Canal House – Tony Cowards, Tom Rackham, Hannah Silvester, Tim Goodings, Josh Pugh, Kiran Morjaria and Dan Nicholas (MC)

There are some nights when the audience just doesn’t seem to be up for it and tonight was one of them. I’m not sure if it was the wet and windy weather, impending Christmas, Detectorists being on, or just the fact that Nottingham is comedied out after the festival, but numbers were down on the standing room only nights that I’ve come to expect at the NCF £1 Canal House. I’d like to say that we made this up with quality, but this audience were very picky and choosy with what they’d laugh at. Canal House audiences have a habit of resetting themselves and requiring constant impressing, but tonight seemed to be on a different level. I’ve never seen them so flat. This meant that it was a uphill struggle for most of the acts.

Dan Nicholas (MC)

The audience were quite spread out and seemed to be more of a collection of individuals than an easily melded mass and this didn’t help Dan in bringing them together. Nicholas mostly went with room work and even when chatting to people about their jobs he emits surreal vibes. Mostly this is from his facial expressions, but also a lot comes from how he stands. This is a comic who seems to have mastered non-verbal communication and it’s nice to see. I’d have preferred to see a bit more material, though. Dan did loads of getting the audience to cheer and make noises and so on, but after a while it began to feel as though the audience were doing more work than him. This was a flat audience and Dan did what he could with them, but I don’t think that anyone would have found it easy tonight.

Tony Cowards

Opening was Cowards, whom I was expecting to be closing when I received notice that he was on the bill. He was here, cards in hand, to try some new material. It’s always a pleasure seeing Tony and I thoroughly enjoyed what he had to offer. As you’d expect, there were a lot of good jokes in there. A few were a touch strained, such as Keele and perhaps Manly, although the topper to that made it worth it. The audience seemed to go more for the silly gags than the clever ones, but as this room seemed so flat tonight, I’m not sure it was a fair test. Having said that, though, there was laughter after every joke, but it just seemed that there wasn’t anything that the entire audience seemed to all agree was funny. Personally, I thought trip adviser was splendid, even if I was in a minority.

Thomas Rackham

Rackham was one of only three acts tonight who seemed to get the audience fully onboard. He began with a new opening that we’ll probably never see again and then from there he went into what with someone else might have strayed into exposition. Instead, Rackham got a good number of laughs from it, as he had remembered to make it funny and whilst he was talking the room warmed to him. I’ve never read The Secret Garden, so I didn’t get the reference, along with a few others, but enough people did get it to make it viable. The main part of this set was the odd contrast between the background music to Newsbeat and the seriousness of some of the stories. Rackham accompanied this with music from his laptop, which looked very fiddly and it would be easier with a remote control or asking someone to press play for him. This was a lovely routine that definitely has legs and it really struck a chord with nearly everyone in the room. I say nearly everyone, because during the intermission, one lady who had obviously missed the point of the joke came over to remonstrate with Tom about one of the news items. It’s odd when someone is offended over a joke that neither aims to offend, nor mentions the source of offence except in passing. This was a good set and I can see the Newsbeat section going far.

Hannah Silvester

We resumed after the intermission with Silvester, doing her first gig since going to Chicago and she was the second of three acts who had a good gig. Silvester has a great microphone technique, holding it at a constant distance and this was something I noticed after seeing all sorts of permutations of grip during the last few weeks. Silvester was doing a mix of established and new material and it was all of a uniformly good quality. I thought that ‘Mr’ was a nice touch as was weeks, but there was a missed chance of a callback to Dove when she was talking about shaving. The religious new material sounded good, but could probably be a touch tighter, but as it’s new material that’s to be expected. Job lot was a cracking line. This was a very enjoyable performance.

Tim Goodings

Between Silvester leaving the stage and Goodings arriving, the atmosphere seemed to reset itself back to being flat and this was a shame, as Goodings never really seemed to regain the energy. He looked confident and there were some nice well thought out lines that got laughs, but even without the erms, his delivery really needed more spark and lift to it. This was a flat crowd and so I doubt that I saw Goodings under the best of circumstances.

Luke Prince

Prince was a character act that I found difficult to enjoy. He plays it as a very high status toff who is far superior to everyone else and this had none of the warmth, humanity or humour of McCabe’s Troy. Watching Prince, I became very conscious of my working class background and couldn’t help but wonder how he’d fare playing a miner’s welfare or WMC or anywhere in the North. Prince looked the part, being well dressed and he also sounded the part with his diction, but this was a performance that seemed to have quite a topsy turvy relationship with the audience. I liked the visual hankie gag and the space station joke, but thought that the spoon routine went on beyond the audience’s interest in it. Prince was probably unlucky in getting a chap onto the stage who really didn’t want to get involved, but perhaps he might just have been better in just cutting his losses. The section that I most enjoyed was balloon animals, which was fun and entertaining, but which also had only a very tangential relationship to the character he was playing.

Josh Pugh

We began the final section with Pugh, the only other act who had a good night. Pugh was trying some new material and naturally enough this was already original and pretty much solid. I enjoyed normal and the ice cream van was wonderful. This was a set that got consistent laughter and was great to see.

Kiran Morjaria

Morjaria closed the night. He began with Indians in football, which was quite a long set up and the pay off only really came when he talked about cricket, so this might have been more punchy edited down. He gave the room a rap song, using a replacement word and this was good, but again, it could have been made tighter, as he didn’t need to do so much of the song for the room to get the joke – diminishing returns did kick in. On the other hand, I thought that British rap was creative and funny, as was the Ark. However, the location of the unsuitable material gig was guessable and anyone who didn’t guess right, probably would have found a suitable alternative reveal, as it wasn’t hard to see where he was going with the joke. I was expecting something more creative and the same could be said of the story about the person who talked to him after a gig. I did, though, admire the time he took in shaving, which showed his dedication to getting the laugh. As this was new material it’s to be expected that there are a few teething issues, but with tightening and rethinking Morjaria will have a decent set. The delivery was clear and easy to follow and despite the atmosphere being flat he still received laughs.

