And Why Not – Rob Coleman, Thomas Rackham, Ben Briggs, Barry Dodds and Jon Pearson (MC)

It’s always nice to have a gig that’s close to home; not so much for the fact I get in before 1AM, but mostly because I know where to park for free. Tonight I was in my home town of Mansfield for an NCF gig organised on behalf of the Jigsaw Charity. Although this was a charity event, the line up was pro/semi pro, which was very encouraging. The audience consisted mostly of workers from the charity and from the sponsoring building society, plus one lady who was demonstrating that although you can drink on a school night, you probably shouldn’t. As is traditional with charity gigs, there was a chat from an organiser before the comedy began. Luckily he confined himself to thanking everyone, rather than telling tales of suffering. There’s nothing like ‘and so they all died horribly – anyway, now for some comedy…’ to start a night off. The compere was Jon Pearson.
I’ve seen Pearson compere a couple of times and he’s done well on both occasions. He is a remarkably versatile comedian, able to fill any slot. The room really warmed to him, as he stood, perched on a narrow stage, looking about 12′ tall. He had three stints tonight, warming the room up and then keeping things moving, plus doing an extended section to cover an act that had been caught up in really bad traffic. His banter was really good and went down very well. He’s got a good sense of when to move on. Some comperes get bogged down talking to one person, whereas Pearson seems to have an internal alarm that goes off well before the point when a room has lost interest in a particular person and their life. This is very useful. His second session was more involved with him using material to make up for a gap on the roster. His gym routine is getting better and better and is now probably stronger than his geek housemates section. During his final session he did lose a bit of momentum at one point, but he never lost the attention of the room. Strangely, he had less interruptions from a drunken lady than the rest of the comedians, whereas it is usually the compere who bears the brunt of this. I was very happy to see him work, but I wasn’t the only one. A stranger I was sat next to mentioned how good he was, too, which was nice to hear.
The first act was Rob Coleman, for whom the room took a few moments to settle down for. They’d behaved during Jon’s compering, but in the few seconds it had taken for Rob to get on the stage, a couple had decided to have a few words with their neighbours. Visually, Coleman is very interesting, with hair styled by Doc Brown and a chap off the Simpsons. This translated into some good opening material. I did feel he was taking a chance in doing a few gags about old age and memory loss at a charity night for OAPs, but these paid off and he received good laughs, plus some unwanted interaction from the lady on the front row. It was a strange night in some respects. Coleman delivered good material in a convincing way, but the room only went with some of it, most of it really, but not with other bits. However, there was no obvious pattern to what they didn’t go with. Normally an audience will go cold with a particular type of material, but tonight this room just seemed to pick at random. This said, Coleman gave a solid performance and paved the way for the next act.
It was good seeing Thomas Rackham on this line up. He’s an act I’ve seen a lot of and I’ve enjoyed seeing. However, through our various schedules, I’d only seen him at open mics, or doing new material. It’s a bonus seeing an act of his calibre at a new act/material night. He began with some banter which went down well before starting his set properly. This was appreciated and he coped with the drunken lady effortlessly. He received laughs and groans where appropriate, although like with Coleman, the room sometimes went a bit cold over certain bits, but again with no obvious pattern. He had a good night, but presented me with a puzzle. The last time I saw Rackham he did a spot of new material and a reworking of some stuff he’d been polishing. That was a first class performance of amazingly strong material. It was that good, I felt I’d made a bit of a dick of myself by laughing too loudly at it. I was expecting him to use that set tonight, but instead he used a different one. He gave a good performance tonight and got good laughs, so this is no criticism, but I just feel he could have ripped the place open if he had used the same set he had used at the Roadhouse in August. As ever, though, it was enjoyable to see him.
After a spot of compering and material from Jon Pearson, it was Ben Briggs. I like Briggs – anything is possible when he is on stage. He made an immediate impact with a few lines he’d thought of on the way up the motorway. From this he gave us some relatively lighthearted material, before going gradually darker and darker. This was a true joy to watch. His set hung together extremely well, with no real gaps between topics. He did get brought to a grinding halt by the drunken lady, whom he was rather gentle with, but this was only a temporary hiccup and was handled graciously by him. This winner of a set was delivered superbly, with lots of visual and physical actions and movements. Everyone had received laughs, but Briggs got huge laughs. The darker he went the more this room went for him. This is the second time I’ve seen him recently and he’s had a fantastic gig both times. So far this year, I have seen two comedians who have had me laughing that hard I’ve hurt myself. Tom Binns was one and tonight Ben Briggs was the second.
Closing the night was Barry Dodds, who had a good gig and is always interesting to watch. Dodds is well experienced and this showed in his stage craft. He moved from interaction to material and back again. He wasn’t put out when someone dropped a glass, smashing it and was able to ask the room questions that would lead into his material. I like this; it shows intelligence and gives his set a natural, organic, feel. I did think he was a bit short-changed on his Greggs line, though, as this deserved an applause break. Dodds did have a fight on his hands with the drunken lady, who seemed to have more to say about his topics than was wise. Dodds closed her down a few times, winning all the exchanges easily, without having to be brutal. The sympathy of the room was all with him and I didn’t feel it had messed his set up, too much, as he was always in control. However, he pointed out after, that it had influenced his choice of direction as there was little point doing anything with too long a set up. I can see his point and his closing routine was a good choice as it formed a really nice end to a good night.

