The Saracen’s Head – James Dowdeswell, Aaron Simmonds, Al Lubel and Noel James

Tonight I was in Southwell at the Saracen’s Head for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a cracking gig made all the more sweeter by being so close to home. Mike had a great time compering in his home village, especially chatting to a family who had named their (now grown up) children, Sissy, Cash and Clemmy. The story of Mike’s broken ankle picked up a lot of laughs, as did him using his crutches to point at people.

James Dowdeswell

With his gentle Somerset accent, smooth delivery and colourful descriptions, Dowdeswell gave the room a strong opening set. He began by referencing his lazy eye and followed this with enough jokes about it to get a good routine out of it. The fact that he would talk directly to certain members of the audience helped to bring people onboard. I especially enjoyed his depiction of his parents’ pub and the characters who drink in it. Perhaps because he has spent time in a village, Dowdeswell seemed to have a greater appreciation of the ins and outs of Southwell than many other acts and this helped him in pitching his material. The story of the mugging was delightful, with a lot of good lines, although I may be in the minority in preferring that to the rapping that he did to close. The only thing that struck me as odd about this set was when he referred to the group of electricians who worked for the national grid, who were sat on the second row, as working for the gas board , but this didn’t make much of a difference. This was a clean set that everyone could enjoy.

Aaron Simmonds

Simmonds had a smashing night. He opened with a reference to Mike being on crutches, immediately announcing that he was the second most disabled act of the night, which gained him a big round of applause and the immediate confidence of the audience. He never let up from this, as he began a string of strong routines that concerned a date gone awry, his girlfriend and an encounter with her father. This was a different set to what I saw in Wollaton a few months ago and it is greatly to Simmonds’ credit that he has so much first class material. He’s plainly someone to watch for the future. The delivery was good too (great pause on lied), although he did have a slight habit of saying right a few times, but this smoothed itself out after the first few minutes. I was impressed with how well everything in the set came together as a whole. Simmonds got three lots of applause and I’d have happily liked to have seen him on stage for longer.

Al Lubel

I saw Lubel a few months ago in Derby, where he had opened by singing. Tonight he was more conventional in his opening and I think that he had read the room and changed the tone of his set as a sensible response, making it slightly less surreal. Lubel’s material has an impeccable logic to it and he reminds me of Dave Allen in his deconstruction of life. It was interesting to hear people sat near me saying things like, ‘that is so true!’ The homeless material was great, although I did wonder if there was a slight slip, as he gave the room the opening line to his routine about his name and then immediately changed direction and resumed with a bit more about homelessness before resuming talking about his name. The routine about his name was one that built up a lot of impetus, although I preferred his material about his days as a lawyer, as this was wonderfully funny as well as snappier. Lubel closed with a few cracking jokes about flying which got a big round of applause.

Noel James

James had a very good night. His style is a lot of short jokes and puns delivered quickly, but with enough on every topic to give him a whole routine on each. This made for a powerful style performance and if a particular joke wasn’t for you, then another one would be coming along in a few seconds. I’d hate to hazard a guess at how many individual gags there were in this set, but the number was extremely high. Some you might be able to guess, a few were groaners, but most were clever and well thought out. Whilst the odd joke didn’t please someone, there wasn’t anything that pleased no one and as a result there was consistent laughter throughout the set. The impressions were fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed his non use of the guitar. That was creative, surreal and remarkably funny. This was a performance that the audience really bought into.

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Canal House – Phil Alexander, Chelsea Birkby, Alex Farrow, Joe Melton, Kushai Agrawal, Luke Adams, Sam Moult, Elliot Wengler and Thomas Green (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House in Nottingham for the famous NCF £1 night. This is a new act/new material night that consistently gets a big audience in. 110, this evening, with Katie and Sarah having to turn people away when it reached capacity.

Thomas Green (MC)

I massively rate Green as both an act and a compere and seeing him on the bill was a nice little bonus. He had a great night as well, getting a lot of laughs for both audience work and material. I thought that he struck a good balance between both and it was very pleasing to see him helping out the acts in the middle section, which with the exception of Farrow, were all relatively new, by doing that little bit more to give them a boost. The people sat in the first couple of rows all seemed to be doctors, nurses, lawyers and teachers. As a former teacher, with parents in the medical profession and material on both, this was a gift to Green who made the most of it. I did think that he showed great restraint when dealing with the reiki holistic healer, though, as a lot of compere’s would have gone to town on her. Green was fairly sweary tonight, but he had read the room well and they responded well to this. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Green in action. 

Green is appearing in the Nottingham Festival here.

Phil Alexander

Our opening act was the musical comedian, Phil Alexander, who came to the stage carrying a guitar. He began by spending most of his first minute in explaining that the audience could shout cleaner or ruder to determine the level of his next song. This was a decent gimmick, but it did eat up time that he could have made more of. Alexander gave us three songs. These were alright, they had some decent lines in them, but I didn’t think they were that punchy. All of them were fairly long and if they had been shorter they would have made the same point and gotten laughs quicker. Jonny Awsum, one of the best practitioners of this style scarcely has a song that takes more than a minute and it works all the better for it. Also, Alexander would have benefited from having something funny to say between the songs, as this was really under-exploited and his performance came over more as a musician with some amusing songs, than as an actual comedian. Despite a couple of mishaps with the guitar and words, Alexander was a proficient musician with a good voice and he was pleasant enough company, if not, at present, especially funny.

