Gainsborough Town Hall – Wayne the Weird, Rob Mulholland and Tony Burgess

Last night I was at the Funhouse comedy night at Gainsborough’s town hall. Originally this was to be in the side room, but the town hall management had moved the show into the main room, which made the night harder work for all concerned than what it would have been. The main room was huge, it is easily the largest space I’ve seen live comedy performed in outside of theatres. The ceiling was perhaps 20′ high, the stage large enough to put a brass band on and a good portion of the 100 strong audience were sat quite a way away on the other side of a bannister. Spiky Mike did what he could by setting out chairs and tables at the front and moving people forwards, but it was obvious that this was going to be something of an uphill struggle to get and maintain an atmosphere, whereas ironically, 100 people in the smaller room would have made it electric. Things weren’t helped by the front row being made up of an entire rugby team who early on divested themselves of much of an interest in the show and left the acts playing to the remaining audience. As it turned out, everyone apart from the rugby team had a really good night and were very complimentary after the show. However, although the night was fun, this was something of a missed opportunity for Gainsborough, because in the smaller room this had the potential to have been a much better gig.

The opening act was Wayne the Weird, a comedy magician. He began quickly with two fast jokes delivered perhaps a little bit before the room had adjusted to him being on stage and these seemed to get missed by a lot of the audience. Wayne was on firmer ground with his first volunteer, Abi, who was a giggler. She was the ideal assistant, giggling, looking happy to be on stage and quick enough on the uptake not to drag things out. He wasn’t so lucky with his other volunteers who just seemed that bit too slow in doing the various tasks, but I think getting anyone on stage is always going to be that bit dicey. The magic was good, with no flaws and I was impressed with just how much Wayne could express through his eyes and physicality on the last trick. I enjoyed the twists on each trick and the finale is excellent – no one was expecting the big reveal at the end. This was a good set, but one that could be improved with a few tweaks. Wayne would benefit from a mic that clips to his jacket, as he would occasionally step away from the microphone to do a trick or set up an assistant and it was hard to hear what he was saying. The comments of the various assistants were all but impossible to hear and Wayne may have done well to repeat what they were saying if it was relevant or perhaps to kill the odd bit of dead time. There was a fair bit of dead time, where a trick was being set up (especially the card trick when the volunteers were handing out cards to the audience) and some of this may be due to the size of the room, but a little bit of patter would have kept the energy going. This was a nicely enjoyable set.

Rob Mulholland, taking a night off from having the time of his life playing Death in Panel Beaters, was on in the middle. Most comics have a stage persona that is to some degree an exaggerated version of themselves, but with Mulholland he’s the same on or off stage. He is something of a force of nature and what you see is what you get. He’s not so much a big cheeky lad, but instead someone who is happy to push things and see how far they can go (incidentally, this is probably why he is superb on Panel Beaters). Last night, though, his material was quite restrained and easily accessible to the audience. He began by informing the audience that this was his second visit to Gainsborough in 24 hours, due to him mistaking the booking and coming a day early. This went down well as did the twirling and the taxi driver. The cat routine was the standout, but although he didn’t perform it last night, I’ve always thought that his routine about suicide is the stronger of the two, even if it isn’t an ideal closing. Mulholland’s delivery was fast and since moving to Manchester he’s picked up a bit of a Manc twang, which would occasionally come out on certain words. Owing to the disinterest of the rugby team, he ended up playing to the remaining audience who were very much with him. There was a lot of laughter and he was on the verge of an applause break more than once. There was just one discordant note and that was when Mulholland put down a loud talker on the front row. This he did effectively enough to make sure that the rest of the rugby team talked quietly, but he a bit more forceful with his comments than what he needed to be. The rest of the audience cheered though and he most definitely got away with it. Mulholland is a cracking act who will have a career in comedy for as long as he wants.

Tony Burgess closed the gig. He was quietly spoken, almost whispering into the microphone. This helped to encourage the room to listen to him, but was largely lost on the rugby team and so he wisely concentrated on the rest of the audience. Burgess’ material concerned odd things found in Aldi, turning 40, drugs and a head. The drugs material I couldn’t engage with as it is a topic I know nothing about and even with Burgess making it accessible, I still struggled to feel much interest in it. Fortunately the rest of the audience were thoroughly enjoying it. Life changes at 40 is something I’ve heard a lot of comedians do material on and I didn’t feel he’d said anything especially new on it. However, the routine about the head was extremely good – this was very enjoyable and funny. Burgess had a good night and went down well.

Kayal – Joe Foster, Brodi Snook, Aaron Levene, Martin Huburn, Robert Callaghan, Alex Black, Belle Busby, Dave Fensome, Mark Row, Houssem Rhaiem, Ben Bridgeman, Stephen Catling and Shaun Turner

Last night I was at the Kayal in Leicester for the Funhouse gong show. This started and finished earlier than usual, which is a positive move on a Sunday night, especially so given that some of the acts had travelled up from Brighton. There was a nice sized crowd, comprising a few estate agents, a group of students and a chap from New Jersey who was looking to get into teaching in Blighty. There was an odd moment where Mike caught a person checking his phone and the man claimed there had been a family death or something along those lines. Mike rightly doubted this, but was smart enough not to press the bloke, as that is not somewhere you want to go when warming up the audience.

Joe Foster opened by asking everyone how they were doing and generally saying hello. Whilst this may have eased him into his set I felt that it added little of comedy value. The bulk of his material concerned a works health and safety course, before he moved on to other topics. The material was pretty good and despite the fact that he had no links between different topics he was speaking fast enough for this jumping from area to area not to feel too jarring. I enjoyed his ad lib, as did the audience, judging from the applause break. Foster’s delivery was forceful, and he seemed to over emphasise what he was saying, as if he were addressing a rally and wanted his points to be crystal clear. Over five minutes this manner of speaking worked quite well, but over ten minutes or longer I’m not sure it wouldn’t outstay its’ welcome. There was a moment where Foster lost track of his material, but he’d done well and the audience forgave him this short lapse and he made it through to the final.