Roadhouse – Tom Christian, Gary Peterson, Josh Pugh, Sarah Airey, Danny Beet, Joe Bowley, Liam Dillon-Cambridge, Rob MacKellar, Jordan Hardy, Paul Harrington, Tim Done and Laura Monmoth MC)

Tonight I was at the Roadhouse in Birmingham for the new act/new material night. These nights are lovely, although a swine of a journey, especially when some inconsiderate git closes part of the M1 off on the way home. The room here is cosy, the atmosphere welcoming and the room friendly. The only thing it is missing are a couple of those sentry guns from Aliens, which may persuade people to close the doors into the performance room behind them. Compere was Laura Monmoth.
Monmoth began compering with a bit of Morse code, which led into a few visual gags, which was a fun start to the night. When it comes to the Trans Woman Action Team, there is potentially a very good routine just in that bit alone if she chooses to flesh it out. Laura kept the show going nicely and with the large number of acts, did well to keep timings under control. Truth told, the room doesn’t need a lot of compering, as it is mostly acts present. However, tonight there were a few more civilians, which is very nice to see. Monmoth had an enjoyable night and did a good job.
Tom Christian opened the show with some new material. This is an act who is doing very well, winning a gong show two weeks ago in an impressive way. Tonight he was doing one liners and puns. In the last fortnight, I’ve seen both Gary Delaney and Phil Pagett, which sets the bar very high when it comes to punnage. Christian did very well with his work, being clever and funny in equal measure. Not everything landed, but the majority did. A few of the conceptual running gags were a tad laboured, but with a bit more consideration, these will work. This was a very strong set from a versatile artist.
Gary Peterson was second on the bill. He began with a bit of low powered beard related material. This was competent, but not especially stand out. He had stronger material related to scrotums. Peterson had a good stage presence and held the room well, showing promise, but his material could do with a few improvements.
Josh Pugh closed the first section. He’s a very talented act who should at least be a semi-pro, as he has a lot of ability. Tonight he demonstrated good delivery, good material and got good laughs. I especially enjoyed the section on name dropping. He, along with Christian, would be a good addition on a pro line up.
Resuming after the intermission, we began with Sarah Airey, an act who I’ve met plenty of times, but never seen perform before. Her set is autobiographical in nature and is of two definite halves, with the first half setting up the second. Of these halves, the second is by far the stronger and the material involved, indeed the entire premise, is rather unique and has a lot of charm and real potential. The first half was funny, but the second half is where the real joy is, evidenced by the hearty laughs that greeted each reveal. I really enjoyed her work and look forwards to seeing how Airey develops her set.
Danny Beet followed. He had a mixed set, with some current affairs material and some stuff relating to age. The current affairs section was stronger, but I feel his lack of stage presence isn’t helping him. Tonight he kept his jacket on, which perhaps if he had taken it off, or gone with a less formal approach, may have assisted him. I could be wrong. At times I struggled to hear him, and I thought at first it might have been his accent, or his failing to project his voice, but it could actually have been the moments when he was walking away from me, towards his notes. Decent material, but needs to work on delivery and presence. He’ll get there.
Joe Bowley had a good night, with his mix of magic, mirth and a song. He has a nice refreshing approach, which helped him deliver his material. He could do with avoiding lines like, ‘so I’m still single’ which is a bit hack, but given the strength of his material, I’m surprised he included it in the first place. This is a comic with an eclectic set who I hope to see more of.
Liam Dillon-Cambridge had a confident delivery, but made a slow start, gradually building up momentum as he went. I wasn’t massively keen on his material, as a large part of it consisted of taking the piss out of unlikely warnings on everyday objects. I don’t feel this is breaking any new ground. However, the rest of the room felt it was funny and gave him an applause break, so fair play.
Concluding the middle section was Rob MacKellar, whose set was more clever than funny. A lot of it pertained to bags for life, riffing off of the various permutations and logical development of this theme. It was clever and novel, but low on laughs. He did have a call back to a spot of Laura’s compering, which reaped a huge laughter dividend and achieved two things. One, it rescued his set and two it demonstrated that there is a rather sharp comedic brain there. I like clever comedy (see Peter Brush), but it has to have more laughs than what was in this set. I would consider MacKellar to have the potential to do a very nice, clever and funny set, but this wasn’t it. I look forwards to seeing him with different material.
Jordan Hardy began the final segment, this being his very first time in front of a microphone. He had a good night. On the debit side, he was reading from notes and had a few too many erms for my liking, but then as this was his first time, both these issues are eminently forgivable. He also had material on tinder, but as a new performer, he won’t know that this has been done to death over the last few months. On the credit side, he had some really nice touches, with some very good material. His American section was especially good. He is someone who should continue to do stand up.
Paul Harrington is a nice pleasant person whose delivery was more confident than his material really warranted. Some of this material was extremely weak and generic, but this can be improved upon, given time. The room enjoyed his set more than I did.
Tim Done (pronounced Dohne) closed. He has a nice presence on stage, almost verging on flamboyance, which was rather nice and appealing. He began with some local references before moving on to quite a large section about being Gay. This was fine material and it got good laughs, but did threaten to monopolise his set. Whilst this section was really good, he may wish to consider broadening his topics, as a set that consists largely of one area does, to me, have an unbalanced feel to it and 8 minutes of any topic can be a bit much. Done gave us a very entertaining fun set and is a chap who had a good night.

