The Little Last Laugh – Tom Houghton, Anthony J Brown, Lloyd Langford, Christian Reilly and Big Shaun (MC)

Tonight I was at the Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. Originally this was booked as three acts and compere, but owing to a horrible crash shutting the M1, it was going to be touch and go whether or not Christian Reilly could make it and so Anthony J Brown was booked as a replacement. As it turned out, Reilly made it just in time to feature as a bonus headliner, which worked out very nicely for everyone in this appreciative audience.

Big Shaun (MC)

Looking relaxed and more confident, Shaun took to the stage and began chatting to people, seeing who did what and who had travelled the furthest. Usually most of the audience are from within twenty miles of Sheffield, but tonight Shaun discovered a work party of IT technicians who had travelled from India to do a month or so at their Sheffield office and no one was going to beat travelling from Bangalore, although Shaun did get a laugh for still asking. Big Shaun chatted to a girl who was an astrophysics PhD student and this led into some good stuff. I was a bit surprised that he didn’t mention Theresa May until the last section, as there is plenty of material to be had on her at the moment and it did feel odd for her troubles not to feature. This was decent compering that was well timed to keep things moving.

Tom Houghton

Houghton is an act that I always enjoy seeing on a bill. I really like his style, his material and the way he delivers it. Tonight was a largely new set, consisting of parts of his Edinburgh show that I saw previewed and material about boarding school. The end result, was strong, although it would have been nice if he could have ended on a killer routine. To open with, Houghton looked for posh people and this led very nicely into posh names. This made for a gentle, but entertaining opening, which not only gave him scope to show his performance skills, but also set the tone for the next twenty minutes. Boarding school was a good routine, with torches being well realised and then the later section about drinks followed this in a very coherent way. I wasn’t too sure about trying to get people singing a hymn, but the praying routine was fun, with his facial expressions helping to sell it. Houghton has quick wits and when someone’s phone rang during this section he immediately incorporated it into the routine. This was an enjoyable set from an act who is happy and very comfortable in his own skin. Houghton received a lot of laughter for his work.

Anthony J Brown

The dapper Brown came to the stage and made a deliberately slow start to the night, fiddling with the microphone, the stand and then pausing to take a sip of his drink just when you expected him to begin. This built up tension and he received laughs for it. Usually I’d question if the time taken was worth the number of laughs, but this is all part of his comedy persona and it helped to set the energy level for him. Brown’s style is one-liners, delivered slowly, with pauses whilst he caresses the microphone stand and it all came together nicely. The jokes were all pretty strong, although the slower paced delivery did perhaps give a few people time to guess the misdirection on the odd gag, but everything still landed well. I was especially impressed with the joke about Kerry Katona’s book, which I thought was an absolutely smashing joke, although in a couple of years the name may need updating. The routine about my home town, Mansfield, was very funny and struck a chord with the room, as Mansfield is close enough to Sheffield for it to resonate with folk. The poem was a good touch and the callbacks were very pleasing. This was a funny set that had the audience listening intently throughout.

Lloyd Langford

Langford opened by referencing his voice, which is a wise move for anyone with an interesting accent. From here he gave the audience a powerful performance that featured American info-mercials, smashed eggs, dodgy hotels in Brum, questionable Christmas presents and paedo hunting. This material was all of a high quality and intelligently written, but what stood out was Langford’s committed delivery. He delivered this material with conviction and without overdoing it, a tiny bit of panache. Out of all of the topics he spoke about, the egg smashing test was the one that tickled me the most. There was one odd moment during the set when Langford held an enquiry into who in the audience was shushing whom and whilst this didn’t help him build momentum, it didn’t do him as much harm as it could have done. This was a well written set.

Christian Reilly

Arriving at The Lescar after a nightmare seven hour journey and then going onto the stage after a brief few minutes of setting up must have been a challenge, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching Reilly. He performed his set almost as if he was rested and full of energy, which was an achievement. Reilly is a musical comedian and is wonderfully creative with his material. Throughout his performance he managed to maintain a great consistency in quality. The Michael Jackson opening was good, his facial expressions on guitar chords was great, especially intrigue, Bon Jovi was examined from a logical perspective and there was something for everyone in his choice of songs. The Theresa May song was very timely, but I shouldn’t wonder if that now has a much shorter shelf life than a day ago. Even after the room had seen an extra act and time was marching on, Reilly still left the stage to shouts for an encore. This was a set that gave a very upbeat ending to what had been a great night of comedy.

