New Barrack Tavern, English Comedian of the Year Heat: Neil Harris, Lindsey Davies, Brian Bell, Rahul Kohli, Steff Todd, Peter Brush, Roland Gent, Chris Kehoe and Ben Wearmouth

 

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for this Funhouse Comedy hosted heat of English Comedian of the Year. As ever, it was a pleasure to be in this pub, as the atmosphere is always great. It was nice to see Lauren Walsh, who won a gong show there in January, present to watch the show and also to see the promoter Jules Wasley there, too. I always think it lovely when acts and promoters who aren’t involved in a show tootle along to watch. As in all of the heats, it was a case of two going through and the chance of a possible wildcard for a third. The running order was chosen at random, which gave us an impressively strong middle section and as ever, some acts drew better slots than others. Spiky Mike had a good night compering (accidentally stepping off the stage aside), where he was able to chat to people and then weave material into their responses and very soon we were ready for our opening act.

TLDR: Rahul Kohli winner by a landslide, Brian Bell surprise second, Peter Brush a not too distant third.

Neil Harris

Harris had drawn a definite short straw with going on first. He was a relaxed presence and his set largely concerned anxiety. There were some good lines in here, such as ‘documentary’ which I felt was great, although I could do without hearing any comedian say ‘I’ll tell you a bit about myself’ as this is a bit overused. The main part of the set concerned the various permutations on offer at Subway and this built up very nicely towards applause. This worked very well, because it was quite an involved routine. The mathematics were impeccable, but the convoluted nature of it did eat up time, which Harris shortened by speaking quickly to the point where he did trip over a few words. On the one hand, this joke landed so well because of the involved nature, but on the other, he might have done more with the time. I do wonder if after the first few sums, he might find shortening the last couple with some kind of take my word for it gesture or comment, he may get the same laugh in less time. As it was, this was a good opening set and Harris picked up a respectable number of votes.

Lindsey Davies

Recovering from a sore throat Davies was an act who got stronger the longer she was on stage. The examples of why her home town isn’t so nice were nothing we’ve not heard a version of about most towns, but in fairness, she received some good laughs for them, especially when she changed tack slightly and linked it into speaking of her family (Hopkins and the bottom drawer getting the biggest laughs). It was when Davies discussed dating that she really hit her stride and this section got consistent laughs and went down really well. There was one gag where she went with something like get eaten and I did wonder whether replacing it with lying there waiting to get eaten might have worked fractionally better. Towards the final part of her set Davies was given a nice comedic gift when the mic lead dropped out the bottom of the microphone and she was as quick as a flash, able to give the room a great ad libbed line that was on topic to what she had been saying and this landed extremely well. Davies held the room nicely, kept everyone’s attention and this was reflected in a very high number of votes. This was a good set.

Brian Bell

Closing the opening section was Brian Bell, an act whom I felt was a definite underdog in the heat. I’ve seen him at gong shows, where despite having a few nice ideas he’s not had much success and so I wasn’t expecting a great deal from him. At first I thought that my prediction would be borne out, as he opened with a so so Corbyn lookalike gag. However, after this he had an absolutely splendid routine about class, which had a pleasingly unusual slant on it. I’d seen an early version of this at a gong show, but this was very much the finished article and the room went with it in a big way. This routine was followed by another good one about killers and through great timing Bell was able to end his set on another strong joke. This is the best performance by Bell that I’ve seen by a country mile. Everything was far better than what I’d seen previously and it’s always nice to see an act progress in their skill. When it came to the vote, Bell did very well and was second place, making it through to the next round.

Rahul Kohli

Kohli completely ripped it. From his opening line to his closing gesture, he didn’t put a foot wrong and he was voted through as winner by a landslide. The material was punchy, it was delivered with loads of energy and enthusiasm in a way that made it look like Kohli was having a great time and in a small room like this, it was impossible for the audience not to respond with the same enthusiasm. I was particularly impressed with Kohli asking a non-rhetorical question of the audience – these can be a total minefield at the best of times and in a completion, with the clock ticking away, they are a high risk move. Luck was with Kohli, as there were three jocks present in the room and this made his Scotland routine feel almost as if it had been laid on specially for them and this gave it a massive feeling of immediacy and relevance. Kohli’s stagecraft was also worthy of note. His hands and arms seemed to be really in touch with his brain and he’d use them to emphasise whatever he was saying. This was an amazingly good set and he went through with only one person in the room not having him as one of their favourite acts of the night.

Steff Todd

After Kohli had destroyed the room, it was Todd who was in the unlucky position of having to follow him. Todd is an act who has talent and is on the way up in a way that only a fool would bet against her opening/closing nights within a short time. She’s also local to Sheffield, has played in the New Barrack Tavern a few times and is popular there, so this was all to the good. As was the fact that she has great material, a solid delivery and a startling ability to tie this all in to the audience. However, no one could have followed Kohli tonight and as it was, despite getting laughs and performing as well as I’d seen in Ashby the other week, luck wasn’t with Todd. A shame, as I had her down as a contender.

Peter Brush

Brush is a superb writer and whilst I’d say that comedians are more intelligent than average, he’s probably one of the brightest people in any room and this translates into well written, well thought out comedy, chock-full of nuance. Hence I was expecting a lot from Brush. My only question was how would he fare over seven minutes? Over twenty, I think that he would have been hard for any of the acts to beat, as he’d have had time to build his set, play with the audience’s expectations and then hit them from several unexpected directions with reveals, but over seven minutes would he be able to find his feet? The answer was that the audience were in for a treat. As expected, the material was clever and nuanced, but also more punchy than in his longer sets and he won the room over very quickly and never looked back. I liked how he played his low status, despite the comments about his build, there was a lot of subtlety involved and this was great to see. His set did close without a big bang, as I think he thought he’d run out of time fractionally earlier than he had, but I was sure he’d done enough to secure a second place. As it was, he was a close third and in with a chance as a possible wildcard entry.

Roland Gent

Gent was the most experience act on the bill and I thought he had two big things going for him. Firstly, he is a well travelled man and he can fit in local references to any place I’ve seen him gig and this gives his material a lot of relevance for an audience. The second positive was that in full stride, his delivery has the pace of a man holding a meat auction who is on a promise if he gets home early and this results in him building up loads of momentum. Tonight, though, he delivered his material more slowly and with only one local reference and as a result he didn’t make as big an impression on the audience as he might have done. Odd really, considering that I’d last seen Gent in this same room last year, where he had had a tremendous night.

