The Lemon-Lime Time Miscelleny Hour Live Why Not With Ryan Withers
In the back room of a pub off the beaten track, a young amateur comic performs a shambolic spoof variety show on a miniscule budget. It hardly sounds promising, but Ryan Withers’s modest offering turns out to be one of the most fun hours of the festival, with some great gags, inventive interludes and an all-pervading sense of off-beat nonsense that proves charmingly irresistible.
Sometimes the shenanigans don’t quite work, with dud jokes outstaying their welcome. But although these leave Withers exposed, he shrugs it off with the sort of carefree attitude that makes the show such a joy when the material does hit home. Nor are his performance skills particularly developed, but he more than compensates for that with bright, distinctive writing.
As you walk into the Softbelly, you’re greeted with a series of cheap cinema-style adverts for products such as ‘newspapers: because you can’t fold the internet’ with accompanying cheesy voiceover. The show proper begins – as all good variety bills should – with a Letterman-style monologue that demonstrates Withers’ ability to write strong, witty, if oblique jokes; a skill much in evidence throughout the hour. No matter how surreal things get, there’s normally an actual gag to underpin the baloney, rather than just hoping weirdness alone will see him through.
He always has the audience on the back foot, whether it’s with a trick ‘true or false’ gameshow or his deliberately forced pun of remaking the Broadway hit Wicked as Wick-Head, about a boy who’s half-candle. It’s knowing, but it’s silly, too.
Withers is occasionally joined by a guest, such as the shrieking New York travel writer Mildred Van Hoople in a segment that goes on far too long, but he largely carries the hour alone, taking us back through his career as a Seventies pop star or taking calls from B-list celebrities.
Despite the rather awkward persona he proves himself a quick-thinking improviser and a surprisingly talented impressionist, as proven by his recreation of a classic Elephant Man scene, as if delivered by various Hollywood luminaries from Tommy Lee Jones to Nic Cage. It’s another interlude that could do with the editor’s knife, but has plenty of good gags, too.
That’s typical of a show that’s flawed, but flawed for the right reason as slickness is abandoned in the quest for knockabout variety. But Withers never loses sight of the funnies, either.