Ian Smith is stressed, and in fact, it’s crushing him. Thus commences an hour-long comedic foray into his frantic attempt to destress, resulting in delightful and hilarious consequences. Crushing is hot from an acclaimed run at Edinburgh Fringe and a nomination for Best Show at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, and Ian Smith’s transfer to Soho Theatre does not disappoint.
‘Last time I was here, I was engaged. Now I’m no longer engaged, and nor am I married…’ is Smith’s opening declaration of the show. It’s swiftly followed by a promise not to make the show about that, and sort of unexpectedly, Smith keeps to that promise. Instead, Smith details how his suffering from stress manifests in grinding his teeth and the methods he employs to combat it.
Smith knows that ‘small meaningful changes’ would make for an overall better outlook on life, but opts for the quick fixes instead. He finds himself in an un-relaxing sensory deprivation tank where he is merely ‘thoughts in the darkness’, a rage room in Slovakia which involves a tank and his hairdresser, and much more. Smith adds to his stress by finding daily aspects of life infuriating, such as being criticised for his pronunciation of ‘H’ on Radio 4 and being cast as a simply titled ‘boring creep’ in a TV show.
Smith’s genius is in making jokes that feel improvised, and his quick responses make for excellent crowd work that relaxes the audience enough to become immediately receptive (impressive at 9:15 pm on a ‘chool night’, as Smith calls it). That is with the exception of someone who happens to be from the same hometown, Goole, as Smith, derailing slightly his jokes criticising the small Yorkshire town, but overall, with very enjoyable outcomes.
Some stilted transitions between jokes are smoothed over with a bit of classic British self-deprecation which produces an overall endearing quality that makes the show even more enjoyable. Impressively Smith makes physical comedy work and manages to avoid becoming painful in a MacIntyre-esque way. A man struggling to navigate life and becoming infuriated by its contradictions is not a unique stand-up persona, but in Smith’s capable hands, the comedy is self-aware and entirely effective.
It’s refreshing to see a comic that relies purely on the ability to be funny, without shock factor, without bad-talking a relationship, without obvious references to pop culture. Smith is effortless and the audience returns the favour. Crushing is a fabulous mix of anecdotal and observational comedy with a touch of physical elements. It is not to be missed.
Runs until 7 October 2023 and continues to tour