Blessington Carriage – Gary Delaney, Ryan Dalton, Robbie Ormrod, Andy Stedman and John Whale

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy Clubs- East Midlands​ gig at the Blessington Carriage. Despite having been there a few times before, tonight I had a real problem finding it. The one way system seemed to take a perverse pleasure in spitting me back out the way I had come in; either that or there are 3 Top Chef restaurants in Derby. The Blessington Carriage has been closed for renovations and I was rather hoping they had fixed the dodgy electrics, but sadly the lights continue to flicker. The venue was packed out tonight, apart from a small row of chairs at the front. Also present was Caimh McDonnell, who unfortunately wasn’t doing a set, but who had come with his friend Mr Delaney, and Derby based comedian, Billy Mcguire – it’s always nice to see local talent supporting comedy nights. To begin with there was rather a lot of noise from downstairs, but this was soon drowned out by laughter. Compere was Spiky Mike, who was having the time of his life with the story of Cameron and the pig. I have a feeling that Mike hasn’t stopped laughing since he heard the news and this translated into a very nice warm up. The opening act was Ryan Dalton.

Dalton began by referencing his appearance as being ‘visually tricky’, which was a nice gambit. At 6’7 he had a fair bit to say over this. He then moved on to material relating to his time spent working in a theme park. This was decent and went down well, but was not especially stand out. He was on better ground when discussing accents, this was very good, as was his section on a tricky holiday (especially the lizard). He’s got a good delivery and was a fair opener. The room enjoyed his set and he received consistent laughs.

Following Dalton was Gary Delaney. Delaney was doing 3 separate stints on the stage tonight, interspersed with the other acts.This was a warm up for an episode of Mock the Week, which was being recorded the next day. It was a case of him trying stuff out on likely news stories and so on. Delaney has bags of charm and his glee at seeing a pun hit home hard was wonderful to watch – he’d dance a little jig on stage. It was really nice to see him there with a clip board and reams of paper, ticking gags, or putting a line through them as appropriate. The standard he set himself was incredibly high. He crossed out many a pun that 90% of other comedians would have been satisfied with. He opened with a nice gag and received an applause break for that one line. This more or less set the tone for all 3 of his sets. Recently I’ve been spoilt by seeing a couple of very nice one liner comedians, most notably Phil Pagett, and I was wondering if Delaney was still the gaffer. I can say that he is, although that is more a comment on his strength, than on any perceived weaknesses in others. A lot of the material that he tested was more or less unbroadcastable for legal reasons, which gave his work an illicit thrill. It must be said that Cameron and the pig is the gift that keeps on giving. All of his work tonight was a total joy to watch.