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The Saracen’s Head – Nick Page, Lukas Kirkby, George Lewis and Alun Cochrane

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse Comedy gig at the Saracen’s Head. This is a pretty big room that consistently sells out to a polite and mature comedy savvy crowd. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, chatting to Tony who was renovating a house, getting a big laugh for his comment to Beth about her keeping back some of the uniform samples that she was a buyer of and topping a witty reply of another Mike who claimed that he couldn’t close his legs, with the word ‘arthritis’.

Nick Page

Page is one of my favourite acts, but it’s been a while since I’d last seen him. In the meantime, he’s won the English Comedian of the Year contest and has had a fantastic run on Britain’s Got Talent, so I was especially interested in seeing him perform. Nick is a superb writer and all of his routines have a lovely internal logic to them, which he then takes to its ultimate conclusion, hoovering up big laughs along the way. The topics he discussed were all seen from unique angles and this made his material even stronger. Tonight he spoke about cats, politics, Christmas, cycling, bell ringing, meals arriving on things other than plates (a hell of a lot of sympathy for this from the audience), planning applications and saving the environment. A lot of this material was new to me and it was very impressive. There were some great lines in this set, such as plank and warlord, which both stood out. Page delivers his material at a nice steady pace, with a cynical air and this works wonderfully. This was a cracking set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

Lukas Kirkby

I’d last seen Kirkby only a few weeks ago where he had been doing a great job of compering at the New Barrack Tavern and so it was nice to see him do a set. Kirkby is a good singer and he made skilled use of this by giving the room three cleverly written parody songs interspersed with some decent jokes. The first song is maths related and whilst it isn’t immediately punchy it only took a verse before everybody was onboard and into it. The second song is fantastic and I had a lovely thrill of anticipation, because I knew what was coming and my parents, sat next to me, didn’t. It’s great when you know that there is a real treat on the way and can sit back and enjoy people’s reaction to it. This second song featured Paula Radcliffe and it is incredibly funny (my mum laughing heartily to it made my night all the better). Getting the audience to join in on the final line was an inspired act by Lukas. The opening line of the third song, by an amazing coincidence, made it sound as if it had been written especially for the night, because there can’t be many places with a minster in England. This final song was another gem that had the room filled with laughter. This was a set that the audience adored and I think it fair to say that Kirkby smashed it.

George Lewis

Lewis opened well by explaining that having Southwell Saracen’s written in his diary had made him think that he was playing a sports club. This got everyone onside very quickly, as anything that can be tied in to a particular gig without using a crowbar and is also funny is always welcome. There were a lot of good routines in this set, such as his girlfriend and also the massage, which built up very nicely indeed. It was nice to see Lewis get applause for the misheard present, but I did think that tax avoider deserved a bigger laugh than it received. There was quite a lot of misdirection jokes in this set. Probably 7-8, but as they were spread out over twenty minutes or so they didn’t overshadow the rest of the set, although I think a few more and people may have begun to try to play at spotting the twist. Lewis had a very pleasant delivery. He looked cheerful and happy, which came over well and the audience responded in the same way. I also liked his habit of occasionally chuckling at a line and also his practice of flashing a quick smile at the room. This was appealing and helped to create a congenial atmosphere. The closing routine, the rap, was very well thought out and tied together his set nicely, giving a strong conclusion to what had been a good set.

Alun Cochrane

I’ve seen Cochrane a couple of times, but not at all recently and so this was a nice bonus to what had already been a great night. Cochrane is an experienced act and he is smart enough to do a spot of homework before stepping onto the stage. He had plenty of references to the demographic of the audience and had enough knowledge of what had been said before he had arrived at the gig to work in some clever callbacks to them. This helped to make the show feel bigger than the sum of its parts. Cochrane is a low energy, laid back comedian, who utilises long set ups. This can be a challenging combination, but with powerful writing, the result is splendid and Cochrane had reveals that landed like hammer blows. Dedications made for a pleasing callback, religion was made fun, knife was timely and the warnings on railways was excellent. This was a strong set.

