Flo & Joan: Alive on Stage – Soho Theatre

The musical comedy siblings, Flo and Joan, are stalwarts of the Edinburgh Fringe and had a viral hit with ‘The 2016 Song’ on YouTube. Yet onstage at the Soho Theatre, they are totally understated. Flo, with a notable resemblance to Orange is The New Black’s Alex Vause in both persona and appearance, is on keyboard; Joan, charismatic and full of energy, is on percussion.

Their humour is dry, sarcastic and confronting. A lot of laughs come from specific, punchy lines which are at odds with the other lyrics, creating humour through shock and tonal dissonance. The purpose of this is often not just for comedy’s sake but also to expose the absurdity of misogyny. For example, one song focuses on the questionable decisions of brands such as Pritt Stick to create ‘female’ versions of products, leading to the fantastic lyric, “let’s fuck shit up in Paperchase.”

It is not just the lyrics but the instruments and genres too which Flo and Joan milk for comedy value. Castanets are whipped out by Joan at one point to perform the ‘Sex Robot Tango’, a song which features automated Google-translate-style vocals – which are perhaps the least sexy thing possible. In another song, in which the pair profess just how cool they are (as well as musical comedy as a genre), they proceed to get out their recorders. It’s these hilarious unspoken gags that make Flo and Joan stand out from other comedians.

There is also the occasional song which is absurd without deeper meaning. My favourite of the set was under this category and had the mouth-boggling refrain: “she’s Carol cracker-packer, packed a cracking pack of crackers.” The ridiculousness of the narrative – which, as you may have guessed, follows a woman named Carol who packs crackers for a living – in combination with the tongue-twisting lyrics are comedy gold. The total incompetency of the audience when asked to take part in call and response not only added to the laughter (as Joan concisely put it, “you are shit”) but also served as a reminder that what Flo and Joan do is not as easy as it may look.

For one thing, they formed a rapport with the audience almost immediately, which is incredibly hard to do. During one song, Flo had to pause the piece to cough and there was a spontaneous round of applause when she started playing again. Their unassuming demeanour on stage reduces the sense of performer/audience divide and really makes the show feel like a communal experience. I think this more than anything speaks to why Flo and Joan should be seen live, not just through YouTube.

The format of Flo and Joan’s musical comedy can, however, be quite repetitive, which is why an hour-long show is the perfect length. The use of shocking, abrupt lyrics loses effectiveness and impact as audience’s begin to pre-empt them. Also, as much as the duo embed social commentary into their show, they do not push boundaries with their observations.

Another of my favourites was the first song of the night, ‘We Welcome You’, which showed a self-awareness that did feel fresh and exciting in its commentary. The song ostensibly was to welcome the audience but, in doing so, it noted all those who were unwelcome. This acknowledgement and paradoxical self-critique of echo chambers and the increasing intolerance of the liberal left was amusing and thought-provoking. I wish there had been a few more songs that really stretched the discourse like this, rather than just lightly skimming the surface.

Flo and Joan will not disappoint. Go for joyous comedy to brighten your evening; stay for the reminder that, even if modern-day society is totally ridiculous, at least there is laughter to be had in the absurdity of it all.

For more information about future shows and to listen to Flo and Joan’s music, click here.

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Claudia Graham

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