The New Barrack Tavern – Aaron Wood, Joseph Dalton, Leon Brown, Becky Heaviside, Mickey McKay, Greg Husband, Omar Issa, Roger Poulter, Lee Watson, Harry Chalmers-Morris, Dan Baines, Erika Ehler, Jimbo, Anna Spark

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse Comedy night. This is a lovely pub and I’ve never had anything less than a great night here. The room was pretty full, too, which was great. Present in the audience were Lou and Wayne B (Last Laugh) and my best friend, Bill and Donna. Spiky Mike had a cracking time compering, discovering a lady who was happy to be from local shit town, Rotherham and another lady whose given profession was that of ‘undertaker’ upon being challenged, this changed to hairdressing before she finally confessed to being a supply teacher. No one was doing dry January, which received a big cheer and Mike’s new bit of material comparing Theresa May to a hopeless sportsman went down well. There were 14 acts on the bill tonight, with a wide sweep of styles amongst them. Ten made it through to the final and whilst a couple of these were a bit generous, the judges were pretty much spot on. There was a lot of talent in this room tonight.

Aaron Wood

Wood opened the night by talking about anal sex (with a pretty standard punchline about who received it). Apart from an ironic cheer, this got nothing. He then went on to give the audience some one-liners about a new lady in his life, but it was too early on in the night for this material and apart from laughter coming from the green room, it didn’t get a lot. In fact at the first vote it was touch and go whether he went. However, after that he did a routine about being taken too soon and this was a total contrast to his earlier material. It was witty with unexpected reveals. This was good stuff. It could have perhaps been improved if he had changed the order a bit so as to reveal the lady was Glaswegian earlier, as that would have made it more punchy. That aside, this was a very good routine and it saw him through to the final.

Joseph Dalton

I last saw Dalton in Stoke and he’d not had a stellar gig there. Tonight he continued this pattern. He opened with material on Easy Jet and things being optional extras. This topic has been done to death over several years and it’s hard to sound original unless the material is really good. This wasn’t. It was then followed by some material about God opening coffins and this was too odd for the audience and off he went.

Leon Brown

Brown opened with a joke about a donation that he made to a homeless man and not only was this a bit bleak, but it was too soon in his set for the room to have really grasped his persona. As all of the sympathy was with the homeless man, it didn’t endear Brown to the audience. This was followed by a disparaging quote and as the source of it was his mum, it didn’t feel like anything no one hadn’t heard of a version of before. Attention spans was shaping up to be more interesting, but there just weren’t enough jokes in it to keep the judges with him and as a vote came up, Brown was off.

Becky Heaviside

Becky Heaviside had a great gig and easily made the final. Her delivery and well written material drew the audience in and she was the first act of the night that had everyone onside. She also had a very nice visual habit of pulling the mic away from her mouth when she was swapping character in her routines and this worked very well. The only thing I wasn’t so keen on was ‘sadder than that’ which is a pretty common line. However, with her eye for a nice turn of phrase and well measured delivery I really enjoyed her set and I’d like to see her perform again.

Mickey McKay

I saw McKay a few months ago and whilst he reminded me of a young Tony Cowards, not everything came together and he was much more of a work in progress. However, tonight, he was great. He received a laugh for his opening joke and never really looked back. He kept the one-liners coming, not rushing the delivery, but just letting them arrive at their own pace with pauses for the laughter. He was the only act to receive a shout out – when he said about being single and a star wars fan, he received a ‘yes!’ from a lady in the audience and his well timed response of ‘fuck you,’ which was said with a grin, went down nicely. The gag about kick boxing was extremely good and the joke about Birmingham train station was solid, but if he were to just swap Brum for wherever the local shit town is to his performance, it would land twice as hard. McKay continued the good work in the final, where he delivered a punchy 60 seconds and made it through to the cheer off, arguably in second place.

Greg Husband

Husband is possibly the first folk music comedian I’ve seen and he added a wonderful element of difference to the night. He sang songs, accompanied by guitar (later squeeze box) and these stood out on a diverse bill. The songs were self-deprecating and pretty raw with how they painted him. However, instead of being depressing, Husband was very funny and received a hell of a lot of laughs. He’s got talent and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a comedian. Tonight he not only made the final, but was in the cheer off for top spot.

Omar Issa

Issa opened well with a rhetorical question about how to follow a folk music comedian and this showed not only that he was aware of what was happening on stage, but also a certain generosity of spirit, which was well received. What jumped out the most from this set was the quality of the writing. Issa has spent a lot of time working on this set and it has a great logic to it. There is nothing discordant about any of the routines, they don’t segue into something odd, but instead they all hang together very nicely. There was also a refreshing newness about his chosen topics, too, with Fusion Foods being a standout. There were a few ways that he could have taken this, but the familiar and the odd, exaggerated for comic effect worked extremely well. The delivery was also solid, with Issa changing pace and adding emphasis at just the right moments in his set. Issa was a well deserved winner tonight and I think I’ll be seeing a lot more of him in future.

