knocking us off our feet with the sharpest lines of the set, he warmed us up to the tone of the engaging, honest, funny and at times genuinely next level show we were about to receive.

There was a broad spread of demographics throughout the room, and over the course of the laid back, yet break-neck, 55 minutes and 300 gags, the laughter rippled around the room like waveforms. This is one of the most masterful aspects of Will’s show, he manages to deliver a set which has moments that everyone present could connect with. A recurring theme throughout my day of reviewing was white male comedians taking a beautifully human swipe at their own privileges in a manner which very much defies the notion that being ‘Woke’, & being precious, easily offended and virtue signalling are mutually exclusive things.

We are eased into the performance via clear status setting. He is ‘not good with people’, and ‘even dogs hate him’, and if it weren’t for the fantastically crafted darker sections of his act I would have complained that the low status positioning didn’t sit with the effortless performance and genuine warmth for the audience which came off the stage throughout. As mentioned earlier though, one liner sets are all about pacing, and Will Mars crafted this particular marathon with the skill and nounce of a ‘couch to 5k’ podcast coach. Some lovely ‘Yo mama’ gags, about himself, in which he dissected his neuroses and laid out groundwork for heavier material about his upbringing, showed his versatility with the form, and offered us a metaphorical ‘cup of tea’ to let us know he wouldn’t be spilling out his yarn in double quick time. He was not more eager to perform than to story-tell. This allowed the audience to appreciate the slick changes of pace when he moved into a more interactive mode, or crafted wickedly sharp close to the bone jokes on topics which most would comedians who aren’t Frankie Boyle would be too anxious to broach at 3pm.

There are very topical and serious themes of imposter syndrome, poverty, childhood abandonment, breast feeding, and domestic violence woven throughout genuinely gut busting 1 punch hits. I laughed so hard I was accused of being a shill at more than one point. The audience interaction showed Mars to be a confident and playful performer, and his decision to narrate a large portion of his own performance in the third person allowed him an intimacy with his audience that produced one of the most obscene and surreal flights of pornographic fancy I’ve seen spontaneously produced. ‘Tyrone’, the very handsome man sitting not too far to my right, I suspect may be traumatised. The rest of us were delighted.

There is still a lot of work to be done to polish this show up into the sum of it’s parts, and I was reviewing on a preview day. It is also inevitable that in a show with 300 gags there are going to be a couple of non-sequiters, and muddled linkage between sections interrupted the otherwise excellent timing on a couple of occasions. Given that the show was 55 minutes of one-liners, and a mini-story of Will’s life, a clearer form of delineation between the ‘sections’ would also have been beneficial. I would however pay hard cash any day of the week to see the topical aspects of this show played to anyone who thinks you can’t make good jokes about hard subjects and not punch down. There were numerous occasions when ‘sensitive’ topics which could have delivered 70’s style cheap laughs instead subverted expectations and presented our performer as someone we could all connect with. Quite an achievement for a show which is ‘just’ one liners. This is a talented man with a Fringe show that gives the punters exactly what they want. I left the performance with a smile on my face, laughter lines around my eyes, and a genuine warmth in my belly.

Ewan Law

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