Canal House – Ben Shannon, Hannah Platt, Jamie Hutchinson, Dave Rivers, Rick Carr, Jim Bayes, Tony Wright, Scott Bennett and Thomas Rackham (Mc)

Last night I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, an evening that is going from strength to strength. There was over 100 people in last night and I’m wondering if a change in the seating to ensure that no one is sat too far away from the stage may be in order – if it can be done so as not to lose capacity, as this is a gig that is surely only a matter of time away from people having to book in advance. It was nice to see Alex Leam present, even if not gigging. I was much impressed with the list of Elliott and thought it a nice way of making a serious point, but less so with Bobby Roode’s walk on music as it is still running on a loop in my head and seems set to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Thomas Rackham (MC)

Rackham is a very genial compere and whilst he hasn’t got the hard edges that can intimidate an audience into behaving, he has likeability and so the result is the same. One thing that did slightly puzzle me about Rackham’s compering was that he had a very good story about a stag night that had taken place (tonight at least) in Nottingham and he used this in response to a girl being a bridesmaid this weekend coming. I was rather surprised that he didn’t use this sooner as it went down a treat and really gave Rackham a link to the audience. The punters at NCF are comedy literate and see a lot of comperes, so it was great to see some nicely quirky elements to Rackham’s work. These make a nice change to the standard cheer ifs and splitting rooms down the middle and I think the crowd appreciated them, too. The foot massage line was great as was the cake, even if I’m not personally sure of the relative merits of gluton free. It’s a shame that the lights were in Rackham’s eyes, as he did seem to spend a lot of his night with his arm in front of his face, as if ready to shield himself from a blow.

Ben Shannon

Shannon is an act whom I’ve never seen compere, but I would like to. He is quite easily distracted and has a free style that would play well with audience work. Last night he had something of a mixed time. I enjoyed the misdirection gag that he began with, after he had been surprised by a chap popping up on the front row from under a table. This was followed by some material where I had very little idea where Shannon was taking us, but I was very interested in finding out, as it was all pretty intriguing. This reminded me of Dan Nicholas, as he, too, is capable of surprise reveals. This was a set with a lot of ups and downs, the room being with Shannon for some, but not all of his work. However, this was new material and so that is par for the course. Just as Shannon seemed to be getting into a rhythm, there was a brief flash of a light and he mistook this for the end of his time and came off before this set had reached critical mass, which was unlucky.

Hannah Platt

Platt’s set was quite frustrating. On a technical level it was very promising. Structurally, this was a well put together set, she knows the value of a slight pause before the reveal and her energy in delivering it was in synch her material. However, it was mostly depressing in tone – abortion and self-harming aren’t easy to make funny. The darker areas did tee up the lighter topics for a nice contrast and could perhaps be seen more as set ups to these areas. However, I believe that the room kept slipping only for her to have to try to regain it with these lighter areas. This was a set that was clever and awkward in possibly equal measure, but for it to work better it may need something more, such as a longer slot so that the audience can build their confidence in her ability to take them to dark places and for the pay off to be worth the journey; over 8-10 minutes I’m not convinced this occurred.

Jamie Hutchinson

I was really pleased to see Hutchinson on the bill. It had been a year since I’d last seen him and I was very curious as to how he had progressed in the meantime and the answer is he has improved no end. His timing was better and his manner of speaking really added a lot to his set. Hutchinson emphasises the last syllable of a word and whether this is deliberate or natural, the result is a forceful delivery that was very in-keeping with his on stage persona. The material was solid and Hutchinson seemed to be close to an applause break throughout his set. This was very enjoyable.

Dave Rivers

Rivers is another act whom I’d not seen for a fair amount of time, so he was another nice addition to the bill. His set was good, with some very nice touches such as Campaign Mode and his delivery kept the room engaged. I think that Rivers has a lot going for him, but to make the most of this, he’ll need to gig more frequently as he wasn’t quite as sharp as when I’d last seen him.

Rick Carr

Carr was an interesting act. His delivery was smooth and polished and his material was good. There were some very nice bits in his set, such as memorable and the bouncing tales (Raoul Moat is a reference that isn’t going to age well, though). However, there weren’t many surprises in the reveals. It’s not that his set was predictable, because it wasn’t, it was just a case of 1 + 1 coming out at 2 every time and it would have been nice for it to have equalled 3 once with there being a twist in a reveal. This was an enjoyable set and Carr was very amiable with it – I think he has potential.