Roger Poulter

Poulter gave the audience one-liners. Some were groaners, some were Christmas Cracker style jokes and a couple were really good. The fortune teller gag was excellent and if the rest were as good as this he’d have lasted much longer. Audience’s will tolerate the odd groaner (more so if it is clever), but they are there to laugh and if the groans outweigh the laughs, it becomes tricky. Poulter banged the gags out one after the other, but his lack of a connect with the audience was fatal. Poulter didn’t really look at the audience or form any kind of connection with them and if he were to at least acknowledge the roomful of people or find a way to make them want to invest in him as being worth their time he would do far better.

Lee Watson

Watson has potential, but at the moment is a work in progress. His biggest problem was a lack of concision. His set ups and sometimes the reveals, were that wordy that the funny got lost amongst the talking. He wasn’t helped by a long pause after a (sadly guessable) reveal, where it wasn’t clear if he had lost his way or was pausing for affect. The material about LGBTQ+ was unique, interesting and a lot more fun. With more stage time Watson will improve.

Harry Chalmers-Morris

Chalmers-Morris could become a good act. He’s only 19, looks younger and has an engaging stage persona. His material was pretty well thought out, too, with some nice lines. ID was a great one. Chalmers-Morris made a shrewd use of the local shit town. Chalmers-Morris made the final and although he didn’t win, there was plenty to enjoy in his set.

Dan Baines

I last saw Baines in Stoke, where he had done pretty well. Tonight he continued from where he left off with a good set that saw him through to the final. Baines has a solid stage presence and this helped him in his performance. A lot of the material concerned his build, but he had a lot more to offer and spoke about his tastes in life. Slap in the face was a great line and morbidly was even better. I was impressed when he tied some material into the supply teacher discovered during Mike’s compering. This was a good move and made his performance feel very much of the here and now. There was regular laughter during this set.

Erika Ehler

The Canadian Ehler delivered her material in a slow calm and deadpan manner. The topics included Amanda Knox and drama school and these were all interesting, making the audience curious to see where she was going. The laughs came consistently during Ehler’s set and she made a good impression on everyone. I expected her to be better supported during the final, but this time she didn’t make the cheer off.

Jimbo

This was the fourth time that I’ve seen Jimbo and tonight he received laughs for the right reasons. Aged 75 and dressed like an extra from Last of the Summer Wine, he stood out on a bill that was notable for its diversity of style. The jokes largely concerned the troubles of getting old and these went down very well, with him making the final without any trouble.

Anna Spark

The Australian Anna Spark had some superb lines and ideas, such as haunted, which was a fantastic premise. However, she did split the room with her shock material approach. Spark suffered from her material all being either overly sexual or overly dark. Whilst a fair number of lines were strong, it all began to feel pretty much of a muchness and that it was shock for the sake of shocking. If it had led further, ie, into something that wasn’t sexual or dark then it would have drawn more people in. In fairness, she made the final, there were some great lines, but I’m not sure how many people would have wanted much more of what became fairly samey sounding material.

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The Saracen’s Head – Ivo Graham, Chris Kehoe, James Cook and Ivan Brackenbury

Tonight I was in Southwell at The Saracen’s Head for the Funhouse comedy night. This was another packed show and Spiky Mike was on form with his compering. He had some fun with vegan sausage rolls, but really got into his stride chatting to Les, a train driver from Doncaster. The undertaker he discovered during his second session added to the list of interesting professions present.

Ivo Graham

Graham was unfortunate enough to arrive later than expected at the venue and owing to the double ups, he ended up going on stage more or less as soon as he had taken his coat off. This lack of time to relax and get himself settled and mentally focussed had an adverse effect on his performance. Graham started off well, riffing off of Mike’s introduction, getting laughs for his comments about the location of the double and establishing his persona. However, when he came to talk about holidaying with his parents he got parts of the routine in the wrong order and his attempts to get back on track weren’t quite snappy enough to keep everyone with him. The routines about losing his virginity and then breastfeeding were ok, but I don’t think he delivered them with as much panache as he would have done if he hadn’t erred in his earlier routine, although the annihilation jokes were good. The closing routine about Go Ape was sound. However, the biggest laugh during this set came for a well timed and relevant callback shouted out by Les in the audience, which got a huge laugh. Graham didn’t do badly, he got laughs, entertained everyone and you could see the quality behind it all, but owing to having to jump straight in, I don’t think he did half as well as he could have done.

Chris Kehoe

Kehoe is a very talented act. His intelligent material had a great logic to it; he is imaginative in how he takes a set of facts or a scenario and builds arresting comedy around it and his command of the English language allows you to enjoy every perfectly chosen word in his set ups. In addition to this, his performance, with things such as the small nod to acknowledge the glass being dropped (prior to a great ad-lib that tied it into his material) added a lot to what he was saying. This was a superb set that had everyone laughing, gained applause and was a joy to listen to. I enjoyed Kehoe the first time I saw him and thought he had improved further tonight. I’m going to be very interested in seeing how he develops.