Chris Kehoe

Kehoe was an act I’d not seen before and his set was a lovely surprise. He took to the stage wearing a visually arresting jacket and with his beard and hairstyle, this made him visually interesting, which gave him something of a head start in grabbing the audience. However, it was his material and delivery that impressed me the most. He was almost Wrigglesworth like in his ability to make a long and fairly verbose set up fascinating to listen to. Usually a long set up risks losing people, but instead, I was really enjoying listening to his vivid descriptions and they were a real benefit to his performance. The material was rock solid and uniquely original, with triathlon and spiders extremely well thought out. This was a very strong set that if it had been performed earlier would have received more votes than it did. Kehoe is obviously someone to watch for the future.

Ben Wearmouth

Wearmouth was unlucky in going on last in the show, as his low energy was unsuited to the slot and I think a lot of the audience didn’t buy into his performance in the same way that they might have done with a high energy comic. Predictive text made for an ok opening, but really he would have been better off with something that packed more of a wallop, as this would have established him more firmly with the audience. The majority of the material wasn’t bad, but it needed to be stronger to stand out on a night like this. The tale of the concert was another thing, that was ‘ok’ but was dangerously close to just being an anecdote. Whilst tonight Wearmouth was up against more experienced acts, who had had better luck in the draw for the running order, he may find it beneficial to workshop his material a bit to see if he can get more out of it.

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The Rigger, Barry Heap, Joe Bains, Ben Turner, Mark Pulcella, Doug Carter, Ben Bridgeman, David Callaghan, David Wroe, Jon Capewell, Gregg Cooper and Donald Mackerel

Tonight I was at The Rigger in Newcastle under Lyme for the Funhouse Gong Show. Numbers were good, with all of the tables full apart from one at the front that none of the people stood at the bar wanted to sit at. This was a shame, because as the night went on the folk stood at the bar became more talkative and whilst it didn’t upset anyone’s act, it was a mild irritant. The recent advent of Valentine’s Day gave Spikey Mike a good opening for chatting to the couples in the room and he had fun with them. The night contained much darker themes, as five of the acts had material about incest and others covered bestiality and necrophilia, which is unusual, even for a gong show.

Barry Heap

We opened with Heap whose set, apart from a Dr Who joke, largely concerned his sexuality. There were some good lines in this, such as his take on Cougar and Justin deserved more of a laugh, but despite his bubbly delivery it was probably too early in the night for a gay incest joke and off he went.

Joe Bains

Bains began with a bit of audience interaction, which made for a lively start, but his choice of a backwards village didn’t really land well. His alcohol rating joke was fun, but needed more to really hit home and much the same could be said about his full name joke. This was also fun, but the best part was his opening line to it, the rest was ok, but it ate up a lot of time for the return. Bains got a laugh for his description of ‘for this joke only’, which is a bit too well travelled a line for my taste. However, although I thought Bains was a bit patchy, he made it through to the final, but owing to transport issues he had to leave before taking part in that.

Ben Turner

Turner opened with one of the strongest jokes of the night, which he followed with an equally hard hitting topper. From this, he had a couple of jokes that whilst not bad, weren’t especially great (possibly suffering in comparison with his opening?) and this was enough to seal his fate, despite getting in a good joke just as the voting concluded. I felt that this was a bit of a harsh gonging as he’d done enough to be worth keeping on. One thing that I felt might not have helped Turner was that a fair few of his jokes put him in a negative light and that might have made the difference to how the judges perceived him, but I could be wrong. Either way, I’d have liked to have seen him stay on longer.

Mark Pulcella

I liked Pulcella’s beginning, where it looked like he was following on from Turner’s opening and he then pulled the rug from under the audience with a totally unexpected reveal. This was very timely and it worked well. Morse code was good, but I felt that the barmaid joke put over the wrong impression. Pulcella’s gag where he gets the audience to fill in the punchline was nice, but it still needs work – I liked the out of the blue reveal, but feel that this needs to also be intrinsically funny to get the most from it. The rape joke was ok in itself, but this is a topic best avoided like the plague, as with dead babies and abortions it can really upset people and potentially turn a room against a comic in the blink of an eye. Pulcella made the final easily and gave one of the strongest final minute performances of the night, with five quick jokes. The fast delivery of these really helped them to hit home and I’m wondering if it would help the delivery for the rest of his set if he showed similar energy. It might not, but it may be worth experimenting with.

Doug Carter

We resumed after the intermission with Carter, who was the least experienced act of the night, having three gigs under his belt. Understandably Carter was nervous before he went on, but you wouldn’t have known that from seeing him on stage, as he looked rock solid up there. Also, he’s got the build of someone who could wear a dickie bow and stand in a doorway telling people that their shoes are casual, so nervous or not, no one would have made it awkward for him, so he could have relaxed a bit more pre gig. Carter’s material was dark and sexual and worked very well, although the Thai story was a big build for not a huge punchline, but it still worked well. I’m generally not keen on trans people being described as ‘him’ I usually prefer them to be described through their chosen gender, but in the context of the routine it wouldn’t have worked half as well if Carter had described them in any other way. The ice cream van joke was entertaining, although I’d consider changing ‘caught’ to ‘been tumbled’ as I think that would get a bigger laugh. Carter has a very engaging stage persona, with a bit of a white van man vibe and the room warmed to him extremely quickly. He was one of the two acts whose personality sold their sets extremely well. Tonight Carter made it through to the final and did well in the vote off. This was a very creditable performance and I’m going to be interested in watching how he develops.

Ben Bridgeman

I last saw Bridgeman performing at The Kayal, where he’d not done too badly. Tonight though, he muffed an ad libbed opening, which also gave away the reveal to his usual opening gag and this torpedoed his set. He never looked likely to recover from this and he was voted off early.

David Callaghan

Callaghan has a clear delivery and good diction, plus an air of boyish good humour about him and he looked plausible from his opening line. He had put some thought into which town to use for the shit town and wisely chose a local rival town, so this worked admirably. The routines were well written and showed a lot of intelligence behind the comedy. There was scarcely anything said that didn’t add value to the performance. Callaghan did well to get a laugh from an incest joke, as he was the 4th act of the night to have one and this could have put him on a sticky wicket. The theft routine was extremely powerful and was a highlight of the night, although it was his inside joke that earned him the applause break. This one was as clever as it was funny. Callaghan was the well deserved winner of the night and I suspect I’ll be seeing him doing ten spots very soon as he’s already more than bookable.

David Wroe

Following Callaghan was a tough slot to be in as he had set the bar high and Wroe, apart from one brief moment, never seemed to catch the audience’s imagination. Unusually, he delivered his set leaning forwards, which was a nice change and this enabled him to do a good joke about eye contact that momentarily brought the entire room on-board. However, a lot of his material wasn’t that strong. I liked his take on the special skills scene in Taken, but I’ve seen too many variations on that scene for it to really feel like he was breaking new ground (three routines on it in eight days, once). The use of Swindon as a dodgy town might work well in Wessex, but up here he was whistling in the wind and would have been much better off if he had named a town that was local to the gig, as Callaghan had done. Wroe was the fifth act to do an incest joke and after all of the others, it would have been best to have changed tack. He didn’t make the final.