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Blessington Carriage Gong Show – Adam Elmi, George Hughes, Doug Lumley, Jem Braithwaite, James Knott, Phil Carr, David Luck, Mark Pulcella, Arron Jones, Maggie McDonald, Tommy Glass and a bonus performance by Sean Heydon

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the second gong show in two nights. In contrast to the previous event, the crowd here were a tiny bit flat, which was a shame as we had a cracking line up containing past winners and contenders, plus some very good new acts. Mike had a smashing time compering, chatting to Christina who was too bright and bubbly to be working in Birmingham Crown Court, although he struck gold when he discovered Dr Andy who had a belting story about the oddest item he’s had to surgically remove from someone. Ironically, though, Mike got one of the biggest laughs of the night when checking on the judges and only then discovering that he’d forgotten to create enough. The room was soon ready for some comedy.

Adam Elmi

I last saw Elmi in Derby doing some new material, so it was nice to see how it all came together in this performance. He began by advertising how dark he was, which made me wonder if he’d have been better off going on later, as the room seemed to draw back from him a touch. However, he recovered from this with some autobiographical material and then after the room had bought into his persona he returned to the dark material which went down pretty well. There were some good lines in this set, such as bragging and screwdriver, which stood out. I couldn’t help but feel that Elmi may benefit from adjusting his set so that he eases into the more near the knuckle material, rather than opening with it. This was a decent performance that saw Elmi through to the final, which he had to miss, because he had a train to catch.

George Hughes

Hughes began by telling the audience what he was going to talk about, a verbal contents page that just ate up some time without being funny – an odd start when time and being funny is of the essence. His performance did pick up when he began to talk about the date (deviant was a nice line), but he did lose a bit of pace with the Wolf set up and rather irritatingly he paused everything whilst the voting was in progress, which hurt his momentum. This was a bit of a clunky set, but if Hughes were to edit it down to be more succinct then he has a base upon which to build. Whilst he didn’t have a great night, people laughed and with work he will have something stronger.

Doug Lumley

With a nice introduction from Mike, Doug took to the stage. He began well with a smashing callback to Mike’s compering and then launched into his set. Despite holding the microphone a bit too low, he held the room nicely as they listened to him. The set ups were a bit on the long side and it would be better if they were a bit more punchy, containing a few laughs on the way to the reveals, but this wasn’t a huge problem and the punchlines were consistently good. Doug was very astute with his swearing, using it sparingly enough to get the maximum benefit from it and not overdoing it. He has an eye for constructing a set and he did well, getting some big laughs and making it to the final.

Jem Braithwaite

Braithwaite last performed here a month or so ago in the champion of champions final and I think that that may have diluted his impact tonight. I like both his material and his delivery – bad manners was such a wonderfully understated reveal that it’s a joy to see. This is an act with a great command of the English language who can substitute a common word with one that combines the unexpected whilst still remaining accessible and that is pretty rare. Braithwaite did well and made the final.

James Knott

We resumed after the intermission with the only first time performer of the night. He began with what sounded like it was going to be a Christmas cracker gag, but which had a splendidly visual reveal and he carried on from there, using this as the basis of his set. The toppers to this were well timed, although hit man was a tad weak. Knott was an endearing presence, having an infectious giggle and looking like he was about to start corpsing at any moment. This added a lot of ambiance to his performance and even when he ran out of material there was enough goodwill to see him through to the final. This was a good first attempt, although as 90% of the material comes from one visual thing, unless he wishes to scrap this set and start again, he is rather boxed into a corner.

Phil Carr

Next was Phil Carr, an act who has gravity and presence and should probably be more widely known than what he is. He’s a new act, but had the room firmly with him after probably 20 seconds. He gave the room short jokes that linked together and these built up a lot of momentum. His delivery has a good rhythm that suits his material and there were some great lines. Cheat day would probably have worked just as well without the rule of three, but the special instructions really went down extremely well. Carr made it through to the final and was the worthy winner of the night.

David Luck

When I saw Luck at the Maze he had impressed me and so I was looking forwards to seeing more of him. He took to the stage with a clipboard in hand, which I think is a nice touch, even if it didn’t come into play it still created a good impression for being nicely different. Luck gave the audience a selection of one-liners and these were pretty clever, too, being well thought out. There were a few that elicited groans, which could have been filed under ‘more creative than funny’, but the standard was high. I was surprised that he missed the chance of a call back to Mike chatting to Dr Andy, as this would have helped him to connect more with the audience and it would have been nice to see some links between the gags, but this was a good set. Luck was slightly hurt by following Carr, who whilst not doing one-liners had done plenty of short form jokes, as opposed to routines and he was unfortunately voted off.

Mark Pulcella

Pulcella was our second one-liner comedian of the night and as it happened he was performing straight after the other one. He was extremely unlucky in this and was facing an uphill struggle from the off. Although he had a couple of jokes miss early on, Pulcella had plenty of energy and I did think that he might have worked hard enough to get by the vote, but it was not to be. Pulcella is by no means a weak act, he won the last gong show I saw him in, but sometimes the running order can make a huge difference.

Sean Heydon

We ended the middle section with Sean Heydon, not a gong show entrant, instead a professional magician who was doing a ten spot to film a show reel of close up magic. The purpose of this was for his trip to Las Vegas, where he is appearing on the Penn and Teller show and as he began by performing for Mike in the Blessington Carriage it was fitting that he filmed it here. His tricks involved decks of cards and he was amazingly dextrous with it. However, it was very hard to see what he was doing, as it was so fast paced. Heydon gave the room a running commentary, using his powerful voice instead of the microphone, but as this was delivered at the speed of someone running a meat raffle who wanted to get home early, it was still hard to follow. Heydon would probably benefit from a big screen showing close up what he was doing. He pulled off all of the tricks, but it was damned hard to follow the performance and one ended up getting the general drift, rather than the specifics of a trick.

Arron Jones

Jones did very well last night in Sheffield, standing out for a lot of good things and tonight he continued that. His set was nicely varied, mixing a few short gags and longer routines and it managed to remain fresh throughout. This was one of those performances where because the material had such variety, five minutes seemed more like two or three. This was well paced and Jones is rather expressive with his hands when talking and this added a lot to the delivery, nicely emphasising what he was saying. He made it to the final and received a lot of support in the audience voting.