Chelsea Birkby

Next was Birkby, who announced at the top of her set what it would contain. This was ok, but being a bit picky, I’d rather see that time used for something funny, rather than a contents page, unless a joke can be made out of it, as it is dead time otherwise. Birkby’s material wasn’t all relatable. Rappers and rap in general, didn’t go down that well; whereas in contrast, the more tangible elements did very well indeed. I don’t think many people in the audience had heard of a rapper called Pitbull, but as soon as she moved onto more general jokes concerning him, such as googling him and then workplace disputes, everyone could (and did) get on board. Birkby’s stage persona was that of someone a bit nervous and she would raise her voice to emphasise things and this didn’t really sell what she was saying as well as what it could. I think with a bit of a tweak to the delivery she would do better.

Alex Farrow

Farrow gave the audience the stand out set of the night. He crammed a lot into ten minutes or so. He had kept his eyes open since getting there and his wits about him and so he was able to make some funny and relatable comments about the room and mention audience members by name. It was nice to see someone whom you didn’t feel was following a set script. This was great, it emphasised that this was live comedy and it certainly got everyone’s attention. The material was intelligently written and was strong. American English was funny in short order, without dragging the idea out unduly and the tale of the school book built nicely, with the prop being a nice addition to it. I really enjoyed this set, apart from the line about laughing and learning, which is overused by acts. This was a very impressive set and I think I’ll be seeing a lot more of Farrow in the coming years.

Joe Melton

This was 17 year old Melton’s fourth gig and it didn’t go that badly. The material about imagining the audience naked wasn’t that strong, but it did alright. More promising was his routine about Englishness. This had more depth to it and it felt more distinctive. When mentioning the Australians it would have perhaps been nice if he could have tied that in to our compere, Thomas Green, who is Australian, but things like that will come with time. Melton has a base from which to build.

Kushai Agrawal

From India, living in Germany and with an accent that fluctuated between both with a bit of American thrown in, Agrawal wasn’t on the bill. Instead he had turned up to see the show and gotten chatting to the acts, talking about how he’d always wanted to have a go at comedy. In response, Helen had done him a kindness and had given him a bit of stage time. Dressed in a suit, Agrawal didn’t look out of place on stage and with a big build up from Green, the audience were totally behind him. In a film, this would have ended with him smashing it. However, this is reality and what we got was three jokes that could have been told in a minute or so that somehow managed to fill five minutes. It was nice that Agrawal got to fulfil an ambition and it was very good that he was given chance and I don’t know many people who could go on stage relatively unprepared for the first time ever and be outstanding, but it did seem a long five minutes.

Luke Adams

Closing the middle section was Adams. He began with double and triple negatives, which was a good premise that he might have been able to make more of. The later callback to it was very nice, though. The story of a mugging was ok, but needed more to make it really work as material. As it was, it sounded more like an anecdote that someone would relay at work when asked what they’d been up to last night. With a bit of work on the delivery and some more work on that tale, Adams will do better. He got laughs, but has a bit more to do, which as a fairly new act is fair enough.

Sam Moult

We began the final section with Sam Moult, who was stepping in at very short notice to replace an act who had dropped out. Moult was working with some new material. Some of this was in his notebook, which is fine and other parts were so new, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he had thought about them whilst having his tea, which again isn’t a problem. Moult has a good confident stage presence and he dealt well with the ups and downs of how the material fared. As new material, it would be unrealistic to expect it all to be golden, but there were definitely a few nuggets there. Fish and chips has a certain amount of mileage (whale and the gags that went with that were very good), but the real gold is with following pornstars on social media. I think he can craft something that becomes a standout routine with that. This was a fun set that promises a lot more for the future.

Sam Moult is appearing twice in the Nottingham Comedy Festival, here and here.

Elliot Wengler

Wengler has improved since I last saw him. Tonight he was more confident, with better material and a sharper delivery. He began well by managing to extricate himself from a conversation about birthdays and his native High Wycombe which had come about following his query about whether anyone else in the room was from there. He probably didn’t need to ask the question in the first place, but to be fair it was still impressive how he managed to avoid getting bogged down. Primark was a nicely relatable topic that everyone was able to follow and the flip flop was a good piece of material. Hangers was ok (nice to see a prop, even if only the first few rows got the full advantage of seeing it used), but it probably ate up more time than the routine deserved, even if it was delivered with passion. Pokemon was particularly good and with a few exceptions, it’s not an area that is spoken about by many comedians, so it felt fresh. This was an improved performance.

Elliot Wengler is appearing n the Nottingham Comedy Festival here

Lyric Rooms – Jonny Awsum, Cally Beaton, Ryan McDonnell and Andrew Bird

Tonight I was at the Lyric Rooms in Ashby for the Funhouse Comedy night. This was a sold out show, which was lovely to see. Mike opened his compering with much waving of his crutches and addressing how he came to have a broken ankle, which went down well with everyone. In a nice touch some of the acts shook his crutch instead of his hand before taking to the stage. Owing to him being familiar with so many people in the audience, it was tricky for Mike to find someone whom he hadn’t spoken to before, but he found a plasterer and had some fun with him before bringing our opening act onto the stage.

Jonny Awsum

The last time I had seen Awsum in Ashby he had given the room a tiptop time by bringing ‘Fake Ray’ onto the stage. This was a very much of the moment event and it brought the house down. I was hoping that ‘Fake Ray’ would have been in the audience for another duet, but sadly it was not to be. Jonny did spot a Harry Kane lookalike and had a quick chat with him before beginning with his opening song. This was a great little number that eased everyone into getting involved with the singing. There were some great comedy songs in this set, with the extra work song and the one about his son both being very funny. Sexy noises was a real crowd pleaser, though, and this is the one that I think everyone will have in their head tomorrow morning. This was a high energy and lively opening to the show from a very strong act.