The Australian Brodi Snook was up next. Her set was very good on more than one level. It was funny, but it was also one that I could enjoy on a technical level, too. This was a well constructed set, with toppers and added reveals. The material was largely autobiographical, but it didn’t have the self-indulgent feel of some sets that are personal, nor did it skate along the edge of telling us more about her than what we really wanted to know. Snook’s delivery was calm and perhaps if I was being very picky, more competent and capable than inspired. The only part of her set that I thought fell below a very enjoyable standard was the inclusion of the line ‘so that’s going well’ which is very much overused on the circuit, even though as ever, it received a big laugh when she used it. Snook made it through to the final and is certainly a highly credible act.

Aaron Levene followed. He began with a few lookalikes. This kind of material is a bit of a staple opening and whilst it isn’t that creative, it can be relied upon to get an easy laugh and tonight it helped to establish Levene with the audience. Levene’s night could be divided into two halves, pre and post Holocaust. The material prior to the Holocaust was decent enough and the audience were going with it, despite the S&M reveal whlst not being exactly predictable, the actual type of reveal was. When it came to his material on the Holocaust Levene lost the room. Not massively, but enough to make all the difference needed to go off at a gong show. Although I liked the Eva Braun line, I’m not convinced that even a Jewish act has a lot to gain by attempting to mine the Holocaust for material. I think that Levene would do better to rethink that section as comedically it seems more of a liability than an asset.

Martin Huburn began with clever line about New Jersey, which owing to the presence of the New Jersey native in the room had a feel of immediacy to it, especially so when he tied it in to Leicester. This was an early audience pleaser. From here Huburn gave a largely different set to what I had seen on Thursday night in Stoke and one that felt fresher and lighter in tone. I was especially happy with his ‘down with the kids’ line, which like many a good gag worked in more than one way and it took me a few seconds to get the full impact of the joke. Despite Huburn’s habit last night of saying ‘right’ a lot, this was a set that generated a lot of momentum as he delivered it with passion. After having received all green cards, Huburn just managed to lose the room over a new bit of material and was a surprising late gonging.

After the intermission we resumed with Robert Callaghan occupying the sweet spot, which as he was doing his first ever gig was pretty fair. Mike gave him a supportive build up and he came to the stage with the audience feeling well disposed towards him. Unfortunately Callaghan didn’t repay this trust with a lot of laughs. Even for a virgin act in front of a crowd willing him to do well he struggled. He began with an anecdote that concerned an unremarkable conversation on a night out and then talked about Theresa May and bikes, where he lost the room.

Alex Black rebuilt the atmosphere with an enjoyable set that with a bit of luck ended on a natural high at the five minute cut off. It was nice to see Black being happy to banter with the audience and move away from his set before returning to it. This helped to keep the gig feeling fresh. Black’s final minute was absolutely spot on with the timing and a joy to see.

Belle Busby was disappointing. She opened with lookalikes, where she was unlucky with Levene having done his version of this prior to her. Following this, she commented on her unusual accent before a brief foray into her job and then a large section about her luck in relationships. The accent material and occupation were both very brief and didn’t seem to have much depth beyond a few comments and I’d liked to have seen either given enough attention to make them feel less than throwaway comments. When it came to discussing relationships Busby was on a sticky wicket. Being rubbish with the opposite sex is a topic that has been covered so many times it is extremely difficult to make it fresh or for it to stand out and Busby’s material on it just didn’t feel like anything we’d not heard a version of before. With different material she would be much improved. Busby was confident and her delivery was fine so I’d like to see her again. On a personal level I was impressed by her taking her gonging in very good heart and thanking the audience for listening – she was a good sport.

Although Dave Fensome didn’t win, he was the act that impressed me the most. He had the look of an experienced act and had a plausibility about him that few other entrants had. I enjoyed his material, there were a lot of well thought out lines – the house rabbit reveal was a lovely surprise. His delivery was that of a man angry with the world and his ageing position in it. However, he had the level of bitterness right. He wasn’t that angry to alienate the room, but he still had enough to carry conviction and give weight to his material. This was a very good set.

Mark Row had a good night, winning the contest. Row had some good material and a fast engaging delivery. There were a couple of areas where I guessed the reveal before he said it (hospice collection and shag list), which was a bit disappointing, but this was more than balanced out by some very good stuff. Pot Noodle was great and Trumped was an example of an actual witty Trump gag. Row is quite a wordsmith and it was enjoyable just listening to his command of the English language. Row won the vote off in the final by a large margin.

Houssem Rhaiem usually makes a strong showing in gong shows, but last night went out late into his set. On the plus side there was evidence of improvement with the substitute gag being reworked so that it is now pacier. On the other hand the two Trump gags felt a bit superficial. I was very surprised when Rhaiem lost his place in his set, as this is very unusual for him.

Ben Bridgeman opened with a local reference about Kasabian which fell flat. His set made a slow recovery from this and he looked likely to be an early gonging until he was saved by a reference to an American. His set came to life at this, but not enough to save him from being gonged off at the last hurdle. I wasn’t very happy to see him come off the stage, grab his jumper and then leave the room not saying cheerio to anyone with perhaps a ten second gap between these actions. I’ve seen people move more slowly when there has been a fire in a room. This seemed to be a bit bad tempered and unsporting.

Stephen Catling didn’t have a great night. He took to the stage wearing a big coat and if my Gran had seen him wearing it indoors the first thing she’d have asked him was is he staying or leaving soon. The answer was leaving soon. Catling isn’t visually funny or imposing and he needed to say something within the first twenty seconds to give the audience a reason to listen to him and want to hear more. Instead he gave the room some whimsy, which no one seemed to want to engage with. If he had used more that was immediately funny he might have been given a chance to take the audience with him, but it was not to be.

Shaun Turner was the final act. He does well at gong shows, regularly winning or making the final. He has a confident delivery, holds the room well and tonight he seemed a bit sharper. However, apart from cock or balls all of his material is based upon him having cerebral palsy and I find it gets repetitive very quickly. I’d very much like to see him broaden his approach. Last night he was runner up.