Maggie McDonald

McDonald began weakly and never really recovered from that. The material about the Gorbals was probably the strongest in her set, but this was let down by her delivery which sounded more like a read through than something that she was using to try to bring people onboard with. The taxi driver material may have built up, but she wasted too much time in explaining the geographical details for her to get to the funny before she went off. If McDonald were to edit down her set to just what was funny and the bare minimum of set up and address her delivery she would do better.

Tommy Glass

Glass is a quick learner. Last night he had a good gig and he has learnt a lot from it, making the most of what went well and picking up on what could be adjusted to improve his set for tonight, although surprisingly he hadn’t kept his approach of letting the audience fill in the punchline of some jokes, which was a shame as I thought that had worked extremely well. Despite holding the microphone too low, Glass reeled the audience in quickly, letting the quality of his material do the work. There were some intelligent jokes here, all very dark, but as they are well thought out (former dad was a superb line and granddad was wonderfully unexpected as 90% of comics would have settled for dad), they went down very well indeed. There was a great callback to Mike’s compering which the audience hugely appreciated and Glass made the final. Whilst still raw and inexperienced, I suspect that there is some gold here.

New Barrack Tavern – Michael Welch, Richard Harris, Ridwan Hussain, Phil Carr, Adam Muscat, Eliott Simpson, Andrew Grimmer, Tommy Glass, Hector Walker, David Smith, Scott Liversidge, Arron Jones, Donny and Andrew Marsh

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse gong show. As ever, the room was pretty packed and although it was cold outside, it was as warm as toast for the audience. I’m always astonished by how many people can be squeezed into such a small room, but having watched the landlady, Stephanie, rearrange the room afterwards I saw just how much work was involved for her and Kev in getting that side of things organised. Last week I was at a gong show in Leicester where surprisingly all 15 acts turned up and tonight, instead of having a few drop outs, all 14 showed. This made for another busy, but fun night. There were a lot of fairly new acts on the bill (not that anyone would have guessed) and the quality amongst these was excellent.

Michael Welch

With his soft Scottish accent and only having two months as a comedian under his belt, Welch proved to be a very strong first act. His opening material comparing sex/virginity and performing in a gong show was the weakest section of what was a very good set. From here, though, he just continued to get better the longer he was on, despite his dangerous habit of pausing his routines whilst Mike did the votes. The material about booze was a big hit with the audience and his delivery of shout added to what he was doing. This was a sound opening to the night and Welch easily made it through to the final, where he wasted a lot of his final minute by complimenting the other acts and live comedy. His five minutes, inadvertently made it tricky for the next act.

Richard Harris

Following a strong act can work for or against the next comedian; they can either build on their energy, or they can suffer in comparison and unfortunately for Harris this was one of those occasions where the audience seemed to take one look and decide ‘no’. He opened with a few throwaway comments that didn’t have a lot of comedy in them and then moved on to talk about poor patrol, which was a bit of a depressing concept, especially so early in a set before he had established himself. Harris’ material about paedos injected some life into his set and gave it a temporary bounce, but he was an early gonging.

Ridwan Hussain

Hussain had some good material, but was let down by his delivery, which didn’t really sell what he was saying, with too many erms, like and so’s. To begin with, it was hard to hear what he was saying, as until corrected by Mike, he held the microphone roughly about level with his nipples, which was neither use nor ornament. However, what he was saying was definitely worth listening to. Both overly made up girls and en-suite were good and it felt like he was building a set. I felt that his gonging wasn’t really fair, as although he wasn’t getting huge laughs he was good enough to go further.

Phil Carr

At first I thought that Carr was a fairly experienced act who was doing the gong more to be seen than for the prize money. So I was very surprised to learn that he was only ten gigs in, as he definitely had an air of plausibility about him. He had a slow and measured quiet delivery that held the room very well. His material was equally as good as his skilled performance (the winding of the window was a lovely touch that really pushed that joke) and he got the first applause break of the night. This was a very good set indeed and for his final minute Carr carried on with a minute or so of solid material. He was a very close second on the night.

Adam Muscat

We resumed after the intermission with Adam Muscat, who was only on his second gig. A lot of his material concerned weed, but he managed to make this all very accessible to a roomful of people who probably knew very little about it. There was an unintentional, but wonderful callback to weed and forgetfulness when Muscat left the stage at the 3 ½ minute mark, thinking that he was done before swiftly resuming his set. This got a huge laugh and he carried on from there. The difference between Glaswegian and Edinburgh accents has been done a few times, but Muscat had enough ability with accents to be able to carry it off well. I especially enjoyed his delivery; this was laid back, almost casual and I think everyone in the room relaxed into his set. Muscat easily made the final where he gave the audience a well timed final minute of material. This was a splendid set and I think we’ll see a lot more of Muscat in the future.

Eliott Simpson

Simpson was an interesting act and on a different line up may well have been a contender. He looks and sounds quite posh, which allied to his fast, almost manic delivery made for a nice contrast. He also has a unique angle based around his sexuality and the material that came from this was all very good. For his final minute Simpson gave the room a nicely buoyant routine. I’d like to see him again.

Andrew Grimmer

Grimmer didn’t have a great night. He opened with an inexplicable joke about the green room and Blazing Saddles, which no one seemed to get. This was then followed by material concerning relationships and phones. Grimmer wasn’t helped by following the charming Simpson, as his buoyant delivery made Grimmer’s slow and quiet approach seem almost drab, nor was he helped by checking his hand for his lines, but his biggest issue was that whilst what he was saying might amuse in conversation, it didn’t enthuse a crowd.