Cally Beaton

Beaton, as a new act to this gig, had created a good impression before going on stage by asking pertinent questions about the venue and the audience. This was a nicely professional touch, as it really jars when an act mispronounces a town name, or asks something that everyone knows the answer to because the compere has already spoken about it. Beaton began her set well, too, by making a joke out of shaking Mike by the crutch when she got onto the stage. From here she carried on the good work, delivering her material in a relaxed manner, with one arm resting on the mic stand. Cally was quietly spoken, but this wasn’t any kind of drawback, as the material flowed well and was strong enough to do the heavy lifting and it wasn’t any surprise that she picked up consistent laughs, getting applause for lie in and a few other reveals. The asides were a nice bonus. I thought that she was more concise than when I saw her previously, but I could be wrong. Either way, Beaton did very well and I can see her progressing.

Ryan McDonnell

Ryan opened by referencing the fact that he was the second ginger act of the night and this led nicely into material on being ginger. McDonnell has a Northern Irish accent that is hard to miss and he was smart enough to not only have a couple of powerful bits of material on it (doddle being really good), but he was even more astute in moving onto other areas and not dwelling on the troubles. I felt that the energy levels dropped a couple of times during the set, but only momentarily. I was particularly impressed with the line about the greatest fear and thought that McDonnell skirted along the edge of an applause break for that. The ginger bum hair was vividly described and was another cracking line. Acapulco was a very good story that everyone was invested in. This was an enjoyable set that was delivered with confidence.

Andrew Bird

Headlining was one of my favourite acts, Andrew Bird. He’s a prolific writer of new material and he has an uncanny ability to bring a routine to a crescendo and to then slide in a topper that ramps the mirth up to yet another level. His writing is amazingly strong, with no end of surprises and little twists to the stories that keep the laughter going. The delivery is also great, with very slight pauses to let the audience keep up and Andrew acting out what he is saying. Tonight he got off to a bit of a false start when mid joke one chap, late back from the bar and bent over with his head tucked into his shoulders to make him invisible, dashed across the corner of the stage to take his seat. Bird paused in what he was doing and much to everyone’s delight and without any malice, he made this trespasser to the stage his topic for the next couple of minutes. The material was great, with every routine a winner. My favourite, out of a cracking field, would be the Millwall supporter. This is a routine that I would happily hear Bird do at every gig. This was a splendiferous performance.

Queen Crafthouse – Josh Jones, Che Burnley, Shell Byron, Vince Atta and Red Redmond (MC)

Tonight I was up in Doncaster for Red Redmond’s gig. This takes place at a rock pub, the Queen Crafthouse and it’s a little gem of a gig. The audience are fairly young and don’t seem to mind having a midweek drink and this made for an atmosphere that stayed on the fun side of lively. As is usual, the room filled up from the 3rd row back and so Red moved a few people forwards to fill the front couple of rows. Oddly, this is a gig where a lot of people arrive part way through and without causing any disruption, the room filled itself by the end of the night.

Red Redmond (MC)

Red compered with a light but assured touch, not spending too long on stage at the top. By this he succeeded in setting the room up without either making the night about him, or unbalancing it and this worked very well. Red found some interesting people in the room, such as Yuri, sat at the front, who assured him that he had 100% Soviet blood. Red suggested that Yuri was KGB and when it transpired that he worked in meat distribution, this only added to the scene that Red had been sketching out. The line about plutonium was very nice. I was similarly impressed with Red’s quick wits when it came to a well built chap who worked in an office and thought that the joke about gang and Thailand was a splendid example of a compere thinking on his feet and getting just the right line. Red picked up a lot of laughs when he discussed the diversity of the line up. This was very enjoyable compering.

Josh Jones

Opening was Josh Jones, an act new to me and whom I was looking forwards to seeing. A lot of Jones’ material comes from his own life experiences and this gave it a nice level of depth. This is combined with his disarming persona and it all works out rather well. There were quite a few good routines in here, with lesbian porn being a particular standout. Jones would benefit from tightening up his delivery, though, as there were a few occasions where I thought that the joke was getting lost amongst extraneous words, but in fairness, some of this was new material. There were also a few times when Jones described what he was going to do next, which was ok, but I thought that he could probably do something more productive with the time that he spent on that. He is talented at changing his voice and this helped him when he was adopting a more rough edged character. Jones did well and the room warmed to him swiftly. I think that he’s someone worth looking out for.

Che Burnley

Burnley had a cracking gig. He made a good start and never looked back, speaking quickly and delivering his material almost like he was getting in fifteen minutes worth in ten. His voice was a bit hoarse following Edinburgh, but oddly I felt that this added something to his performance. Burnley spoke to the audience a lot, interacting with them, bringing them into his set and being an affable presence. This did make me wonder if he had done much compering, as I can imagine him being pretty decent at it. The material was strong and it felt nicely varied, never staying on any one subject for too long. The shower story was great and he built up loads of impetus, hoovering up laughs from the audience. This was a cracking set that seemed to be over all too soon for me.

Shell Byron

Byron has potential. She can certainly write a good routine – ruin is very strong indeed and she delivers it with conviction. This is a fairly uncompromising routine, but it works through the power of her delivery. The audience thoroughly enjoyed it, with one girl shouting out in a broad Yorkshire accent, ‘Ah like er’. The next routine was about suicide and although there were some good lines, this was very dark, especially when it got to who had cleaned up and I felt that the audience didn’t stick with her for it all. This was unfortunate, as the next bit of material (concerning a date) was a touch lighter, even if it was perhaps a bit too graphic for everyone. There is room for comedians with dark material and Byron has some interesting stuff to say, but I’m not sure that tonight it was for everyone.

