Panelbeaters – hosted by Caimh McDonnell, feat. Scott Bennett, Karen Bayley, Phil Pagett, Peter Brush and with Rob Mulholland as Death

Last night I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for another Funhouse organised episode of Panelbeaters. It was very nice to see Brent and Spiky Mike putting out extra chairs for this show, although the extra people didn’t help keep the place any cooler. This was a room that seemed to heat up very quickly and I really did feel for the contestants sat under the lights. It was great to see Harry Sanders there to watch and I was surprised that there weren’t more comedians watching the performance, as this really is something special. The last time I saw the show, they had recently had an interesting time in Liverpool and the same was true of this one and their comments about the Liverpudlian audience were hilarious and provided a wonderful, if inadvertent touch of continuity. This was a show where it was useful that the audience had a good general knowledge and grasp of current affairs, as there was a lot of satire and references that may have been missed by the odd person.

The host tonight was Caimh McDonnell, the owner of an infectious giggle. He began by explaining the format and how it was all going to work, in the process warming up the audience. This didn’t take long and we were soon into the show. Caimh kept everything to a tight schedule whilst simultaneously checking that everyone had nothing else to add in any of the rounds. This was impressive, as it is natural for people to want to get in one last line and this never ever came close to degenerating into comics trying to shout over each other. McDonnell and Death (Rob Mulholland) bounce off of each other very well and it’s fun just watching them take the piss out of each other. A lot of the joy of this show came simply from watching top notch comedians just bantering away with each other and in the case of McDonnell telling a funny anecdote about a bit of audience interaction that went awry in Coventry.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Rob Mulholland playing Death. Mulholland has a creative mind that naturally pushes the envelope as far as it will go. However, this is allied to an intelligence and self-awareness that ensures that he isn’t dark or edgy for the sake of it. Instead, he manages to skate along the edges, but retains the audience whilst being very funny. I’m particularly happy about how Mulholland plays death as an overworked tradesman, almost slightly miffed about getting jobs outside of his normal workload. Last night Death got a lot of applause for his endorsement of the Tory party, which was a great touch.

The panellists were Scott Bennett, who spent the first part sat mostly behind a speaker, Karen Bayley with Bertie the dog, Phil Pagett and Peter Brush. All of these brought something different to the mix.

Bennett might have been the most regular guest on the roster and I could see why he’s often invited to take part. He had loads of material for each category. This is a comic who had put a lot of work into getting material for the questions that may come up and this was evident in both the volume and quality of his output. Bennett paints a vivid picture and it was very easy for the audience to get on board with him when he launched into what were almost miniature routines, such as the ‘Turd Card’, which I’m hoping he develops further, as it is a cracking premise. Bennett was also incredibly fast on the buzzer and at times seemed to be restraining himself from jumping in too often. In addition to this, it was obvious that Scott was fully with the idea behind the show and was being deliberately dark and provocative with his jokes. He did this so well that on the way home I had to explain to my cousin that this was actually very far removed Bennett’s normal stock in trade, which is family friendly.

Karen Bayley made a slow start in the show, not really establishing her presence until the second half. She did well with the jokes about her gran, but in contrast to the other contestants she wasn’t very dark or edgy and this may not have helped her to stand out.

Phil Pagett had a good night, with the ‘I wouldn’t say….’ round almost being tailor made for this one-liner expert. There were some rather splendid ad-libs present, such as Barkalepsy and the rolling series of gags about Hungary were spot on. Whilst Bennett scored with mini routines, Pagett gained his laughter from some very sharply observed comments and this all added to the variety of the panel.

Peter Brush is a very intelligent comedian who writes clever routines which he delivers from a low status perspective. In some ways, this made him almost the odd one out, as he would pause and then give his line at his own pace and this was not only a nice contrast, but it also proved that good things came to those who waited. Brush’s notion about people having one vote was a genius idea and following recent elections and plebiscites one that a lot of people were in sympathy with. It was clear that Brush had done his research on Derby and was able to slide in a provocative comment about Clough doing his best work in local rivals, Nottingham. A few of his references were missed by some of the audience, such as the Fake Sheikh, but for those who did get them they were extremely impressive. Bush’s line about the pussy was so incongruous to be splendiferously hilarious.

So you think you’re Funny? – Terry and Ted, Chelsea Thompson, Joe Bowley, Carla Pol, Moses Francis, Claire Keegan, Luca Love, Hannah Platt, Mathew Taylor, Sham Zaman and James

Tonight I was in Leicester for the So you think you’re Funny? heat, organised by Funhouse Comedy. This involved an early start for the show which was much appreciated by those acts who had to be at work the next day. This contest is open to comedians who have been gigging for a year and they have seven minutes for their performance. There was to be no winner announced after the show, instead the judges were to make their announcements later in the year, after other heats. This meant that they were free to send a few acts through if they had been impressed by more than one, or perhaps none, if no one was what they were looking for. Whilst there weren’t many acts on the bill that I’d seen before, it was a wonderfully diverse line up with a good gender balance and a selection of musical, character, prop, double and one liner acts. The room was cold to begin with and seemed reluctant to warm up, with Spiky Mike having to work hard to inject energy into the audience.

Terry and Ted

The opening act was a double act. It was only yesterday that I was saying how infrequent these are on the circuit and then lo and behold, two in two days. These two Geordies performed as characters, with Ted in shorts and a sports top and Terry dressed up like an 80’s radio star. They began with the well used trope of one wanting to do one thing (life coaching) and the other another thing (inventions) and the set went from one topic to the other. However, despite their energy levels they did suffer from most of their material not being that strong. Their best joke was a breakfast based prop gag, but the majority of their stuff sank in a room that still seemed reticent about laughing.