Jon Capewell

Hailing from Liverpool was Capewell. He was another big personality who quickly got everyone engaged in his performance. There were some good lines in this set, such as borrowing and the sex routine was decent. For his minute in the final Capewell went with a risky, but dark joke that paid off very well indeed. However, the best part of this performance was Capewell’s ability to work the room. He received a nice applause break after noticing that one of the judges had gone from red to green for the second vote and commenting about her changing her mind. This display of quick wits was very impressive, as was his willingness to chat to people whilst he was up against the clock. I don’t know if Capewell has done any compering, but I can imagine that he’d make a very good one. Tonight, though, he came second.

Gregg Cooper

Owing to a non arrival, the final section consisted of two acts, both from Shropshire. Cooper’s opening gag benefited from being about Newcastle under Lyme, but wasn’t that sophisticated and was probably a bit old hat for anyone who lived there and so it fell a bit flat. He then went on from this to ask for someone to take his picture and this merely ate into his time without much laughter being gained. The bag of props looked interesting, but photos printed onto A4 paper just don’t cut the mustard – they need to be on A3 minimum for people to see. Also, A4 just looks like you’ve run them off at work when no one was looking, whereas A3 shows some effort and people will pay more attention because of this. The material about the 1960’s and 70’s was mostly exposition without a punchline in sight, although in fairness this might have been missed due to Cooper being gonged off before he got there.

Donald Mackerel

In some ways Mackerel was unlucky in his place in the running order as the room felt like it had reached a tipping point when he went on and people were ready to see the night end and go home. However, Mackerel’s set suffered from a few problems, but nothing that can’t be solved in the long run. He didn’t say anything hugely funny quickly enough to establish himself and he was quite wordy in his set ups, which didn’t help him in building momentum. If he were to edit his set ups down to the bare minimum needed for the punchline to work then it would help. Shropshire based material isn’t going to work outside of Shropshire or perhaps the neighbouring counties, as it hasn’t got enough of an identity for other people to feel strongly about the place one way or the other. However, I’m not sure how much he was planning to do on his locale and this may well have just been the set up to the routine about his friend. The poultry routine was pretty obvious and it would have been astounding if his chum had been sacked for anything else, so perhaps this needs work to make it less obvious. On the plus side, Mackerel was a pleasant presence, spoke clearly, looked happy to be there and with more experience he’ll be stronger – the negatives in his set can all be ironed out with more performing.

Admiral Rodney – Mark Simmons, Josh James, Jonny Lennard and Jonny Awsum

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse Comedy night. In contrast to most bills, I’d not seen either of the middle acts before and so I was curious as to what they’d be like. The audience were in good form, although I do wish that people wouldn’t try to give a fake name as it doesn’t really help them much. Luckily we had the James Brown lookalike back in the audience and he was sat on the front row; his quiet dignified wit was a real asset to Mike in his compering. Unusually there was a bit of a glitch with the sound system (buzzing noise), but this was quickly fixed in time for our opening act to take to the stage.

Mark Simmons

I’d last seen Simmons in October doing a middle spot at Ashby for Funhouse and he was very impressive, so it was no wonder that Mike had so swiftly promoted him to his opening/closing double up list. Tonight he came to the stage looking dapper in a suit and opened with a gag referencing the speaker trouble. Simmons is a one-liner comedian and he delivers these with low energy and at a moderate rate. This could be tricky, but Simmons is very much aware of the audience and he is more than happy to chat away with people as he uses these brief exchanges to set up the next few jokes. This helps the audience to feel involved in his set and it also assists him in making a connection with the room. Some of the set ups are planted subtly and some in a more obvious way, but with plenty of charm. The jokes are uniformly strong, with a few thinkers in there that I adored, as I did the callbacks and the occasional string of jokes on one topic. Simmons is from Canterbury and elongates his vowels a bit and this is tonally very different to the acts that I’m used to, but it is nicely unusual. Simmons gave the room a very good set, receiving a lot of laughs and applause for an ad lib.

Josh James

We resumed after the intermission with Josh James, who came to the stage carrying three decent sized pictures. James is from Essex, which he made a fairly big thing of at the top of his set and unfortunately for him, this is The North and audiences up here don’t often engage that well with material that is centred down south. This might be because of a North South divide, or it could be the dislike of particular accents, but I believe it is more because unless the act can make this feel relevant then not many people are that fussed about something from an area that feels if not alien, then at least very distant to them. James followed this up by asking a question about how Southwell had voted in the last election and this opened a small can of worms as the Tory, Labour and Liberal voters made comments, some audible and many whispered to their neighbours about their thoughts concerning the politics of the area. James’ question was really just a feed line for his next routine and I think he’d have been better off ditching the question and just making it a quick rhetorical comment before launching into this. The routine itself concerned a picture of his MP, a picture of a local celebrity and then a third picture. In this he wrong footed me, as I expected the face of his MP to have been photo shopped in place of the breasts of the celeb, but instead the third picture was of someone whom I’ve never heard of before. I’m not sure how many people in the room had heard of her, to be honest, or if they had, would know she had a connection to his home town. James then moved into a spot of Oedipal material which was quite good, but he was possibly doing it in the wrong room, as the audience weren’t with him for it. In other rooms I can imagine it doing better. This wasn’t a great set, but if James hadn’t come in so strong with the Essex boy material, or lost momentum with the voting question and had had a more tangible reveal on the pictures then he would probably have been better received.

Jonny Lennard

Next was Lennard who had a lot of things going for him, but never really fulfilled his potential. The material was pretty good, but a lot of the set ups were long and wordy, with pauses between odd words and this wreaked havoc with Lennard building up impetus. Just as you thought he was moving up a gear, he’d slow it back down. If he were to edit out the inessential words and speed up the delivery a tad then it would do wonders. The inclusion of the camping shop gag was questionable as I think more people got the reference from the joke than got the joke from the reference as it’s not a hugely known brand and with the connotations it’s probably not worth the trouble. The deconstruction of a snowman and of the nursery rhyme were both clever and received good laughs, but they were very similar routines, albeit by different routes and having both in the same set was overkill. The snowman was also pretty bleak and not as funny as the nursery rhyme, which was a solid routine. I liked how Lennard let the audience do some work on the reveal for the wallet and this was a nice touch. This was a decent set, but one that could have been better.