Jim Bayes

When I first saw Bayes was performing I expected him to be the MC, as this is what he is best known for (not quite pigeon holed, yet, though) and he is very good at it. Hence it was nice to see him doing some new material instead. Bayes is a confident presence and the room quickly warmed to him. His delivery is effervescent and he brightens up any room. Bayes’ material was nicely varied and went down very well.

Tony Wright

I’d seen Wright before, performing in Wollaton and he has come a long way in the six months or so since then. Tonight he was the only act who was smartly dressed, which wouldn’t suit all acts, but in Wright’s case it adds a certain something to his presence. Wright was quietly well spoken, having a very correct form of diction and this, combined with his sartorial taste gave him an air of polish. The material was much improved upon what I’d seen before and this was a set that was very well written indeed. It flowed in a way that was very smooth and there were few bits that didn’t add to the whole. I thought that Tufty could have perhaps been edited down slightly and still got the same result and I was a touch surprised that the Jesus material didn’t contain an Easter reference, as that would have been seasonal, but they were the only two minor things that didn’t please me. This was a very clean set, which made the occasion when Wright did swear all the more effective. There was a lot to like about this set.

Scott Bennett

Bennett came to the stage clipboard in hand, reminding me of an infinitely more funny version of Dennis Norden. This was new material being tried out/polished. It’s very hard to judge Bennett’s new material, as he delivers it so skilfully that even very new routines such as hand car wash feel as if they are well established. The warranty expiration line was superb as was Forsyth. Wet wipes shows promise and the only bit that didn’t really land well (and even this was something of a relative term) was duplo, which was related to a topic just a bit out of step with the rest of the set.

Blessington Carriage – Marc Jennings, Allan Lindsay, Donna Scott, Freddie Farrell, Rik Carranza and Sean Percival

Tonight I was at the Blessington Carriage in Derby for the Funhouse comedy night. In addition to Brent and Helen, it was nice to see comedians Gina Overton and Nick ‘not Egyptian’ Mellors there to support the night. Spiky Mike was full of energy, almost bursting with the stuff, as he took to the stage to warm the room up. Mike had a great time with a student teacher from Derby University and his Filipino partner and this was all the better for the fact that the chap he was speaking to had a great sense of humour.

Marc Jennings

Jennings had what was perhaps the hardest job of the night: opening the show. However, this was no impediment to what was an excellent set. He has a strong Scottish accent, but speaks with crystal clear diction, which made it very easy to follow what he was saying. Unusually, Jennings hardly seemed to blink, which gave his delivery added force and certainly the entire room were listening to him. He began with a solid opening joke and then his set blossomed with some very powerful material coming into play. Stood down was a great premise, the driving instructor was good and drink driving was a fantastic line – one where he would have benefited from leaving more time for the laughter break. I’ve heard a fair few routines about working in a call centre (Wozniak has a very good routine on this) and it was highly gratifying to hear something that felt fresh and was also incredibly funny. The callback to close was the cherry on top of an excellent set.

Allan Lindsay

Lindsay had a tricky job in following Jennings and I didn’t really enjoy the first half of his set. Initially he was stood so that he was facing ¾ of the audience, all but ignoring the ¼ on the right hand side of the room, although this did improve as he went on. I thought that the Trump/Clinton material was a bit last season and the reveals from the American section a bit predictable. However, when it came to discussing driving a cab in Glasgow, Lindsay’s set took off in a big way. There were probably five times more laughs for this than the rest of his set combined. This section was great and a joy to hear. Lindsay has skill and with a rethink of his earlier routines he will be a stronger act.

Donna Scott

Scott left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, her performance skills were good. She certainly held the room and managed to engage well with the audience. On the other hand, her material wasn’t especially strong and bits, such as Guy Fawkes were predictable, as was the rule of three coming into play on Star Trek. The poems, which almost verged on anti-comedy, were nice and each one got applause. I’d like to see Scott again in a year or so, with different material, as tonight the room enjoyed her far more than I did.