Chelsea Thompson

With her quiet Liverpudlian voice and low powered start Thompson seemed to begin on the back foot. She had a smooth delivery, but unfortunately it sounded more like a read through than a performance in front of a live audience and in this she wasn’t helped by her material. These were mostly lengthy anecdotes with too long a gap between the jokes. Thompson was humorous rather than funny and there was a definite feel of the room slipping away from her. With more punchy material she would be a stronger act.

Joe Bowley

Bowley made for an intriguing figure as he was stood on stage with 3D glasses sat over his real spectacles. He built on this with the most varied approach in style of the night. His seven minutes included magic, props, music and jokes and he managed to feel fresh all of the way throughout. This was a highly visual set, where one didn’t want to take one’s eyes away from the stage in case of missing something. I especially enjoyed the non-sequiturs, these added a lot of mirth to his set. There was one slip up with his phone not playing a bit of music, but he handled that so smoothly that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was part of his act. Bowley closed with a risky song, one that could have seen him sent off if this had been a gong show, but just as the mood of the room began to shift he turned it around with a great twist to the song. This was a very good set. Bowley isn’t the finished article, but he’s got a lot going for him.

Carla Pol

The Russian accented Italian Carla Pol had a good night. Her lively presence won the room over very quickly and they seemed to warm to her faster than any of the other acts. To begin with her material wasn’t hugely stand out, but the further she got into her set the stronger her material became – Brexit was very good indeed. This was a very enjoyable set from someone who has funny bones.

Moses Francis

We resumed after the intermission with Moses Francis who had a mixed night. He began well with the coolest walk onto the stage of anyone present. Following this he demonstrated a good ability with accents and solid performance skills. These added a lot of depth to his set, but his material let him down. This wasn’t that great. I think a lot of people will remember his stage presence, but will not be able to recall a lot of what he actually said. Francis misjudged his timing and massively under ran, which gave his set the feel of a missed opportunity. I’d like to see him again, though.

Claire Keegan

I’d seen Keegan before at the Funhouse gong show at the Rigger, near Stoke. Here she delivered a set that veered from being bleak to merely being depressing, so I was curious as to what we would get tonight. Unfortunately it was largely more of the same, with a dislocated hip, IBS and having her cervix cauterised providing a lot of her material. I found these to be depressing topics and her delivery didn’t add any lift to them. However, despite this, I did enjoy her reply to a note received from some old neighbours. Keegan was an act that split the room, with the female half finding her set funnier than the male half.

Luca Love

Roger Swift is a prop act who does deliberately bad puns with such energy and verve to make him a wonderful act. Instead, Love was a prop act who was just doing bad puns. Unfortunately he didn’t have the energy or presence to make them work and groans far outnumbered laughs. I did enjoy bolognese, though, that was a fun gag and was also the highlight of his set. Love is a new act and the only way is up.

Hannah Platt

I’d seen Platt before at the Canal House and she was a frustrating act then and she was frustrating tonight, too. She has obvious ability. Her timing is good, her construction is also good and it’s nice to see a deadpan delivery. However, this is all thrown back by her choice of topics that she mines for material – self harm, abortion and suicide. These are all depressing and I feel that with more upbeat material, or at least something less bleak, she would be much improved. As it was, she got a lot of laughs from the comedians, but didn’t seem to fare so well with the actual audience.

Mathew Taylor

Taylor had a very good night, getting laughs by the bucket load. Taylor demonstrated some very high quality writing in his one-liners. A lot of these were very clever and the odd joke that didn’t get as big a laugh as it might was usually because it took a moment to sink in, such as the Mayo gag. It was nice to see an act have to pause for the laughter to subside. Taylor does have to work on his stage presence though, as he didn’t look comfortable and seemed to be unsure of what to do with his hands, putting them in his pockets every so often. I thoroughly enjoyed Taylor’s set; his writing was excellent. After 16 gigs, mostly at the Roadhouse, he would benefit from gigging more widely and I’d like to see how he develops as a comedian.

Sham Zaman

Sham Zaman was another act who had a good night. He has a bubbly stage presence and was able to get laughs even when the quality of his material occasionally slipped a touch. Zaman was fast speaking, delivering ten minutes of material in seven at the speed of a man holding an auction. He built up a lot of momentum and was rewarded with a lot of laughter. This was a set where the audience had to listen carefully to get everything he said and there was a lot to enjoy in this set. Zaman was one of the four acts that the audience really seemed to go with.

James

The well dressed James gave the room two songs. He didn’t really come across as a comedian, but instead seemed more like a musician who was dipping his toes into comedy songs. The two songs were well sung, but the lyrics were humorous instead of funny. If he had bantered before and between songs then he may have done better, but instead it was more like a musical turn had stumbled onto the bill instead of a comedian.

The Shinnon – Tom Taylor, Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney, Seymour Mace and Jim Bayes (MC)

Tonight I was in North Wingfield at The Shinnon for the FaF Comedy night. This is a show that always sells out and it’s easy to see why. The room will hold about 75 people, but with the low ceiling and acoustics it generates an atmosphere far larger than one would expect. This was a bit of an unusual bill in some ways, because apart from Bayes as MC all of the acts were either slightly unusual or at the least different to the usual of a comic standing there telling jokes. It was a fine tribute to the spirit of this audience that it all worked out so well.

Jim Bayes (MC)

I missed part of the first section of Bayes’ work, which was very unfortunate, because what I did see was very good. He found a few prominent people to chat to, whom he’d return to every so often and this worked very well as he gently teased them. Bayes has a big welcoming smile and definitely has a lot of likeability, which combined with a good level of wit gave the net result of the room being ready very quickly. Bayes was also very disciplined. He explained the format, did the rules and didn’t spend that much time on stage that the show became all about him.

