The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Laughing on the Edge

First-time comedians in art collective They Are Here's ROUTINE James Allan

Block Universe, London’s nine-day performance fest, which found live happenings erupting across the city—from bread dough manipulation in the British Museum to slow choreography on a large pink carpet and wordplay in the Old Operating Theatre at Guy’s Hospital—came to a raucous and often hilarious end on Sunday night (3 June) with a burst of stand-up comedy at Studio Voltaire in South London. But this was comedy with a difference. As Minni Karttunen, the first performer of the evening, so trenchantly put it, “You guys are here to laugh at poor people, right?” Well, yes, as it happens, we were.

ROUTINE, the evening of live comedy presented by the collective practice They Are Here, was billed as “an evening of live comedy from Londoners living precariously”. This was the result of Helen Walker and Harun Morrison of They Are Here putting out a call to community activist groups across the city to attend a series of stand-up comedy workshops, led by professional comedian Logan Murray. All participants came from London’s decidedly insecure gig economy service sector, were paid a living wage for taking part in the workshops and received a professional fee for their final five-minute routines.  

And the end result confirmed that, despite the subject matter, precariousness could indeed be the mother of humour. From the seven-strong line-up—which included a Deliveroo courier, a cleaner and a sex worker—your correspondent’s top three acts were Kartunnen, a Finnish freelancer who juggles video production, journalism and festival bar management and whose slot included pulling toy dinosaur “spirit animals” out of her underwear; Bogotá-born laundry assistant Bianca Ives, who has lived in London for 42 years and whose gags revolved around the weirdness of the English language; and H, the sex worker who referred throughout to notes written on increasingly intimate parts of her anatomy, culminating in a “thank you!” penned above her pubis. (She also declared that, despite it posing tricky moments in the “what do you do?” conversations at parties, and contrary to all the stereotypes, she loved her job.) All in all, a grand night out and a grand finale to what has become a standout event in the capital’s crowded cultural calendar.