James Cook

Cook is one of the most technically adept acts I’ve seen. He teaches comedy and it shows in his set, as he had everything spot on. His opening jokes were strong and were tied into the night (a person who looked like Dick Cheney and an undertaker sat in the audience). Cook’s pacing was great, with jokes not only coming at the right interval for the energy level in the room, but he neither spoke too quickly, nor too slowly and there were no lulls. Also, whilst there were plenty of jokes to each topic, nothing was taken to the point where it felt as if it had outstayed its welcome. There was a very subtle element of physicality to Cook’s delivery, as he would adjust his facial expression to accent the feeling he was imparting, or he would point or gesture with his hands. Nothing dramatic, but more than enough to add to what he was saying without distracting people. Similarly, Cook’s use of his voice with where he laid the stress on certain words in sentences made it clear what the key words in each routine were. This was all excellent. There was a lot of laughter during this performance. This was an impressive set.

Ivan Brackenbury

Brackenbury was very fast in generating belly laughs. Within 30 seconds of commencing he had people laughing their heads off. The format of him being a hapless hospital radio DJ who unknowingly plays inappropriate songs is very strong. Brackenbury had a superb eye for the funny and in this very punchy performance, the laughs came thick and fast. For those less clued up on their music, Brackenbury would repeat the relevant lines or song titles so that everyone could get the gag. There was a brilliant moment when in discussing what the heck a ‘Milf Farms’ is, a lady in the audience said ‘yes’ at a personally awkward moment, and Brackenbury briefly broke the 4th wall to talk to her. There was so much laughter that I was surprised that there wasn’t a standing ovation.

The Lescar – Craig Murray, Njambi McGrath, Pete Selwood, Jonny Awsum and Matt Stellingwerf (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield at The Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. This is a belter of a gig in front of an appreciative audience. There was one person there tonight, who had had a little bit too much to drink and whilst not abusive, did have a tendency to shout out some pretty bizarre things and this led to some great reactions from the comedians.

Matt Stellingwerf (MC)

Stellingwerf got the night off to a good start through a mixture of hard work and talent. Almost the moment he took to the stage he received a laugh for announcing that he was from New Zealand (it’s always good when acts address anything that might get people’s attention, like an exotic accent) and then a shout out from a chap at the back of the room. This wasn’t anything that you’d perhaps expect to be shouted at a New Zealander, but it was some factual information about the strength of the Ozone Layer above that part of the globe. Stellingwerf wasn’t taken aback, he replied with a witty put down and some factual information of his own, outdoing his interlocutor. Every once in a while, this person would shout out something pretty random, but Stellingwerf handled him adroitly, showing who was in control, but not being brutal about it. Other people he spoke to included a lawyer and a nutritionist and he got quite a bit out of them. In the second section Matt went with more material and this was all great stuff, with flags, All Blacks permutations and the British Museum all landing well. Stellingwerf has quite a bubbly and pleasant personality and he managed to impart a sense of fun into the proceedings. I’m looking forwards to seeing him again.

Craig Murray

Murray had a night of two halves. He began by talking about buying a newly built house, moved on to a being vegan/gay comparison and then talked about being a father and the travails of parenthood, which formed the mainstay of his set. The material was competent, but I’ve heard a few people do routines about similarities in coming out as vegan and coming out as gay and there are simply too many comics doing routines about the challenges of being a parent for it to feel fresh unless the material is very strong. Murray’s material wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything that really stood out. In contrast, Laser Quest was a lot more unique and this was a really good routine. Where Murray did excellently, though, was in his room work. He was as sharp as a pin here. Every time he interacted with a member of the audience I wanted him to carry on. For every comment or curveball he received, Murray had a very quick witted reply and seemed to be 3 steps in front of whoever he was speaking to. I can easily imagine him being a great compere.

Njambi McGrath

Based in London by way of New York and Kenya McGrath had a fascinating backstory and she made use of this in a set that demonstrated her ability to write intelligent, penetrating comedy. However, at times it felt like a cross between a lecture and a bit of a telling off for the issues of Imperial Genocide, British Colonialism and the slave trade with a bit about immigration and Brexit, too. There was some good stuff in here, but perhaps with a slight change in tone so as not to feel that the audience are catching it for the sins of our past leaders, this would perhaps have a bit more bite. When talking about other areas, such as sex and Mills and Boon, McGrath was just as sharp, funny and a lot more enjoyable.