Nottingham Comedy Festival new comedian of the Year

Adam Elmi, Hassan Dervish, Adam Beardsmore, David Eagle, David Luck, Kathryn Mather and Jem Braithwaite with a headline set from Tony Jameson, Rik Carranza (MC)

Winner David Eagle, second Kathryn Mather and third David Luck

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the Nottingham Comedy Festival new comedian of the Year. This was a sold out event and it was great that so many people got to see such a good night. The format was seven entrants who had all qualified by having stood out at the NCF £1 night, all doing five minute sets and all being fairly new to comedy. Judging was by a mixture of industry and event figures, plus an audience cheer off for their vote. Whilst votes were worked out, there was a twenty minute pro set from Tony Jamieson. Our MC was Rik Carranza.

Rik Carranza

This was the first time I’d seen Carranza MC and I was impressed. He began nicely with a very well realised mock double take at being announced to the stage and showed a deft touch throughout. He chatted to a few people, but sensibly kept it light, not chasing anyone too far into the nitty gritty of an answer. I enjoyed the fact that he didn’t ask everyone on the front two rows what they did for a living. When Rik asked about who had travelled the furthest and he discovered a Jock proved to be a nice springboard into material on his background, which proved interesting to everyone. The only thing that I wasn’t particularly keen on was the jokes about vegans not having energy, as way too many comedians are doing a version of this. To be fair, it still got a laugh, but it would be nice to see something different. Carranza handled Nico adeptly. Nico was his chosen cheerleader for the first section and he was extremely confident, first standing up and cheering, then getting a slow overhead clap going and then for his final stint, getting 100 plus people stamping their feet and clapping to the opening tune of ‘We will rock You’. This could have gotten out of hand, but Rik kept on top of it. Getting the audience back on stage so that they could be reminded whom they were voting for was a good idea. This was relaxed, but confident compering by a comedian who struck a good balance between authority and comedy.

Adam Elmi

Volunteering to go on first in a competition is a risky move. Doing that when a lot of your material is dark takes that risk factor and multiplies it. Yet, that is what Elmi did tonight. Elmi had a mixed night. Some of his material worked very well, such as spreadsheet, his comments about an English degree and Portugal. However, not everything landed that well and his closing routine about a gig in Liverpool was pleasant, but really needed to be stronger to close on, as his set seemed to end on a low key instead of with a bang. It would be nice if he could work on his delivery a bit too, because a lot of his lines were delivered as if it were up to the audience to take it or leave it and this didn’t sell them as well as what it could have done.

Hassan Dervish

Dervish had a good night and going on early was perhaps the only thing that stopped him from being a contender for a top three placing. He gave the audience two poems set to music and these were pretty good. I’m not into poetry or music, but I could see the quality in the work and so could plenty of others. His delivery reminded me of the rapper MC Pitman and it held the room easily. Although he didn’t place tonight, Hassan certainly demonstrated ability.

Hassan Dervish and Kathryn Mather have a joint show on at the Nottingham Comedy Festival on Friday at 9pm at The Lord Roberts: http://www.nottinghamcomedyfestival.co.uk/calendar_235574.html

Adam Beardsmore

Coming to the stage to the sounds of 100 and more people stamping their feet to the tune of ‘We will rock you’ Beardsmore opened with a quick quip about that. This was then followed by some great material about his daughter, which was short and punchy with a lovely topper. Skip is a nice routine, but £1 bets perhaps wasn’t as suited to a five as it is to a ten. The alternative suggestions were good, but would have been perhaps improved if he had name checked local rival town Derby as where they originated from, as this would have given them added relevance. The rejigged closing routine shows a lot of promise, but isn’t yet the finished article. Shouting, walking into the audience and climbing on a chair was eye catching and built up a heck of a lot of impetus. I really thought that that added a lot of energy to the set. However, after that, the final reveal felt a bit of an anticlimax, simply because it is hard to follow standing on a chair and shouting. This was an enjoyable set.