Freddie Farrell

Farrell had a good night, looking relaxed whilst he gave the room short routines in a performance that always seemed to be moving and building towards a climax. This was a set that gained a lot of momentum without Farrell having to speak quickly, act dramatically or do anything other than deliver solid material. I was impressed with him knowing the local crap town and using that within his set and this went down wonderfully with the audience as did the topper supplied by Mike. This was a very enjoyable set and also one that seemed smoother than the last time I had seen him.

Rik Carranza

I only saw Carranza last week, where he had done well at a gig in Alfreton. Tonight he continued that good work, building upon what I had seen previously. He utilised callbacks to Scott’s set and took full advantage of there being a Filipino sat on the front row. Both of these gave an air of immediacy to his set and there was a lot of laughter and a few applause breaks. Carranza’s set felt like it had come to a natural end with peanuts, but he wisely didn’t leave the audience with that and carried on with what was almost an epilogue to his set – the quick tale of a bus journey, which provided a more upbeat closing routine. This was another good show from a comedian who is clearly on a roll.

Sean Percival

Headlining was Sean Percival who continued his 100% record of smashing every room I’ve seen him perform in. He went down a treat and had most of the room doubled up with laughter. It was nice to see some updated sections and little changes here and there, but after having seen him a number of times, I’d love to see him expand his repertoire.

Bluey’s – Rik Carranza, Billy McGuire, Jared Shooter, Che Burnley, Keith Carter and Ben Briggs (MC)

Last night I was at Bluey’s, the only Australian steakhouse in Alfreton for the FaF Promotions comedy night. This is a gem of a gig that proves that good comedy can be found in places that one wouldn’t necessarily expect it from a first impression. Rich, who formed the front row by being sat on his own, is a man who stands out. He has green hair and looks as alternative as they come. Luckily he’s good natured and has a sense of humour, because last night he became the foil used by most of the comedians, not least our MC, Ben Briggs.

Ben Briggs (MC)

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.

Rik Carranza

Carranza opened speaking fast and giving a buoyant high energy performance. He was very animated with his hands, arms and body, which gave added life to what was a strong delivery. A lot of his material concerned race, but this was complimented by a very nice section about his partner’s nut allergy, which gave his set a nicely balanced feel. He took a bit of a gamble with a section on Australian racism, which given it was being performed in an Aussie bar, may have been taken badly, but this paid off nicely. I enjoyed the comment about a nanny, as this was wonderfully timely and very much of the social media zeitgeist. This was a very good set and Carranza had a sharpness that I’d not seen before.

Billy McGuire

McGuire was a confident presence and he carried on the good work from Carranza, earning a couple of applause breaks. I appreciated how McGuire would change the pace of his jokes, with some having long set ups and some very short and this ensured that the audience were never sure when to expect the reveal. Despite, or perhaps because of, the long set up JFK went down a treat. My personal favourite though, was the caught penis. This was a well delivered set from an act who certainly knows how to work a room.

Jared Shooter

Shooter made a great start with a callback to Celtic Folk Punk as having actually seen Ferocious Dog, as mentioned by Rich on the front row. This was followed up by some very nice room work with comments about how he’d only come for the free tea. Jared was a lot stronger in ad-libbing and finding comedy on the hoof than when I had seen him before and he has made a big leap forwards in his ability to make up comedy as he goes along. It was lucky that he went with a fair bit of room work, as it was six months ago that he last played Bluey’s and this helped to keep his set fresh. Despite speaking a little bit too quickly at times, he was a charismatic presence and gave everyone a good time.

Che Burnley

Burnley opened with a reference to Celtic Folk Punk, which was something of a very enjoyable running joke for the night. From here he went on to deliver a set that was adroit. There was a lot to like in this set, but there were also a few things that I wasn’t so keen on, but they were all quite minor. On the plus side, this was a well written set that was a lot of fun and contained some great lines, such as no score draw and the callbacks to winning an argument were very much appreciated. On the downside, and this isn’t something unique to Burnley, ‘tell you a bit about myself’ and miming kicking a ball when a joke lands are a bit overused. The ending was a trifle anti-climatic after the build up and this was a missed opportunity to finish what had been a highly congenial set on a high.