The Rigger – Tim Cullen, Dominic Harasiwka, Claire Keegan, Mark Woodrow, Martin Huburn, Grace Green, Howard Anstock, Michael Hartless, Brian Bell, Josh McAuley, Mark Richardson and Ben Turner

Tonight I was at The Rigger in Stoke Newcastle Under Lyme, for the Funhouse gong show. This is a rock pub with an ambience similar to The Maze in Nottingham and it was pretty full. There were a lot of acts from the Northwest and I was hoping that they wouldn’t repeat what I once saw in Derby. There a group of Mancunians and a Liverpudlians were performing and half of them did material on how rough it was where they were from and after the third description of, ‘if you’ve ever seen Shameless…’ I despaired as probably did the Northwest Tourist board if they were watching. Fortunately tonight was very different. Mike, looking like a New Romantic in his black Guardsman’s tunic, started the night off with a faux pas when he said how nice it was to be in Stoke, which the denizens of Newcastle Under Lyme were quick to take issue with. This led him nicely into some good material about a wall. There was then a lovely moment when someone on the front row was silly enough not to have turned their phone off and Mike answered it. Upon mishearing the girl’s name, Ocean (not a name at the front of anyone’s mind, admittedly), as O2, Mike proceeded to try to sign the chap up to a more expensive package. This was a lot of fun and before long we were ready for our first act.

Tim Cullen opened, with a low energy delivery. He had some nice bits, such as where he referenced the audience and a few callbacks which added sparkle, but the pacing on the jacuzzi routine was out and it didn’t feel as if it was going anywhere. Cullen’s delivery contained a lot of ers and erms, which in a new act is fair enough. He was a late gonging and owing to it seeming to take an age for the 3rd red card to go up, it seemed almost cruel.

Next was Dominic Harasiwka, the owner of a name that is likely to be causing problems for comperes for a few years to come and also a remarkable resemblance to Tormund from Game of Thrones. I was surprised that he referenced neither of these, not that they were elephants in the room in any kind of way, but it did seem almost natural that they’d get a mention. Harasiwka gave the audience a very strong set with original material that had a nice fresh feel to it. The ounces section was decent and reverse euphemisms is a great premise that I was very impressed with. I did think he missed a chance for improving a line when talking about the mean streets of America, as this had an almost throwaway feel to it and just making it the mean streets of wherever he is on that night would tie it in to the audience and get a laugh – more so if it is somewhere incongruous. Harasiwka’s delivery was a touch on the hesitant in places, but not massively so. He was a well placed finalist and I feel that he is an act that has potential, especially so given the strength of his material.

Next was Claire Keegan who had an unwise choice of material. Cancer is a difficult topic to make funny. It is also something that pretty much everyone has lost someone to and there is always the risk that an audience member will have suffered recently so this makes it more trouble than it is probably worth as a comedy topic, especially for a non-pro act whom the room don’t know well enough to trust to lead them into somewhere funny with it. As a result Keegan’s set veered from being bleak to just being depressing and it definitely needed more in it that was funny to make it seem worth investing in listening to.

Mark Woodrow gave the performance of the night and was a worthy winner of the show. He came onto the stage sounding happy and was a breath of fresh air after Keegan. He began well with tying his opening into her set and then doing a small bit of room work – all of this showed that he was very much wide awake. He did continue the 100% record of Ulster acts having a joke about bombs, albeit his approach was from a different angle and didn’t involve using his accent as the mainspring of the routine. The lollipop man routine was stronger. I especially enjoyed Woodrow’s delivery, which fluctuated nicely in tune with his set, being dry almost deadpan one moment and then a smile or grin beaming out at just the right moment when he delivered the reveal. This was a cracking set.

Martin Huburn had a good night. He hit the room with 2 puns and never really looked back. He took a risk in poking a bit of fun at Newcastle under Lyme, but had enough charm to be able to carry on. He was unlucky in a shout out ruining one joke, but he turned it around with a quick retort. The gypsy material is a bit of a two edged sword. On the downside, it momentarily gives the wrong impression of Huburn’s character, but on the upside it leads into a nice little routine. This was a fun and upbeat set that saw him through into the final.

Grace Green was easily the liveliest and most bubbly act of the night, making the final easily. She delivered a lot of her material crouched forwards slightly and there was a very strong element of performance in her set. Green’s act was an odd one in that she managed to be very entertaining without her material being massively funny. She had some good word play, the dinosaur impression wasn’t without its’ charm and the dog tickling was fun, but the material definitely lagged behind her skills as a showman. I enjoyed what I saw and with material to match the delivery she will be a very strong act.

Howard Anstock was pleasant with decent material (potato waffle being the stand out), although he was probably wasting time by mentioning a couple of stories and then just writing them off with saying time constraints meant that he couldn’t tell them. Luckily this didn’t hurt him too badly and he made the final. I was very happy with his ability to think on his feet and ad lib when the speakers gave two knocks, or if he had engineered this, to make it look natural.

Michael Hartless made the final more on his smooth delivery than his material. His material consisted of him complaining about his job in a call centre and slagging off the one dimensional characters that inhabit it. This felt more like someone with a job they hate taking advantage of a captive audience to moan to than actual comedy. Simon Wozniak has a routine where he complains about his job in a call centre, but that is injected with originality and a lot more depth than this.

Brian Bell started well, but then came to a total grinding halt when he forgot the next bit. Bad luck on his part and a long 15 seconds of near silence for the rest of the room. He almost recovered with the Moors/Shipman material, which is good, but he went off at the first vote.

Josh McAuley opened his heart to the room with some very personal material which made it feel like he should have been on a couch, rather than on a stage. Personal material about misfortunes of life is fine, but it also needs to have some lightness and more importantly something that is immediately funny to buy the act enough time for this set up to get to the point where it generates a return. McAuley didn’t last that long, going off to a split decision.

Mark Richardson didn’t have a great night. I’ve seen him three times and each time he has had a different set. On one level this is highly laudable, but on the other hand, the first batch of material was very good and he may be better off working on improving that, as the last two outings have been poor in comparison. His delivery had a flamboyant physicality, but the room just didn’t go with him at all and off he went.

Ben Turner had the feel of an experienced act, but a couple of bits of his material felt a bit old hat. Remarking on what gives people the right to come up and look at babies in a pram and looking at photos of exs on facebook have been covered a lot of times and he didn’t really add anything not already said. Fingers was clever, but I think that only half of the room twigged on to it, which was a shame. Turner’s delivery was interesting. He stood leaning back and spoke in short sentences. With a full stop. Almost after every few words. Making it seem quite staccato.

Admiral Rodney – Roger Monkouse, Gary Meikle and Mike Gunn

Tonight I was back at the Admiral Rodney in Southwell for the Funhouse gig after what has seemed like ages away. It was nice to have to queue to get into a comedy night; a large well disposed audience adds no end to the atmosphere. Spiky Mike struck some gold during his compering when chatting to a p/t rock musician and this led to a very nice callback based upon the band’s name (Beggars Belief). The room was soon ready for the opening act.