Tommy Glass

Glass was easily one of the most interesting acts of the night. Only on his second gig and he gave the room the darkest and most edgy material of the night. At first I thought he was going to be a bit hack, as jokes about a relative dying in their sleep with a pull back and reveal to them driving are too well known, but he had a lot better stuff in his arsenal. I loved the weight gain joke, this was extremely good. However, that joke and the baby’s head are both very dangerous to do, as whilst a few people can be offended by a dark joke, dead babies can actually upset people and there is a chance that a person having suffered a loss will be in the audience and doing material that features them is a bit like minesweeping – sooner or later you will get an explosion. What impressed me the most about Glass was his performance. He came over as just on the right side of arrogant, which was perfectly in tune with him pushing the envelope. The way he paused on occasion and let the audience work out the punchlines really brought people into his set. It means more when folk have to do a bit of thinking for themselves. His use of a silence was great. This was a technically excellent set and he made a good showing in the final.

Hector Walker

Walker never really seemed to find his feet. He spoke about a new baby and instagram, but then wasted a lot of time in getting someone to take photos of him. I could see what he was trying to do, but there just wasn’t enough comedy value in it for him to gain much momentum. He was an early gonging, but it would be nice to see him try again, perhaps with a different approach.

David Smith

Smith had a great night. He began well showing some excellent local knowledge (researched beforehand) about which area to use as the shit one and this went down a storm. Whilst Hull may be the city of culture, its more down at heel reputation is widely known enough for Smith to get a lot of mileage out of being from there and so this was very relatable to the room. Equally, his visual hair gag is right in front of the audience and so that hits home hard, too. Smith had a fast delivery and with the good links between topics, his set felt almost seamless and he built up no end of impetus in what was a storming performance. He narrowly beat out Carr to win the night.

Scott Liversidge

Liversidge was the most alternative of the acts on the bill and this was refreshing in itself. He was also the only one that used a bit of tech, which opened his show with a pre-recorded apology, which he then joined in with and developed further. He asked the audience to give him a cheer if they liked trans, which got a huge cheer which was superb and he built on that with a joke that he labelled as being from 2016, which puzzled me. I wasn’t sure if that was a slip of the tongue or not, as I couldn’t see much comedy value in giving it last years date. From this he began a routine featuring a Rubik’s cube. Unfortunately and unfairly Liversidge was gonged before we got to the end of that. Whilst he might have benefited by being more punchy with his material for the gong, I felt that Liversidge was definitely fascinating enough to be kept on. I had the feeling that something interesting was building up. I hope to see him again.

Arron Jones

Only on his second comedy gig, Jones had a splendid night. His material was good and he made the most of it, earning a nice laughter break. The short gags broke up his set in a very nice and refreshing way and he had an air of originality about him. This was a well thought out set. It was nice to see that he was confident enough to risk using a ukulele during his final minute. Jones was third tonight, but on a different night he may well have won. This was an impressive set.

Donny Otemod (Mark Richardson)

Otemod was our only character act of the night, coming onto the stage with flat cap, dickie bow, waistcoat and shorts. Hamming up his Barnsley accent and adding a slight impediment, he came over as a deliberately odd character. Biggins was a good line, but not a lot of what he said was hugely funny; however, the audience bought into it up until the final vote. This was a fun set, but one which I think lost the room shortly after the second vote.

Andrew Marsh

Marsh suffered badly from the running order. Going on after thirteen other acts really hurt his night. He opened with a bit of audience participation and then a routine about party games, but the room had reached a tipping point and he was voted off. Should Marsh have gone on earlier he would have done better as he wasn’t a bad act.

Kayal Gong Show – Aggy Fox, Dale Harris, Kathryn Mather, Jem Braithwaite, Ben Bridgeman, Jo Fletcher-Cross, Pete Nash, Claudio Ene, Lorna Pritchard, Reuben Hunter, Spring Day, Emily Baum, Sal Drummond, Joe Brooks, Joanne Frank

Tonight I was at the Kayal for the Funhouse gong show. This was a night that was sold out, nearly over sold out, as tables had to be removed from the room and even with extra chairs brought in, it was still difficult to stand and not to be in someone’s way. There were fifteen acts on the bill, mostly from down south and usually a few of these will drop out, but instead, all turned up, which added to just how busy the room was. The format was 4 – 7 – 4 and the judges were pretty bloodthirsty in the first section. Mike had a lovely time chatting to a metal head sat at the front and to Jamie who was in transport, which led nicely into a spot of material for him. Very swiftly the room was ready for the first act.

Aggy Fox

Aggy, wearing a LA Raiders shirt, opened. It’s unusual to see someone wearing team colours at a gig, because there is always a good chance that someone will shout out abuse because they support a different team, but Aggy escaped this. Instead he spent his time talking about being a new parent and about other, more ambitious parents who post pics on facebook of their kids with extravagant claims. Aggy is a new act and probably not aware that this topic has been done a lot of times, so it was a shame he was voted off early. He wasn’t doing great, but he did deserve to at least get to the second vote.

Dale Harris

Harris was next up and he opened well, but his set was like a wedding with something new, something borrowed and something blue. His Weinstein joke was pretty much bang up to date, people’s reactions to him telling them he was going to do comedy had definite shades of Monkhouse and the McCann joke was pretty near the knuckle. So much so that I think he managed to alienate a judge who gave him red every chance she had. A lot of his material had a familiar feel to it, which was a shame as he had a confident and buoyant presence. Harris made it through to the final vote, where he went off.

Kathyrn Mather

Mather was a good act who was unfairly gonged off at the final hurdle. Referencing the Somme was something that could have gone either way on Armistice Sunday, but she got away with it, halfway was a strong line and tenuous sympathy links was a nice concept that perhaps needed a bit more to it, but it was still good and her comments about telling people she was going to do comedy earned her applause, as did her acting out the desert scene. Mather held the room very nicely and always looked plausible. Unfortunately she lost a bit of energy with the God routine just as the final vote came up and she was gonged at the last chance which was a raw deal for her, as I liked what I saw. It was perhaps some consolation to her that the judges were booed for their surprising decision. Mather is an act I’d like to see more of.