Vince Atta

Headlining was Vince Atta, who was back by popular demand. I was sat next to a couple from the West Midlands and they’d asked me about the acts that were on and I’d told them that they’d love Atta and so I was sat there knowing what was coming and feeling a lovely thrill of anticipation as to how much they would enjoy it. He didn’t disappoint anyone, either. Stood on stage, with a big grin, looking like he’s having the time of his life, he had the audience on side within seconds. His enthusiasm was, as ever, infectious. There was lots of solid material for everyone to enjoy and it was nice to see the people stood near the back swaying in time to the beats. There was some great new material on display, such as Dorian Gray and I really liked the callbacks to Jones’ set. The closing set piece worked wonderfully. This was a magnificent performance.

Blessington Carriage – Michael Capozzola, Daisy Earl, Riordan DJ, Becky Brunning, Jeremy Flynn and Radu Isac

Tonight I was over in Derby at the Funhouse comedy show at the Blessington Carriage. This was a very warm and well attended night, with extra chairs being brought out. A chap from Radio Derby was there to record segments of the show, which will be a treat for their listeners. With his lower leg still in plaster, Spiky Mike climbed up to the stage on his crutches, but luckily this impediment didn’t get in the way of his compering. There was a nicely varied audience present, with a tattooist, a pregnant lady with two weeks to go and a lodger with his landlady. They proved to be a lot of fun when the tale of how their arrangement worked unfolded. Before long, we were ready for our opening act.

Michael Capozzola

Originally from New York and now in London by way of San Francisco and looking like a slimmer version of Matt LeBlanc, Capozzola made an instant impression with an ad libbed line delivered directly into not the mic on stage, but the extra one being used by Radio Derby. The set that followed contained some very good word play and he received applause for his line about tweets. I enjoyed the joke about the Australian, but when it came to a bloke carrying four beers, I got to the punchline before he did. The set up on Sean Connery was a bit long, but not massively so. This was a good set that the room enjoyed.

Daisy Earl

Next was Daisy Earl who had some good material. I liked the reverse French brands and the tale of the gig in prison was nicely different. Where she did very well was in her method of fending off telesales. This was great. When Earl started talking to members of the audience about questions to ask to make new friends, I wished that she had been watching Mike compere, because I find it a touch jarring when an act asks people who have already been spoken to for a while only 20 minutes ago their name again. Earl began a routine on internet dating, asking who in the room did it and upon one chap being brave enough to admit it, she asked him which site he used. By a lovely slip, he misheard her and thought she had asked him his size, which led to a bit of confusion which Earl, thinking quickly, managed to make the most out of. She then demonstrated a nice bit of stagecraft in realising that the moment for the material she had been about to do had gone and adjusted her set accordingly, finishing with a quality story about a mishap in Bulgaria. This was a very pleasant set and I’d like to see more of Earl.

Riordan DJ

After the intermission we resumed with Riordan DJ, who gave the room a wonderful time. Riordan’s set comprised lots of jokes with short set ups and as these linked together, they flowed extremely well. This was a fast moving set with a lot of laughter. It was also an impressive set on a technical level, too, with the construction being well thought out. Swearing was a great routine and provided something of a framework for what followed. I enjoyed the misdirection on the bath and thought that the joke about incest was very cleverly done. The only thing that I wasn’t keen on was ‘flashed’ which was strangely unimaginative considering the quality of the rest of his jokes. This was a smashing set that had a very high hit rate from someone with a future in comedy.

Becky Brunning

Brunning opened by getting the audience to cheer a couple of things, before invoking the rule of three on the third ‘give me a…’ Unfortunately, the third element just landed awkwardly, with no one really knowing what to do for the best with it and this had a tangible negative impact upon the atmosphere. I think that with a few quick jokes just to emphasise their skill, another act might have been able to bounce back from this, but Brunning’s delivery isn’t like that. Instead, she is very wordy, with long set ups and long gaps between punchlines and the laughs came in direct inverse proportion to how many words she used in the set ups. Ironically, when she discussed reverse me too, Brunning kept the set ups down to the bare minimum and she built up momentum here, getting the audience back on side with some swiftly flowing jokes. This was by far the stand out routine in her set and the more graphic she got, the more the audience enjoyed it. If the rest of her set had similar pacing she would be a much improved comedian. However, after that bright moment, she reverted back to overly describing and lost that momentum.

Jeremy Flynn

Flynn gave the room a strong performance. He began by discussing his size (Christmas was a sterling line) and I’m not sure if he’s lost weight since writing it, because I’d have described him as burly, rather than fat, but either way it all still worked very well. The material about the office was strong, with mambo being a lovely line that deserved a lot more appreciation. Where he hit top gear, though, was in describing throwing a sickie. This was a splendid routine and the more convoluted it became, the funnier it was. I shouldn’t be surprised if he couldn’t add more to it. I really enjoyed that. The material on rum Jeremy’s was very well done, with a nice ambush on no2 that got him out of the tricky position of possibly splitting the room with any comments on that particularly divisive Jeremy. There was a lot to like in this performance.

Radu Isac

Headlining was Radu Isac, an act that I can see going far. I’ve never seen him have a bad night yet and he gets better every time I see him. He began powerfully and maintained the impetus all of the way through his performance, getting consistent loud laughs. Isac is not only an intelligent writer, but he has his own unique way of looking at the world and this gives his material a wonderfully different feel to anyone else’s. There were a lot of highlights in this set, but perhaps the standout was a new bit of material on dresses – this was extremely strong. This was an excellence set that ended the night on a high.

August – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a dismal month for me when it comes to comedy. Owing to a mixture of adverse shift patterns, a lot of the industry taking a Summer break and various nights cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, I’ve only seen 13 acts this month. In a good month, I can see more than that in just a single week.

These are the acts that impressed me the most:

Barry Dodds (MC)

Barry Dodds came to the stage and without being particularly forceful, he still managed to take no prisoners tonight. Within seconds he had the room cheering for various things and this welded the various groups into an audience, but it also established his authority extremely quickly. His ability to so demonstrably take control like that silenced any potential hecklers or disruptive elements. From here Dodds got to know a few people. Tindy and Indy, sat close to the stage were a nice gift to him as were the couple on their second date and for one moment I did think he was going to get a proposal from another couple. Dodds was very sharp thinking with his replies to the people that he spoke to. He was also very adept with sensing the mood currents throughout the room. The level of disparagement he put into his voice when he said, ‘it’s in Leicestershire,’ upon someone claiming De Montfort Uni as an exotic place was wonderfully done. I was impressed by how Barry handled the big stag party from Chesterfield. He used his local knowledge to make enough jokes to get them laughing, but even better, he kept them onside and subtly neutralised any desire of theirs to shout out by encouraging them to cheer whenever he mentioned Chesterfield, this outlet for their energy seemed to work wonders. In between working the room, there was some great material delivered, with middle lane drivers being a stand out. Dodds’ bubbly personality was infectious and he received a lot of laughs for some strong compering.

Danny McLoughlin (MC)

McLoughlin is as down to earth as they come and this means that not only are his reference points easily accessible to audiences, but that he feels like someone they can all relate to. Tonight he began by using the mic stand and backdrop to teach spelling to a chap sat at the front, before starting to chat to the audience in earnest. There is always an interesting mix of people at the Lescar and he found John, a retired interior designer who tried to be evasive (if you don’t want to be spoken to, being evasive really isn’t going to help you), Dave, who was a para-legal and another Dave who was the manager of a leisure centre. One Dave was from Clowne, which led to a belting line about the contents of their Gregg’s. Oddly, it took a while for the energy levels to rise, despite McLoughlin getting a lot of laughs, but I think that this was probably down to the heat. During his second session, he went with more material and scored some big hits with this; Kebabs was good, but pens was superb. Danny using Dave, as a foil, though, was the highlight of the night. Whilst easily staying on the side of acceptable, he managed to get a lot of fun out of ‘Beige’ Dave, getting a well earned round of applause. The lines about how Dave proposed to his partner were superb – she had the look of someone who was wishing that they were recording this ripping to show their friends. The only thing that I wasn’t keen on was when McLoughlin casually announced that he was just going to ‘talk a bit of shit’ as I felt that that really under valued the solid work he was putting in. He announced the next shows, thanked everyone for coming and it was nice to see him remember Wayne, who was doing the door, when name-checking those who had assisted with the night. McLoughlin has great comic instincts and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him. He should be better known than he is.

Susie McCabe

McCabe was a lovely surprise. I’d not heard of her before the night, but she proved to be something of a prize packet. She’s got a great combination of material that draws you in, making you want to hear more and a sparkling delivery that really sells what she is voicing. Her material was autobiographical and it is very well written with great pacing. There aren’t huge gaps between the laughs and even the set ups are fun to listen to because what McCabe was talking about was so interesting. McCabe has a soft Glaswegian accent that seemed to be perfectly in tune with what she was saying. Her hand movements and little actions that she did added a lot to her performance. There were a lot of excellent lines in this set. I was astounded that she didn’t get an applause break for the serial killer’s plans and I was pleased when she received one for the topper. This was a massively enjoyable set, the stand out of the night, and I’m amazed that McCabe is not a pro comedian.

Honourable Mentions

Alfie Moore, Jack Topher

Glee (Nottm) – Junior Simpson, Susie McCable, Keith Farnan, Barry Dodds (MC)

This wasn’t the gig I was hoping to be at tonight, but as my original plans didn’t work out this time, I was looking for an alternative. There were a few gigs that I could have gone to, but seeing that Barry Dodds was on at Nottingham Glee that was enough to make me pick this one above others. Numbers weren’t massive, but as it is the August holidays, this was pretty much to be expected. There were two stag parties present, but despite one being very noisy in the run up to the show, both settled down beautifully whilst the acts were on. I got there in time for the last entry, but this did give me half an hour to kill prior to show time. I can understand that the venue wants no disruption from late arrivals, but all the same I was glad that I had taken a book with me for this bit. Four minutes before show time, the music is turned up to eleven and the lights flash on and off. This certainly kills conversations in time for the compere to take to the stage, but I ended up closing my eyes before I got a headache. Perhaps a couple of minutes less would be enough to silence everyone.

Barry Dodds (MC)

Barry Dodds came to the stage and without being particularly forceful, he still managed to take no prisoners tonight. Within seconds he had the room cheering for various things and this welded the disparate groups into an audience and it also established his authority extremely quickly. His ability to so demonstrably take control like that silenced any potential hecklers or disruptive elements. From here Dodds got to know a few people. Tindy and Indy, sat close to the stage were a nice gift to him as were the couple on their second date and for one moment I did think he was going to get a proposal from another couple. Dodds was very sharp thinking with his replies to the people that he spoke to. He was also very adept with sensing the mood currents throughout the room. The level of disparagement he put into his voice when he said, ‘it’s in Leicestershire,’ upon someone claiming De Montfort Uni as an exotic place was wonderfully done. I was impressed by how Barry handled the big stag party from Chesterfield. He used his local knowledge to make enough jokes to get them laughing, but even better, he kept them onside and subtly neutralised any desire of theirs to shout out by encouraging them to cheer whenever he mentioned Chesterfield, this outlet for their energy seemed to work wonders. In between working the room, there was some great material delivered, with middle lane drivers being a stand out. Dodds’ bubbly personality was infectious and he received a lot of laughs for some strong compering.