I’d seen Roger Monkhouse before where he had compered a gig, so I was looking forwards to watching his routine. He made a bit of an inadvertent false start when within 30 seconds or so of him starting a group of latecomers arrived and noisily made their way to the only free seats, which were inevitably on the front row. He was unlucky in that one of the late comers was a bit of a pain and whenever Monkhouse went back to speak to him, this chap would just mess him about with his answers. In the end he just decided to ignore him, which was for the best. However, before he reached this point Monkhouse made the most of the fact that this man was short and bald, which gave the tall and bald Monkhouse an open goal which he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of by introducing the room to ‘mini me’. Following the applause break, he moved on into the standard bald person list of lookalikes, which went down well. The set that followed involved a lot of monologues by the well spoken Monkhouse. He went out on quite a limb with some of these, but always managed to bring everything back in. This was a set with a lot of nice touches, but for me the best line was the Daesh/Saga comment. Monkhouse’s delivery was very interesting, he’d repeat a lot of words and his sentence structure was quite convoluted and whilst he could arguably benefit from being shorter and snappier I think that if he did he would lose the essence of what makes his performance so engaging.

Originally there were to be two acts in the middle section, but one unavoidably couldn’t make it so Gary Meikle stepped into the gap to do an extended set, which worked very well. Meikle hit the ground running, opening with a good joke that immediately established his credibility. This was a set that flowed nicely and there were a lot of good jokes and strong routines. The pounds routine was well acted out, which gave it added impetus and the sarcasm in Meikle’s voice as he commented about the reading lamp was tangible. Meikle was restraining himself in front of this audience, keeping his set clean and not going to places where he may have gone with a different room and I think this did dilute some of his impact. He did test the waters a couple of times with riskier material, but was wise enough to pull back when it seemed that the room weren’t up for it. Ironically, I believe that if he had played it less restrained from the beginning then the room would probably have gone with him. There were two instances where he asked the audience to give him a cheer if…. and there was silence. This could have been awkward, but Meikle rolled with it both times and turned each occasion into something funny, getting laughs for his responses. I was surprised at him being left hanging as the room was enjoying his set and laughing a lot. This was a very enjoyable performance from an act that I’d like to see gigging down here more.

Mike Gunn headlined the night. Gunn is a reliable performer with a sharply honed mature set. He delivers short gags in strings and builds up a lot of momentum very quickly. Every so often he’d explain a joke to a member of the audience, but this was more to add emphasis to the punchline than because something needed explaining. Gunn would chat to the audience between jokes, preparing the set up for the next string of gags and it served its’ other purpose of tying his act in to the audience well. The callback on yawning was great and the pros and cons of holidaying abroad was fantastic, probably the line of the night. Gunn’s timing was excellent I can see why he has such an impressive comedy CV.

Canal House: Matthew McAloone, Chris Fay, Morgan Rees, Rik Carranza, Jay Scott, Phil Yates, Peter de Biasio, Scott Bennett and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, a show that I’ve missed recently due to work. This is a cracking show, with a great mix of new, up and coming and established acts and one never quite knows what you’ll see of a given night. The one common denominator, though, is that it will be great. This was another sold out event and it doesn’t half create a big atmosphere when the room is full – especially for the newer acts who probably haven’t performed in front of 100 plus people before.

Tonight’s MC was Steff Todd, an up and coming act from Sheffield who was in the role of compere for the first time. I was curious as how she would work out in this slot and the answer was pretty good. She got everyone’s names right, did the rules and wasn’t afraid to tell people off for talking nor did she make the night all about her, so this was all as it should be. She even avoided asking people what they did for a living and where they are from, which is something that 99% of MC’s do and which grates on me, as often enough the same people are asked or a non-local compere mangles the place names or confuses the ritzy and shit areas. Todd was also very funny – the Murdoch tweet reveal was brilliant. The only thing I felt that she didn’t quite nail was the balance between material and room work. She used a lot of material, which in fairness she did tie some of this in to conversations with the audience, but a bit more room work would have improved the mix. Apart from that small point, she was a strong MC and I doubt anyone would have realised that she hadn’t done it more often. Todd is an act worth keeping an eye on as she’s got a future in comedy.

The opening act was Ulsterman Matthew McAloone who began well by using one of Todd’s jokes about facebook as a springboard into his first routine. However, from this he continued the almost 100% pattern of Belfast born comedians doing material about their accent being associated with bomb threats – this always gets a laugh, but it does feel like something you can tick off in a game of regional accent comedy bingo. I found McAloone’s material about his haircut to be more original and far stronger. His line about beautiful black man was great, as was the time lapse as it sank in and people got it at their own pace. The routine about emojis was also good and something that I’ve not heard many people do material on. This was a well put together and capable set by a confident performer who earned a lot of laughter and set the bar for the rest of the comedians high. However, it was also a performance that curiously didn’t have much warmth in it – McAloone felt a little bit aloof from the room.

Next was Bristol based Chris Fay, who made a bizarre start to his set by encouraging the audience to tell him to fuck off and then taking this no further, not building anything out of it, or using it as any kind of set up. With nothing else to it, this felt a bit pointless and devoid of any real comedy value. He was unlucky in when announcing where he was from he started a chain of 2-3 audience members declaiming where they were from, but he managed to save himself from getting bogged down. He then went on to deliver material that was pretty bleak and it would have benefited from more to lift it up. This was also a sweary set, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case I don’t think it added anything in the way of emphasis to what he was saying. Fay did well to turn this set around, as at mid point he seemed in danger of losing the room, mostly due to it being bleak with little lightness, and the Yankee Candle routine rescued his set. The line about setting fire to was very good and the stand out of his performance.

The final act of the first section was Morgan Rees, whom I regard as being a good act. I enjoyed the joke about asking someone their favourite animal as the reveal was wonderfully offbeat and caught everyone by surprise. The first three jokes weren’t related, which did give his opening a bit of a disjointed feel, but I was probably the only person who noticed that. This was the first time I’ve heard people guess the Welsh for microwave, which didn’t throw Rees off in the slightest. This was a good performance with material nicely different to what other people are doing.