Tom Taylor

Taylor is an interesting act, playing it with a very memorable comedy persona that is almost on the level of a character act. With his lively jumper, nervous laugh, faux nerves and occasional commentary on his own jokes he stands out for his oddness. A lot of his set is delivered sat down, whilst he plays his keyboard and this can make it hard to see him, but as most of the fun is in listening to him this isn’t a huge issue. There were some very strong lines in this set, such as tomato and transvestite and it was nice to see him get the local shit town correct. I was less impressed with the inclusion of Jeremy Kyle’s waiting room as a line, but he did rescue that overused reference with a nice twist to it. There were a lot of jokes here that were offbeat and it was nice to be surprised with the direction he took them in. About 60% of the set was jokes and the remaining 40% short songs, almost ditties that he’d accompany with his keyboard work. This helped to keep his set fresh and it was one that the room certainly went with.

Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney

There aren’t many double acts gigging on the circuit – Raymond and Timpkins, The Monks and the Two Syds are the only other ones who spring readily to mind. Originally I thought that Kirwan and McBurney were going to be reprising Padding and Bantz, which they performed a bespoke version of at the Midlands Comedy Awards last year (a definite highlight of that night), but instead it was to be as themselves, with a sketch to close on. This sounded pretty good to me and judging by the audience’s laughter, it came over pretty well to the rest of the room, too. Most of the double acts that have been on TV have relied on two very different performers, one tall, the other short or fat, or one the funny man and the other the straight man, feeding lines to the funny man. These two are more equally matched, with both being similar in build and also both getting an equal share of the best lines. Where they both differ is in accents, Kirwan has a Black Country accent and McBurney a surprisingly soft Scottish accent for a man born in Glasgow. This difference in accents added an extra emphasis to their delivery, especially when they were taking the piss out of each other. There is also a great chemistry between the two. They are relaxed together on stage and trust each other to be funny which gave their set a nice flow as there was no awkwardness in the delivery; it wasn’t stilted in any way. I’m quite surprised that they haven’t known each other longer than four years. The material itself was quite new, occasionally a bit surreal and in some places a bit raw, but they had more than enough presence for this not to make any real difference to the night. There was a nice applause break for McBurney demonstrating to Kirwan how to chat to the audience and there were some solid lines in here. Gogglebox was a very clever line that even though it got a big laugh arguably deserved more. I was impressed by the looks of disbelief they could both utilise, such as McBurney’s look of disbelief at Kirwan’s singing. The sketch that they closed on had the odd moment where the energy dropped, but it was good fun and a nice way to end a set that everyone enjoyed.

Seymour Mace

Mace had a good night, but I think if he’d gone on much later the room would have reached its tipping point. He began well with a bit of surreal room work and continued with offbeat material throughout his set. There were a couple of occasions where the audience got jokes at their own pace, such as the Top 10, but generally everyone was there with him. Mace is a man who dresses up to look funny or at the least unusual, with a checked suit and a sheriffs badge. He never referred to this badge the once, which to me just added to how amusing its presence on his suit was. Mace’s delivery is very animated and he made full use of all of the stage as he alternatively sang, danced and acted out parts of his show. His closing routine was a fitting finale to what had been a very nice night.

14/5/17 – English Comedian of the Year Leek heat – Liam Jeavons, Radu Isac, Darius Davies, Harry Stachini, Alex Kealy, Paul Revill, Danny Clives, Nick Clarke, Roger Swift, Adam Rowe, Tom King and Chris Norton-Walker

Last night I was in Leek at the Foxlowe Arts Centre for another Funhouse organised heat of the English Comedian of the Year. It’s a rather grand looking venue, with a lot of different rooms, open fireplaces, Georgian fittings and so on at the front end of the premises. Unfortunately this ornateness hadn’t made it into the actual function room, which was, well, pretty functional, but considering the talent on the bill I doubt that anyone noticed. Twelve acts, with some very gifted up and coming ones, too, and only the one act who wasn’t that experienced. As with all of these heats, the voting was pretty one sided, with the audience giving a lot of votes for their favourite three, but very few for those comedians who whilst doing a great job, but didn’t make their favourites. It’s always odd to see an entire room heartily laughing at an act and then only giving them 3-4 votes at the end. Spiky Mike warmed the room up and as he doesn’t usually MC this venue, he was free to use more material than what he usually would. Pretty swiftly the audience were ready for the first act of the contest.

Liam Jeavons

Jeavons was unlucky in picking the card that gave him last choice in picking his spot on the running order and so it was no surprise that he ended up opening the night. This is usually a terrible spot to be lumbered with and this was doubly so for Jeavons, who has only been gigging for three months and was easily the least experienced act present. However, despite this, he had a very good night. His high energy approach and very visual acting out of a routine (this reminded me a bit of Lee Hurst at his most lively) made a lot more out of his slot than what a lot of other acts would have been able to achieve. He began with a few short jokes about his Brummie accent which was instantly tangible to the audience before moving on to a story that cordially filled the rest of his time. Nothing in his set was esoteric and it was all the more easy for the audience to get on board with. The story was great and I think everyone was hoping he’d finish it before his time was up, as his crouching and fast speaking drew everyone in. Every so often Jeavons would break the 4th wall and this helped him to connect to the room. Although he didn’t make it through, this was a very promising set from such a new comedian.