Pete Selwood

Selwood and Stellingwerf look like brothers and Matt made the most of this by giving Pete a great build up as the best looking comedian on the circuit. I really liked this as it added a nice touch of ‘this is live’ to proceedings. However, as Selwood took to the stage, the drunken chap from earlier shouted out ‘Aurora Borealis!’ at him. An unusual shout at any time. He then followed it up with a comment about Selwood’s Simpsons Tshirt. Selwood was on him in a flash, arms in front of him, pointing out that of all the things to notice about him, that was the one thing that this guy picked out. For anyone who knows Selwood, this was an absolute blinder of a line and it received a huge laugh. I was laughing so hard that I hurt my ribs. From here Selwood began his set and I thought him talented when I last saw him, but he’s come on a lot since then. His material flowed smoothly and he went down very well with the audience. His intonation on ‘a bit of a’ was absolutely spot on to sell that line. This was a great performance.

Jonny Awsum

There can’t be many acts who are as good as Awsum in creating a joyous atmosphere in a room. He looks cheerful, which the audience bounce off and he’s unthreatening, so everyone is happy to play along with him. His songs are good, with catchy tunes and he keeps the audience participation simple and straight forwards, so it’s easy to get involved. He closed the night in fine style sending everyone out into the cold January night with a smile on their face, including me.

Canal House – Martin Durchov, Chris Copestake, Jon Pearson, Alex Leam, Matt Edmonds, Danny Treanor, Adam Hughes, Scott Bennett and Adam Beardsmore (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night at Canal House. As usual, this was a very busy night, with plenty of people in attendance, including Matt Bragg and Tommy Wager, who had come to support the night.

Adam Beardsmore (MC)

This was the first time I’d seen Beardsmore compere and he did pretty well. He was friendly and welcoming, mixed room work with material and always ended on material to get the audience back into listening mode before he brought an act on. I thought his question regarding holidays was timely and it made a nice change to people being asked what they did for a living. During his compering, Adam found a girl who was celebrating her birthday and a chap who in a Fork Handles moment, had old paintings/ old paint tins in his car. The material was good, with the new story about the train journey being very pleasant, funny and also something that drew people in. I did think he could have perhaps added to his list of Shakespearean Stratford shops and in the routine about his daughter pointing at a mole there is perhaps room for him to say she was pointing at it as if she’d seen ‘something’ before getting to the reveal for two bites of the cherry. I’d like to see Beardsmore do some more compering.

Martin Durchov

I last saw Durchov in Derby, where he had been impressive. Tonight he made a powerful start by discussing being a Bulgarian living in Britain. This was strong material and for the first 6-7 minutes he hoovered up laughs. He continued this by talking about his appearance, body hair, relationships and dating with mutual decision being the outstanding line of his set. However, he went a bit off piste with an aeroplane journey and didn’t finish as well as he began his set. Perhaps there was also one too many mention of Brexit affecting his ability to be in Britain, too. Whilst Durchov isn’t the finished article, there’s some gold here and he will develop into a fine comedian.

Chris Copestake

I saw Copestake in The Rigger gong show last year and enjoyed what I saw, so tonight I was looking forwards to seeing more. Tonight it was mostly new material and there is some promise in it. He began, though, with a great comparison between Canal Street in Manchester and Canal St in Nottingham and how there wasn’t a tasselled nipple in sight here. This was a clever line. The missing cat was good, but he’d benefit from the poster being A3, as the detail must have been all but invisible from any distance. When it came to footballer’s wages, bonuses, appearance fees and so on, I feel that Copestake is onto something that could become really good. Tonight he cross referenced it to normal jobs as he went on, but if he were to show how ludicrous it is first and then to tie it into a normal job, especially if he can relate it to someone discovered during compering or at the top of his set, then it will hit home very hard indeed. Copestake closed on ‘the hug’ which was very visual and a real crowd-pleaser, especially when he got to the pay off. This was a good set.

Jon Pearson

Big Jon was only doing a tight five in preparation for a gig at the Comedy Store and it seemed to pass for him and us in the blink of an eye. He opened with relatable material about birthdays close to Christmas, which he tied in to a girl on the second row whose birthday it was. This was followed by a short routine about Trivial Pursuit (it would have been nice to hear if he had won) and some enjoyable dark jokes about the Twin Towers. This was a nice five, but it did feel more like a taster for a longer set.

Alex Leam

We resumed after the intermission with Alex Leam, who was practising part of his upcoming show at the Leicester Comedy Festival. The opening about naff Christmas presents was timely and the jazzy jacket really sold it. The tales of being a mobile DJ were interesting and I can imagine Love Shack working well with perhaps a projector showing the lyrics. The tale of the bouncy castle needed a bigger pay off, though. Leam looked more confident and was smoother than before.

http://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/alex-leam-the-joy-of-decks-work-in-progress/

Matt Edmonds

This was Matt Edmonds first ever gig and he did extremely well. He opened by telling everyone to blame his girlfriend, who had pushed him into it, if it all went wrong, which did eat up a bit of time. However, from here on in, he was on stronger ground. Being from Hereford originally gave him the chance to chat about tractors, for which he got a big laugh and to use a lovely line about a cheap time machine. Dogs names was even better and he delivered this bit very naturally. Food texting was a strong routine and the applause that this netted him wasn’t merely an audience supporting a brand new act, instead it was earned by it being funny. I did get to the type of reveal, if not the exact person, on signed books, but it was still a good joke and if Edmonds was to shorten the set up to the present he got caught on, without giving any clues, then that would be more punchy. Either way it was a cracking joke. This was a very good performance and for a first ever performance it was well above average.