Jonny Awsum

Closing was Jonny Awsum, who is one of the most consistently strong headliner acts on the circuit. I’ve never seen him do anything less than end a night on a high and tonight was no exception. The songs are good, but it is the warmth in his performance that really sells his act. He looks happy and cheerful to be on stage and also actually concerned that everyone is having a good time getting involved in his set and this comes over exceptionally well. The result of this is a great atmosphere and one that encourages people to sing-along when he requests and for his volunteers to really buy into what he is asking of them. The closing song got a bit complicated with the use of mobile phones and I think it would be beneficial for the audience to be given more time to prepare the first of the stunts to get the most out of it. The second part was also a bit fiddly for people, but the third part was a lovely touch. This was a cracking set that ended the night brilliantly.

Stevie Gray, Chris Stiles, Gary Delaney and Anthony J Brown (MC)

Tonight I was at the Fishpond in Matlock Bath for Anthony J Brown’s comedy night. On a freezing February night parking wasn’t bad, but I can imagine it being tricky to park close by on a pleasant Summer’s evening. The comedy itself is held in the upstairs room of the pub, which rather than being a mere anonymous function room, looks more like a pocket sized ballroom that is wondering where the Edwardians went. The ambient music pre-show consisted of vanilla instrumentals, which sadly did nothing to add energy or atmosphere into the venue.

Anthony J Brown (MC)

Brown took to the stage wearing a good hat and what might have passed as a demob suit and I liked this. It hinted at him being something nicely different and it’s always good to see someone make an effort. Brown is a low energy compere who had some nice bits of material, such as Weatherspoons and gloves, but a lot of what he did was competent, rather than inspired. One problem was his microphone technique. He would take a drink and carry on talking, into the glass, rather than the mic, or he would move away from the mic stand and continue talking. Whilst this didn’t render what he was saying unintelligible, it didn’t help him in the least. During the second session, Brown did ten minutes, much of this was taken up with a song which was funny, but a bit of an atmosphere killer and I think he only spent so long up there because the middle act was doing fifteen and it would otherwise have seemed a short middle section. It’s unfortunate when a compere introduces an act by their facebook alias (in fairness, similar sounding), but approaches careless when after said act has bookended his set by giving his correct stage name, for the MC to come back out and immediately use the facebook alias again.

Stevie Gray

I can vividly remember seeing Stevie at a gig on this very same date last year, because upon his discovering it was my birthday he proceeded to get me on stage to dance in ‘Gangnam’ style. Tonight there was none of this as he got this gig off to a cracking start. Gray is a high energy and charismatic act who has the knack of enthusing audiences into taking part in his set. He got a couple of people up on stage at different times to participate; Mack the Mechanic with his dry wit was a great choice, but it was a bit unlucky that the lady ignored the steps and fell onto the stage when she tried to clamber on at the front. Both of these sections worked really well. The bread joke is still fine, although inflation means that sooner or later someone will enquire where exactly bread can be bought so cheaply. I was pleased to see Gray tailoring his set to take into account some local material he had that was specific to a pub in Matlock and this certainly added to the feeling that he was really invested in the night and this audience in particular. This was a great performance.

Chris Stiles

There is no doubt that Stiles has improved as an act; however as with anyone and anything, there is still room for further improvement. Luckily it is a matter of just making small changes to his existing material, as he will get a lot more from it. Tonight Stiles began with a pull back and reveal, which was alright, but not really suitable for opening with and winning the confidence of a room. Ironically his next routine about the Barnsley pilot was much, much stronger and if he were to open by asking if anyone was going abroad on holiday it would give him a chance of doing some room work and helping people feel involved in his set and it would tee this routine up very nicely. This routine itself could perhaps be improved by swapping out one line about the time taken and substituting one about Control saying the weather is bad and it should take 2 hours. The ET material was good and I liked it, although I did wonder if softening the description would actually add more as it would sound incongruous. Barlow was good and can be played around with as can the dinosaur material. Tonight Chris was a bit more sweary than this audience really wanted from him and he had a habit of saying ‘right’ or ‘lets be right’, but this wasn’t the end of the world. This wasn’t a bad set, but with a bit more work, it will be a better one. It’s nice to see an act progress.

Gary Delaney

Headlining was Delaney, who was trying out some new bits of material for his forthcoming show, Gagster’s Paradise (a smashing title, by the way). Delaney received laughs from the off and never had to worry about gaining the confidence of the room. This gave him free rein to go dark with the jokes and to add in swearing for extra emphasis where needed. He began with some established material to get a feel for the audience level. In this he was interrupted in the set up to a joke by the laughter of the ‘Wow’ lady sat on the front row. He quickly abandoned his joke and had a chat with her, discovering her tattoo and ad libbing some wonderful lines from it. Following this, it was time for some new material that was getting another airing to confirm the quality. This was all solid enough and then it was some more veteran jokes before he moved onto material written just that afternoon. A few of the jokes were variations on a set up, with only the best reveal making the list, perhaps with the odd cleaner version being kept as a reserve for when needed. Delaney is very pragmatic with his new material and grades the jokes fairly: he doesn’t keep in gags that he likes, but which aren’t first class. With Delaney, it’s a given that the vast majority of his new material will be strong and it’s always a joy to watch him perform. This was a great closing performance.

Ashby – Ignacio Lopez, Steff Todd, James Sherwood and Pete Firman

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. As usual, this was sold out and emergency stools had to be sought to accommodate a few people. I counted myself lucky to get a good seat next to a warm radiator. Mike was full of beans and began compering with tons of energy. He had a bit of difficulty in finding an audience member that he hadn’t spoken to before, but that is an occupational hazard for a night that has attracted a loyal audience over a number of years. He had a lot of fun with a young boxer who was present, getting him up onto the stage to recreate the weigh in intimidation scene. Pretty soon everyone was ready for the wonderfully diverse bill that we had.

Ignacio Lopez

I last saw Lopez doing a strong headlining set in Retford about a year or so ago and in that time he has written enough new material to allow him to perform a mostly different set tonight. It’s nice when a comic doesn’t just rely on the same old material. His first routine concerned Christmas and I thought that it was perhaps about a week or so too late for that topic not to feel like a back number, but he made it work well. In particular he received good laughs for his description of the children. A lot of Lopez’s material was autobiographical in nature, but as he has such a splendidly unique background this was refreshingly different. I especially enjoyed Dai and with the number of callbacks he made room for, this became a successful running joke. Whilst Lopez hoovered up lots of laughs, he did lack a killer knock out joke or routine right up until the end, when he finished with a song that hit home hard. This was a very enjoyable set.