Jem Braithwaite

Sometimes it can take 100 gigs before an act finds their comedy voice, but Braithwaite has found his already. Although he is still very new and is not well known, he has already been nominated for Best Newcomer in the Midlands Comedy Awards. Tonight he received a laugh for his opening line and never really looked back. He made good use of his voice, lowering and raising it to add emphasis, which was in contrast to a lot of the acts tonight, who were tonally banal. His deliberately odd stage persona, cleverly offbeat jokes and unexpected reveals sent him through to the final. For his final minute he gave the room a few quick jokes and ran a much more experienced act close, emerging as the runner up.

Ben Bridgeman

Bridgeman was a confident act whose relaxed delivery won the room over quickly. He used a fair bit of physical comedy in his delivery to bring his material to life and received good laughs for it, especially dicks and fists. His was an entertaining set and he made the final, where he went with new material from when he had just gone outside to check on his car sitting dog and he ran out of time before he finished what he was saying.

Jo Fletcher-Cross

Living in Essex, but from Glasgow originally, Fletcher-Cross had a bit of a mixed night. She began by talking about phone calls and parents, which was competent, but not inspired. However, her set came to life when she moved onto Glasgow, life expectancy and weddings. This impressed the room enough for her to make the final where she started what sounded like a splendid routine, which really should have been in the first five minutes, as it had a lot of potential and there was no way she would be able to rush through it in 1 minute. Naturally she ran out of time before she reached the end of the routine.

Pete Nash

Nash was something of an oddity and I’m not sure what he was trying to achieve. It was hard to tell whether he was a fairly experienced act trying something totally new, or if it was anti-comedy that went over everyone’s head, or if he was attempting a character act that was a very bad and hack comedian. He began by a tiny bit of opera specially laid on  for the Midlands, just 2 lines of it, before he started chatting about other things, constantly interspersing what he was talking about by saying hacky comments, like live the dream! This amused the acts, but not many others. The audience couldn’t make head nor tail of most of it and at the first vote he was swiftly voted off. Although this was unfunny and something of a trial to watch, with laughs coming from how awkward it was, Nash did it with vigour and was at least interesting in doing so.

Claudio Ene

There are some acts who have charisma and personal magnetism, effortlessly holding a room and then there are those who seem to suck all of the energy out of a venue. Ene was one of these and even he looked bored as he performed. His material concerned a wildlife documentary and even on a read through of it I’m not sure I’d be able to spot the comedy potential in it. As soon as possible Ene was unanimously voted off. From here, though, the only way is up.

Lorna Pritchard

Pritchard held the room despite her material not being the strongest. The compliment from her boyfriend and ring were both nice, but fancy dress was really just lookalikes under a different guise and not a lot of what she was saying really stood out. People will remember there was a comedian who looked like Queen Elizabeth, but I don’t think they’ll remember much else she said. However, Pritchard did enough to make the final, where she compared her achievements to those of Jesus, but chose to go down the facebook friends route, rather than number of twitter followers that most other comedians use.

Reuben Hunter

Hunter showed promise. He is a chap with an interesting back story: born in Cornwall, miner in the Outback and now living on a narrow boat in Oxford (not all of which made it into his set) and I think that with consistent gigging, he’ll do fine. He opened well, the pace slowed a bit on fly but not disastrously so, the tattoo label was great, and marriage got a huge laugh, even if he did signpost the gag (if he could mask the reveal, then this would land twice as hard). For the final, Hunter split his time between a hack you are what you eat gag (I was surprised by this, as I’m positive he has far better jokes) and an anal joke that had a lovely twist and the basis of a small routine in it. I’d like to see Hunter again, as he has potential.

Spring Day

It’s odd seeing an experienced act doing a gong show and someone who was headlining at the Tokyo Comedy Store as long back as 2002 is certainly an unusual entrant. Day is an American who has cerebral palsy and unlike some disabled acts I’ve seen, she is a comic with a disability, rather than a disabled comic. The difference between the two is that whilst she talks about being disabled, not everything comes back to it. She’d be funny even if she never spoke about her disability. There was the feel of a proper set here that had just been cut down to a five minute show reel and it was very entertaining. The material and delivery were spot on and she romped through to the final, where after being run close by Braithwaite, she was the winner of the night.

Emily Baum

Baum has recently returned to comedy after a long break and tonight despite a few good jokes, she really needed more on both the delivery and material front to stand out. Baum has a dry delivery, which saw her nicely through her opening routine based around sexuality. This was good routine and the delivery chimed nicely with it. However, when discussing her daughter, the material wasn’t really punchy enough and here her slow dry delivery failed to give it the lift it needed. I’m sure she’ll be back and stronger, too, though.

Sal Drummond

Drummond didn’t have a sparkling night. The gaps between her saying anything funny were too long and she wasn’t helped by her habit of pausing for a few seconds every now and again. This really wreaked havoc with her building any kind of momentum and she failed to gain much traction with the audience. If she were to try again with a more energetic delivery and say more that was funny, quicker, then she would do better.

Joe Brooks

Brooks was another act who failed to make any kind of connect with the room. He turned up, spoke for a couple of minutes, deadened the atmosphere and was then gonged off at the first vote.

Joanne Frank

During Frank’s set, one of the speakers made a peculiar vibrating noise, which I’ve never seen before, but luckily this didn’t affect her set, which received good laughs throughout. Frank delivered her set leaning forwards into the audience in a dramatic fashion, almost as if it were a Shakespearean soliloquy. This made for a nice change and the audience bought into it, laughing consistently. There were a fair few nice lines in this set and the material had been well thought out. Frank made it through to the final, where she was a good third. I enjoyed this monologue over five minutes, but I think in a longer set it may become too much of a good thing and may need breaking up a bit.

Lacehouse – Ant Dewson

My final show of the festival was a double header show, with Stevie Gray and Ant Dewson. I’ve seen Gray plenty of times (if you haven’t I’d recommend that you do), but this was the first time I’d seen Dewson.

There was a huge contrast in styles. Gray is dynamic and is very happy to make forays into the audience, whereas Dewson is low energy and quiet. He spent his time sat at a keyboard with a music book half hiding his face and in a larger room, I can imagine that making it tricky for him to connect with the audience. Dewson is a musical act and as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of musical comedy, but luckily for him, the audience was. Dewson has a good voice which helped him to sell the songs. Out of these, two stood out. One featured an ex star of Channel 4, which was a lovely little idea, but it only really needed one verse, as once you got the idea the rest was a bit of overkill. The other was his closing number which was a huge hit with the audience. There was a singalong, but as I’ve got a voice that can’t carry a tune I didn’t join in.