Danny Treanor

Ending the second session was Ulster born Danny Treanor, whose low energy, low key performance and wordy set ups didn’t really hold the room. He got laughs, including a few big ones, but I and a few people sat near me, seemed to find it hard to stay focussed on what he was saying. Every so often he would skirt around the edge of going darker with his material and these moments were the most interesting parts of his set. I got the feeling that he had some darker material that would have helped his set stand out more.

Adam Hughes

Hughes had a fascinating rhythm to his delivery. He’d talk for a long time, hardly taking a breath and then taking one at an unexpected moment and this seemed to help people pay more attention to him than some other acts. He did look a trifle odd, wearing a shirt and tracksuit bottoms, but I think more people noticed his voice. Hughes has a voice that is hard to forget and I was surprised that he referenced it so late in his set. It was a bit of an elephant in the room and he may have been better speaking about it earlier. The material itself was pretty good and there were some original thoughts behind the material. Hughes got consistent laughs and didn’t do badly at all.

Scott Bennett

Headlining was Scott Bennett who was trying out new material. Bennett has got to be one of the most productive writers on the circuit and I shouldn’t be surprised if he throws away a lot of routines that many comics would be grateful to have created. Tonight he covered a lot of ground and the standouts were his dad casually chatting to the pilot, video games for the over 40s (there could be a lot of mileage in that), holidays with kids (relatable to so many people) and mooning. These were all routines that seemed very promising. There were some great lines, such as drone and the fastest moving queue at the theme park. The printer was a more established bit of material and it was a joy to hear.

Ashby, Laura Lexx, Joby Mageean, Hayley Ellis and Brennan Reece

Tonight I was in Ashby at the Lyric Rooms for the Funhouse Comedy night. Unlike other audiences, this one was very discreet when it came to denouncing their friends and relatives for getting them terrible presents. Luckily Spiky Mike had a great example from another venue that he was able to use. He was a bit unlucky, though, in the occupations of people, as designing magazines for the chemical industry and working in a plastics warehouse aren’t the easiest of topics to riff with. However, by using his skills, Mike was soon able to get the audience into a state of enthusiasm for comedy.

Laura Lexx

Laura Lexx had a great night. She’s a fast speaker, but as her tone was conversational and she had good diction, it was very easy to keep up with all she said. She opened with some timely material about the gym, followed this with relevant (to the venue) material on class and received her first applause for Chanel. Stereotypes about Brighton were dealt with well and the topper on dentist was great. I wasn’t so grabbed by the routine on 90’s holidays, though, as the laugh ratio dipped a tiny bit there, as it wasn’t quite so punchy. However, she deserved applause for pastry. There were some very powerful jokes about Brexit, but after two years of hearing about it, I wasn’t too sure that there was much appetite in a split voting audience for them. The closing routine about opinions was a great way to end what had been an impressive set. Lexx’s material all felt very relatable, which speaks highly of her ability as a comedian.

Joby Mageean

Mageean came to the stage full of energy and enthusiasm and this felt refreshing. He’s a likeable person and he seemed to brighten up the room. He had a chat with a vegan discovered during Mike’s compering and spoke to her in a way that felt like a natural extension of a conversation and that worked very well. I felt that he could perhaps have made more out of the Scottish connotations of his name, though, as he seemed to announce what it meant up there very quickly – I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a few laughs in playing around a bit with it, such as going for a Joby, or had a Joby or a ginger Joby, etc. The gay card was a great piece of material and this was delivered very nicely in a way that brought it all to life. I did think that Mageean perhaps went a bit off piste with jam eaters, but it was nice to see him have the confidence to follow up on that conversation and he got everything back on course with noodles, which gained him a big laugh. The watch was a great touch that added a nice little something extra to this set. I really enjoyed this performance and can see Mageean doing well.

Hayley Ellis

Ellis was similar to Mageean in that they are both cheerful positive acts whose happiness rubs off on the audience and as a result the room took to her very quickly, too. The topics covered included relationships, anxiety, a sober night out with a drunken friend and kids, plus a pleasing running joke about a fitbit. These were all dealt with in a light hearted manner that was not only in-keeping with her persona, but which also seemed to say fun. I liked that a lot. The material was very well thought out and everything came together very well. Ellis’ delivery was great, too, with her knowing when to pause to let people think for a moment before laughing. I enjoyed her asking John sat on the front row about his plan for the day if he swapped body’s with his wife, although I did think he took a big risk by announcing that he would tidy up. This was a set that was funny and also somehow uplifting.