We resumed after the intermission with Rik Carranza, who mixed a well timed delivery with a set that was partly clever and also in need of improvement. In fairness some of this was new material, but asking people over 30 and under 30 to cheer and announcing that that was the sound of hope is pretty hack and I think he can do better than that. Arguably material on Trump having small hands, whilst not in the same street, is still fairly well travelled. Sci-fi sexual was a great premise and Carranza could have gone further with this by throwing out a bizarre example – this seemed to me like a missed opportunity. Mummy Jacking was great, but the George Takei gag seemed to take more time to set up, albeit with laughs along the way, than what the final reveal was worth and this needed a little bit more. This was a good set and whilst Carranza isn’t the finished article, it’s always nice to see his name on a bill.

Next was Jay Scott, who was performing for his first ever time and thanks to NCF’s policy of encouraging new talent, this was to be in front of over 100 people. No pressure there, obviously. In truth, Scott was a very confident presence and I initially doubted that this was his first time. He was given a big build up by Todd, which helped him launch into his set. For a new act, Scott was very eager to banter with the audience and this could have backfired, but he never looked in danger of that, as he seemed to be mentally that bit in front of everyone he spoke to. He reminded me a lot of Fran Jenking as they both sound similar and perform in the same way. His actual material can be divided into two: superstition, which was decent enough and some bizarre news headlines from around the world which he has found on the internet and read off of his phone. I’m not keen on that kind of material, as I think it’s basically lazy writing, but as a new act Scott gets a free pass on that. Scott was stronger bantering with the room than he was with his material and this is usually the reverse in new acts. Once he has found his feet in comedy I can imagine him making a good MC. This was a creditable and likeable first gig.

Phil Yates was next. This is a comic who has funny bones. He has a slow and dry delivery that adds an extra level of humour to everything he says. Yates had an early applause break and there was a lot of laughter during his performance. He has improved since I last saw him and if he carries on as he is I can imagine him doing a few open 10 spots instead of gongs sooner rather than later. Not everything was plain sailing, he would have been better organising someone to hold the cards up prior to getting on stage, but that’s the sort of thing that you only need to learn once and there were also a fair few erms in his set that slightly hurt his momentum. Neither of these are particularly big criticisms and Yates is definitely a comedian with potential.

Peter de Biasio began the final section, suffering from a delay with getting a song to play on his phone. He made something out of this with a self-deprecating quick ad-lib, but I felt that the Ed Sheeran routine was the weakest part of his material. The head routine was good, especially the parts about work and I also enjoyed his stuff about his sister’s difficulty in navigating. Both of these were very good and the room found them easy to relate to. De Biasio has improved since I last saw him and this was a set with applause and a lot of laughter.

Headlining was Scott Bennett, who was superb. This was new material being honed and since Bennett is a perfectionist it was extremely good, the sort of stuff that a fair number of pro comedians would already be satisfied with. Take me out was great, but Sea Life was fantastic. Bennett was supporting Rob Brydon last week, but I know which one of the two I’d recommend to someone wanting to see cracking comedy and that is Bennett.

Ashby – Mark Nelson, Jim Grant, Chris Stokes and Jonny Awsum

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. As ever, the room was full and the mood was eager for comedy. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, discovering who was whom in the audience and setting up the room for the acts. The first person he spoke to, Ray (not his friend Fake Ray), claimed to have been a professional badminton player, which Mike was highly sceptical of and in questioning who watches that sport he got a lot of comedy value from it. Mike struck gold with the people he chatted to next. It was a couple eight weeks into a relationship and the lady worked for a company that allowed her to take costumes home this led to some very funny queries. The room was soon ready for our first act.

Mark Nelson had a set that was balanced nicely between material and him chatting to the audience to set up his material and he had received his first big laugh within a minute of climbing onto the stage. His set covered accents, gender, sexual orientation, Islamic State birthday parties, things floating in baths and marriage and it flowed along very nicely. He put the young couple sat on the front row that Mike had been chatting to on the spot in a way that I’ve never seen an act do before and received a big laugh for it. When discussing Islamic State birthday parties Nelson used a joke about pass the parcel that I liked and also disliked. I liked it because it was very funny and it fitted like a glove, but I wasn’t too keen on it, because I’ve heard it used for almost every terrorist organisation going. This is a minor quibble on what was an excellent and highly engaging performance that was very well received.

We resumed after the intermission with Jim Grant, who delivered a fast speaking set. Grant has potential, but his set was marred by three things. He began with asking the audience to raise their right hand and then lower it into the lap of the person sat next to them, which is a bit of an old chestnut. He told a gag about being pulled over by the police, with a papers/scissors reveal, which is all over the net and I think he misjudged the mood of the room in delivering a very politically polemical set. I like political comedy (John Scott and Rahul Kohli are stand outs at this) and am on the old left when it comes to my politics, but this felt like Grant was playing to the Socialist Worker’s Party during some routines. Whilst there is an audience for this, middle class Tory voting Ashby isn’t it and I think he was going very much against the mood of the room with it. The stunt with the fork was a nice touch, although he would have benefited by rotating a touch so that all of the room could see it and get the full value from the prop. I was also puzzled about why he chose Leeds for the dodgy city in one joke. I could understand this if he was playing in Lancashire or Sheffield, but it seemed a strange choice for Ashby and his joke, which was a good one, would have had more impact if he had chosen somewhere local like Coalville. This all sounds highly damning, but in truth there was also a lot to like in Grant’s set. Condom party and IS flag were both funny and clever and I really appreciated the callbacks that he used. The areas that I wasn’t keen on are all easily adjusted and Grant has potential. He’s certainly an act I’d like to see again.

Chris Stokes had a fantastic night. He started by referencing how young he looked before going on to chat about his life. He made a quiet start chatting away, but this was a set that built up all the way throughout. Stokes demonstrated that he had been listening closely to everything that had been said before and I love it when a comedian can reference people and gags as it makes the night feel bigger than the sum of its parts. He received an applause break for a callback to Nelson’s set and even managed to chat to a couple who knew the small village where he had grown up without losing momentum, although by rights the surprise probably would have wrong footed many other acts. In contrast, Stokes didn’t put a foot wrong throughout his set. There was a lot of good quality writing in evidence and his delivery was perfectly pitched to what he was saying. With his soft West Midlands accent and his pattern and rhythm of speech, Stokes reminded me a lot of Thomas Rackham, as they both sound identical. This was a performance that never came close to outstaying its welcome and Stokes was tremendous.