Radu Isac

Radu is a man who always has an amused look in his eyes, almost as if he can see the funny in everything that he sees and this is reflected in his strong writing and stagecraft. Last night he had a slower start than I was expecting, as the room seemed a little bit unsure of him for the first 40 seconds or so. However, he quickly won them round with some very good material, a lot of which I’d not heard before. I’ve seen Radu perform a few times and I was expecting to see a fair bit of the routines that won him the Funhouse Champion of Champions award last year, so it was much to his credit that he performed a largely different set to that. This was a performance that went down very well and Radu finished a very strong 3rd, going through to the semi finals.

Darius Davies

I’d not seen Davies prior to last night, but he’d been tipped as one of the men to beat, so I was very interested in seeing how he made out. He began by working the room, pointing out the oddities of the night and effortlessly working in callbacks to Radu’s set and a shout out that had been received. This was very much of the moment and the audience really went with it. This was then followed by material which Davies delivered fast with a powerful voice. He built up bags of momentum, which combined with standout material and a strong presence saw Davies through to the next round as he narrowly took first place. This was a cracking set.

Harry Stachini

Following Davies would have been tricky for most acts, but Stachini is a talented up and coming act and he had a good chance of making the most of it. Where the previous act had been fast and loud, Stachini was more softly spoken and slower paced in his delivery and he let his material impress the audience. This was a set that comprised a couple of routines and they were very well received. The Netflix material had one chap sat on the front row laughing so long and loudly that it actually interfered with Stachini’s set, as he broke off to check that the man was ok. This was a very enjoyable moment in what was a strong performance.

Alex Kealy

Kealy occupied the sweet spot when we resumed after the first intermission, but failed to make the most of it in a patchy performance. He had some Oedipal material which wasn’t bad, but did make for an awkward beginning. He did win the room back with his next routine, but unfortunately the atmosphere went back to slightly awkward with his material about his first kiss. I got the impression that Kealy is an intelligent chap, but I didn’t feel that he made a big connect with the room. He performs as a low status comic, but was too aloof for the audience to really buy into it.

Paul Revill

Revill’s set was interesting. He began well by talking about his home town and this was followed by material about caravans. Caravanning isn’t an obvious source of comedy gold, but Revill got far more out of it than you’d have thought possible. The denouement to this routine being well worth the build up. The weddings routine was also good and provided a good ending to a performance that built up the longer he was on. There was a lot to like about this set.

Danny Clives

Clives had a very good night last night, with the audience going with him in a big way. He began well and never looked back as the room warmed to him and his material. The more low status he portrayed himself the more they took him to their hearts. There was some very clever material on display and although he didn’t make the next round, Clives was the only act to receive an applause break, which on a line up as strong as this is no mean feat. This was a strong performance.

Nick Clarke

Clarke gave a confident performance, as he delivered his material leaning forwards, pointing with his right index finger whenever he wanted to illustrate a point. He spoke quite slowly and very clearly so it was easy to pick up every nuance of what he was saying. However, I felt that his material wasn’t as strong as I’d have expected from an experienced performer like Clarke. The audience enjoyed him, but I was expecting more from him.

Roger Swift

Swift is a performer who can famously split rooms. Last night he had a room that got what he was about very quickly and apart from one chap sat on the front row who never laughed once (why are they never sat at the back?), it’s likely that everyone laughed more during his set than anyone else’s. Swift had the room laughing before he had even done his first pun and it’s lovely when this happens. There was a tiny slip with one prop that was missing, but Roger was moving that quickly that he bounced over this very well. It was fortunate that he was the last act before the intermission, because he left the stage looking as if there had been an explosion in a charity shop. Although Swift didn’t make the next round I think the people of Leek will remember being Rogered.

Adam Rowe

I was very pleased to see Rowe on the bill. He’s got a career in comedy ahead of him, but as he’s from the other side of the country to me, I don’t tend to see much of him. Last night he treated the room to a polished set and a sharp delivery. His voice found the perfect pitch when commenting about his jacket and his material flowed very well indeed. Out of all of the contestants he felt the most like a pro act cutting down a longer set to fit the contests’ odd seven minute time slot. It was no surprise to see him go through and he was only one vote behind Davies.

Tom King

King gave the room his most potent material and although the audience was initially slightly lukewarm he quickly won them over. It was noticeable that he stepped up a gear when discussing various unorthodox methods of providing samples and the audience bought into this material nicely. Whilst I doubt many people have had to worry about what container to deliver a sample in, I think everyone has dealt with members of the public who find amazingly novel ways of doing something straight forwards and this made it very relatable. Although he didn’t make the next round this was an enjoyable performance.

Chris Norton-Walker

Norton-Walker is an act I’ve seen a few times and tonight he was perhaps the sharpest I’ve seen him. He was more focussed on his material and avoided going off on tangents, which was much to his benefit. He began with jokes about his build, which I thought was better than his material about heckles that he’s received – the heckles are fun, but too many acts are doing similar material for it to be as fresh as it should be. There were some very good jokes in this set, especially Bambi, which I thought was his standout line. Norton-Walker is a big man with a big presence and he generates a lot of atmosphere – if he can continue to work with his material and combine the two he will do very well. He was another act who was fun and enjoyable last night, but on such a strong line up didn’t get the votes to see him through to the semis.

Kev’s Komedy Kitchen – The Second Cumin

Last year in Edinburgh I went to see Kev’s Komedy Kitchen after having heard from Helen Stead that it was Elliott Bower’s favourite show and he’d been to see it a lot of times. To hear that someone who sees as much comedy as Elliott was so enamoured with a show that he’d see it so many times in such a short period strongly suggested that it was going to be something of a gem and how right this was! The original show was a beautiful hour of farce that would have made a lovely one off special at Christmas. It was quite simply the best show I saw in Edinburgh and one of the best things that I saw during the entire year. This, though, was the sequel and it was carrying enough expectation on my part that I’d taken my mum and dad to see it with me. Sequels are tricky things to write, especially after such a triumph – anyone who has played the genius that is Deathtrap Dungeon and then tried the sequel, Trial of Champions will tell you that. I was very curious as to whether they would be able to pull another rabbit out of the hat with The Second Cumin.