Robbie Ormrod resumed after the first intermission. He began with a small routine on cheering, which whilst it injected some energy into the room, I wasn’t that keen on personally. Whilst there was nothing wrong with it per se, I feel that unless audience interaction like this is a set up for something particularly strong, it just takes up time that could be used better. However, as said, this was just a small part of his night. Ormrod is a comedian who isn’t afraid of the audience. He doesn’t mind them throwing stuff out, as it is all grist to his mill. I suspect that he either does a fair amount of compering, or there is a rather talented compere lurking there, as he looks to have impressive skills in this line. At one point he had a personal narrator and a member of the audience heckling another. This sounds tricky, but in truth, he never looked even close to losing control of the room. His material was quite eclectic, which added to his appeal, but perhaps his strongest attribute is his delivery. Some comics shout, some go at a fast pace and some add pauses in an effort to put emphasis where it is needed. Instead, Ormrod just moderated his tone of voice. This is pretty simple in concept, but is something a lot of comedians don’t seem to master so well. This was a well rounded performance that was well appreciated.

Following the second Delaney stint was Andy Stedman, who can’t have been too chuffed at going on after Delaney had took the roof off (again). Stedman does a lot of musical comedy. This is something that, I’m not too keen on, mostly because the amount of time spent on set ups means that reveals are a bit too spread out for me. However, the rest of the room were very keen. He began with a reworking of a song that at first seemed to be more clever and ingenious than funny, but which suddenly came to life when he mentioned the beard. This was especially entertaining and given current fashion, highly relevant. His closing song involved a couple of members of the audience, which tied it in rather well, giving the room a nice feel good set.

Closing the night, after the 3rd instalment of Delaney was John Whale. I last saw him 8 days ago up in Kirton-in-Lindsey and whilst I like to have a longer gap between seeing acts, it was no hardship to see him again so soon. Naturally his set hasn’t altered too dramatically over 8 days, but he has updated sections of it to include material relating to current events. This is very good, as sets can go stale and it gave it an air of immediacy. As he was doing a longer set, he included some extra material relating to Josef Fritzl. This shows great potential, as in places it was extremely strong, but every so often, mostly when referring back to Ms Kelly, it would just lose a bit of momentum. If this could be made a tad more punchy, then this would make a most excellent routine. It’s good as it stands, but as stated, just seems to need a bit more in places. Tonight Whale’s delivery was slightly different to what I saw previously. I’ve commented on him knowing the value of a pause, whereas tonight he didn’t seem to pause so much. I’m not sure if his set was stronger for this or not, either way he had a good night. There were just two little things that he could have done differently – his checking of the time was a tad clumsy, although he made the best of it and I felt his checking of his hand could have been handled better. Having said that, he did well and I enjoyed seeing him again, even though it was such a short time in-between.

Oh, and if getting lost on my way in wasn’t bad enough, there was a diversion on the way home. One of those little joys where the chaps doing it put out two signs and you spend the next 15 minutes convinced you’re going to end up in a farm yard.

Kayal Gong Show – Paul Laight, Chris Sherwood, Dan Nicholas, Shaun Turner, Jake Pickford, Alex Leam, Andrew Carberry, Carmen Ali, Sam Wyatt, Taco, Matt Adlington, Houssem Rhaiem, Daniel Triscott and Jay Islaam