Jonny Awsum closed the night and he’s ideal for sending an audience out on a high. There is a huge feel good factor to his work and it is very upbeat. There is also a lot of stagecraft involved, too and Awsum showed how quick on the uptake he was when he was chatting to the couple on the front row. Despite being on a double, he realised straight away that they had probably already been spoken to and the likely questions they had been asked and backed away, moving on to talk to other people. Awsum sings, which he does with verve and he involves the entire room in the songs, which gives his set a great feeling of inclusivity. The highlight of his set was when he got Fake Ray on stage to play the harmonica. Getting people on stage must be like minesweeping, as there is always the chance that you’ll pick someone uncomfortably uncooperative, or even worse someone who disrupts the show. Fake Ray turned out to be brilliantly up for the idea. In a way that wasn’t overpowering, or especially disruptive, for 5 minutes he managed to steal the show from Awsum, as he joined in mimicking the chord that Jonny was playing. This ended wonderfully with a version of duelling banjos and this was a truly great moment. It was nice to see Awsum do a very welcome encore.

February – acts that have impressed me the most this month

This has been a nice month for comedy, with me seeing over 40 acts. The highlight was the UK Pun Championship and the low was a gong show entrant singing 4 different songs about vaginas on the trot.

These are the acts who have impressed me the most this month:

Archie Maddocks

This was a cracking set and although it occupied the sweet spot of the night, Maddocks managed to be the comedian who stood out on a good bill.

From the night:

Archie Maddocks gave the stand out performance of the night. Although he was introduced by the wrong name (a first for Spiky Mike), he rolled with this and then built upon it as he threw himself into a relaxed, yet fast talking set. Maddocks built up a lot of momentum as every reference hit home, including a Breaking Bad/knitting crossover and in a room 80% full of pensioners, a well received pussy joke. My personal favourite was a toss up between a routine about lineage or his indestructible granddad – both were excellent. In addition to the routines, Maddocks was happy to chat to the audience, although I felt the question asked was better framed as a rhetorical one. He did become one of the few acts I’ve heard booed, even in a friendly manner, when he commented on the number of old people in the room, but he had enough charm and goodwill to maintain his grip upon the room. This was an excellent set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

Simon Lomas

This guy is building a big following and it’s easy to see why. Lomas has bags of talent and writes good material, but the real joy is in his delivery. Simply put, this is a man who has found his calling in life.

From the night:

Some people look like jokers, others look as if they are purveyors of deep and meaningful poetry and this makes Simon Lomas the clickbait of comedy – he gets on stage and you simply won’t believe what happens next. He performs his set with his body facing right of the audience, with wonderfully slow pacing and fantastic timing on the pauses. Lomas is compelling viewing and he held the room masterfully. This performance was a mix of existing and new material and he hoovered up a lot of laughs. Chicken pox is a work in progress, but everything else was top notch. I’ve already tipped Lomas as a comedian who will have a very progressive year and this has confirmed my opinion that he is going to go far.

Anna King-Jackson

I’ve seen King-Jackson twice this month and both times she impressed me with her quality. For an inexperienced comedian, she is already remarkably well advanced.

From the 2nd night:

Anna King-Jackson is a fairly new act and I believe that she has the ability to do well with comedy. Her set felt joined up, rather than just isolated bits of funny and she delivers it well. I like how she does a short set up and then a reveal, which ensures that she almost has the punchiness of a one-liner comedian, but contained within an actual progressively building set. King-Jackson did end with a few puns and these were knowingly groan worthy, which was ok, but could be improved upon. Although having said that, the Stonehenge Star Wars gag was very nice indeed. I was impressed by King-Jackson not being afraid of chatting to the audience. It’s nice when an act takes a risk like that, rather than staying on a script and it is even better when they can address people spoken to by the MC by name. This was a very good set from someone who shall become even better with more stage time.

UK Pun Championship acts

This was a lovely night and these three acts stood out the most.

Luvdev Barpaiga

He was a worthy winner and the most consistently good pun slinger of the evening.

Julian Lee

Lee was fascinating to watch. He’s a dominating presence and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he does a lot of compering. As it was he mixed his prepared puns and some very good ad libs and there was a palpable feeling of him being able to find a quip for anything.

Iain MacDonald

Although not a finalist, the quietly spoken MacDonald was probably the most impressive act of the night. His writing was superb and his dry, almost understated delivery is certain to build a huge amount of momentum over the course of a set.

Honourable Mentions

Roger Swift, Ben Shannon, Hal Cruttenden,

Grosvenor – Ben Shannon, Anna King-Jackson, Jack Topher, Danny Clives, Hannah Silvester, Scott Bennett and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Funhouse Comedy night at the Grosvenor pub, a place easy to get into, but harder to get home from due to a left hand only and then a no left hand turn set of lanes. I arrived there early enough for there to be a lot of empty chairs and I had a momentary worry that there was going to be a small audience, but instead it was a case of finding extra chairs by the time everyone had arrived. This crowd had perhaps the quickest reset button that I have seen. One minute they would be laughing and then the next minute, total silence and this made them a very tough crowd to impress. The only acts who didn’t seem to fall victim to this were Anna King-Jackson and Scott Bennett.

Our compere was Stevie Gray, who has something of a genius for getting audiences involved in shows and tonight was no exception. He had brought his wife’s best Tefal frying pans with him to assist two audience members in a timed pancake day toss off. This added a large element of fun wackiness to the night and I liked watching it. Rooms warm easily to Gray and this one was no exception, seeming to prefer his banter to material. He did have to remind one girl not to talk whilst the acts were on, as she did get a little bit disruptive, but that is all in a nights’ work for a MC. It was also good to see him chatting to the audience during the intermission, making them feel welcome.

Our opening act was Ben Shannon, who is a comedian that stays nicely on the accessible side of quirky. I enjoy watching Shannon, as I feel that he has the potential to become very good. Tonight things didn’t go as well as I’d have hoped and he certainly wasn’t helped by a lady shouting out a guess at one of his reveals, which hurt his momentum. I’ve seen Shannon do well with his material at quite a few shows, but tonight this audience didn’t seem to go with it and this was a shame.