Junior Simpson

Simpson is a well experienced act and has a good reputation as someone who suits weekend clubs and I can see why. There was a broad appeal in his set, with pretty much something for every demographic to enjoy and nothing too niche to leave others out in the cold. On the downside, I unfortunately found him to be a bit unchallenging. His material had the feel of a well established set and whilst there were some good lines in there (ginger, breakfasts, etc), there also wasn’t a lot that made me sit up. There were a few pull back and reveals, which I’m not that keen on personally, but in fairness, they all received good laughs from the audience. The closing routine about blowjobs was one that built up a lot of momentum and had everyone on board. Whilst Simpson wasn’t particularly for me, the rest of the room liked him and I can easily understand why he was booked.

Susie McCabe

McCabe was a lovely surprise. I’d not heard of her before the night, but she proved to be something of a prize packet. She’s got a great combination of material that draws you in, making you want to hear more and a sparkling delivery that really sells what she is voicing. Her material was autobiographical and it is very well written with great pacing. There aren’t huge gaps between the laughs and even the set ups are fun to listen to because what McCabe was talking about was so interesting. McCabe has a soft Glaswegian accent that seemed to be perfectly in tune with what she was saying. Her hand movements and little actions that she did added a lot to her performance. There were a lot of excellent lines in this set. I was astounded that she didn’t get an applause break for the serial killer’s plans and I was pleased when she received one for the topper. This was a massively enjoyable set, the stand out of the night, and I’m amazed that McCabe is not a pro comedian. 

Keith Farnan

Farnan had a good night. He opened with a splendid callback to the diversity of the line up, which went down well and this was followed by early applause for North and South. There was a fair bit of applause for this set, with some good lines being present. DUP was fun, the obtaining of a chap’s email address was adroitly done (I liked the callback to it) and I really enjoyed Farnan delivering material about the various seating sections. This kept everyone on their toes, just in case he spoke to them. Farnan has a wonderfully soft and soothing Irish accent and this didn’t do him any harm at all when he was talking to people (Ewok was a cracking line). The material based around his name was ok, but I didn’t feel it quite as strong as the rest of his set, especially homophobia – that was a great routine. Farnan received consistent laughter and ended the night well.

Two Gates, Tamworth – Chris Purchase, Rory Jones, Jack Topher, Alfie Moore and Andy Gleeks (MC)

Tonight I was down in Tamworth for Darren Mortiboy’s night at the Two Gates Sports and Social. My night didn’t get off to a great start, because we had to have a pet put down and so five minutes before I came out, I was in the garden digging a grave for him. However, it was nice to get out and go and see some live comedy. Two Gates is a big room. It has a high ceiling and room to sit a heck of a lot of people. Like most nights at this time of year, numbers were down, but with the tables spread out a touch, the room still seemed to be pretty full. This, combined with the high ceiling did make it hard to build up the energy levels, but you can’t have everything. This is the first time I’ve seen a radio mic being used and I can understand why not many people use them, as it didn’t seem to be without its’ issues. It was good to see the booker, Mortiboy, busy amongst the audience, chatting to people and making everyone feel welcome before the show started. He did a couple of minutes of plugging upcoming nights before he introduced our MC, Andy Gleeks.

Andy Gleeks (MC)

This wasn’t ever going to be an easy room to compere. It was a big space and with people sat up to 40 yards away from the stage, Gleeks was limited to the handful of people sat close enough to the front for him to be able to easily hear their replies. When I’ve seen him compere in the past, I was impressed by him playing a game called claim to fame, which had worked really well, but oddly he didn’t do that tonight. Instead, largely chatting to the people about how they met and doing material. A lot of his material concerned him coming from Northern Ireland and there were two issues with this. The troubles, over here anyway, feel increasingly distant as every year passes and for anyone under twenty it must seem like history. The other issue was that Gleeks has some good stuff on it (in particular his own Good Friday agreement and the kerfuffle), but because he did so much about being from Northern Ireland this diluted the impact of these. Gleeks has quite an interesting background and he may do well to exploit these other areas of his life. I thought that he was on firm ground when talking about his family and the loo roll routine is a solid banker. Gleeks did put himself down a couple of times after jokes and whilst this can be done once and get a good reaction, any more times risks convincing the audience that you aren’t doing that well. I think that Andy has the makings of a good compere; he has a quiet confidence, a nice manner and authority about him that stands him in good stead. With more varied material to back that up, he’ll do fine.

Chris Purchase

The audience warmed to Purchase very quickly. He began strongly by announcing a celebration. This had a fairly long set up, but it was totally worth it, as it achieved three, but not four things tonight. It got everyone listening to him, it established Purchase’s comedy credentials and it was very funny, but surprisingly it didn’t get an applause break, which I fair expected it to. There was a lot of good material in this set. Who you gonna call? and the subsequent variations were nicely interactive, the carpet was good and genital percentages fun (a shame 69% couldn’t be worked into it somehow). However, the real standout was Pokemon. For something that is played pretty widely no one seems to be doing any material on it and so this was both distinctive and funny. On the other hand, I wasn’t convinced that Milton Keynes was that unpleasant a place to live; he could have gotten away without explaining the maths on vaccination and ‘In American that would have got a cheer’ is overused, even though it got a laugh. This was a very entertaining set that was well delivered.