Daniel Eagle

Eagle opened by talking about being blind and the different perspectives this gives. He then followed this up with some other examples, which were all very good, although Darlington may have been one example too many. This was then followed by some very strong material about being in Australia, which he sold well with a credible Australian accent. The chat up lines were superb. Braille was another good routine, which although it might have been a bit snappier, still generated a lot of laughs. It’s possible that using ‘reveal’ instead of ‘punchline’ for braille on his knob might work even better, but that’s just a thought. This was a very well written set, where even the set ups were enjoyable to hear. Eagle has a similar voice to Wrigglesworth and the construction of his set is also fairly similar and this made for a lovely combination. Eagle won the audience vote by a mile and was voted overall winner by the judges, taking home a trophy and a crate of Castle Rock beer. Eagle shows a lot of promise and is well worth booking.

David Luck

Luck gave the audience some clever one-liners, most of which contained a dark twist. A lot of these were very strong, but there were a couple of groaners, which puzzled me. Although a groaner does get a reaction, getting a laugh must be better and Luck is a talented enough writer to not need the groaners when he can write stuff that gets a laugh. David is an act who has skill, but could be improved. He comes to the stage with a clipboard, which I think is a great touch. It gives him the air of a prefect, or a manager, overseeing or auditing the audience and this was reinforced by his gentle admonishments when the room went with a dark joke (Specials was the line of the night). This could be worked upon to establish a great comedy persona. If Luck were to wear a suit to buttress the clipboard, drop looking nervous and develop into a slightly high status act and giving the odd gentle rebuke as an aside, then I think it would work extremely well for him. The trick would be in getting the balance right, but he already has the material to support it with. Luck had a good night and came 3rd.

Kathryn Mather

Mather had a night of two halves, starting poorly, but pulling it back to finish on a high. The opening material didn’t seem to fair that well, which was a surprise, as I was expecting a lot from her. However, when Mather went into a story from a woman’s magazine she found her stride and gave the room some very good material, which she delivered clearly and confidently with just the right tone. This went down extremely well and Mather came second in both public and judge’s voting.

Kathryn Mather and Hassan Dervish have a joint show on at the Nottingham Comedy Festival on Friday at 9pm at The Lord Roberts: http://www.nottinghamcomedyfestival.co.uk/calendar_235574.html

Jem Braithwaite

Braithwaite split the room a bit tonight and although he got more people onboard the more he spoke he ran out of time before he managed to grab everyone. Braithwaite has original material and a quirky delivery, which work well together, plus a solid command of the English language. He is always enjoyable to watch, although pensioners shoes is probably not a line I’ll see him use again. Despite not placing in the top three tonight, I look forward to seeing him continue to work upon his material.

Tony Jameson – pro headliner

Whilst the votes for the competition were counted the audience got to see some new material from Jameson. Years ago I saw Jameson’s show, Football Manager ruined my Life, and it was tremendous, so I was hoping for some great stuff from him tonight. The new material was like most new material: a mixed bag. End of the world needed more, but could be good, the connection between Brexit and Boaty McBoatface has been mentioned a few times and condemning people who start getting ready for Christmas in October sounded more like a whinge. However, the biggest issue was the delivery. This was forceful, almost aggressive, with Jameson spitting out words instead of saying them. It was also overly sweary when it didn’t need to be. I found the delivery to be off putting and I don’t think we saw him at his best tonight. The established material about giving a sperm sample was better, even though it is a topic that a few acts have covered. Private practice was a good line, though and the audience got on board with this.

Laura Monmoth – LGBTQZX

Tonight I saw LGBTQZX in The Lord Roberts, with an interested and invested audience, which included Dan Webber of Furthest from the Sea, which books a fair amount of cultural stuff for Derby.

The show features segments of Laura’s life, told through the prism of retro games with a very enjoyable club twenty section, where she improves on reality. This is a show that makes full use of a screen and graphics to punch home the visual jokes and there is a lot to admire in this. The references are all easy to get and even if you aren’t of the generation who used to wreck their keyboard playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, you can still get all of the jokes. The unlikely Spectrum games are superb and their plausibility show what an odd era it was for gaming, with pretty much every show or film getting a tie in game that was usually only tenuously linked to the programme in question.

The Bohemian Rhapsody sing-along still seemed to go on for a long time, but I think that reality could be improved here with the odd subversive picture being put in on some of the names. Not too many to break people’s immersion in the routine, but enough to add some more laughs to it.