Steff Todd

We resumed after the intermission with Steff Todd a very promising act who has recently been signed by Avalon, which is quite a triumph. Todd had watched Mike’s compering and taken in everything that was said and so when she came to the stage she was able to take full advantage of people he had spoken to and address them by name, asking questions that lead naturally into a couple of strong jokes. This worked extremely well and it is always nice to see an act paying close attention like that. Todd had also read the room skilfully and kept the language clean enough not to alienate anyone. As a result she won the room over very quickly and they took her to their hearts. Her jokes landed well and she received good laughs. The impressions, whilst not as funny as her jokes added a nice change of pace and were fun. I felt that the face she pulled when discussing her driving being questioned was a joy and it added a lot to her performance. There were still a few ‘rights’ being said in-between the jokes, but not as many as before and they didn’t leap out as much. This was a great performance that I thoroughly appreciated.

James Sherwood

Sherwood came to the stage carrying a stool to sit his keyboard on. He began by flitting between a couple of jokes about politics and signs. Oddly his voice didn’t really carry that well when he was just talking, but as soon as he began to sing it was much easier to hear. The vast majority of his set was musical in nature. He would play a snippet of a song and sing along to it before deconstructing it and correcting the grammar or mathematics of the song, with a fair bit of whimsy thrown in. He was talented in this and whilst musical acts really aren’t my cup of tea the rest of the audience were very much onboard and they were delighted by this performance.

Pete Firman

Headlining was Pete Firman, a comedy magician who had a great balance between comedy and magic. Unlike a lot of magical acts, he avoided doing any tricks that involved mind reading or guessing a word on a page and this was a welcome change. Firman made a positive impression on the audience through his bright and buoyant persona and his patter between and whilst performing the tricks was very funny in itself. There was very little he said that didn’t add comedy value to what he was doing; his asides were grand. A lot of what he said would have read on a script as being quite salacious, but with his tongue firmly in his cheek he easily stayed on the right side with it and this added to the fun. The tricks were a solid mixture of card, handkerchief and vanishing audience possessions and he sold them magnificently – we were in the presence of a real showman. The closing trick, which involved borrowing a ten pound note from Ken, before getting him up on stage to find it, was gloriously inexplicable and ended the show on a huge high. It’s very rare to see people standing up to applaud, but Firman fully deserved it.

English Comedian of the Year – Southwell Heat: Jack and Andy, Adam Beardsmore, Hannah Silvester, Paul Savage, Jack Topher, Pat Draper, Phil Reid, Dan Nicholas and Scott Bennett

Tonight I was in Southwell for the first of the Funhouse Comedy hosted English Comedian of the Year heats. Despite it being an extra night held at the Admiral Rodney a week before the regular Funhouse night, numbers were pretty good, which created a decent atmosphere for the acts. We had a varied style in performers, with a rare double act, deadpan acts, surreal acts, joke tellers and story tellers. Prior to beginning, I had Bennett down as the frontrunner, but a completely open mind as to second place. Spiky Mike gave the room a lot of comedy during his compering when chatting to a couple who were both taser specialists in the police and he also gave some unexpected mirth when through a clerical error he named Adam Beardsmore as Ben Wearmouth.

The voting is always pretty one-sided in these heats, with 100 or so people enjoying every act, but only able to vote for their top three. This leaves a few acts whom everyone enjoyed and may have had as their 4th or 5th funniest with low numbers in the vote off, which can be a bit awkward to sit through, unless the acts go into a different room during the vote.

TLDR

The results:

Winner: Scott Bennett – too many votes to really want or need to count

After a recount:

Second: Hannah Silvester – 57 votes

Third (and in with a chance of a wildcard): Jack Topher – 56 votes

Jack and Andy

Opening were Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney as a double act who were in the toughest of slots. Opening isn’t easy for any act, but with some of their material being sexual in content, they’d have definitely benefited from a later slot more than any of the other acts. They delivered their set sat down, which on a small and cramped stage helped ensure that they didn’t stand in each other’s way, but it had the side effect of making it hard to see their faces for a lot of the audience. Their chemistry is great and they definitely have something good going on, but the material, at the moment, is a bit too out there to land as well as it might do with some rooms. The football song was good, but it was too early in the night for a joke about someone’s mum being into anal to fully work. Another factor was that whilst they got laughs for their routines, the gaps between punchlines were just a tad too long to help them in building momentum up and that was a shame as there were some nice jokes in the set, such as the 70’s night, which received strong laughs.

Adam Beardsmore

Beardsmore was the least experienced act in the room, but that can cut both ways. Out of all of the acts, only he and Jack Topher are that used to doing 5 – 10 minutes and that can work in their favour as they wouldn’t have to cut down a set to squeeze it in. Beardsmore’s approach was short set ups and then a reveal and this worked wonders in building impetus as the room didn’t have to wait long for a laugh and there were plenty of laughs to be had. The material was good, although the posh reveal wasn’t as strong as it could have been and I think there might have been a missed opportunity with the stag night as the person was sent home when just by changing a couple of words they could have been sent somewhere that was intrinsically funny. The closing routine was one of the stronger ones of the night and that was a big plus. Beardsmore’s delivery whilst clearly enunciated wasn’t as enticing as the other acts, but that is due to being a new comedian. It felt a bit more like he was addressing a group meeting rather than delivering a set, but this will right itself with more stage time. This was a good set from a new act who will be back stronger next year.

Hannah Silvester

Silvester is a good act who is on her way up the ladder and tonight she gave a smashing performance. She began well (although I didn’t think she needed to explain the joke, but that got an extra laugh, so fair play) and just got better the longer she was on. There were some superb lines, like sober and her material was relatable to all. Whilst there were perhaps some laughs of recognition from the ladies in the room, the men were laughing hard too and she didn’t split the room in any way – everyone could get onboard with what she was saying. This was the first set that had a theme running through it and her performance was all the more stronger for it. Silvester was good with her room work and this nicely made it clear to everyone that she wasn’t on auto-pilot. There were consistent big laughs all the way through a set that was charming, funny and splendid. This was a smashing performance.

Paul Savage

We resumed after the intermission with Paul Savage, who had been brilliant compering Canal House for NCF last week. His opening routine was about a trip to South America and an unusual bar there. The set up for this initially felt a bit long for a competition, but when the punchline landed it hit home with a bang and so he was fully justified in using the time that way. From here he delivered a fast speaking well polished set that went down very well with the audience. In particular the Kindle material was champion and he received some rare applause during his performance, as opposed to at the end. However, despite picking up a respectable number of votes, Paul didn’t make it through and was unlucky in that. If he’d been on a different night then he may well have made the cut.