Anna King-Jackson is a fairly new act and I believe that she has the ability to do well with comedy. Her set felt joined up, rather than just isolated bits of funny and she delivers it well. I like how she does a short set up and then a reveal, which ensures that she almost has the punchiness of a one-liner comedian, but contained within an actual progressively building set. King-Jackson did end with a few puns and these were knowingly groan worthy, which was ok, but could be improved upon. Although having said that, the Stonehenge Star Wars gag was very nice indeed. I was impressed by King-Jackson not being afraid of chatting to the audience. It’s nice when an act takes a risk like that, rather than staying on a script and it is even better when they can address people spoken to by the MC by name. This was a very good set from someone who shall become even better with more stage time.

Jack Topher opened the middle section. Topher is an act who is gigging more regularly and seems that little bit sharper every time I see him. I did feel that he got his opening jokes in the wrong order tonight, as he opened with a joke and then did two jokes about his connections to Nottingham and I think that he would have gotten a better response if he had begun with his local connections. There are some clever touches to the material, such as the people he is with on a night out with and his line about his brother is an absolute joy. As always, there were time lags whilst the jokes sank in and I don’t think that the 2 seconds between joke and resultant laughter on brother will ever get old. Like most acts tonight, Topher suffered a bit from the audience blowing hot and cold, but this was still a good performance from an act who is looking more confident with every gig.

Next was the low energy Danny Clives, who was unfortunately hard to hear at the back of the room. Clives has some good material – shy is a clever line that deserved a lot more than it received. In common with the other acts, the audience seemed to go with some material and then bizarrely not with others that were of equal strength; however, there was plenty of laughter for the jokes that the audience went with.

Hannah Silvester started well, talking quickly and delivering some good material, before the mood of the room dipped during diets, to pick up again with beach and the closing song. The closing song is a good one and I enjoyed the rest of her material, although super fruits was perhaps the weakest part of the set. However, as I’ve already said, the audience seemed unfairly picky about what they were willing to laugh at and this continued during Silverster’s performance.

Our headline act was Scott Bennett, a comedian who will strengthen any line up. He has the ability of an experienced pro act and the enthusiasm for comedy of a new act and this makes for a great combination. I did think that Bennett would be doing new material tonight, but seeing how hit and miss the audience were, he made a wise choice in wheeling out his strongest material. The result was something of a foregone conclusion. Within 5 seconds of walking onto the stage it was obvious the audience were in the palm of his hand and he had an applause break with 2 minutes; one chap was laughing so hard he momentarily choked. The material was all solid and relatable, going down a storm, apart from Postman Pat, which although it’s good and I’ve seen it smash rooms, wasn’t as well received by this audience. The Toby Carvery routine was bought into by everyone and provided a cracking end to the night. During Bennett’s performance the lights momentarily went out, twice in quick succession and then again a third time, which he riffed with, getting laughs, even if it did halt a karate based routine. This was put down to dodgy wiring, but Ben Shannon actually spotted the culprit the third time – it was a chap sat next to the lights who looked to be pushing the plug about. Luckily Shannon didn’t need to have a chat with him, as he desisted and hopefully it was something of an accident. Either way, it didn’t spoil what was a splendid performance.

Grantham – Tanyalee Davis, Andy Stedman, Archie Maddocks and Hal Cruttenden

Last night I was in Grantham at the Funhouse Comedy night. This was a sold out night, but one where the odd person had bought a ticket, but not shown up, which must be frustrating for those who couldn’t get a ticket. Supporting the night, but not performing were Lincoln based comedians Paul Mutagejja and Will Collishaw. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, albeit with one rather awkward slip, where he got the name of an act wrong for the first time. Mike began very well, making timely jokes about Storm Doris, commenting to one chap on the front row that he’d look happy to be blown. This was followed by some very nice lines as he spoke to the audience, finding new people and there was a lot of laughter. Mike looked sharp, built the atmosphere and got the room ready for our opening act.

Tanyalee Davis struck immediate gold from the off by announcing that she was not a pokemon and then launched into a set where the majority and certainly the best of her material concerned her height. This was a geographically diverse set, with Australia, Las Vegas, North Carolina and Norfolk all coming into play. Davis looked as if she was having a good time and the audience responded by enjoying her performance. Her delivery reminded me of Robyn Perkins, but with perhaps a greater work rate. Lee painted a vivid picture during every routine, allowing the room to easily imagine the situations in which she has found herself. This was a very good set.

The first of the middle slots was occupied by the guitar toting Andy Stedman. As I’ve said many a time, I’m far from a fan of musical acts, so I was glad that Stedman had more to offer than just comic songs. The songs were enjoyed by the audience, even if not my cup of tea (2016 was the pick of the bunch). Instead, I was more impressed by the intelligence behind the set. This was well constructed and the string of puns that resulted from singer song-writer was impressive. I was also happy with the little touches, such as referencing people spoken to by Mike during his compering and the movement with the glasses when speaking to a chap on the second row – these all helped to establish a sense of Stedman’s presence. Over 10 short minutes this performance seemed to plateau – there were no ups and downs with the pacing – and concomitantly no sense of it building up momentum into a big closing routine, but I’m sure that over 20 minutes this would differ. This was an enjoyable set that held the room well, but it is also one that would have benefited from that little bit more, such as a bigger ending.

Archie Maddocks gave the stand out performance of the night. Although he was introduced by the wrong name (a first for Spiky Mike), he rolled with this and then built upon it as he threw himself into a relaxed, yet fast talking set. Maddocks built up a lot of momentum as every reference hit home, including a Breaking Bad/knitting crossover and in a room 80% full of pensioners, a well received pussy joke. My personal favourite was a toss up between a routine about lineage or his indestructible granddad – both were excellent. In addition to the routines, Maddocks was happy to chat to the audience, although I felt the question asked was better framed as a rhetorical one. He did become one of the few acts I’ve heard booed, even in a friendly manner, when he commented on the number of old people in the room, but he had enough charm and goodwill to maintain his grip upon the room. This was an excellent set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

The headliner was the bearded Hal Cruttenden, who demonstrated that solid TV and touring credits haven’t dimmed his enthusiasm for performing. This performance was one that was both excellent and irritating in equal measure. Cruttenden had some great material: his attack on facebook celebrity grief was top notch and highly relatable. The routine about his wife and Northern Ireland was also strong, as was the brief political set. This was all delivered with an enthusiasm and panache that made this feel like it was a gig he cared about, rather than a famous comedian doing his job. Cruttenden showed that he could be easily diverted, which was where it became irritating. There were two people who had passed their tipping point regarding alcohol consumption and their ability to keep quiet and whilst they had behaved up until now, they decided to join in with Cruttenden. This needn’t have been much of an issue, as he shut them down a few times, but unwisely he kept returning to them and spent a lot of time chatting with them. At times the room felt like it had become a counselling session, with him talking to the lady on the front row and the rest of the room left out in the cold. This seemed to eat up a lot of his time and whilst it was funny and Cruttenden always bounced back with flair, it didn’t half detract from him delivering material and this was where the gold was. This was a hugely enjoyable performance, but I do wish he hadn’t allowed a couple of people to divert him from delivering a great set.