Keith Carter as Nige

This performance was a true highlight to what had been a great night. Carter plays Nige very well, pitching the character at the right level to carry conviction, but without making people nervous by the aggressive changes in voice or his mannerisms. This was a set that mixed room work and material in a way that not only kept everyone alert, but which also made the time fly by. The way that Nige interacted with the audience was fantastic and there was plenty of evidence of lightning fast thinking. When he reached the guitar solo of a song, telling Rich on the front row that he had time to go and get a beer (and he did actually tootle to the bar and back) was genius. The material was very strong and varied, with plenty of nuance to it. This was a performance that worked on a lot of levels and was simply excellent. I wasn’t in the least surprised when he was requested to do an encore.

New Barrack Tavern – Ben Briggs, Mark Kennedy, Julian Lee, Scott Bennett and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a fantastic gig with an audience that are more than up for the show. Kev, the landlord, played host, announcing our MC, Steff Todd onto the stage. This was Todd’s 3rd stint as compere and whilst not the finished article, she is moving in the right direction. I was rather surprised she didn’t reference the fact that she is local to Sheffield, but either way she covered everything that a compere needed to do. She got the room cheering to loosen up a few vocal chords, did the rules, explained the format and found a few people to chat to. The audience members that Todd spoke to largely served as foils for her material. She would do a one-liner and then tie it into one of the people she had been chatting with and this made the night feel nicely inclusive. I still thought that the room work/material balance was a bit skewed in favour of material, but it worked very well and the audience quickly warmed to her.

Ben Briggs

Briggs opened strongly and was playfully provocative in his comments about the age of some of the audience members. He divided the room by cheers into those over and under 40, which was a nice way into the routine, but I felt that he could have been more creative than going with ‘the sound of hope’ – a well used line. It’s odd that he used that line, as Briggs is an original act with a lot of thought to his material. The routines were as you’d expect, dark in tone and the audience stayed with him all the way. I really appreciate seeing Briggs, as he will push people’s expectations of what is and what isn’t funny. Sometimes a comedian can be controversial for the sake of it, but there was far more intelligence behind the writing in this set than that. The observations that he makes are sharp and readily identifiable. When he announced that he was going to see how far he could push it there was a definite sense of anticipation in the room. There was one odd moment were Briggs referenced Peter Sutcliffe, but didn’t pursue it, swiftly moving on, making this seem like a throwaway comment, but it didn’t interfere with the flow of the set. Having not seen him for a while I could see lots of little improvements and tighter wording in this set. Briggs delivers his material with vigour and joy and it is always interesting to see him perform.

Mark Kennedy

We resumed after the intermission with Mark Kennedy, who had quite a contrasting style to Todd and Briggs. Kennedy was low energy and softly spoken with a rather quiet voice. His set was based around short set ups and then the reveal. The material was well written with some well thought out jokes, such as Cigar, which in hindsight was straight forwards but in the way that it takes someone rather smart to think of it in the first place. One man show was a bit obvious, but this was the only line that was. The reveal on bridesmaid worked wonderfully, as it was totally unexpected. I enjoyed the callback to films and felt that this was a very good set from a clever writer.

Julian Lee

I’d only seen Lee once before and that was at the Pun Championship, where despite being runner up, he had given a commanding performance. I was curious as how he would fare tonight, as Todd had used a lot of one-liners and Kennedy had done short set up and reveal jokes and I did wonder if the audience would be happy with puns or want something more long form. The answer is that Lee had a good night, although he did become the millionth comedian to use the line ‘tell you a bit about myself’. The puns were mostly 1st class, especially the opening pun about the Union. The odd one didn’t land and these were of the kind that were more intelligent than funny, but given Lee’s work rate the few that didn’t do well made very little difference to the overall feel of the set, which was one of momentum building. I was particularly pleased with the asides and off the cuff comments made by Lee as puns landed and these did a lot to establish his presence and added to the impact of his set. This was a very enjoyable routine and he is a comedian with a big stage presence.

Scott Bennett

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.

March – end of month review

This has been a great month for comedy; I’ve seen 50 or so acts, ranging from gong shows to a very good English Comedian of the year heat. The highlight was probably ‘Fake Ray’ stealing the show when Jonny Awsum got a volunteer onto the stage to assist with his set – how Jonny kept a straight face I’ll never know. The low point was seeing a gong show entrant do a set based around them having a serious illness, which went from being depressing to bleak in the time it took for them to be voted off.