Jack Topher

Next was Topher, another fairly new act. His style is usually slow and dead pan and he’s tweaked it to make it slower and even more dead pan, standing there silent, with coat zipped up and glasses on, letting the comedic tension build. This is a huge step in the right direction as tonight was by far his strongest ever performance. Rather than being there just to get a bit of stage time and experience, Topher quickly became a serious contender as he proceeded to get one huge laugh after another. The pauses did give a chance for shout outs suggesting the upcoming punchline, but he always managed to wrong foot them and this added to the fun. The moments when he broke the 4th wall after a joke were a real bonus and will help to differentiate any comparisons in style between him and Simon Lomas. The voting for second place was incredibly tight and following a recount Topher was edged out by Silvester by one vote. I look forwards to seeing more of Topher.

Pat Draper

It’s always a pleasure to see Draper although I did wonder how he would fare as the second low energy act in a row. However, instead of suffering from this, he managed to ride the wave created by Topher and had a very good night. His material, especially the asides received good laughs and his Humber Bridge routine is a real banker. His new routine about sex was a big hit. Like Savage, Draper did very well and got a lot of laughs and on another night he may well have found himself in contention.

Phil Reid

We began the final section with Reid, whom I’ve not seen in a couple of years. He gave the room a bright and bubbly performance and the audience quickly warmed to his charisma. His material was good, but like with Jack and Andy, the gaps between the punchlines were just a touch too long to help in building momentum. The Take me Out routine was nicely interactive and the entire room got onboard with it, although one slight improvement might be to change his mates from dickheads to shithouses, as I think that would probably get a bigger laugh. Reid’s closing routine suffered from a technological mishap that resulted in a lot of crackling and showing his stagecraft Reid salvaged a good laugh from announcing it would have been funny. This was an enjoyable performance.

Dan Nicholas

As expected, Nicholas was the most surreal act of the night and his ability as a performer really sold his material to the audience. A lot of his set was interactive, but people were happy to get behind it and it went down pretty well. The panto was a classic pull back and reveal, but worked no less well for that. Dan entertained everyone and managed to stand out.

Scott Bennett

Closing was Bennett who opened with instantly relatable quick observations about the room that hit home like a sledgehammer. This was followed by some of his shorter routines, which the audience lapped up. The laughs came thick and fast and even though this is probably the 4th time I’ve seen Bennett in as many weeks I was still laughing hard myself. It was lovely looking around the room at people laughing their heads off. When Bennett ran out of time on his closing joke and was cut off by the music there were a lot of cries of disappointment from the audience. He went through as winner with no need to count the hands in the air.

January – acts that have impressed me the most

January is always something of a slow month for comedy and I’ve only seen 35 performances. However, by and large, the standard was great. The highlight was undoubtedly seeing Scott Bennett trying to perfect what is already damn nigh perfect. The only real disappointment was an act who misjudged a room and launched into a lot of sexual content before they had warmed to him.

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

Paul Savage (MC)

This was pretty much a class in how to compere a room. He didn’t put a foot wrong.

From the night:

It’s been a while since I’d seen Paul and so I was looking forwards to watching him work and tonight he delivered the best balance between material and room work that I’ve seen in a MC for a long time. He began with some strong material to gain credibility with the audience and then he moved into working the room before mixing the two. This worked incredibly well and he received great laughs. I’m not generally a fan of drugs based material, as it’s a subject that I’ve no affinity for, but Savage made it not only tangible, but as it didn’t involve tales of a chemically assisted past, it was easier to get onboard with. He struck lucky with Jack, sat on the front row, who had recently resigned/been fired after shutting people in a vault and Paul showed a deft touch with leaving this unexplained as an explanation would have probably eaten up time and it would have been hard to top the basic fact of shutting people in a vault. It was nice to see a compere ask people about hobbies, as this was a nice change to the name, location and job that so many work with. Savage had a great time and was a real asset to the night.

Scott Bennett

This comedian is going to go a long way.

From the night: 

Headlining was Bennett, an act whom I’m seeing a lot of at the moment and the more I see of him, the more I like it. I’m not the only person who can think that, as amongst a roomful of people pissing themselves laughing, there were at least three who spent a lot of his set doubled over from it. He began by chatting with the lads on the front row and demonstrated that he is razor sharp with his wit, getting big laughs within seconds of looking at them for the first time. From here he went into some new material that I’d not heard before and there was a lot of good stuff in there. The word play was lovely and I’m not surprised there was applause for it. There were two bits I thought might be improved and that was to change out enjoyed for felt guilty as I think it would be more sympathetic and to name a specific brand of crisp. Beyond the solid material, Bennett is an incredible performer. He knows when to raise his voice to add emphasis and when to break the 4th wall and deliver an aside to the audience. This was a smashing set.

Special Mention: Oscar Roberts

This was a first ever performance for Roberts and on the strength of it I think he’s well worth booking by anyone willing to give a brand new act a chance.

From the night:

We resumed after the intermission with a first timer, Oscar Roberts, who is only 17 and looks so much younger I’m surprised he didn’t have trouble getting into the venue. Mike gave him a big build up and the audience were fully prepared to support him. Sometimes this can result in an inexperienced act being kept on longer than is warranted simply not to upset them. However, tonight Roberts fully deserved his stage time. He has the rhythm of a trans-Atlantic act and I shouldn’t be surprised if he is a big fan of Netflix comedy specials. This rhythm stood him in good stead as he delivered some very well thought out material that managed to be relatable, tangible and funny all in the same breath. Roberts understandably looked a bit nervous, but was confident enough to ask the audience to back him up on things, which helped to bring people further into his set and mitigated some of the harm caused by him not making much eye contact with people. In addition, his mic technique requires a bit of work, as he held it way too low, but that will come with time and is a minor point. This was a well constructed set, with some very nice callbacks and a good turn of phrase. Roberts made it through to the final with ease, being one of the few acts to get applause and although he didn’t win tonight, he definitely has a lot of potential and should gig as often as he can.

Honourable mentions:

Charlie Gascoyne, Costas Lukaris, Craig Dixon, Dan Barnes, Lauren Walsh,

Canal House – Matt Hollins, Danny Clives, Sam Moult, Paul B Edwards, Harry Wright, Alex Leam, Jay Johnson, Scott Bennett and Paul Savage (MC)

Tonight I was back at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. This continues to be a splendid event and numbers tonight were amazing. How many new act/material nights can seat over 100 people and then exhaust the standing room and have to turn people away? Helen, Katie and Sarah did well to manage such numbers smoothly. The crowd were a touch noisy at the back, but the atmosphere was good humoured and got more so as the night went on.