The signs were good. This was one of those gigs, where there were five people sat there fifteen minutes before show time and still five with two minutes to go and then as if by magic the room suddenly filled up, almost in the blink of an eye. A huge bonus was the retention of the strong cast from last year, with Kevin Dewsbury as the eponymous Kev, Will Hutchby as producer Will and Hannah Blakeley and Mike Newall in crucial supporting roles. Elliott Bower was on tech, where he had the job of producing the correct jingle at the right time (the jingles definitely add to the feel of the show).

The show began with Will explaining the concept of the show and alerting everyone that this was a work in progress and that everyone would be working off of their scripts and that further to this, due to circumstances beyond their control they hadn’t been able to bring the full set with them and so were improvising with a bench and a few props. This wasn’t a problem at all; it must be very difficult finding chance to get four people together at the same time and in the right frame of mind to rehearse a full show and with Dewsbury having moved house the day before it was splendid that he was focussed on the show, as I’m not sure many people would want to flit and then do a full show the next day. After he had completed the preamble, Will further set the scene by explaining how Kev’s last year had been spent, which provided a wonderful bonus for those who had seen the first show and a short backstory for those who were unlucky enough not to have seen it. This was proceeded by him doing the rules for whilst they were filming and pointing out where the cameras were. Stood in his logo’d producer T shirt (a marvellous little extra), Hutchby was convincing enough in this for half of the audience to be turning to look for the cameras.

Kev opened the show with everyone clapping along to a great song that built up the atmosphere, before launching into a string of deliberately bad puns, which got a lot of laughter. Those jokes were obvious, but there were a lot of subtle jokes during this hour, too and even without the full set, this was a very visual show. In daylight, at tea time in Derby, this show was compulsive viewing, so I can only imagine what a visual feast it will be in Edinburgh. Dewsbury has some great lines, but perhaps the bit that hit home the hardest with me was the level of doubt and disbelief about the credentials of his special guest. His tone of voice and choice of words were exquisitely nuanced and pitched at just the right level of incredulity to carry full conviction without tearing the arse out of it – a difficult balance to master most likely, but he does it well.

There are two guests, one a surprise and the other a special guest. Blakeley is a very good actress, who last year managed to convey so much even without saying a lot. This year she has a more vocal performance and I’d say that she has nailed her role. She manages to convey a stunning level of ignorance and achieved being unknowingly provocatively irritating to Kev almost instantaneously. The accent that she later employed was brilliant and had Will knelt down helplessly corpsing – seeing someone laughing so hard, whilst trying to hide behind his copy of the script was heart-warming and worth the ticket price alone. The special guest is Mike Newell as Michelli Newalli and whilst there weren’t any huge surprises to people who had seen the first show, it was no less funny for it. Newell has the ability to just stand there in silence and to then slowly say a short sentence of few words and to get a great laugh. He’s low energy and glorious with it, almost as if he doesn’t have to move fast to catch the laughs. It’s great watching him and Kev working together and the correct answer was a very nice moment.

Will Hutchby plays a very large role in this show, providing context and framework, yet he is almost under the radar as everyone is concentrating on the stage. This is a bit paradoxical, as Will has some of the funniest lines. I think the reason the limelight manages to miss him is because he performs his role so well and is very convincing as a producer, somehow keeping everything on track whilst ensuring that the audience remain focussed upon the show itself. Again, something that takes a lot of skill to get the right balance.

This show is a work in progress and it was a bit raw in places, but that in no way detracts from it. The only thing I felt might require a bit of attention was the ending. Despite finishing with a clap along song, it didn’t quite have the big finish feel that the first show had, but that is the only slightly negative thing I’ve got to say about this. The story arc follows on naturally from the first show, making it feel as comfortable as donning a pair of slippers, but it is also different enough to feel fresh. I could say that this show is less a sequel and more of an equal, but instead it’s easier just to say that they are onto a winner. This was an hour that went by quickly and was extremely funny. For a show to be this funny whilst working from script is no mean feat and the finished article is going to be majestic.

This will be a smash hit.

Rob Kemp – The Elvis Dead

Tonight I was in Derby for Rob Kemp’s The Elvis Dead. I was glad I bought tickets as there didn’t look to be an empty seat going spare. This was a show that was well supported by the comedy community with, Jon Pearson (recipient of a round of applause for sorting out the projector), Pat Draper, Peter Thomas, Stevie Gray and Thom Hodkinson present, plus my mum and dad, too, who were looking forwards to this. There was a bit of a delayed start as some codfangler had managed to reverse into Rob’s car on his way to the show, but this wasn’t the end of the world, as there was no show on afterwards to inconvenience. The mood in the room prior to show time was buoyant with a lot of good will present. It almost had an end of term feel to it, possibly because it was on a Thursday and still light outside.

This was a show that following the triumph in Leicester, was carrying a huge weight of expectation; Rob, with his infectious charm, admitted that at the top of the night and grounded the audience by confessing that this was only the third time that he had performed it. Personally I was there because I had heard so many people say so much that was good about it. I’m not an Elvis fan, I’ve never seen an Evil Dead film and I’m not even a fan of musical comedy, so with that in mind, it wasn’t an obvious choice for me. I was present and had persuaded my folks to come, simply due to word of mouth and so I was hoping that the bush telegraph was right and we’d be in for a great time.