LGBTQZX is a little gem of a show. A lot of thought and even more creativity has gone into it. There are lots of little subtle jokes to be seen, such as even the screen saver and the faux retro gaming touches. This was a show that as well as being enjoyable and funny, left everyone in the room with a nice warm feeling.

Thomas Green – Doubting Thomas

Tonight I was back at the Lord Roberts to see two more shows. The first of these was Thomas Green with Doubting Thomas. I saw a preview of this a while back in front of a well-meaning, but very drunk audience, so I was looking forward to seeing the full version.

Having moved from Adelaide to Nottingham and now established in this city, Green had managed to pull in a fair few people from his former job, the coffee shop he frequents and even his barber, which when added to a few walk ins, made for a room full of people. This helped to create a great atmosphere, but the bulk of the energy came from Green, who has such a charismatic personality that audience’s warm to him quickly.

Green began the show with a brief bit of room work, to warm people up. It must have been an odd experience for this pro act to work a room where he knew 70% of the people, but this didn’t stop him making the most of the opportunity. A particular joy was a couple who were ‘together-ish’, something which was explained later, but which didn’t stop him from getting a lot of laughs from them at the time.

The show is all about Green’s religious upbringing, his turning away from that and then rebuilding his life over here – a far more enjoyable life. The story was largely chronological, with Green opening by talking about his career as a teacher. This made a lot of sense, because as there were (and most likely will be at least one in any gig) plenty of teachers in the room, it made for a smooth transition from room work into material. This also gave Green a chance to showcase his skills as a performer, which is something I always enjoy. One difference I noticed between this show and the preview was that Green didn’t deliver the routine about swimming with his ex in the same way. At Jack Topher’s gig, he had used a supremely sinister facial expression, which I thought added a heck of a lot to that line, but for some reason he didn’t include that tonight, which was a shame. The material about the church he was a member of in South Australia was fascinating and the aftermath must have been a truly horrible time in his life. It’s hard to make something like that funny and although Neymar was good, I think it might have benefited from a few more laughs, but either way it did add some pathos to the story. The material about the Tiger was a lot more fun and having a bit of music to begin it with was a nice bonus. The final part of the show concerned Green making his new life with Sophie in England and this was bouncy and a lot of fun. There were loads of strong lines in this section and it was supremely easy to get onboard with.

Green is a great performer. He is very adept at bringing his set to life with physicality, accents and sheer energy. I enjoy the way he speaks, as he will lay the emphasis on the first syllable in the odd word and this pattern seems to grab people’s attention. Even when reading about the Tiger, Green used intonation to give that story a much more interesting subtext than what the author (Judith Kerr) intended. This was a very funny hour from a solid act.

Scott Bennett – Leap Year

This was a show that I was really looking forwards to. I’d got a small party up for it, two of whom had seen Scott before and were already fans and two who hadn’t seen proper live comedy for ages and for whom it would be a real treat. As it happened, they couldn’t make it, which was a shame, as they missed a lovely show. Unusually, the energy levels stayed flat throughout. This wasn’t any fault of Bennett’s as I’ve seen him smash gigs at every level. The audience laughed and enjoyed it, but in a contrast to every other show I’ve seen of his, the energy just wasn’t in the room tonight.

Leap Year opened with Bennett being introduced to the stage by a recording of his daughter Sophia, which was a very nice touch that introduced his family into the show at an early stage. This was then followed by Scott doing a short bit of room work, chatting about it being Bonfire Night, which got a lot of nods of recognition when he moved on to saying about there being parents there who were just getting out of the house, away from their kids. This was a subtle and early hint of one of the themes of the show.

Leap Year was about Bennett, a risk averse family man, leaving a secure and successful career to follow his dream to be a stand up comedian. To anyone who has seen him smashing gigs over the last few years, Bennett being able to make it as a comic would be judged as a foregone conclusion. However, it’s not always so clear when you’re the one having to carry all of that responsibility and you making a mistake has an impact upon your family. This was a story that was easy to get onboard with and didn’t require any leaps of logic to follow. It was down to earth and perhaps all the more enjoyable for that.