This show wasn’t my cup of tea, but the rest of the room enjoyed it. I’d like to see more of a rebalancing towards humour, as it was song following song and it would have been more my thing if there had been some routines in between them. This review sounds pretty negative, but in truth I was the only person in the room who wasn’t into it.

The Parapod – live

Tonight I was in Nottingham to see my final two shows of the comedy festival, both conveniently at the Lacehouse, which is located pretty much equidistant from anywhere reasonable to park. There is a NCP car park next door, but after getting badly stung when I’ve parked there before (it cost me more to park than to see the show that night), I elected to walk for fifteen minutes instead. I arrived early, but the room was already very full, with emergency chairs coming into play. There were so many people present it probably made it tricky for both Barry and Ian to make it to the stage. There were quite a few prominent figures present, such as Judi, Simon Caine, Helen and Alex plus our host, Stevie Gray who in rather a nice touch was wearing a Ghostbusters top specially.

We began with Boldsworth taking to the stage and explaining the tale behind how the show came to be on there. This was then followed by a splendid story concerning a row he overheard when stood outside a venue (I think everyone would have loved to have known what happened with that couple after he had advised the lady). This was followed by Boldsworth telling the room how he felt that Barry’s choice of wording in the brochure may possibly have given a certain impression of what the show was about. He then offered the room a choice; they could either listen to them both do a comedy set each, or they could do The Parapod, a question with a very obvious and unanimous answer. At this Barry Dodds made his way to the stage and the show began properly.

Boldsworth and Dodds work well together. One is a sceptic and the other an uncritical believer in the paranormal and the Parapod revolves around Barry talking about ghosts and other such mysteries and Ian demolishing them through logic and sarcasm. This theme was very much in evidence tonight. I’m not sure which one of the two has the most patience. I don’t think anyone has ever accused Dodds of being over prepared and this must have driven Boldsworth up the wall when they were recording the episodes. On the other hand, Dodds has probably had enough insults and sarcastic comments from Ian to last several lifetimes. Watching Boldsworth spend the hour teasing the very good natured Dodds was a lot of fun, as none of it was nasty. Spender was definitely a niche reference, though and telling the arachnophobic Dodds that there was a spider was beautiful. At this point it felt more like an evening with, rather than a show as such, but it was no less enjoyable for it. I’d happily pay good money just to watch these two bounce off of each other.

Barry opened with the tale of a local haunting; a pub with a small boat in it where anyone who touches it dies. A chap sat on the front row queried the timescale, which as Ian pointed out, if it takes 100 years or so, it is hardly a mystery. Barry countered this by discussing a journalist and when her credentials were questioned, his unarguable reply was that she was ‘proper sound’. This was followed by the paranormal story of Gef the Talking Mongoose, which was a big story in the 1930s. There was then a question and answer session, with the audience asking questions from how they met, to whether their beliefs had changed as a result of what they have learnt. This was good fun. The closing section was the ritual Charlie, Charlie, with Corben coming to the stage to act as an independent adjudicator to see that it was above board. Owing to Barry getting the wrong end of the stick, he did most of this in what he was hoping would pass as a Mexican accent.

The audience were all either huge fans of the Parapod podcast, or were with someone who was, but it was surprising just how well informed they were about the show. Little sections that both comedians were now unfamiliar with were well known to most of the audience and people were able to shout out which episode of which series certain things had occurred on. This was a very loyal fan base and people had travelled a long way to see them. There is a parapod film coming out, which should be excellent and there was a lot of talk about various incidents that occurred whilst filming. This was both interesting and funny and I really hope that they do a tour to promote the film, as I can see it doing well.

This was a lovely show, that had a very warm atmosphere and there was a heck of a lot of adoration for the pair – it’s possibly the first time I’ve seen people getting autographs. It was very funny and I had a great time.

Canal House – Rob Kemp – The Elvis Dead

Back in May I went to Derby to see a gloriously bonkers idea of a show called The Elvis Dead and it was superb. I commented in my review back then that I’d be surprised if Rob Kemp didn’t have a cult hit on his hands and I was spot on. People were queueing around the block to see it and this became THE must see show of the festival. I elected to see it again tonight because I was interested in seeing how it had changed over the months and also because it is a ruddy funny show.

Canal House was pretty much chockablock with people to see it and there were a lot of familiar faces present. I loved the thrill of anticipation that was in the air when Kemp took to the stage, wearing an improved costume. He began by explaining the concept, which didn’t take long and his manner of doing so instantly endeared him to the audience. Kemp is probably the best liked chap on the midland’s comedy circuit and him standing there with a big knowing grin on his face looking at the room as if to say ‘yes, I know it is ludicrous, but there you go’ went down a treat.

The show concerns the film the Evil Dead 2 retold through some very smartly modified Elvis songs and that is simple enough. The genius partly comes from imagining this idea in the first place and from Rob’s sheer commitment to it. For the duration of the show, he lives the role, although on the occasion when he swaps the Mississippi twang of Elvis for his native Brummie accent when he breaks the fourth wall it brought the house down.

This is a show that had the audience performing the backing vocals, clapping and stamping their feet in time to some classics. It is quite a visual show and if the lights are angled towards the screen this can make it tricky to see the relevant sections of the film and anyone sat at the back would miss Rob rolling around like a man possessed, but even with that he is vocal in making it clear what is occurring. There were some beautiful moments during this show, such as Rob making a quick recovery when the mic lead detached, his forays into the audience, the alternative hi 5 and when Banksie waved his lighter during one of the crooning numbers, which prompted a wonderfully fast quip in response from Kemp.