I’m not sure what struck me first, Kemp’s commitment or his singing. It may have been Rob’s voice, which is surprisingly good. It’s one thing to have a fair resemblance to The King, but another to actually sound like him and this is a man who carries a rockabilly tune very well. If the bottom ever drops out of comedy, Kemp could quite conceivably work up a musical act as Rock n Roll Rob. The voice was one of the first things that I noticed, but I’m not sure if it was that or the sheer amount of life and energy that he injected into the show that made the greatest impression. Kemp is fully committed to the role and manages to live it for the duration of the show. There were the odd moments where he broke the 4th wall, such as when he missed a line of a song; but his knowing grin at that moment carried bags of charm and the laugh he received showed that he’d done more than get away with that slight error.

The plot of the show is the story of the Evil Dead 2 told through the medium of some very cleverly adapted Elvis songs. There is a lot of wit involved in the adaptations and it’s advisable to listen to every line, as I’d imagine that familiarity with the original wording can ensure that the odd laugh is missed. Whilst Rob is singing, the projector shows the relevant parts of the film on a screen, which adds a lot of comprehension to those who aren’t familiar with the film. There are moments when the screen is blank, which does seem a bit of a missed opportunity, but the mainspring of the show is Kemp himself. There are a lot of props involved and these are all used to glorious effect as Rob throws himself around the stage with such wild abandon that he would be advised to get some matting in time for Edinburgh, otherwise he is going to end up black and blue with bruises and will probably pop a few ribs. I admire his dedication to the physical comedy of the show, but I’d hate to see him come a cropper for it. Some of his actions are quite hard to see if not sat at the front, but even if you can’t see all of it, you get the drift quite well.

This show is inspired. It is very funny, it is refreshingly original and above all Kemp really sells it. By the time of the final song the audience were clapping along and I wasn’t surprised when he received a standing ovation. I will be very surprised if Rob doesn’t come back from Edinburgh with a cult hit on his hands. This is a must see show.

Freddy Quinne – Entfremdung (working title)

Quinne began with what he called the preamble and this translated to everyone else as him doing some very good room work, pointing out the oddities of the venue. This was instantly relatable to the audience and very swiftly established Quinne’s credentials as being not only a funny comedian, but more importantly worth a festival audience investing their attention in. This latter isn’t always a given when most of the room aren’t familiar with an act and have the best part of a hour to sit through on what may have just been a punt or a spur of the moment walk in.

This show is a work in progress, but despite some extremely new bits I don’t think anyone would have noticed that if it wasn’t for Quinne putting ticks against the jokes on his notepad. There was one fluffed punchline, but one out of so many isn’t the end of the world and there was more than enough goodwill for the audience to not mind that a bit. Interestingly women in the audience outnumbered chaps by three to one, which is an unusual comedy demographic. However, the material had plenty to offer both sexes. At the same time that the ladies behind me were giving laughs of recognition and telling their friends that they do that, the chaps sat in front of me would be bent over double laughing. It’s nice to see a joke hit home so well with everyone.

The writing was sharp, with some excellent routines. I was especially impressed with Quinne’s ideas concerning booking cheap holidays. This was a delightfully dark routine that was extremely funny and given the context one that should be inoffensive. I say should be, because Quinne took the trouble to ask the room if it was too much for them. A couple of people admitted that it was, which I was somewhat surprised at, because it was done tastefully and with enough self-awareness to rob it of any offence. At this point Quinne sportingly did give people a chance to leave, which I thought was rather decent of him, but I was glad when no one did, because they would have missed the rest of his show and that would have been a real shame.

There was a lot of stagecraft evident. Quinne spoke quickly, not too quickly, but fast enough that no one wanted to let their attention drift in case they missed something and this helped him build up a lot of impetus. I was very happy that he didn’t feel the need to explain what an oxymoron was – it’s pleasant to see a comic treat their audience as having some intelligence instead of spoon feeding them the reveals. This was one of those performances where I found myself grinning with anticipation during the set ups, enjoying the wait for the punchlines.

There were a couple of sections that would stand improvement, but in fairness, neither are major issues. The energy level dipped during the neck brace routine, but as this was a new bit, possibly being performed for the first time, that’s nothing to worry about. The other area is less clear cut and concerns a routine about Freddy’s sister. This was fun and had a great reveal, but the set up was an instance where I think everyone got the idea from the first line, yet paradoxically it was the detailed and time consuming set up that made the reveal work so well. It was good and everyone laughed, but given the time taken to set it up, could he have gotten three times the laughter for something else? Perhaps so, but I may be nitpicking slightly with this.

This was an hour that flew by. Sometimes an hour long show feels like an hour and occasionally it can feel like more, but this never came close to outstaying its welcome and I don’t think anyone would have objected if there had been more. It was extremely funny and the nice warm feeling that a great show imparts stayed with me all of the way home. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it, the rest of the audience seemed to feel the same way and it isn’t often that you see someone put a £20 note in a bucket collection. This is a cracking show.

Derby Comedy Festival – The fall of Byron Montrose (Ben Macpherson)

Tonight I was at the Carnero Lounge in Derby to see a couple of shows at the DCF, organised by NCF. The first show I saw was The fall of Byron Montrose, starring Ben Macpherson.

This is an entertaining monologue, which in the tradition of Spike Milligan’s books, contains a pun on every line. Byron went on cold, opening the evening and I’m not sure how many people were expecting the show to be what it was and it may have benefited from a slight bit of warm up work, which explained the concept. On the other hand, there would be a risk with that in Montrose breaking character, which would be a shame. Macpherson puts a fair amount of thought into his characterisation, getting dressed up, using that wonderfully sonorous voice of his, sipping sherry substitute (which was a lovely running gag) and making Montrose consistent all through the story arc. This was also an arc that was coherent and lead to a climax, which whilst I wasn’t totally happy with the downbeat ending on a personal note , it did provide closure and fitted in with the title of the show.