Rory Jones

I last saw Jones up in Sheffield where he’d had a good night. Tonight, I could see improvement in his joke and set construction with more strings of gags on the same topic, which was all to the good. However, his delivery seemed to be a bit slower and I’m not sure that this was a benefit when it came to building up momentum. Also, Jones did comment on a few jokes that missed, such as saying ‘one for the older people’ and this not only served to emphasise that that particular joke hadn’t fared well, but even worse, it used up time where he could have been telling a joke that would hit. There were some strong gags in this set, the make up and morning jokes work very well and these seemed to get everyone onboard, particularly one lady who laughed long and loudly at all of the jokes to the point where she was setting other people off. Ket was good, but probably only needed one hurrumph and a stamping of the feet for people to get it. This was a promising set.

Jack Topher

Back in February I saw Topher have a storming gig during the Southwell English Comedian of the Year heat, but he had an even better gig tonight. He came to the stage and paused, standing there looking around, as if he was puzzled to find himself there. Topher then followed this up with a bit of sartorial prop work and this built up a lot of comedic tension. From here, he never ever looked back. He had the audience just where he wanted them. The first half of his set is the more punchy, but the second slower paced half works well, too, with some big jokes. Topher received the first applause of the night for Ashley Cole and then more applause for his observations about the layout of the audience and the presence of the big stage behind him. The comment about the people of Tamworth was a pearler. I did think that his usual line regarding the playing with the cards was stronger than the one he went with tonight, but that’s a minor point. This was an excellently delivered set, with some well considered pauses. Topher had a smashing gig and the end result was a hell of a lot of laughter.

Alfie Moore

Moore is a reliable act who has a solid presence. His material has a nicely dark slant to it and his background not only gives him insights unavailable to other comedians, but it is something that the audience finds tangible. When Moore talks about ne’er do wells, the room knows what he is talking about. There was a lot of good stuff in this performance. The callback to Topher’s set was strong, the Diane Abbott joke timely, names great, tasering superb and earliest memory received an applause break. The excerpt from his show, Getting away with Murder (well worth seeing), was very impressive. On the other hand, Asbo needed a bigger ending, but that was the only routine that didn’t hit home hard. I think the radio-mic had a sweet spot where the signal was picked up easily, but not so well a couple of feet either side of that zone, as Moore looked as if he was wedded to that particular spot and didn’t move or lunge as much as what I’m used to seeing. The closing routine was ‘The Head’, which is the strongest routine that I’ve seen. It is deliciously dark, draws everyone in and there is a laugh with every line. This is a beautifully crafted closing routine. This was a cracking performance that everyone enjoyed.

The Little Last Laugh: Quincy, Big Shaun, Barry Castagnola and Danny McLoughlin (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield, having a great time in the Lescar. Numbers had dipped a touch from last week, but with holiday season being in full swing, this was to be expected. There were still plenty of people present to create a great atmosphere.

Danny McLoughlin (MC)

McLoughlin is as down to earth as they come and this means that not only are his reference points easily accessible to audiences, but that he feels like someone they can all relate to. Tonight he began by using the mic stand and backdrop to teach spelling to a chap sat at the front, before starting to chat to the audience in earnest. There is always an interesting mix of people at the Lescar and he found John, a retired interior designer who tried to be evasive (if you don’t want to be spoken to, being evasive really isn’t going to help you), Dave, who was a para-legal and another Dave who was the manager of a leisure centre. One Dave was from Clowne, which led to a belting line about the contents of their Gregg’s. Oddly, it took a while for the energy levels to rise, despite McLoughlin getting a lot of laughs, but I think that this was probably down to the heat. During his second session, he went with more material and scored some big hits with this; Kebabs was good, but pens was superb. Danny using Dave, as a foil, though, was the highlight of the night. Whilst easily staying on the side of acceptable, he managed to get a lot of fun out of ‘Beige’ Dave, getting a well earned round of applause. The lines about how Dave proposed to his partner were superb – she had the look of someone who was wishing that they were recording this ripping to show their friends. The only thing that I wasn’t keen on was when McLoughlin casually announced that he was just going to ‘talk a bit of shit’ as I felt that that really under valued the solid work he was putting in. He announced the next shows, thanked everyone for coming and it was nice to see him remember Wayne, who was doing the door, when name-checking those who had assisted with the night. McLoughlin has great comic instincts and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him. He should be better known than he is.

Quincy

Opening the show was Quincy, who was doing some new material. As you’d expect with new material, it was something of a mixed bag, but you could see the potential in it. He began with some timely remarks about the weather. Flip flops was a nice line that led into a decent section about how it’s hard to look hard under certain conditions. The name for an illness was good, but the mainstay of his set were the routines about boxing and his kids. A comedian who boxes is refreshingly novel and despite there being a few lulls in the routine, it easily held everyone’s interest. There were a number of strong lines in this, but I was a bit surprised that Balboa and Drago didn’t get referenced as white boxers fighting it out for the world heavyweight belt, though. The routine about kids and home life wasn’t as distinct as boxing, as a few comics have covered this, but there was still obvious potential in it. If Quincy were to tighten up the wording then he would maintain his momentum in these routines, but he’s certainly already got something to work with here.

Big Shaun

Big Shaun took to the stage wearing a cowboy hat, neckerchief and waistcoat, which were part of his opening gag. Whilst this didn’t work out as well as he might have hoped, it was worth experimenting with. Shaun is a big presence and this stands him in good stead. The call centre material has potential; when he asked the room if anyone worked in one I thought there was mileage in him taking that further and asking what sort of call centre, as he’d be able to bounce off of their response. The snapped clothesline was a good line, but it could possibly be improved further by him changing out towels for failed to hold up my clothes without me in them. Big Shaun is a work in progress, but he’s getting there.