Brennan Reece

Reece hit the ground running and then moved things up a gear. He had his persona established within the first minute and then the routines flowed to an appreciative audience. There were a lot of clever lines in this set and his construction was very good, too. Some of the areas felt a tad well travelled, but Reece got a lot of life from them. He is an unthreatening act and when he chatted directly to people they were more than happy to get involved. His reaction to one audience member’s name was very well done, indeed. There was an unusual moment where he was the victim of a drunken audience member shouting out to him. This is pretty much unheard of in Ashby and although it did wreck what was building up into a great routine, Reece tackled them head on, established his authority and then moved on to another area, getting laughs whilst doing so. Similarly, there was a point where he paused the gig to sneeze, but then discovered that he didn’t need to and he got a lot of laughs for his explaining all of this. The closing routine about giving blood was a nice one to close on. This was a great performance on what had been a cracking night.

Saracen’s Head – Alfie Moore, Carrieanne Guthrie, David Tsonos and Tanyalee Davis

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse comedy New Year special. This was a gig that was sold out and that was no surprise. Four comedians, a buffet and then Brian Damage and Krysstal performing live music was quite a draw for a lot of people. There were quite a few newcomers to the gig and Spiky Mike had a lot of fun chatting to them, especially the couple who met playing Scrabble. The atmosphere was subtly different to the usual comedy nights here; being not quite so keyed up for the comedy per se, but more up for having a good night in total.

Alfie Moore

With his strong writing and well measured delivery, Moore was a great act to begin proceedings. He had everyone onboard very quickly and kept them with him throughout his set. There was quite a lot of material that was new to me in this performance and it’s always a pleasure to see a well established act happy to carry on writing. I did wonder whether he may have got a bigger laugh if instead of ‘not ideal’ he had gone with ‘which was a bit inconvenient’, but that is a very minor point. There were some cracking lines in this set, such as seized, scab and OBE. The church gig felt a tad wordy on the set up, but it was definitely worth it for the pay off, as that landed mightily. To close, Moore did The Head, which is a magnificent routine and a personal favourite of mine and a lot of folk.

Carrieanne Guthrie

Originating in North Carolina and now living in Norwich, Guthrie used her opening joke to resolve a question that might have had people trying to guess throughout her set (to the possible detriment of them paying attention to the material). From here, she made a lot of her ten minutes by giving the room a set that took in sexuality, her build, North Carolina and her experiences of England. Her use of Norfolk to give substance to one of her jokes was really on-point. Guthrie has a naturally loud voice and looked overjoyed to be onstage, which was nice to see. She also had a loud giggle, which came out quite a lot and I can easily imagine a lot of people finding it endearing and a lot also finding it irritating, but I’m not sure of the percentages and how much they’d vary over the course of a set. Guthrie started strongly and although I thought she did tail off a bit towards the end, it was an enjoyable ten.

David Tsonos

It had been ages since I last saw Tsonos and he was the act that I was most interested in seeing tonight. He’s Canadian and is stylish in apparel and appearance. He’s also very astute and was well prepared for the gig. He’d made a point of remembering whom Mike had been speaking to a hour or so before and was able to address them by name and his comments about the New Year decorations and audience were very relatable and shrewd. This thorough preparation combined with him breaking the fourth wall to chat to people really drew everyone into his performance. Tsonos built on this good work with his routines, all of which were sound and cleverly written. The cat was great, but national animals was the stand out. The delivery on this was far sharper than when I had seen him previously and he acted out the part of Canada getting more and more frustrated with other nations’ choices very well. I thoroughly enjoyed this set and Tsonos should gig up here more often.

Tanyalee Davis

Tanyalee is naturally funny and she dominated the room. Her material is unique and interesting. A lot of it is autobiographical, but owing to her particular situation she has had different experiences to a lot of people and has crafted some great material out of it all. The only section I thought contained a bit of a lull was concerning rail travel, but even so, there were still plenty of laughs in there. Davis is a very lively performer, being very visual in her actions on stage and these really hammered home what she was saying. This was an excellent performance that received a lot of laughter.

Notts Comedy Review end of year round up and predictions for 2019

This has been a superb year for comedy. Owing to work, I’m only off 180 or so nights of the year, but I’m happy to have gone to almost 100 gigs and I’ve seen a lot of great acts.

I was very pleased with the Notts Comedy Review Awards:

Lindsey Santoro receiving £50 for the best performance

Jack Topher, £25 most improved act

Doug Carter, £25 new act of the year

The highlights of the year have included:

Seeing some excellent English Comedian of the Year heats. This contest seems to have really taken off and there has been some amazing heats that have attracted some top acts.