This is just as much a performance piece as it is a comedy show and it was great to see people turn their heads to look at the wall when Byron mentioned something upon the wall of the family home. Despite the short notice in the booking (this was a very late edition to the festival following another act having to pull out) and consequent lack of rehearsal time, I thought that the delivery was well paced, giving everyone time to get the puns, but without dragging it out. There is a lot of intelligence behind the references and it is a well educated sort of cove who will get all of the allusions. To me, this makes a nice break from comedians aiming for the most accessible of material as this generally has the effect of setting the bar fairly low and it’s nice to have to work a little bit to get all of the puns. This isn’t a show that you can let your mind wander from, though, because if you miss a couple of words from the prose, the next joke will leave you puzzled.

Tonight the audience was fairly small, largely I suspect due to this being a late addition and Macpherson not having much time to advertise it and if there had been a few more people willing to laugh out loud at the jokes, which, incidentally, are good, then everyone else would have felt comfortable in joining in. As it was, there was a nice cosy feeling of enjoyment from the audience, even if they weren’t hugely expressive about it. This was a show that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Ashby – Andy Askins, Jake Baker, Mary Bourke and Ian D Montfort

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a great night that attracts strong openers and closers (usually on a double with Lichfield) with a rising star and a well experienced act in the middle section. The room was packed out and rather hot, which stood in contrast to the entrance hall, which was quite chilly. Sometimes gigs can take on a communal spirit, with the audience bonding together over odd things. This occurred twice during Mike’s compering; the first time was the almost universal intake of breath upon discovering that a first timer was from Coalville and the second time was a huge aww of disappointment from everyone when they discovered that ‘Fake Ray’ wasn’t there. Before long everyone was ready for the opening act.

Andy Askins

Askins gave the room a set that had something in it for pretty much everyone. He has a dry and self-deprecating sense of humour and delivers his material with a soft North-East accent. He’d give the room a line, pause and then let them have the topper or add an extra joke. This style worked very well and I was impressed with the number of callbacks and toppers he employed. Askins’ Bear joke was one where there was an obvious punchline looming, but the way in which he worked it was very clever and raised it far above what I think people were expecting. In a not too dissimilar way the car boot routine was nicely subtle. Askins is a musical comedian and I’m not a huge fan of music and comedy, but enjoyed the songs apart from one about a collision, which I found a touch depressing, but that says more about me than the song itself, as everyone else was into it. This was a very good set and I’ve a feeling that Askins was playing it safe, not going too dark as opener as I can imagine him having some extremely good dark material.

Jake Baker

Baker began well with a review that he had received; this included a nice couple of twists and he followed it with an observation about the room which hit home hard enough to earn him an applause break. This was proceeded by a short routine about his childhood and family, which was entertaining enough, but very much lacked the punch provided by a big joke. There was a charming moment when he realised that he’d not set his stopwatch and his heartfelt muttering of ‘oh bugger!’ got a big laugh and he earned a lot of good will for dealing with that slight hiccup so well. Baker’s delivery involved an incredible amount of ers, with one at the start of most sentences. In itself this isn’t the end of the world, but once I’d noticed it, I found it rather hard to stop noticing him saying er and it got quite distracting. Baker entertained the room and I’d like to see him again.

Mary Bourke

Bourke began by questioning the noises coming from the venue’s kitchen, which I hadn’t really noticed until she mentioned it and then I found myself deliberately listening out for it, which was a bit irritating. From here though, she went on to deliver a set that had some nice elements, especially the password, which was a lovely piece of material. Mum’s Net and the American gigging in Glasgow were both good, but I think the set ups were a tad drawn out and although she received an applause break I’m not totally convinced the entire audience were with her throughout all of the set ups on either. I liked the Titanic being alright when she left Belfast joke, but unbeknownst to Bourke, she’s the third comedian I’ve seen use that line and to me that diluted the impact. Bourke delivered her set in a quiet voice, which helped to draw the audience in, but if she’d swung her head a bit more to encompass the audience sat arrayed either side of her and not just in front, it would have helped her to make more of a connection than she did. This was a set that the rest of the audience enjoyed more than I did.

Ian D Montfort

If there is any justice in the world, Tom Binns’ career is about to go stellar with him making the leap from being well known amongst comedy lovers to becoming a household name. His show, Hospital People, is currently airing on prime time BBC and as good as this programme is, the ironic thing is that live he is so so much better, having more freedom to add nuance and presence. This set is not so much written, as crafted, and includes some fantastic little touches that don’t sound as if they are either here nor there, but which together definitely add a lot to the show. Montfort’s manner of elongating the vowels in certain words is a delight, as is the character’s lack of self-awareness with what he is saying. This is a great example of a character saying something funny, but being apparently oblivious to that fact. Tonight Montfort was lucky, or perhaps experienced enough to choose wisely, when he picked John to assist his show. John, with his big wide grin, happened to have that happy trilogy of being quick on the uptake, happy to take part and sensible or possibly in awe enough not to get too interactive. It was no surprise that Montfort used him throughout the entire show. There were at least a dozen applause breaks and a lot of laughter. Despite having seen this show a good number of times, I ended up hurting my side laughing and it was wonderful to see so many people laughing their heads off. This was a splendiferous performance.

April – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a tremendous month for comedy, with some excellent pro and semi pro nights attended. I’ve seen 42 acts and the standard has been incredibly good. Many of the acts who have had a honourable mention would have been in the most impressed by section on any other month.