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

Vince Atta

This was at the English comedian of the year heat. Atta gave a fantastic performance.

From the night:

The final section was opened by Vince Atta. Atta was more or less a shoo in to do well in this contest, the only question I had was over the length of the spot, as I doubt Atta has done anything less than a 20 minute opening or closing slot in years. Atta began by explaining how beat boxing worked at top speed before doing a highly abbreviated version of his usual set. I was sorry he didn’t do resting bitch face, as that is my favourite routine of his. The routine where Atta used Derby was absolutely perfect for this heat and went down a dream. Everything that Atta said or did received a laugh – the meaning of his name in Urdu getting a huge response. Vince brings a real feel good factor into the room and I felt that tonight if just one person had given him a standing ovation the rest of the room would have joined in. This was a great set and he went through as winner of the night.

Jonny Awsum

Similar to Vince Atta in his ability to brighten up a room and make everyone significantly happier than they were before they left the home.

From the night:

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 of 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 over powering, 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.

Chris Stokes

A superb set.

From the night:

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.

Honourable Mentions

Clayton Jones, Dave Fensome, Gary Meikle, Phil Pagett, Sean Turner, Steff Todd (MC).

Blessington Carriage – English Comedian of the year heat – Thomas Rackham, Clayton Jones, Phil Pagett, Harry Sanders, Sean Turner, Stephen Cookson, Tom Young, Vince Atta, Sam Pressdee and Harriet Dyer

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy night at the Blessington Carriage for the English Comedian of the Year heat. These are good nights with a wide mix of acts on and tonight was no exception. There were ten acts (three going through to the next round), ranging from the highly experienced Vince Atta to acts who have only been going for a few years. One thing I have noticed in all of these heats is that since the audience can only vote for their favourite three acts there are definitely some injustices done to acts whom they have laughed at, but who haven’t made anyone’s top three. This was particularly true in two cases tonight, where talented acts failed to reap anywhere near to the number of votes they deserved. Spiky Mike received a gift from the Gods in the form of Brad and his friend. When Mike asked if they were together, Brad replied yes, they were dating. Mike then asked Ash about their relationship and she informed the room that they were not together and he was very firmly friend zoned. This was something that the room really enjoyed, but which will no doubt make for a few awkward moments for Brad and Ash when they are both at work for the same company tomorrow. Mike was less lucky with his material about Guinness where in response to his question of who had been out drinking on St Patrick’s Day a room full of fibbers stayed silent, leaving him hanging. This got a big laugh in itself.

Drawing first place on the bill was Thomas Rackham. Rackham’s a decent act who began with a bit of room work before moving into his established material. I’ve not seen him for a while, but it was nice to see little improvements here and there in the wording and I enjoyed his short section on his recent birthday. There was some good material in evidence, but also a few bits that weren’t quite on the same level, but this was still an enjoyable set.

Next was Clayton Jones. I felt that he began slowly – I’ll tell you a bit about myself is probably the most overused line in comedy, apart from my girlfriend, yes she is real. Following this, the African version of his name was ok and it got a laugh, but I felt it a bit obvious. The Pat Jennings reference was nice if you are of a certain age and it was useful that most of the room got the joke more from the context than the reference. At this point Jones began to talk about his two children, one nice, one demonic and at this his set kicked into gear. The tale of being tripped was well acted out and very convincing and easy to relate to (we’ve all had that escalating series of looks at one time or another) and the reveal on the final part of this was very good. This was topped by the correspondence with Durex. Whilst I didn’t rate the first part of his set that highly, the second half was great and this saw Jones through to the next round in 3rd place.

Phil Pagett, whom I regard as a very sharp writer of jokes was next. He gave the room his trademark one-liners, which included a musical gag, which despite the long-ish set up was well worth the pay off. I and the rest of the room found the callback to Brad to be very funny. There are definite shades of Delaney in the quality of Pagett’s writing, the only thing that is missing is Delaney’s sheer joy in getting to deliver jokes. Pagett is quite dry and cerebral and it’s possible that if he were to capture that sheer infectious joy that Delaney has then his performance would receive a massive boost.