Scott Bennett – he has been fantastically consistent in his ability to smash every room I’ve seen him in.

The Parapod Live was another excellent show in front of an audience full of love for the two stars, Dodds and Boldsworth.

It’s been nice to be invited onto Radio Derby to chat about comedy in the area so often.

The predictions for 2019:

Breakthrough year: Adam Rowe will be on telly before the year is out.

Radu Isac, Rahul Kohli and Steff Todd will all hopefully breakthrough this year.

Great year for career progress:

Aaron Simmonds, Chris Jones, Doug Carter, Eric Rushton, Harvey Hawkins, Jamie Hutchinson, Kathryn Mather, Lindsey Santoro, Lukas Kirby, Mark Grimshaw, Mike Carter,

Newer acts who have impressed

Daniel Eagle, Lauren Walsh, Oscar Roberts

Book Review – Last Orders by Caimh McDonnell

This was a book that I’ve been wanting to read for ages, but one that I forced myself to refrain from buying so that someone could get it for me as a Christmas treat. The previous three books in this trilogy, A man with one of those Faces, The day that never Comes and Angels in the Moonlight are all solid gold treasures. This book is a fourth.

With the three previous books (including the prequel) there was now a lot of backstory and it would not have been human for the events of these not to have made an impact upon the characters. McDonnell handles this brilliantly. He uses the after effects and legacies to create this story, bringing everything together in a splendidly rounded way. Naturally, the flip side of this is that if you are trying to avoid spoilers, then this isn’t the book for you, but then only a fecking eejit would start with the fourth book in a series, anyway, so they get what they deserve.

The story in this grabs you from the off and it is easy to become engrossed in it. This is a book where you don’t want to read it all at once; instead you find yourself taking it steadily just so that the pleasure lasts longer. As a pro comedian Caimh has a superb eye for a story and knows just how it is the little details that add the laughs along the way that can turn a funny story into something fantastic.

As with all of McDonnell’s books, every character, no matter how small, feels like a real person, with reasonable motives for what they are doing and even the more eccentric behaviour of some is still in-keeping with their character and the situation that they are in. This gives the stories a great deal of authenticity. The Dublin of Bunny, Paul, Bridgit and Phil feels like a real city, where these things happen.

I am thoroughly looking forward to reading Disaster Inc, which was another Christmas present. I also have hopes that McDonnell will eventually compile the short stories that people who have signed up to his site (http://whitehairedirishman.com/books/) into a paperback, as these all have a lot of charm.

This is a cracking book and if you are looking to get someone a present, then get them the first book in this series, or the prequel and let them thank you later.

December – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a bit of an unbalanced month for comedy, with a fair few gigs in the run up to Christmas and then a break for the festive period.

The highlight was either the Funhouse Champion of Champions gong show final, which was an incredibly even contest, eventually won by David Smith OR it was watching Diane Spencer taking the roof off at the NBT.

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

Billy McGuire

I saw McGuire twice this month and both times he had an absolutely smashing time. I don’t see McGuire on as many bills as what his talent deserves.

From the night:

It’s been ages since I last saw McGuire and tonight he had a belter of a gig. Even allowing for how nice a room it is and him being on in the sweet spot, this was extremely well received. He opened with puns, all delivered with great timing and a voice that seemed to challenge the audience to dare not to laugh at them and this worked wonderfully well. There was a genuine surprise on best friend and that got a lot of laughter. Hope was a bit of an overused line, though. The big closing routine about the Book S. was done incredibly well. This not only drew people in and built up, but there were plenty of laughs along the way. This was a real audience pleaser of a set and I think everyone was sorry to see McGuire leave the stage.

Diane Spencer

This was one of the best performances I saw during the entire year. Spencer should be far better known than what she is.

From the night:

Spencer was superb. This was an expertly written set, with barely a wasted word and everything coming together with a tangible feeling of completeness. There was even a cracking Beatles joke that a few people may have missed in the laughter. Spencer established her comedy persona within moments of getting to the stage and without seemingly doing any hard work, either, which usually means that they’ve worked incredibly hard to do it so swiftly. She comes over as well mannered, well educated and slightly naïve about what she is saying and this works extremely well with her material. Quite a bit of what Spencer talked about was very sexual, yet what could have been salacious, or for shock value only, in other acts, felt completely natural and above all clean and even wholesome as she chatted about it in a voice that screamed jollity. I believe that she could make almost any subject seem classy. The delivery massively added to the performance, as Spencer would include thumbs ups, winks, smiles and other actions. The only line I wasn’t keen on was about being available for children’s parties. It’s a well travelled line, although it did get a big laugh. This was a set with consistent loud laughs all the way throughout and Spencer received a lot of love from the audience. This was a superb set from an act I’d very much like to see again.

Tom Houghton

Houghton is an incredibly reliable act who is very funny and also hard working, writing lots of new material.

