As Joe Hart gathers us in to the Wee Room of the Gilded Balloon, he hands out a couple of Playstation controllers as if we’re heading into a student flat for a gaming session. Two audience members then play retro Pong as he commentates and we are quickly laughing and cheering for the winner, cleverly bonded as a group within minutes.
The ambience of camaraderie permeates the subsequent hour as Hart invites the crowd to nod along to shared understandings of video games and swap controllers to play various games – some more familiar than others – from their seats. The smart twist is the unique features the comedian-coder has invented for each game, including a communist version of Tetris and a Call of Duty-Free, pitting players against one another to drink the most alcohol in an airport before boarding a plane. Each game highlights the amount of time and effort Hart must pour into prepping the show.
Interspersed between the interaction are stand-up segments taking us through some bizarre stories behind real video games and a little of Hart’s own background. The jokes are cleverly written and always get a laugh from today’s audience. The frequency of punchlines is fairly casual, though, and Hart’s comfortable demeanour, whilst warm and friendly, may be a touch too laid back for anyone expecting a typical high-energy comedy set.
The pinnacle comes towards the far end of the show as volunteers – artistic or not – draw the animated hero and villains of a new game to be played by everyone collectively through the impressive use of sound. Again, Hart’s tech skills elevate the show here and the house party ends on a high.
While Alpha, Beta, Gamer is both fun and funny, it is somewhat niche, so perhaps has a limited demographic with its gaming references and in-jokes. It does showcase Hart’s talent, though, and he is sure to venture out of this particular theme at future Fringes.