This is a magnificent show and I can understand why merchandise will soon be available.

https://www.redbubble.com/people/theelvisdead

The Ned Ludd – Laura Monmoth – LGBTQZX

Tonight I was at the Ned Ludd to see Laura Monmoth’s LGBTQZX as part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival. Numbers weren’t huge, but those present more than made up for it with their enthusiasm. Monmoth opened with a warning about the show being niche, which it is and it isn’t. Monmoth keeps it accessible and explains things well, but if you are into Spectrum games you will get a lot more out of it, but frankly this could be said for most shows that have a particular appeal.

The theme of the show is Laura’s life and the power to change, demonstrated through the medium of Spectrum games and this makes for one heck of a charming concept. Monmoth had a good early joke about what some people may or may not have noticed, but I think that to get the most from it she should have broadened her accent a lot more. The ages gag ran nicely and it was good to see it returned to; although the red on orange must have made it tricky if anyone was sat far away from the screen.

There were a lot of lovely moments in this show. The c**** gallery was bang up to date, which was really appreciated by the audience; the tale about names was good and ‘the worst joke in the show’ was actually rather splendid. As anyone who longingly looked at the cover of a spectrum game and then discovered just how piss-poor the actual game was will know, a lot of computing then was about expectations exceeding reality and this show had some great comments about that and I enjoyed the improvements to reality immensely.

There were a few things that I thought might have been titivated for greater impact – the stalactites could perhaps have been glammed up for a quick visual gag, as could an added disapproving Cilla Black staring at the blind date scene. These are minor points, though. There were two huge standout moments in the show: The final game that wrapped everything up and provided callbacks galore – this was splendid, and the karaoke. This was very well thought out, but might be a bit too much of a good thing for pace reasons, perhaps just the first verse and chorus would be enough.

This show had tons of creativity behind it and it was delivered with verve. Uniquely for a show, there are three ways in which it can be developed. The LGBTQ side can be expanded to tap into that market, the more accessible sections can work as a good section in itself, but above all the Spectrum material would go down wonders at retro gaming conventions. There is a lot of love for the Spectrum and these conventions will provide a ready made audience already there who will get every niche joke and obscure reference. I can imagine Monmoth doing extremely well with that. This is a show that is well worth seeing and should be seen by more people.

NCF Comedian of the Year – Morgan Rees, Phil Yates, Sarah Johnson, Jamie Hutchinson, Ross Smith, Simon Lomas – bonus tens, Ben Cohen and Callum Oakley – Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was back at the Canal House for the NCF comedian of the year contest. The venue was absolutely packed out with seats full and thirty people or so stood at the back and the atmosphere was terrific. There were seven judges who all had to list their top three and an audience clap vote whilst the acts were sent downstairs. There were six acts of whom Lomas was the obvious favourite, but tonight the vote was closer than one perhaps might have expected. Whilst the votes were counted there were bonus ten spots from Ben Cohen and Callum Oakley. Sounds were in the capable hands of Harry Sanders and the MC was Steff Todd.

Steff Todd (MC)

Todd mixed material with a bit of banter, but as usual she did more material than room work. I wasn’t surprised by this, as her material is strong and the drink related gags lend themselves well to leading questions, as does twitter – usually, anyway, except that tonight she had a front row who were non-tweeters, which she handled with charm. Todd is a very likeable presence and she has this endearing habit of occasionally looking left and right with her eyes after saying something slightly questionable, almost as if she’s checking with the audience that it is alright and this is a great subtle touch. I was pleased to see her do the rules and also to fill the empty seats on the front row that had somehow been missed by all of the folk stood at the back of the room. It might have perhaps been better if Todd hadn’t referenced the odd thing that didn’t seem to go well, as whilst a couple of comments can help, I thought she may have overdone it a tad, but that’s not the end of the world. I’d also like to see a little bit more structure to her compering, but this is more me being picky than it being anything that affected the night. Todd held the room well, kept everything on track and it’s always a joy to see her at work.

Morgan Rees

Our opening act was Morgan Rees, who has been having a splendid year so far and if not perhaps quite a breakthrough year, at least one that has put him on the radar of a lot of people. There is a nice solidity to Rees and this transmits itself to the audience who gave him their confidence fairly quickly. A lot of this set was new to me and I was impressed by it. Ditto was great as was when he paused, characters was strong and I really liked his visual action on explaining sequel. This was a very powerful set and when it came to the audience vote he received a lot of support, which for an opening act was very much to his credit.

Phil Yates

I’m not sure where Yates was stood when Todd called his name, but it seemed to take him an age to get to the stage and the applause almost ended up being about 12′ too short. There was a lot to like in Yates’ set. He was clever in getting in a callback to Todd’s compering (between jobs) and his deadpan persona worked well. He’s not yet the finished article, being fairly inexperienced in comparison to most of the acts in the contest, but he did well and picked up a lot of applause in the audience clap vote. The visual tea towel gag was fun, but probably tricky for 70% of the room to see and he may be better with an A3 flip board or someone holding his props as he looked very awkward holding them. It would have been nice to see a big closing routine, but I think he ran up to his time limit before he got chance. I’d like to see how Yates improves with regular gigs.

Sarah Johnson

I’ve a feeling that Johnson may have under ran her spot as she seemed to finish a touch early after going through her set at a fair clip. The material concerned foos and deconstructing a porn film. There were some good lines in this, but also a few that didn’t really add a lot. If she were to concentrate on the 4-5 lines that got really good laughs and edit the routine down into those vignettes then I think the routine would be more pacey and funnier, with a lot of concentrated laughter. As it was Johnson got laughs and her performance was lively.

Jamie Hutchinson

We resumed after the intermission with Jamie Hutchinson who although he didn’t win, possibly had the best gig of the night. Hutchinson has great vocal projection, which combined with his slightly aggressive tone and his new staccato delivery paid a huge dividend in laughs. This was a performance that had everyone sat up paying attention and is a big improvement from when I last saw him and he was good then. I think we can all say that he has literally found his comedy voice. It was great hearing the lass sat behind me howling with laughter throughout his set. The dating routine was strong, but the twist on it was superb, earning one of the few applause breaks of the night. This was a most impressive performance and Hutchinson was very well supported by the crowd clap vote. Although he was runner up, Hutchinson did push Lomas and with a slightly different running order he may well have took the trophy.

