Will Mars: Candid Cafe

Thu 2nd – Sun 26th August 2018


Katherine Knight

at 09:25 on 5th Aug 2018



Seeing the words ‘stand-up’ and ‘tragedy’ side-by-side in the Fringe brochure fills me with a sense of impending doom. It takes a remarkable talent to balance the two, yet Will Mars approaches this challenge with the utmost confidence, despite his assurance he is very much a failure. What emerges is an unexpectedly touching performance which rattles along at impressive pace – a comic tour de force, but undeniably tragic.

Our host’s style is self-deprecating but strangely personable, taking a conversational tone from the moment he steps on stage (the only fanfare a monotone “yeah we’re starting” panned at an individual). Mars takes the old saying that humour is the best form of catharsis and runs with it, bringing the audience on a whirlwind tour of his life that at times is almost too much to take in; one moment he’s despairing that older women are dying out, the next he’s discussing the perils of vegetarianism (although, to his credit, the two are linked). Despite its casual delivery, the whole thing is ridiculously professional, and showcases the best of what Free Fringe can be. He’s a comic with experience – 10 years and 25 countries – and this comes through in the slickness of his delivery. Refreshingly, however, he doesn’t have the self-assured smugness which sometimes accompanies it – “if you’re an international comic, it just means you’re shit at home”.

One of the most surreal features of the show is the openness with which he discusses the comic lifestyle. Although the struggles of being a comedian are fairly common knowledge, it’s rare to have them framed quite so precisely – even to the extent of noting which jokes in his own act are scripted, as and when they appear. Mars discusses the American and British comic scenes with such candour that the title doesn’t just appear a cheap play-on-words. This is also the first time I have ever seen a stand-up director acknowledged, let alone discussed as a central plot-point.

The whole show plays well off the audience, who seem unusually open to interaction. I can’t think of many other people who would take a comparison to a porn star quite so well, and it’s a testament to the rapport he builds up throughout the act. But Mars comes into his own when he brings up serious moments of his life – and there are many – which manage to inspire a sort of respectful silence. Sometimes it seems in danger of becoming too much, but he never quite lets it cross that boundary, knowing when to mention a joke, or left-turn into an anecdote in order to lighten the mood. The audience which leaves are laughing just as much as the audience which enters, despite the heavy territory it crosses in-between. Stand-up and tragedy? It might just work.


Molly Stock-Duerdoth

at 09:58 on 5th Aug 2018



Self-styled misanthrope Will Mars would have you believe that his show Candid Café is a raw exploration of the darker parts of his psyche. However, statements such as “my life is shit” on their own don’t quite create the uncomfortable, disturbing atmosphere he seems to be going for. Bizarrely for something apparently ‘50% tragedy’, most of the show treads a conventional path, and Mars doesn’t often stray far from the stand-up standards of the differences between men and women, the search for love, and the trials of life as a professional comedian. It’s all a bit Will is from Mars, women are from Venus.

Mars’ show chronicles his move to the US and back in pursuit of women and comedy. For the first half, the narrative works nicely, with Mars hinging witty jokes and interesting reflections on a neatly told story. Later in the show, this story becomes inconsistent – a scene in which he is dumped at Gatwick airport is revisited, but this time is set at Covent Garden – and the revelations become more boorish than insightful. However, Mars’ real talent for inventive one-liners continues to shine through. He applies a hilariously rigid logic to everyday situations; women are pulled at the ratio of a gallon to a girl, and dogs are deemed better than babies because they behave the same way but don’t live as long.

It is Mars’ overall likeability which makes his show enjoyable. His main tactic seems to be to stare mournfully into the audience while they laugh at whatever personal pain he has just revealed, but it is often more fun when he can’t manage to maintain the stare and breaks into a smile.

Disappointingly, topics such as mental illness and domestic violence are touched upon without particular nuance or sensitivity, and an extended story about how 9/11 became a metaphorical reason not to break up with a girlfriend falls a little flat because of its flippancy. The biggest laughs are gleaned from the description of a bike with its pedals attached wrong, and from his reflections on what makes the perfect male porn star for a straight white man to watch. Interactions with the audience, too, are deftly handled and provide some of the funniest moments. Although Mars claims that he doesn’t want a romantic, happy ending because it ruins his stand-up, it is in these cheerful moments that his humour works best.

Candid Café is a slightly fuzzy concept, let down by conventionality and by seriousness, but still enjoyable for its silliness.


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