As you’d expect with this comedian, the material was solid and the sincere delivery was spot on and totally in synch with his persona. The jokes came thick and fast, with the consistency of almost a one-liner artist, but without the mid show lull that you usually get when people become laughed out. From the routines and jokes it’s hard to pick favourites, because there was just so much that was absolutely top notch. Insomnia and dreams was very funny and logical, Bond is a cracking line, the shed is brilliant and his parents provide a down to earth, but joyfully zany contrast to his more immediate family. Bennett’s ability to differentiate family members through changing his voice is a minor but crucial ingredient to this show. It brings them to life as characters in a way that just a normal delivery wouldn’t do and it helps to keep the audience immersed in the show.

The closing routine was great and brings everything full circle in a way that gives a feeling of completeness to all that has been said. This is a lovely show from someone who is constantly succeeding in improving upon what a lot of other comedian’s would be happy to settle for.

Phil Nichol – Your Wrong

Nichol is a consummate performer and Your Wrong could be used as a textbook example of how to do everything right for a comedy show. If anyone is looking to take a show up to Edinburgh they would do well to see Your Wrong and learn from its elegant construction.

The first minute sets up the premise, the next section introduces Nichol and helps you to invest in him as a human being, you then go on an emotional ride as some of the narrative of his life unfolds with surprising laughs that arrive with a wonderful consistency, until you arrive at a very satisfying (emotional and comedic) conclusion. This creation was expertly crafted in such a way as to get the very most from the time allocated.

However, without good writing, or a delivery that makes the most of the material, it would all be for naught and here, Nichol also scores big. The jokes come at you from unexpected places, with nothing signposted in advance. Some of these are genius, such as speaking in tongues and the cracking alternative church at Glastonbury. The performance was extremely powerful. Nichol’s physicality works on a lot of levels, from high energy striding into the audience to emphasise a point, through to using his hand to simulate blood draining from a face and the subtle pointing at the comedy festival sign for his third pun.

The pacing was spot on and this kept what was a detailed and fascinating story easy to follow. Never once was there too much story to process, or did you feel awash with jokes to the detriment of the narrative. This was a brilliant show that had a proper feel good factor to it.

The ParaPod Live

This evening I was at the Canal House for one of the best days of the Nottingham Comedy Festival. There were two top quality shows on back to back, the first of which was the legendary ParaPod, starring Ian Boldsworth and Barry Dodds. To say that this show has a cult following is an understatement. I arrived 45 minutes before show time and the queue stretched down a couple of flights of stairs, all long the Canal House and right out into the car park. There were quite a few comedy industry figures who had turned out to see the show, including Jay Hampson, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Pat Draper, Silky and Simon Caine. Prior to the show beginning Erasure were playing, with the audience singing along to Respect, something which delightfully carried on after the song was cut off. We were then ready to begin.

The format of the show was initially announced as a comedy set from each, a fun wind up, but in reality it was: Ghost News, Inside no 11, A bus trip full of featured hauntings, the tale of the Edinburgh Banshee, PD Files and then a Q & A.

Although this gave the show a framework, the majority of it was ad-libbed and it can’t be easy to ad-lib for over a hour, working mostly with what each other says, yet these two have such great chemistry they made it look effortless.

Both have contrasting talents. Boldsworth has a razor sharp precise mind that will listen to what Barry is saying on one level, spot the flaw in the argument, prepare a cuttingly hilarious insult and lay a trap for two questions down the line. In comparison, Dodds has superb timing and is able to say the funniest things without having to think about it – he’s a natural comedian. These differing skills enabled Boldsworth and Dodds to bounce off of each other in a way that was absolutely hilarious.

Boldsworth was very cheerful about shopping Dodds for every misdemeanour, holding what was almost a court of enquiry into the amount of preparation that Barry had gone to for the show. He took a lot of joy in pointing out just how recently something had been jotted down and the amount of space between each line on Barry’s rough notes. This was a show where even the little things, such as Ian’s look of disbelief whilst Barry was talking was superb. I was stood at the back of the room laughing my socks off throughout the show.

There were a huge number of highlights during this performance, way too many to mention and a lot wouldn’t sound funny on a page, but were absolutely brilliant due to the ability of the stars to roll with what came their way. The betting slip with £50 down at 100 – 1 for Barry to win the show was superb, as was the line, ‘I’ve lived in Nottingham for four years and I can’t get a pothole fixed, never mind a castle shut.’ Another highlight was Barry Gwilliam, who had had both Dodds’ and Boldsworth’s faces tattooed on his leg.