Paul Savage (MC)

It’s been a while since I’d seen Paul and so I was looking forwards to watching him work and tonight he delivered the best balance between material and room work that I’ve seen in a MC for a long time. He began with some strong material to gain credibility with the audience and then he moved into working the room before mixing the two. This worked incredibly well and he received great laughs. I’m not generally a fan of drugs based material, as it’s a subject that I’ve no affinity for, but Savage made it not only tangible, but as it didn’t involve tales of a chemically assisted past, it was easier to get onboard with. He struck lucky with Jack, sat on the front row, who had recently resigned/been fired after shutting people in a vault and Paul showed a deft touch with leaving this unexplained as an explanation would have probably eaten up time and it would have been hard to top the basic fact of shutting people in a vault. It was nice to see a compere ask people about hobbies, as this was a nice change to the name, location and job that so many work with. Savage had a great time and was a real asset to the night.

Paul has two shows on at the Leicester Comedy Festival: 19.45 on the 8th of February at Manhattan 34 and Hell to Play at 22.00 on the 9th and 10th of February at the same location.

Matt Hollins

Hollins was, like many of the acts, doing some new material and he began with Tinder. My first thought was that he was two years late to the party with this, as two summers ago, I probably heard upwards of twenty online dating routines in the space of a month. However, with him directing the material to the audience and then threatening to change his settings, he put a different spin on it and received a big laugh, so that worked out well. Asking about Brexit was a bit tricky and this did start half a dozen or so whispered conversations between people, but this didn’t interfere with him building impetus. Vegas was a work in progress, with the balance being more towards exposition at the moment, but that will no doubt come into shape. S & M showed promise as did the nurse, although I think if he were to make it a consultant, then the audience sympathy would be with him and the twist would land with a lot more force. This was a good set that the audience enjoyed and there was a lot of laughter.

Hollins has a show on at the Leicester Comedy Festival at the Criterion on the 14th of February

Danny Clives

Clives was the second low energy act in a row, which possibly wasn’t ideal for him. He began with a persona defining joke which made it easy for the audience to know where he was coming from and this stood him in good stead for the night. He gave the room some bits of new material and these went down well. Clives got his biggest laughs when he was being self-deprecating and he does this very well, although it would be nice to see him spread his wings a little bit more. I personally thought he was at his best when he was ad libbing and working with the audience.

Clives has a show at the Leciester Comedy Festival on the 11th upstairs at The Firebug

Sam Moult

Moult started well with some astute observations about the room and these were of a good standard. He then launched into the meat of his set which was a routine about a break up. Unfortunately comedians retelling stories of relationships going west is a well travelled path and it is very hard for anyone to stand out doing a routine on it. There were some nice lines, such as the 1920s break up with the Morse code being especially notable. Moult had a smooth delivery and so with different material I can see him being a lot stronger. He has done a lot of work in Dubai and I shouldn’t be surprised if there is a solid routine in that.

Paul B Edwards

We resumed after the intermission with Edwards who spent the first 5 minutes of his slot discussing a texting in game played on the wireless station that is on where he works. There was a bit of humour in this, but really it just sounded like him airing his irritation at having to listen to it all day. After he had finished getting this off of his chest he gave the room a mix of audience work and material, which was markedly funnier. The drunk Macarena was good, as was the vegan material. It was unfortunate that he over ran, mostly through talking about that radio game.

Harry Wright

With his quiet cultured voice, Wright was a change in temperament and he gained consistent laughs from some good material. A lot of his set was autobiographical and in his own low key way, he’s pretty interesting, so this worked well. There were a couple of things about his performance that I thought could have been improved: his jokes were all individually good, but he’d benefit from more of a theme to link them – there wasn’t a huge sense of a routine building to a climax. Also the actions to the song were impossible to see for 95% of the audience and so the impact of this was diluted. This was still a good set, though.

Alex Leam

Leam had a great night, despite not being the most frequent gigger in the world. The mobile DJ material was strong and I think he could expand on it. You could feel everyone being drawn in to the story in that section. The student uni was ok, but needed more, whereas the taxi material went down very well and there was a great moment when a chap sat at the front was just that bit too enthusiastic about a porn site. When discussing a possible sex partner I think that Leam could improve upon his choice of person, as there wasn’t anything intrinsically funny in his selection, although in fairness that part was set up rather than punchline. This was a very entertaining set from someone whom I don’t see often enough.

Jay T Johnson

We began the final section with Johnson who as a native of Nottingham (now living up in Yorkshire) was able to use their local knowledge to good effect. The lines about the Broadmarsh shopping centre were strong, but unfortunately not likely to travel well, although I daresay the name could be changed for any town with two shopping centres and work just as well. Despite holding the mic just a touch too close, it was easy to hear all of the lines and the room very quickly warmed to Johnson who was quietly flamboyant in an understated way. There was a great twist on the story that was told, although I thought that the text saying that the other party didn’t wish to meet again might have worked better if it had been one saying that they’d love to meet again as it had gone well all things considered. The closing routine about the lady in her 60s started well, but the reveal was pretty predictable. Nonetheless, this was a very enjoyable performance with a lot to like about it.

Scott Bennett

Headlining was Bennett, an act whom I’m seeing a lot of at the moment and the more I see of him, the more I like it. I’m not the only person who can think that, as amongst a roomful of people pissing themselves laughing, there were at least three who spent a lot of his set doubled over from it. He began by chatting with the lads on the front row and demonstrated that he is razor sharp with his wit, getting big laughs within seconds of looking at them for the first time. From here he went into some new material that I’d not heard before and there was a lot of good stuff in there. The word play was lovely and I’m not surprised there was applause for it. There were two bits I thought might be improved and that was to change out enjoyed for felt guilty as I think it would be more sympathetic and to name a specific brand of crisp. Beyond the solid material, Bennett is an incredible performer. He knows when to raise his voice to add emphasis and when to break the 4th wall and deliver an aside to the audience. This was a smashing set.

Scott Bennett has a show on Feb 7th at the Manhattan at the Leicester comedy festival 9.15pm

Bluey’s – Pat Monahan – Rewind Selector 90’s

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s for the FaF Promotions comedy night. Instead of the usual show consisting of MC, opener, two middles and a headliner, tonight was different. By popular demand it was the return of Pat Monahan, who was performing his Rewind Selector 90’s show. There aren’t many comedians who can sell tickets on the strength of their name, but Pat is definitely one of them. The numbers were great and the crowd, as you’d expect at Bluey’s were well up for it. We began with Stoney compering the night, doing the rules and building the energy levels. He kept it tight so as to give Monahan more performance time.

There are some comedians who can readily be described as being people persons, but Pat Monahan is easily the most open and welcoming act on the circuit; he simply oozes bonhomie. It helps that he has a strong memory for names and faces, as so much of his performance concerns bouncing off of the audience. Tonight he spoke to a fair proportion of the room, including people who had travelled specially to see him perform again and not once did he get a name mangled or mistake someone. All of this helped to build a shared comedic experience.

