Jim Alsbalstian's Human Zoo

Sat 8th – Sat 29th August 2015


Benjie Beer

at 11:17 on 15th Aug 2015



In the side room of the Kilderkin Pub, the Liverpool-based comic duo of Liam Hale and Sean Stokes attempt to deliver ‘dark and surreal sketch comedy’ that is ‘part sketch show and part hostage situation’. Their premise is that one of the two is forcing the other to perform against his will, but unfortunately it more often felt as if the audience were being held hostage instead.

There is one large and pervasive problem with this show; the humour is firmly rooted in the half-baked and unintelligent. Where there is potential for their ideas to flourish and become either satirical or fully absurdist, they stutter and plump instead for the basic and unimaginative. Take, for example, their sketch about an eighteen year old Dennis the Menace being held hostage by Sergeant (now DCI) Slipper; they could very easily branch into the surreal world of the Beano here, rather than take the dull and masochistic route of discussing how Dennis’s friends have become drug addicts, and spitting out poor jokes about killing Gnasher by leaving him in a hot car. This kind of humour, particularly taking children’s media and giving it a dark twist, is tired and boring and was not well carried.

There is little attempt to escape lazy clichés to deliver original material. There was hardly any material that has not been well worn by sketch shows both past and present, and made even more dull by relying on the sadism of vacuous comedy. The ‘Mother of the Year’ who abuses her children into success and the recurring character of Ralph Sharp the failed writer, who despairs at everything, are two examples of unintelligent creativity. The relationship between the two performers, with one stalking and holding hostage the other, is also frustrating and poorly presented.

I would urge these two writer/performers to give their writing greater subtlety. At the moment, however, this show is empty and boring.


Genevieve Cox

at 12:21 on 15th Aug 2015



Despite an opening full of the potential of fun as the two central comedians suddenly burst into upbeat music with their enthusiastic high-fives to the audience, the show Jim Alsbalstian’s Human Zoo went dramatically downhill soon after as it attempted to mingle the sinister with the comic “sketch-show” with the “hostage situation”.

Where such contrast could be considered humorous, this technique served only to highlight the sadistic logic of empty comedy and the darker side of humour that is ultimately conclusive as cruel criticism and mockery.

Although an overarching thematic and character-driven plot was established, the single sketches failed to link effectively and resorted to awkward scene-changes, loss of individualism of stereotyped sketches and repetitive ideas of cliché and convention. There appeared to be little attempt at reinvigorating the cliché or updating the convention. They did try to add a clever warning of sobriety to potential ‘drunken’ wit yet this idea evidently failed as sobriety dominated leading to a hostile environment instead.

Arguably, the show did contain traces of humour amongst hostility. Two personal favourite sketches on the varied parody of Shit-faced Shakespeare from alcoholic to drug intoxication brought some contemporary and situational relevance to the show. Similarly the updated Number Song produced a few giggles. Yet it controversially bordered on the offensive in implicated innuendoes of racism and religion, therefore straying further into the ‘heavy’ region of negativity as opposed to ‘light’ comic frivolity.

Both heavy and light, serious and satire were combined as the show incorporated elements of “hostage” with “sketch”, merging sinister with comedy as concepts of death, disappearances, murder, broken dreams, and corruption overlapped with game, slapstick, excessive costume, bizarre accents and weird wigs. However, due to a lacking of energy by both actors - and consequently a lacking audience enthusiasm too – this ultimately failed with the sinister “hostage” dominating and becoming claustrophobic, inescapable and trapping for both actor and audience!

Notwithstanding the unusual update on the sketch-show through incorporating restriction of “hostage situation" with freedom of the “sketch show”, this was a production that effectively transformed the audience into a “Human Zoo” of animals trapped into watching the frivolities and frailties of humankind and failed comedy.


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