Ross Smith

I saw Smith about a year ago where he had had a great night at a gong show, being the most interesting of the acts on the bill. In the last year he has come on no end and tonight he gave a great performance. He opened with a deliberately drawn out joke, that could have been risky, but which paid off nicely. This also served to establish his persona with the room. From here he went into a very well constructed set, with a lot of well thought out jokes. This was a performance that showed a lot of intelligence behind how it all came together and I’d have liked to have seen more of him. There were some nice surprises on the reveals and I was very pleased with how he handled a single overenthusiastic person clapping at a surprising moment. Although Ross didn’t win, this was a very promising performance and he’s obviously someone to watch.

Simon Lomas

We finished the contest part of the proceedings with Simon Lomas who was the cognoscenti’s favourite to win. It’s getting hard to write reviews about Lomas as every time I see him he smashes the gig and I hate to repeat myself. Although not all of the room were with him immediately, within two jokes he had them in the palm of his hand and then he proceeded to smash it. Lomas won the trophy, plus the beer, which he sportingly shared out.

Whilst the votes were counted we had two bonus ten spots.

Ben Cohen

Cohen was something of a curate’s egg. His material was good. His brother jokes were nice and the throwaway lines were all decent. I really enjoyed his material. His delivery was smooth, without any erms and there weren’t any wasted words, either. However, his delivery was all in the same tone and this didn’t really sell what he was saying. If anything, it made it difficult to stay focussed on his voice and to not zone out from it. This was a huge shame, as what he was saying was worth listening to. With a greater vocal range this problem should be negated and he would be a stronger act.

Callum Oakley

It’s been a while since I last saw Oakley and he’s been having a great year. Tonight he gave a great performance. His delivery was bright and bubbly and served to bring everyone into it and as if that wasn’t enough, his big grin really helped to reinforce the fact that we were all there having a good time together. His material was strong and I really enjoyed the nightclub routine. The look on his face when delivering the final line was superb. The only thing I wasn’t too pleased with was the inclusion of something similar to, ‘because it’s going really well’, as too many other comics use that and I think Oakley is more creative than that. This was a cracking set and I can easily see why he’s on the way up.

NCF – Pat Monahan- Rewind Selector 90’s and Tom Wrigglesworth

Tonight I took my folks to the Canal House to see two shows at the Nottingham Comedy Festival – Pat Monahan’s Rewind Selector 90’s and Tom Wrigglesworth. I wasn’t optimistic about getting home on time. Despite the differences in style, there were quite a few similarities between the shows, most notably how easily they both digressed from the structure and also how much fun it was when this happened. Another thing was that they both had a great night.

Pat Monahan– Rewind Selector 90’s

At first there wasn’t a huge audience for Monahan, which was surprising, but owing to a fair number of late comers, when I turned around to look at an Iranian chap whom Pat was talking to I discovered that the room was now pretty full. This was nice to see and it helped to create a good atmosphere.

Monahan is famed for his audience work and this formed the meat of his show. He was fortunate to discover a mature couple sat on the 2nd row who were on their 2nd date. This prompted a big game of guess the dating app, which involved the audience shouting out suggestions over a five minute period, whilst Pat weaved gags into their situation. My personal favourite was carbondating.com, which was as funny as it was fake. Monahan used this couple well, returning to them often and making them a large part of the show.

Monahan is certainly a people person. He is friendly, affable and seems to have an innate sense of how far he can push things, stopping well before anyone is offended. This partly explains why so many fans will regularly attend his shows. Another aspect is just how quick witted Monahan is. He’s seldom left grasping for a word and he has a great instinct for finding the funny in any given exchange. The theme of the show was the 1990s, but beyond bum bags, addictions and vegans, we never really got into it, but with Pat, this is to be expected and it is one of the joys of seeing him. He’ll start on a topic, talk to someone and then go off on 20 different tangents and it’s that entertaining only someone churlish would object.

This was a show that had a wonderfully communal feel to it. Everyone ended up involved in some way, either through direct interaction with Pat, or through showing hands and I think it was all the better for it. This was a show with a lot of charm that left everyone’s evening brighter than it had been. You certainly couldn’t argue about not having received value for money, either, as Monahan happily continued until the house lights went on to announce he was up to the end of his slot.

Tom Wrigglesworth

Wrigglesworth is a talented wordsmith who whilst he can take a while on the set ups, is a sheer joy to listen to owing to his language skills. He began tonight’s gig by reminiscing about the last Nottingham Comedy Festival, where he had had the joy of a gobby arsehole being sat on the front row; something that was happily absent from this show. His topics included twins, printers, dishwashers, elderberry wine and smoke alarms. An eclectic mix, to be sure, but the show was all the better for this, as his powerful descriptions and offbeat, but logical wrestling with them provided a lot of laughs.

Wrigglesworth has a smooth and conversational delivery that held the room totally. Unusually for an act with such a vivid use of language he was extremely happy to digress from what he was saying. Normally when someone has spent a lot of time getting just the right word to gain the maximum laugh they will stick to the script and avoid audience interaction like the plague, but Wrigglesworth was different. He was pleased to go off on the tangents that suggested themselves from what members of the audience had to say and when this happened it was almost as if we could hear him thinking aloud as he worked through the logic of the new facts. This always came up trumps with a laugh.

There were some superb lines in this show and I thought Wrigglesworth was very hard done to in not getting a lot of applause breaks. September deserved one and the tale of the demi-Johns perhaps should have had a standing ovation. However, owing to practical reasons this was impossible – simply put, everyone was busy pissing themselves laughing when he announced the fate of the first three. I was laughing so hard my sides were hurting and my dad was giving me a funny look. I did initially think that the section about the smoke alarm was a digression too far, but it all tied up very well in the end.

The closing joke worked well, but didn’t get the huge laugh that Wrigglesworth was expecting and upon him mentioning that, a chap sat on the front row workshopped it for him, giving a new suggestion. Following a glorious digression about the type of slate being used on an extension (funnier than you’d have believed possible) Tom then ended the show with a new ad libbed closing routine that tied up the loose ends and brought the newly suggested idea into play. This was a magnificent show.