The theme of the show could be described as how some things have changed since the 1990s and it encompasses vices of the 90’s, such as drugs, drinking, going out, BSE, parenting and phones. This gives a structure, but it is loose enough to allow Monahan free rein to run with whatever he likes and to talk with the audience at will. This is a great approach for him to take, as whilst the set pieces were strong (Zumba being a particularly fine line), the real joy was in watching Pat simply chat to people and ad lib responses. This is a man who is very fast on his feet mentally. It didn’t hurt that Bluey’s has a lot of characters such as Nev and Rich who were able to provide him with a lot to work with. There was a lovely moment when Pat was asking for people to suggest vices and a genius shouted out ‘cookers’ – seeing Monahan laughing his head off was a heart warming sight. This little snippet became the subject of a nice running gag for the duration of the show. Monahan is a very energetic performer and watching him acting out dressage and the old fashioned way of obtaining money added a lot of comedic value to what he was saying.

This was a cracking performance from an act who I can happily see often, as each show is so individualistic. The audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves and this was a great night.

The Blessington Carriage – Nathan Webb, Costas Lukaris, Conor Clarke McGrath, Dan Barnes, Frank Foucault and Adam Vincent

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse comedy night. Initially numbers were lower than expected, with twenty people who had already prepaid for their tickets being absent with only ten minutes until show time. Luckily most of these turned up just before Mike began his compering. Although the audience were a bit more sedate than usual, we were quickly ready for our opening act.

Nathan Webb

We began with the first of a large contingent of Welsh acts, Nathan Webb. He began with a drawn out routine concerning nicknames: his and others. This wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that punchy and it took up a fair amount of his slot. I think it may have been better being used later in a longer set, as it didn’t have enough in it that was immediately funny to make a strong opening routine, especially when Webb would be wanting to establish himself with the audience. There were some nice lines in this set, such as three fingers, but these didn’t come along as often as I’d have liked. There were a fair few periods where there was a lull in the laughter. This was unfortunate, because I had the impression that Webb had more in him than what we saw tonight. On the bright side, he is good at bouncing off of a crowd, there is some good stuff in his set and if he were to edit his routines down so that there aren’t as many wasted words, he would achieve more laughs per minute.

Costas Lukaris

Lukaris was a very nice addition to the bill. He opened with comments about a sponsoring charity and I thought that he was either going to kill the atmosphere, or it would be a misjudged joke and to my surprise it was neither; it was a solid opening routine. From here, Lukaris went on to give the room a very good set indeed. His material was exceptionally well thought out with plenty of reveals that you couldn’t guess at, although Cadaver and Top of the Pops was probably a bit too subtle for many people to get. His delivery was low energy and understated and this served to draw the entire room in to what he was saying. He didn’t need to be loud to get everyone’s attention. It was obvious that Lukaris (who never referenced his unusual name) had a powerful command of the English language and he used this to his advantage in how he phrased things. The only disappointing thing about this set was the closing routine, which whilst it was memorable, seemed to take a lot of setting up for what the joke was and I thought that he could have made better use of the time. That aside, this was a lovely set and I’d like to see more of Lukaris.

Conor Clarke McGrath

We resumed after the intermission with Conor Clarke McGrath who probably enjoyed his performance more than the audience did. He made a good first impression as he came to the stage smartly dressed and full of energy, but he lost most of the audience with an early joke about self sucking. The people in The Blessington Carriage aren’t prudish, but this was too early in his set for them to have acquired enough confidence in him for a joke like that to really work. From here McGrath launched into a string of lamp based puns, before adding to this process of audience withdrawal by him talking about his Oedipal dreams. Between the not funny enough to be worth the audience alienation sexual comments and the puns, it was hard to know where you stood with this act. It’s nice when a comic mixes up their styles (see Foucault), but this was more bewildering than refreshing. There was a joke about grans and members of the aristocracy that McGrath repeated 3-4 times with a change each outing, but this was an instance where the law of diminishing returns kicked in alarmingly quickly. His delivery was clear, but lacked warmth. McGrath got some laughs and he didn’t die, but he would benefit from a rethink. Perhaps if he read the mood of the room before going for the sexual material he would do better and if he were to work on drawing the audience in they would invest more in his set.

Dan Barnes

Next was Dan Barnes who had made a good impression by being one of the few acts that stayed to watch Mike’s compering – stuff like this sets a good example to the audience and helps the act to be able to put faces to the names of anyone that Mike speaks to. Barnes opened strongly with something that after the last act, the room could recognise as being a joke. He was also able to chat to audience members by name, such as the nurse, and to bring them into his set, which helped form a bond with the room. The mugging routine was good, although to be fair Barnes looks like a perilous candidate to be mugged and there was a lot of joy in just how the police were using his description. There was some great timing on both the Christmas present he bought for his disabled friend and the topper. The online purchase joke was good, although perhaps changing offshore to Nigeria may add to the impact of the punchline. Stood on stage, leaning on the mic stand, Barnes looked relaxed and this was nice to see. Despite tripping over the set up on one joke, which can happen to anyone, this was the strongest I’ve seen Barnes. He’s made visible progression in improving his performance.

Frank Foucault

The deliberately oddest act of the night was Foucault. He began with a drawn out opening that seemed to drag on forever and frankly I was beginning to wish for him to move on, until he delivered the big reveal, which got a huge laugh. After the first few jokes Foucault would sing a few lines from a song and this worked pretty well, although if he had continued it, then it might have strayed into being gimmicky. There were some very strong jokes, such as Russian transgender and the God complex, which were clever and funny. There was a stunt with a pint glass that worked well and got not only a laugh but some applause for the final reveal and the closing routine was delightfully oddball. Foucault covered a lot of ground, changing it up regularly and this kept his act very fresh. There is a fine line between being too odd for a room to invest in and being odd in a way that everyone can enjoy and Foucault kept to the right side of that. Not everything he did was too my taste, but the room thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d definitely like to see him again.

Adam Vincent

Headlining was the Australian Adam Vincent. Vincent took a nice relaxed approach to his delivery and the room warmed to him quickly. He began with some autobiographical material before chatting with Helen’s party, sat on the front row. Vincent managed to have a brief exchange with them and he judged the amount of time to devote to this before he resumed his set pretty well. After this, his set took a definite turn for the dark, but it remained accessible and became even funnier. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, if he’s been the recipient of a few post gig conversations about nutjobs with beards, following his splendid theory about clean shaven loons. The vibrator routine was another stand out in what was a very strong set. Vincent’s delivery was conversational, which was pitched correctly for half ten on a Monday night, being in tune with the energy in the room. This was a very enjoyable performance.