Tonight I was in Eastwood for Funhouse Comedy Clubs- East Midlands night as part of the DH Lawrence festival. This is a venue I’d not been to before, but seemed to be a cross between a snooker club and a pub. It’s the only room I’ve been in with 3 darts boards, anyway. The room had a nice layout, the only concern being the main door to the outside world being next to the stage, meaning any late comer would walk by the performer. The night had a nice bonus in free parking and pretty decent numbers. Compere was Spiky Mike and the opening act was Barry Dodds.
I’ve seen Dodds once before when he was compering at the Lescar in Sheffield. I’ve also read a lot about him in Chris Brooker’s excellent gig – this made it all the more embarrassing when I forgot that I’d seen him. Mea culpa. In Sheffield he made a promising start, which was spoilt by a chap dropping a tray of pint glasses right in front of him. Tonight he began with no distractions. He began quickly, too, with words coming out fast, not too fast, but enough to set a good pace. It was nice to see the room settle so quickly and for them to be hanging on his word. As a Geordie transplanted to Nottingham he had plenty of local references and this added to his appeal. He was speaking to the room of things which they had in common, rather than feeling like he had parachuted in. His material was nicely constructed and went very well. I did feel that the energy level dropped a bit during the university section, albeit not by much. The ghost segment is pleasant and the Manc accent used during one of the reveals is a very cracking addition that helps sell it. The housemate routine is splendid and got big laughs, but this was surpassed by his camping material. This was extremely good and there is an Edinburgh show in this that I want to see. There was one rather annoying interruption during his set, when a chap came in through a side door and walked through the audience to see if his wife wanted a drink before he eventually sat down. Dodds took this in his stride, got a couple of laughs out of it, but I felt it was poor form on the part of the newcomer. Dodds received 3 applause breaks and left the room very pleased with a very enjoyable opening set.
Opening after the first intermission was Phil Pagett, a very clever one liner expert who I think could go a long way. I’ve seen Pagett before at a gig in Derby, where he was one of the few acts who weren’t messed around by a drunken table. Tonight he demonstrated his talent to a more appreciative audience, getting a good laugh from his opening line and then carrying on from there. His puns came thick and fast with a high ratio of hits to them; probably 90% hit home hard. He got deeper laughs when he did a combination of puns on a subject and built up the momentum, rather than for the stand alone jokes. However, he gave the room an excellent time and showed how time is relative – his ten minutes seemed to fly by all too soon. Pagett is a man to watch for the future.
Next was Ben Briggs, an act I’ve long had an interest in. I’ve only seen him do short new material nights prior to this and it was obvious that he has three things about him: a willingness to tackle difficult areas, the ability to split a room when doing so and a heck of a lot of talent for making the people who go with him laugh. There are a few comedians who touch on dark material, but most only dip their toes in it and shy away from anything that may alienate the audience. Others will say something dark for shock value and have no real routine beyond that. Briggs is different. He embraces areas other comedians leave alone and that is refreshing. Even more refreshing is that he can get so much out of it. He deals with this area with a panache that really sets him apart from anyone else I’ve seen tackle it. He does have the ability to split a room, as does anyone going dark. Not everyone will want to hear Charlie Hebbo, or a plane crash used on stage, but this is a shame, as Briggs isn’t being unpleasant or negative in his choice, quite the opposite. He is also very funny with it. One of the areas he explored tonight was facebook, a topic I had considered to be fairly well travelled, but he found something different to discuss and made the entire room laugh with it. Briggs does some wonderful physical actions that complement his jokes and add to the value of his performance, although he does have a tendency to look to the left of the stage as he delivers material. He got 2 applause breaks tonight and I would argue had the gig of the night. I really enjoyed his set and the rest of the audience were very complimentary about it, too.
Dan Thomas closed the night. He was a worthy closer, adding a lot of energy to the final section. This is the first time I’d seen him and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Tonight he used the audience interacting with him a lot, mining this for leads into his material. This is a tactic that can be risky if the room is cold or drunk, but tonight it worked a treat. He’d ask a question, get a response, riff with it, before blending it into the next section. He had the ability to not get bogged down, nor to concentrate too much on one group as I’ve seen before with another comedian. This meant that everyone felt involved in his set and it really drew the audience in, making it feel rather inclusive and as if we were all part of something. He had some wonderful material about boulders, which he acted out to my joy, Rainbow and baby monitors. He gave a nice end to the night and was thoroughly enjoyable.
It’s not often that you attend a comedy night where all of the performers have a really good night. Often there is one that for whatever reason, the room fails to embrace. This wasn’t a night like that. This was a night where everyone was hugely appreciated by the audience and it was a lovely night to have gone to.