Student comics take to the stage for the heats of the Chortle Student Comedian of the Year Award heats.
As a big fan of stand-up comedy (for my sins) I was delighted to be invited to cover the St Andrews heat of the 2023 Chortle Student Comedian of the Year Award competition.
The Student Comedian of the Year Award was established in 2004 by national comedy magazine Chortle, giving student comics up and down the country the chance to showcase their talent. Finalists get the chance to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the winner bags £1,000 for their efforts. Previous winners include TV’s Joe Lycett, star of The Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner Simon Bird, as well as the iconic voice of Love Island Iain Stirling. This is a Rolls-Royce of a comedy award.
I ensured an early arrival at Sandy’s in the hope of bagging one of the sought-after Sandy’s sofas. To my chagrin, I was beaten to the premium seating by the apparently nimble-footed comedy aficionados of St Andrews. There was an air of anticipation even from the less desirable, unpadded stools at the rear of the room.
At about 8:27pm, a man wearing a polo neck that Michel Foucault would be proud of entered the fray. He erected the imposing ‘Chortle’ roller banner and set up his tripod with alacrity. This was Steve from Chortle, and he meant business.
Carla Longo kicked off the evening’s proceedings with aplomb, launching into a tight stand-up routine which drew on her Italian background and the difficulties of adapting to life on the Fife riviera. Her Mario skit went down a treat; there were clearly a few Nintendo enthusiasts in the crowd. What an animated plumber he is, by the way.
All the acts rose to the occasion and the standard of comedy was excellent throughout. The wealth of comedic styles and breadth of material was admirable. There was everything from Greek yoghurt to Kanye West, flaxseed to Kim Jong-Il. I particularly enjoyed Lydia Allan’s damnation of gluten-free pizza. Growing up in a gluten-free household, I firmly agree that gluten is indeed the ‘good bit’ of most bread-based foods.
The winner of the night was last year’s Chortle finalist and, dare I say it, bookies’ favourite Jin Hao Li. His set oozed with style as he seamlessly glided from one polished witticism to another. There was a pleasing balance of meticulously thought-out material, perfectly delivered one-liners and spontaneous audience interaction. Jin Hao had the crowd wrapped around his finger from the moment he graced the stage. It was a tight five that wouldn’t be out of place on Live at the Apollo.
The final year English and Film Student is making a splash on the UK comedy scene and has already amassed an impressive portfolio of gigs. He has performed at London’s renowned Comedy Store, Monkey Barrel in Edinburgh, and has played in the comedy tent at Latitude Festival. He recently put pen to paper with Comedy Store Management – no mean feat for such a young comic.
After the show, I spoke to Jin Hao about his influences and his aspirations. Watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious aged 12 inspired him to get into stand-up comedy. “It’s such a cool medium because all you have is words to hold people’s attention for such a long time,” Jin Hao explained. He further stated his admiration for American comic John Mulaney: “He is someone who is just excellent at what he does, like when you see an award-winning sushi chef and it’s like - what a niche thing that this person has perfected.”
Whisper it quietly, but we may have a future Chortle champion in our midst.
Follow @ustacomsoc for information on stand-up shows in St Andrews.
Follow @jin.hao.li or visit www.jin-hao-li.com for information on Jin Hao’s upcoming gigs.
Illustration: Calum Mayor