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

Ignacio Lopez

Lopez had a nightmare of a time getting to the gig (Funhouse Retford) as his first train had been replaced by a coach and this had caused no end of a delay, turning a 4 hour trip into a 6 hour trip and to go on stage 15 minutes after arriving after such a long journey and to put in such a great performance is nothing less than remarkable.

From the night:

The last time I’d seen Lopez had been at a tricky weekend club gig in Nottingham, where numbers had been far below critical mass and it had seemed that the audience had all agreed to stay miserable for the entire show. That night, Lopez had done very well under the circumstance to squeeze a good amount of laughter out of them. Last night, though, was a totally different gig; with a room chock-full of people who were there to laugh, albeit with a tipping point approaching, especially with the talkative group near the bar. Prior to this set, Mike had been busy tipping Ignacio off to what had been said by the previous acts and alerting him to the presence of the Welsh chap in the audience and this paid a beautiful dividend when Lopez worked him into his set and got loads of laughter for it. This was a very well written set and this skill went beyond the actual jokes – a great deal of thought had gone into the construction of this set. There was a feeling of coherency to it, as a lot of it was linked and there were plenty of callbacks, which is something I adore. Ignacio’s delivery had bags of charm and he’s helped in this by his accent. It always caught me by surprise when he went from a Spanish accent straight into a Welsh one without taking a breath, when discussing aspects of Welsh culture and I found this very endearing (it also reminded me slightly of Julio Geordio). I was a bit surprised that he didn’t close on his song about holidaying Brits, as this would have made for a fantastic closing routine. This was a great set and provided a superb finish to what had been a most enjoyable night.

John Robertson

This act tore the roof off of the place:

From the night:

Robertson is a man with a striking presence. I’ve seen him in a leather jacket looking like an extra from Mad Max; I’ve seen him in a velvet jacket looking like an 80’s Bond villain and tonight he was dressed all in leather, looking like a vampire rock star. This is a man who oozes presence and in a way similar to Ian Cognito and Doug Segal, whatever he did for a living people would always turn around to look when he entered a room. Robertson has a powerful voice and doesn’t require a microphone; his natural level hovering somewhere around 11. Having seen him before I knew what to expect and I was keenly anticipating the effect this whirlwind would have upon the room. It was a joy to watch him striding through the audience, not touching the ground as he moved from the odd empty seat to another. This was 30 minutes of stand out improv with just one possibly discordant note sounding. When improvising a set the act has to think on their feet, which Robertson does with gusto, but there is no save point to restart from if you go with something perhaps unwise and I think the comments about a dead child, which in context were understandable and received good laughs could have been very risky. This was the only part of the set that I wasn’t that keen on, but the other 99% was absolutely tremendous – especially the not in Germany line, which I was still laughing at on the way home.

Josh Pugh (MC)

A superb act in what was to me an unfamiliar role.

From the night:

Pugh is one of the brightest prospects on the circuit and it can only be a matter of time before he is on panel shows, so it was very nice to see him on this bill. He began with admin, explaining the format of the evening and then he had a chat with a few people in the audience, finding out names and jobs, appointing clappers and so on. The people he spoke to all had saintly occupations, working in charity shops, meeting their partner whilst volunteering in Africa and so on, and this could have proved tricky, but Pugh just took it in his stride. He is talented in working his way to material from the replies he received and as ever, his punchlines came from unexpected angles, which he has made almost an art form. Another nice aspect to his work was keeping the night on time, which is very useful in a compere. Pugh is never anything less than fantastic and tonight he showed that he is sharper than ever.

Ben Briggs (MC)

Briggs sized up the room and made totally owned it.

From the night:

Briggs has performed at Bluey’s before and I shouldn’t be surprised if he was re-booked by popular demand. He came to the stage with a swagger and immediately took charge of the room by making a provocative reference to sheep as we were in Derbyshire and then soon after commenting on the unlikely way the audience pronounced the name of the town. I was very happy to see Briggs had a good memory for faces and was able to recognise people he had spoken to the last time he was there – it means a lot to people when they are remembered. Rich, sat on the front, proved to be a great gift to Briggs, who cheerfully took the P out of his job, his looks and his love of Celtic Folk Punk. He could have tapped out at that and not spoken about Easter eggs, as the room was ready for the first act, but perhaps feeling how strongly the room was with him, Briggs gave them an extra five minutes. This was an overrun that wasn’t really necessary, but the audience were loving everything he did and it didn’t unbalance the night. Briggs built up no end of momentum. His room work was great and there was a huge sense that he could have done or said anything and make it funny. Against this, Briggs was a bit overly sweary, using ‘fuck’ almost like other people use commas and he could perhaps have cut out a few and kept the same force of delivery. This was massively enjoyable compering from an act who was pretty much a force of nature. His room work reminded me of Ian Cognito and that is no mean compliment.

Scott Bennett

This performance was sheer joy to see. The mood of the venue totally matched the style and material of Bennett and as he was on top form he smashed it out of the park.

From the night:

Closing the gig was Scott Bennett, who began by working the room and having some fun with Kev the landlord. His observations were very perceptive and delivered in a totally disarming manner that had everyone onboard within seconds of him beginning his set. Despite only having seen Bennett a few weeks back there was obvious improvement in his routines, just the odd word changed here and there, but it was enough to make tangible gains. The movements from topic to topic were flawless and imperceptible. This was a tremendous set from a superb comedian.

Honourable Mentions

Che Burnley, Keith Carter, Marc Jennings, Pete Teckman, Phil Pagett, Rik Carranza, Sully O’Sullivan, Tony Wright