Tonight I was at the Beerhouse in Market Harborough for a free night of comedy. Free doesn’t mean rubbish. This is something I sometimes struggle to explain to people. A free comedy night is an opportunity for new acts to get stage time and for existing acts to give new material an airing. However, it does sometimes result in an audience that has invested nothing in the night and couldn’t care less that someone on a stage is trying to entertain. I’ve not been to the Beerhouse before, but I can only assume that none of the previous nights have been quite like tonights. They must have been better, they could hardly be worse. The pub doesn’t have a music licence, which already gives it the atmosphere of a Weatherspoons. Lots of conversation, too much conversation, but no undercurrent of people out for a good night. The comedy was in the main room of the pub, a pub that used to be a community centre and still had the feel of one. The audience were all sat and stood facing 12 different ways, rather than at the stage. The management of the pub seemed completely nonplussed about the comedy night. They kept the bar open during acts, loudly explaining the differing alcohol levels in product, collected glasses, walked past the stage carrying kegs and even shouting for last orders part way through a set. Whilst 90% of the room didn’t seem to be aware there was a night of entertainment on in the background there was a table of drunks who wanted to be part of everything. One of these even came into the Green Room area during the intermission to resume a conversation started with her by a comic, making everyone consider a drawbridge and portcullis set up a possible advantage. The atmosphere in the room was like a factory reset switch. No matter how funny a comedian was, the audience then immediately reset back to default and it only felt in danger of becoming a gig during three acts. As this wasn’t the first night held here, I am presuming the other nights were a lot better, as I don’t think anyone would have held a second night if the results were the same. The compere was Frantique Doyle.
This room required the hand of a firm and experienced MC who could grab their attention and hold it (Walker, Quinne, Cook or Brooker). Doyle was the wrong person for this gig. I felt that she is not yet experienced enough as a compere for a gig like this. However, it is from the difficult gigs that people learn and develop, so not all is lost. She wasn’t helped by the seating arrangements or by the lack of music. Faf Promotions have a rather nice intro music where the lights flash in time and the music builds to a crescendo, informing all but the most obtuse that it is show time. There was none of this build up here. When Doyle picked up the microphone most of the room were busy talking. Unfortunately she didn’t make a strong start and was largely ignored. She tried to work some material into her work, but this fell on deaf ears. The lack of participation in a vote for a new name for female masturbation (possibly run out too early in the night) showed how much of a up hill struggle it was to get attention in there. She did a bit of work involving people catching ping pong balls, but whilst this may work at a team building event to break the ice, it didn’t do much here. I would suggest that she would have been better cutting her losses and bringing an act on sooner than she did, as there were more people talking when she finished the warm up than when she started. However, she can learn and improve from this – don’t try material unless it is overwhelmingly relevant to the room, do banter but with more than the table most visibly drunk and wanting to join in, talk to the people at the bar and involve them, drop the ping pong balls and use things that build momentum, big the acts up to the audience letting them know that they are in for a good night and learn when to come off and bring the acts on.
Jim Kelly walked out to almost complete indifference from a room of people busy chatting amongst themselves. This is the second time I’ve seen him and both times it has been at car crash gigs. Not his fault, but I’d love to see what he can do at a normal gig. He made a strong start and I hoped he was going to win the room round, but inertia overtook the crowd, which was a shame as he has some nice material. He covered online dating, but this overdone topic was luckily short. The Robin stuff was good and the Chinese burn material delivered in his accent is really nice, but his section on acting whilst pleasant just needs a bit more of a punch to it. He did well considering the audience.
Jon Pearson was polishing up some new material. His stage presence earned him silence from the room and he had a gig, although he did have to go at a very very fast pace to hold their attention. Something not helped by the omnipresent glass collectors. The audience was largely silent when they should have been and gave consistent laughs when they should have done. His gym material is golden and the accents he throws in are a real bonus. He had a good night. Standard.
After the first interval and evacuation of the Green Room to avoid a drunken woman, Matt Hollins went on. I’ve seen Hollins 4 times now, but always at new act/new material nights and I’d like to see him do a full set, rather than bits and bobs. He began with material, but within a few minutes he abandoned this in favour of banter, as it was obvious that the room wasn’t listening to material. He did very well with this and it was enjoyable. The comedians in the green room were all very appreciative of him taking the piss out of a couple of drunks who were proving a pain and I’d say most of the room liked seeing this, too. He had a good night and showed he has a greater sharpness to him than I’ve hitherto seen before. It was nice not to hear downbeat material from him, as I’ve seen this at the other nights he’s been on. I believe he can do better than that – the sharpness I saw tonight is ample evidence that he can be quick on his feet mentally. I’d still like to see him do a full set, though.
Neil Irving followed Hollins, but had the bad luck for the microphone to die as soon as he touched it. The same as Kelly, I’ve only seen him on bizarre nights, too and would like to see him on a normal night. Irving tried to get material out, but the room responded with total indifference and essentially he was playing to four people in a room of thirty five. This is no reflection on him, it was just the type of gig it was.
Stoney opened after the second intermission, with a very very long pause. He stood on the raised dais saying nothing for over a minute. This grabbed everyone’s attention with the crowd shushing each other. From this he went on to have a good gig, using some nice ad libs and new material. His set wasn’t helped by staff walking by with a keg during a visual gag, but he did well all the same and got good laughs.
Closing was Pete Teckman. He hit the room with a lot of energy and had some nice material about football and a sex talk from his dad. Along with Pearson and Stoney he had a gig, but even then his set was messed up a bit by the bar shouting for last orders over him.