Barry Castagnola

Closing the night was Castagnola, up from London. He opened with a well remembered Wikipedia history of Sheffield, which was delivered with plenty of knowing charm and then a strong topper. His material covered a lot of ground, not dwelling on any particular topic overly long and this seemed to keep everything fresh and might explain why his set seemed to pass by all too quickly. This was a set where I’d have liked to have seen more. There were some lovely lines present, with shoes being a standout, although the closing routine about The Krankies came close. Castagnola gave a very interesting performance, both visually and audibly. Visually, he never seemed to be still for a moment and this helped inject energy into the room. Castagnola has a lovely manner of speaking. He would lay the stress in certain words in unexpected places and I found this really endearing and it was a real benefit to him in emphasising the keywords in a routine. This was a very good set.

Acts that have impressed me the most – July

This has been a fun month for comedy. We were in full on Edinburgh preview season and although I only saw 31 acts, I did see some absolutely brilliant shows.

The highlight of the month was Red Redmond squaring up to an obnoxious heckler. Red is one of the smallest built people I’ve met and this bloke could have done him a nasty injury before the rest of the room intervened, so this took guts. The lowlight of the month was a drunk who kept complaining about one act’s otherwise well received set, saying ‘didn’t get that’ or ‘what?’ after most of their jokes. You can’t please everyone, but she seemed to be really going out of her way to let people know she wasn’t onboard. Naturally during the intermission she went over and told the act that they were dead brave…..

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

Justin Moorhouse

This was an amazing show. His timing was perfect, his writing was impeccable and he kept the energy up all the way through.

From the night:

Moorhouse came to the stage full of energy and received a rousing reception from the audience. To say that he hit the ground running would be a huge understatement – he hit the room with the speed of a steam locomotive and he never slackened the pace throughout the entire hour. He began by discussing the title of his show, with a brief talk about being Northern, where he showed a firm grasp of northern rivalries, before moving onto the joker part. This show was full of stories about his life, his children getting older, Brexit and Puffin Island. Every single routine was full of charm and extremely funny. There were no lulls, Moorhouse just seemed to go from highlight to highlight.

Too many areas stood out for their excellence, so this list is far from comprehensive. There was a great joke about being vegan, what Trump has done for middle aged men was superb, especially the line about the fence, his whole foray into Brexit was magnificent and insightful. However, when it came to table sauces and Brexit, Moorhouse demonstrated true genius; this was sublime writing. Even Brezhnev received a mention and got a laugh, something that can’t have happened recently in a comedy show.

Moorhouse’s delivery was superb. He has a great rhythm of delivery and he could probably read out a shopping list and still get laughs just from how he did it. His timing with the pause on the motives of Brexit voters was great. This was a show where not only was there a lot of laughter and applause, but people were still laughing long after the punchlines. I’ve a feeling that I will still be laughing at this days later. This is a winner of a show.

Laura Monmoth

Monmoth has the basis of a very good twenty here. It’s not yet the finished article, but with tighter writing and a different closing routine she will have something special. It’s already got bags of charm.

From the night:

We resumed after the intermission with Laura Monmoth. I’ve seen Laura compering and doing her Edinburgh show, but I’d never seen her do a twenty before. A lot of her material was delivered via power point, which made it very easy to follow. There were a lot of jokes to be seen. Even the screen saver, prior to her beginning contained a good number of jokes for anyone who gave it more than the once over. Laura was very astute in taking pre-gig photos of the audience and the landlord and using them in her set, as this grabbed everyone’s attention and made her set feel special. Equally wise was her use of Mansfield for the local shit town. I and everyone else were hugely impressed by the power point crafted callbacks to Roger’s set. These were elaborate and must have been very time consuming for her to create, but they landed with the force of a sledgehammer. Laura’s attempts to improve reality were charming and very funny, receiving good laughs. The closing routine featured Bohemian Rhapsody and she’d benefit from acquiring a conductor’s baton to push the sing-along along. This is a good closing routine, but it’s a very long song and it does eat up a lot of time that she might be able to make better use of. For anyone not invested in it after the first minute, there isn’t much to hold them for the next five, but in fairness, Laura received good laughs for it, especially the more surreal names. This was a very good set that held the room well. It was creatively constructed and the laughs came regularly. Monmoth is certainly a bookable act.

Simon Lomas

Simply a fantastic act with amazing comic instincts.

From the night:

We resumed after the intermission with Simon Lomas who is the best new act to hit the circuit in the last few years. He was here to try some new material not long after winning the biggest monetary prize in UK comedy history. As he stood on the stage about to begin his set, Lomas received a wolf whistle, which, with a voice dripping with dryness, he thanked the lady for. He then launched into his set, getting his first applause break after his first joke. From here it became almost Pavlovian, with Lomas talking and then the audience laughing and applauding every time he finished speaking. I adored the visual gag with the notebooks and I shouldn’t be surprised if he couldn’t get a second bite of that cherry by having a third book about his person. There were two new jokes that could perhaps be improved; Alton Towers and the following joke, which might perhaps work better with stayed at home. There was a cracking moment when a girl was foolish enough to shout out, asking if he needed a hug – his response to this was beautiful and the joke that he closed the set on was tremendous. This was a brilliant set.

Honourable Mentions:

Fran Jenking, Freddy Quinne, Josh Pugh, Phil Nichol, Red Redmond,