The Maze, Oscar Reed, Alex Black, Salim Sidat, Chris Stiles, Orrion Kalidowski, Anna King-Jackson, Dave Luck, Anthony Burgess, Ben Shannon, Sue la Rue, Matt West and Bambam Shaikh

Tonight I was in the Maze in Nottingham for the Funhouse Gong Show. This is a pleasant contest in a rock pub and there was a decent sized audience there to see it. Originally the glow sticks were hard to see in the dark, but Spiky Mike wisely swapped these for the easier to see cards during the first intermission. Mike had a fun night compering, with a repeat slip of the tongue when he encouraged the audience to put their hands in the air, rather than in the clapping position.

Our opening act was Oscar Reed, who when I had seen him in Sheffield, had given a good performance. Tonight he had rejigged his set and whilst his opening routine isn’t there yet, the rest of his set holds promise. His material about being a philosopher was great and it felt like he reached a higher gear with this section. Unfortunately he was gonged off before he had a real chance to shine.

Next was Alex Black whom I’ve seen three times in the last year or so and it is pleasing to say that he has made a visible improvement in that time. His strongest material is about children, but it was nice to see some local material utilised, which gave his performance a more bespoke and personal to this gig feel than many. Ghandhi was interestingly, but requires more before it becomes stage ready. In contrast to when I saw him last, Black achieved better pacing with the minute allowed for the final, but hasn’t quite got a killer punch for that bit. Black’s delivery was good, but he did have an unfortunate habit of commenting about the occasions when a joke didn’t quite land, which I thought put him in danger of persuading the audience that he was doing badly when he wasn’t.

Salim Sidat, our first one-liner comic of the night was next. I have mixed feelings about him, as some of his gags were good, such as a play on his resemblance to Keith Vaz and an Escort. However, he used a joke about a camel with four humps being a Saudi Quattro, which is all over the internet. A few of his gags had a familiar ring to them and I’d much rather comedians ensure that all of their set is written by them.

Closing the first section was Yorkshireman Chris Stiles, an act whom I don’t see gigging as often as I’d like. I enjoyed the Barnsley pilot and the subsequent routine about posh plumbers, but he was a surprise early gonging. Stiles hadn’t done anything to alienate the audience and looked to be building up nicely when he was voted off out of the blue.

Orrion Kalidowski has a strong West Country accent that made it hard for me to understand what he was saying at first. He looked confident on stage as he opened by talking about his name, but although he made the final, I was surprised at this as the gaps were too long between him saying anything funny. This was a set with a lot of talking, but not a lot in the way of punchlines

Anna King-Jackson was the standout act of the night. This was a performance that combined an engaging delivery, material that held together well and some good writing. The choice of priest for one reveal was nicely novel and King-Jackson was on the verge of an applause break for the affordable holiday. During the minute allocated for the final she went with some dark material that could have split the room and risked losing the goodwill of the audience, but fortunately her earlier sterling work won through. This was an impressive performance and I’d like to see more of her.

Dave Luck, on his second gig, had a very good night delivering one-liners. He rushed his first one, not leaving enough of a gap for the period reveal to land with full force. However, after this, things went more his way, although at first he didn’t have much linking his gags. Towards the end, though, he had a string of linked gags and built up a lot of momentum with these. There was a great time delay on sales/sails, as half of the room thought it out before laughing. The quality of the gags was a tad variable, but for a second gig this was extremely encouraging performance. Sales/sails, bag for life and counterproductive were all excellent.

Anthony Burgess promised more than he delivered. He looked plausible and seemed confident, but was an early gonging. He began with a you are what you eat gag, but this was one that the self-appointed workplace funny man would say rather than being anything no one had heard before. This was followed by a premise stretched too far and off he went.

The final act of the middle section was the up and coming Ben Shannon, who was along with Jay, the only act who didn’t really need a microphone. I like Shannon, as he has a real joy of being alive and he brightens up gigs. His material is quirky, but it stays on the funny side of this and remains accessible. The ham based routine was enjoyable and I was expecting him to go through to the final. However, Shannon misjudged his timing and finished his material 30 seconds or so before his time and left in limbo without enough time to jump into a routine and he went with a couple of shorts which the room didn’t go for and so was a late gonging.

Sue la Rue (with Peter Ningita on guitar) opened the final section. Musical acts don’t often do well in gongs, but la Rue bucked this trend by making it through to the final. She began by singing a song about vaginas before doing another about vaginas and then carrying on with a third vaginal song and then during the final treated the audience to another vagina song. Although the line about weetabix was good, this was most definitely a performance that the room enjoyed more than I did. I’m not a fan of musical acts, but an act that sings just about vaginas for 5 minutes plus another 60 seconds in the final is much more than I’d like on a comedy night. It wasn’t so much crass or anything, it just got very samey quickly and it made la Rue seem more like a novelty act that a comedian.

Matt West had a topsy-turvy night. He began weakly by talking about nerves (from a new act this bit didn’t inspire confidence, even when it is put on), although in fairness this did lead into some darker and much funnier material. West then got into a bit of a rut with a joke about the beach. In context, I can understand repeating the joke in full, although he could have got away with just the first line second time round, as it was quite a time eater, but to repeat it in full a third time was certainly overkill. West then made the fatal mistake of turning his back on the audience whilst delivering some material and this broke the connect with them just as a vote came up and off he went.

Bambam Shaikh closed the night in style. Bambam is a quality character act who delivers an intelligently structured set with something in it for pretty much everyone. As is to be expected this was a strong performance by Jay and it was a joy to see him again.