From the night:

Houghton gave the room a smashing performance and was the perfect booking for an audience largely made up of comedy virgins. His charisma had everyone with him from the off. He opened by commenting on how posh the area is and this was a great lead into his routine about posh names and being posh himself. Instead of the room resenting his good fortune, they loved him for it. He is such a likeable man who is completely at ease with himself that it’s impossible for a room to not take him to their hearts. The material was amazingly strong with the Tower of London being a standout. The line about Thomas More was genius and daft in equal measure, but totally brilliant. I liked how everything in this set came together and it felt less like a club set and more like a mini-show in a lot of ways and every single way being to the benefit of the night. Houghton closed with a song, which gave the evening the ideal big ending.

Honourable Mentions

Adam Elmi, Chris Jones, David Smith, Mike Carter, Morgan Rees, Pete Teckman,

Blessington Carriage – Alex Farrow, Chelsea Birkby, Adam Bromley, Billy McGuire, Khalid Winter and Paul Ricketts

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse Comedy night. Despite it raining very heavily numbers were good and there were some great audience members present. Sat on the front row were two lawyers, a friend and the daughter (Georgia) of one of the lawyers, who was at Uni training to become a lawyer. In a gift from the comedy Gods, her mother immediately shopped her by getting Spiky Mike to ask her what she was writing her dissertation on; the answer being extreme pornography. This gave Mike a lot to work with and he tied it into some existing material very well. In an added bonus, these ladies had recently completed a charity nude calendar. There was a lot of laughter during Mike’s compering and very quickly the room was ready for the first act of the night.

Alex Farrow

I saw Farrow in Nottingham a while ago and he had impressed me then. In a pleasing contrast he did a totally different set tonight and it’s nice to see two good, but very different tens in such short succession. I don’t know if Farrow does much compering, but I suspect he would be pretty nifty at it. Once again he demonstrated his awareness of who was whom in the room and didn’t put a foot wrong when addressing people by name. He used the fact that Georgia and her party were mostly lawyers as an intro into some material, which was a nice touch and then he moved into the meat of his set. This was a game of is it me or is it God? This added a lot of energy into the room and although he did address most of the questions to the front row, which may have left a few people feeling a bit left out, this was a sensible move, as they had already proven to be up for being spoken to. This game took up most of his time and he received a lot of laughter for it. Usually things like this can outstay their welcome, but Farrow didn’t suffer from diminishing returns, which was good going. This was a very good set from someone who is certainly bookable.

Chelsea Birkby

Birkby’s set was a bit uneven, albeit much improved since I saw her last. There were some really good lines in here, such as Groupon, empowering, songs not people, accident and so on. However, there were other things such as loose leaf and Pit Bull, which went over people’s heads (although in fairness, once she moved onto the wider pit bull jokes, all was well). The end result felt a bit patchy. If she could build on the strong areas and keep her set at that level of consistency, then Birkby would be a very promising act.

Adam Bromley

Bromley had some good stuff, but he covered a few well travelled topics. The acceptability of drinking at airports at anytime, facing neighbours when repeatedly putting empty bottles in the bin and not laughing but learning are all areas that have been spoken about by a fair few comedians. Bromley did get laughs, especially for the airport; however, he was on more original ground when chatting about himself and our relationship with France. These areas were a lot stronger. I especially enjoyed the little physical action of him wiping his fingers on his trousers. This wasn’t a bad set, but I think with a bit of work he would be better.

Billy McGuire

I last saw McGuire a couple of weeks ago in Sheffield and he had given the room a smashing time then and he did largely the same set tonight with exactly the same result. Arguably Billy had the best gig of the evening, with lots of laughter, everything landing beautifully and the room being fully with him. This was a very powerful ten.

Khalid Winter

Winter had a good gig. His background with a Pakistani father and a Northern Irish mother is interesting and not a million miles away from Pat Monahan’s Iranian/Irish background. Winter’s strength is in his eye for a good line. Rocky relationship was a beautifully written line with just the right mix of accuracy, understatement and humour. Natwest was also another good one. A lot of the rest was capable, but not as strong and I think people will remember his background more than a lot of what he said. That will change in time, though. Winter isn’t the finished article, but I’ll be interested in seeing how he progresses.

Paul Ricketts

Our headliner was Paul Ricketts, who actually turned up a day early, something that he mentioned to big laughs in his opening. Ricketts was astute enough to tie his material on a past job as a writer in the porn industry to the presence of Georgia, sat at the front and this helped to make it all feel very much of the here and now. I really enjoyed the story of the St Helens gig. The routine about Eastenders was made very accessible to those who have never watched it and he got applause for tube. Ricketts achieved a nice balance in putting individual audience members on the spot and getting laughs without making anyone feel uncomfortable. This was an enjoyable set that ambled along nicely, but which would have benefited from a knock out punch of a routine.