As with any show there were a couple of lulls (mostly during the Q & A), but the big surprise here was just how few lulls there were. To largely ad-lib a show of this length and to be so funny throughout is no mean feat. The atmosphere was amazing and it’s hard to overstate the amount of love in the room for these two. This was a fantastically funny show.

The first ParaPod Live can be found here.

The Nottingham Comedy Festival: Adele Cliff and Alex Hylton

Tonight I was at the Lord Roberts to see two shows, which were conveniently on back to back. The performances take place in the cellar of the Lord Roberts and this is a room that has a definite Edinburgh Fringe vibe to it. It’s wonderfully separate from the main body of the pub and so there are no interruptions – everyone who is there is there because they want to see live comedy. It was freezing cold, even when full of people, which wasn’t good for the ambience. Oddly the Lord Roberts don’t want any posters up, either in the windows, on the internal walls or even on the door to the cellar and one wouldn’t know that there was a comedy night on, let alone a festival if it was just down to the venue to market it. Luckily Helen Stead and Jeanette Bird-Bradley are on top of the promotion and both Adele and Alex had a room full of people.

Adele Cliff: Sheep

The basic premise of this show is that Adele was called a sheep at school and through the course of the hour she demonstrates that she is a lot more than just a sheep. A simple enough idea, but the joy is in the jokes. I’m used to seeing a lot of one-liners from Cliff and although this show contains an abundance of them, she has also included a lot of anecdotes, which provide the narrative backbone. This is a bit of a change of pace to what I’m used to seeing from her and whilst they weren’t as sharp as the puns, it allowed you to invest in Cliff as a person and this was crucial to the show, because if you didn’t care about her, then the narrative would be meaningless.

During the course of the show Cliff had a few questions for the audience and this helped to make the show feel communal and not just her talking. She’s talented enough to be able to craft a pun from the most unlikely of topics and so in discussing animals that people have been compared to she had a joke for the lady who had been called an owl and so on. Unusual phobias proved to be an interesting question, with solid soap being a clear winner, although Cliff still received applause for her unusual phobia. Not every joke hit, but considering just how many gags there were, it would be amazing if they all did. Some, such as high pitched whistles and border collies might have gone over a few people’s heads. I enjoyed the running joke about the WI and the Schrödinger’s callback was a real joy. This was an entertaining hour.

Alex Hylton: Everybody’s Different and I’m the Same

Hylton opened by thanking everyone for coming. He seemed to be surprised and also genuinely grateful that a roomful of people had turned up to see him. Alex began with some sharp room work, which showcased his compering skills. These were of a very high order and without being forceful he was swiftly in a position where he commanded the room for the duration of his show. Hylton then began to talk about how he always felt that he was special until recently, which led into some good material concerning a VIP pass. This was then followed by some great material about his ex houseshare friend, which established his personality and was very accessible to the audience. This all helped everyone to get onboard and to feel something for the man.

There was a lot of strong material in this set, such as dogging (always a bonus if an act can name check a local spot), the material about his unique voice and above all home nudism. This is a fresh topic that I’ve not heard anyone else do and Hylton had a standout routine about it that was the highlight of the night. I did think that there was a bit of a lull during Blink 182 and that gluten and lactose needed a stronger reveal for the length of set up, but both were still funny. It may be beneficial if Hylton were to do some more room work during his show, because he has a real talent for this and it may help to maintain the energy level throughout. Another possible improvement would be if he wasn’t to crouch down when delivering certain sections. I can see the logic in why he does that, as it added more emotion to the delivery, but the downside was that a lot of the room couldn’t see him and I felt that by losing that connect it may, perhaps, have done more harm than good. There was a moment that could have been potentially very tricky and with a less skilful act, it may have actually wrecked the atmosphere, but Hylton dealt with it masterly. Alex was talking about living alone and he asked the audience if any of them lived on their own, to which one chap said he did. Naturally the next question was if that was through choice and the reply was that his wife had died. A bereavement in the audience is a very delicate subject to deal with and sometimes just one wrong word can be enough to make things awkward, but Hylton took it all in his stride, sensing that an upbeat response was the right one and moving things on without any upset being caused.

There were a lot of laughs during this hour and Hylton has a solid base upon which to build his next show. He’s an act that I’d like to see more of.