We resumed after the intermission with Harry Sanders, another good writer. My only worry with Sanders was that he has performed in Derby a few times and familiarity may have worked against him on the night. Sanders began well with a good lead into his material on Loughborough. Sanders is strongest when he is doing darker material, which is risky in a contest and so he stayed away from this, mostly going with material that would appeal to all. This led to a set that had some good stuff and some not quite there yet stuff. I enjoyed the presents material, but that could be cut down to just showing the titles for the joke to work and maintain the pacing, as the chapter headings were fun, but didn’t add a lot that people didn’t expect. I’m looking forwards to watching Sanders grow as a comic.

Sean Turner opened by asking if everyone was all reet in a strong Geordie accent, which momentarily made me wonder if he was going to do a set full of references to him being a Geordie. Instead he gave the room something a lot more creative. The watch was nicely visual and set up a fun callback for later. The reveal on Hitchiker’s was unexpected and worked very well. Turner even did well with material on having had his prostrate examined, which has been done by 4-5 male comics his age. In style he reminded me of Gavin Webster, as both will tell a joke and then go for a second bite of the cherry by slowly explaining it. This was a very good performance that the room warmed to very quickly. I was very surprised when Turner didn’t make the top three.

Stephen Cookson would perhaps benefit from mixing up his approach to writing a little. A lot of his jokes involved taking something commonplace, such as a saying and then applying the literal meaning to it. Some of these were good, such as static caravan, but over time he suffered from this largely being one joke reworked too many times. It got to the point where not only did the law of diminishing returns kick in, but I think a lot of the audience were playing guess the punchline to the set up. Having a few that aren’t literal would break this up. Cookson’s delivery was low energy and he seemed to be focussed on a spot 2′ above the heads of the audience which wasn’t the end of the world, but I don’t think that it helped him form a bond with the audience during this contest.

Tom Young with his big smile made a lively start and instantly engaged with the room. He had a timely callback to Mike’s compering and since Pagett and he were dressed in the same coloured waistcoats, 6’7 Young had a wonderful line about being a king size version of Pagett. This made for a very energetic start and Young was definitely doing well. However, his actual material was a lot weaker than the stuff he had made up during the last half hour, lacking punch. This was definitely a case of him having stronger skills with delivery and ad-libbing than with writing. It would have been interesting to have seen Young do more room work, as he was on firmer footing there.

The final section was opened by Vince Atta. Atta was more or less a shoo in to do well in this contest, the only question I had was over the length of the spot, as I doubt Atta has done anything less than a 20 minute opening or closing slot in years. Atta began by explaining how beat boxing worked at top speed before doing a highly abbreviated version of his usual set. I was sorry he didn’t do resting bitch face, as that is my favourite routine of his. The routine where Atta used Derby was absolutely perfect for this heat and went down a dream. Everything that Atta said or did received a laugh – the meaning of his name in Urdu getting a huge response. Vince brings a real feel good factor into the room and I felt that tonight if just one person had given him a standing ovation the rest of the room would have joined in. This was a great set and he went through as winner of the night.

The hard job of following Vince Atta fell to Sam Pressdee. Pressdee’s set can be split into two halves: The Black Country and things that are personal to her. The Yam Yam translated into English didn’t achieve a lot, as no one really seemed that interested in a dialect that wasn’t local to Derby or far enough away to be exotic. This bit was more factual than comedy. The potted history of the Black Country and how it got its name would fall under this heading, too, although staying in that area, the line about benefits was decent enough. The other half of the set concerned an ex of Pressdee’s and a condition that she has. There wasn’t a lot of comedy in this; it felt like she was just making the most of the chance to talk about her ex in front of people rather than it being material. Pressdee’s performance would benefit from sounding less like a read through and more like an actual delivery.

The final act was Harriet Dyer, another favourite to go through. Dyer gave a very memorable performance. She was never still for an instant, jerking this way and then the next, almost as if she had been given a new body that afternoon and hadn’t quite worked out the instructions yet. This proved to be highly engaging and the room were quite fascinated by her. In addition to this, Dyer seemed to have three different people trying to do a set at once, with innumerable asides and tangents being followed. This was a case where no one had any idea what would be said next and it worked extremely well, with her totally holding the audience. The jokes were good and no one could have predicted anything that she said. Dyer easily made it through to the next round in second place.

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.