Ashby – Tom Wrigglesworth, Morgan Rees, Tez Ilyas and Jeff Innocent

Tonight I was at the Lyric Rooms in Ashby for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a great gig at a very nice venue and it attracts a pleasant well behaved audience. Spiky Mike opened with some timely material regarding Halloween and then searched the audience for first-timers, that he’d not spoken to before. Over the course of the evening he found a few interesting people, such as the swimming instructor and her boyfriend, who both played instruments and a ‘rural housing enabler’ which was a new one to most of the people there. He had a lot of fun on her behalf in trying to find anyone who wanted more houses in their village.

Tom Wrigglesworth

Our opening act was Tom Wrigglesworth, who was given a great boost by the presence of a seven week old baby who had come to see the show with her parents. Wrigglesworth spotted this group before he was announced and began his set by chatting to them about their newborn and then using this as a springboard into his material about recently becoming the father of twins. Wrigglesworth is one of the few acts where the set ups are just as enjoyable as the punchlines. He has such an elegant grasp of the English language it is pure joy to follow how he constructs sentences and builds his descriptions. This was a set with a lot of highlights, such as the names of the twins, organ donation, towers, tumbledrier and the printer. Funnily enough I saw Scott Bennett do a routine about printers last night, but the routines are very different, albeit both superb. This was a cracking set.

Morgan Rees

I’d not seen Rees for a while and since I last saw him he’s been very busy writing new material as this set was full of things that I’d not heard before. Morgan started off well with a good joke and a strong topper, which earned him applause. From here he spoke to a lady on the front row, challenging her to name an animal in return for him giving her a fact. Naturally, she tried to throw him with a curveball, which I think he was half expecting, because he didn’t bat an eyelid when she announced ‘duck billed platypus’ (nice of him to repeat her answer so that everyone could hear it). Rees responded with some gentle admonishment for her suggestion and then hit the room with an entertaining fact that led naturally into material on his background. Tag was a great joke, although cardio wasn’t quite up to that standard. The routine about the houseshare was enjoyable, with sink and then the follow up line, which he astutely delivered almost as a resigned after-thought being very well thought out and funny. The closing routine is a promising concept that has legs, but isn’t there yet. I think the basic idea of the marriage is sound, but he may well have had one too many incongruities thrown up by the situation to maintain the pacing. The knowingly tongue in cheek cliché that he ended on provided a good ending to that routine and to what was a very good set.

Tez Ilyas

I’d not seen Ilyas before, although I’d heard a lot of positive things about him. His delivery was unhurried and conversational and everyone was able to settle into his set very nicely. Ilyas showed a skilful touch in how he used his voice to emphasise the emotions of what he was saying, with his inflection on downside really pushing that line. Similarly, he was able to get the most out of changing the energy level to suit what he was saying. Ilyas has very strong performance skills. The material was solid, too, OM being well considered, Benidorm good, the balloon superb and the closing routine was magnificent. I wasn’t that keen on him using the well worn line, ‘because that’s her name’, as too many people have already said it, but that’s not the end of the world. This was a set that gave the night the feel of there being an extra headliner on the bill.

Jeff Innocent

Headlining was Jeff Innocent who from his first ‘fack’ of the show was unmistakably a Cockney. This is a facet that gives him almost an air of the exotic when gigging up here. Innocent is very aware of his obvious strengths, which are his appearance and his background and if he wasn’t to address them, then it would feel odd, so instead he has crafted some very powerful material around them. However, when discussing multiculturalism, family and getting older he was just as adept. There were a lot of high points in this set, such as Ray Winstone, his youngest son, bouncers, Sunderland and so on. The closing routine concerned sex and advancing years, which as a real crowd pleaser, he tied in to a couple sat on the front row. During this routine the seven week old baby who had been totally silent all night, woke up with a bit of a cry and as quick as you like, Jeff was there with an on topic as-lib which pretty much took the roof off. Innocent’s delivery took in the entire audience and he left no section of the room feeling left out as he performed. I’ve seen him a few times and it was nice to see quite a few improvements to his existing material with the odd re-wording here and there, plus some new bits. This was a thoroughly enjoyable set by Jeff Innocent that received not only consistent laughs, but consistent big laughs.