Leicester is a city that specialises in providing dead monarch storage and closed roads heading home. Tonight I was at the Kayal in Leicester for the Funhouse gong show. The venue was upstairs in quite a nice restaurant. The room was a cracking example of art deco, looking like a cross between a period cinema and a location for Poirot. Luckily no one died tonight. Not quite. Spiky Mike had impressed me with a bill of 13 entrants to his gong show in Nottingham last week, but surpassed this with 14 tonight. The stand out names on the bill were Dan Nicholas and Jay islaam, but I’ve also seen both Houssem Rhaiem and Chris Sherwood put in good nights. The rest of the names, bar one, were people I wasn’t so familiar with. The formation was 4, 6, 4, with no virgin performers.
Opening was Paul Laight. He began well, giving short routines. This was nice and it also made sense tactically, as he was against a clock. He got good laughs for his dogging material and did have some nice hidden reveals to his stuff. His delivery was fine, but it just seemed to be missing a bit of spark. It’s possible he was having an off night, or could just benefit from more consistent stage time, but tonight, whilst competent, he struck me as needing something to lift his set a bit. He did get through to the final quite easily, though.
Chris Sherwood followed. He began with some visual aids to his material, which went down nicely, followed by a strong set with references to his mum and to Mansfield, which travelled surprisingly well. The audience were really going for this, which was nice to see. The energy did dip a touch during the WTF segment, but this was rescued by a lovely reveal. Sherwood got through to the final and had a nice night into the bargain.
Dan Nicholas was next. He’s got the combination of good material and also a really good performance. There is a lot of mileage in his facial expressions and general physicality on stage, these really help him put his stuff over. He’s confident on stage and was willing to engage with the audience drawing them into his set. No one dared let their attention wander, just incase he put them on the spot. He received good laughs and again was a finalist. This is someone with a lot of raw ability. He does engage in surrealism at times and this can split rooms, but Nicholas is certainly someone to look out for.
The final act of the first section was Shaun Turner. He has some nice material, but the majority of it concerns him having cerebral palsy and the various incidents and issues that arise as a result. Things such as this can form the basis of a nice set, but perhaps there would be a broader appeal in a set that encompassed more topics. There is only so much mileage one can get out of any particular area. This isn’t to say he’s bad, or had a bad night – he was a finalist, but I think a wider approach to material would prove a bonus to him.
Jake Pickford opened the middle section. He gave us two different approach’s, one being prop based and the other being a more traditional stand up. He had some nice observations and banter, but the majority of his set consisted of him getting items out of a bag and giving them to audience members. This was a bit gimmicky, but it did help see him through to the final, as I believe the judges were interested in seeing if he was going anywhere with it. However, he didn’t really take it to any climax or build upon it. This was a shame, as there were a few avenues he could have explored, but didn’t. Although I didn’t really enjoy this, as I felt passing stuff around from a bag wasn’t really comedy, the room had a good time.
Alex Leam opened with material involving the audience thinking he meant one thing, when he meant another all along. This can be a nice approach, but unfortunately he didn’t choose the strongest example to go with. His set was a bit of a slow burner with material that wasn’t that stand out. He didn’t get the time for his material to blossom as he was gonged off. If he had gone with more punchy material he might have stood a better chance.
Andrew Carberry was also an early gonging. He had a fast delivery, but didn’t really connect with the audience. Perhaps if he had spoken more slowly the room would have listened and given him time to with which to build.
Carmen Ali’s set was like a simile. She used the phrase a (something) is like a (something incongruous) a few times. A lot of this involved boyfriends and so on. This approach has been done a fairly often and unless it can somehow be made different it is hard to stand out. She didn’t proceed to the final.
Sam Wyatt had a good night. He began by miming to a song. This went down a treat, as the sight of a chap with the build of a lumberjack miming and dancing so well is really unexpected. He then did a bit of material, which was well received, before miming to another song, using an audience member as a stooge. The climax came from two really nice visual reveals, which got massive laughs from the room. I enjoyed his set, but I felt he could be in danger of being a novelty act, as his second mime didn’t really leave him anywhere to go. He certainly would have struggled to pick up the microphone and start telling jokes after the clothing reveals.
As Sam had pretty much ripped the roof off the gig, Taco, who was following was always going to have a hard time. He made an error in going with part of his usual 10 set. Whilst this may work well as a 10, it didn’t provide enough immediate laughs to keep the audience’s faith in him. This was a shame, as he had plenty of charm and a nice delivery, even though his material wasn’t the strongest.
Opening the final section was the eventual winner, Matt Adlington. Although Wyatt achieved the strongest laughs, Adlington was the only comedian to receive an applause break. He began with the perennial favourite of the bald and bearded – head on upside down. He had a throwaway line: ‘because I’m a winner,’ which is rapidly replacing ‘because that’s just how I roll’ as the throwaway line of choice. There was also a list of the implausible side effects of medication. Individually these are all bits that have been done a few times by different comics. This material didn’t strike me as being the most ground breaking, but Adlington does have a nice delivery, which helped sell his set. The audience liked him and he won, but I feel that if he were to reconsider his material he would be able to go further.
Houssem Rhaiem opened with a nice ad lib and then proceeded to have another nice night, getting good laughs along the way. He’s got a nice delivery, but would perhaps benefit from a tiny bit more interaction with the audience. He may well want to reconsider the plumber/porn gag, though, as that is a bit common currency and based upon the strength of his material, it’s obvious he can do better than that. He was a finalist, the second time in two outings for him this week, which is really nice to see.
Tonight Daniel Triscott demonstrated the law of diminishing returns. He had some nice charts, which unlike a lot of visual aids, were actually visible from the back of the room. These were well drawn and were a nice idea, but by the 5th sheet, the audience’s enthusiasm had diminished. There is always a danger with a visual heavy set that the audience will let their attention meander. This routine would perhaps work better if it was mixed more with stand up and other bits, before he then went back to a graph/chart that tied in or was a call back of some kind. This would reap a greater dividend. 

Closing was Jay Isaam’s new character piece. This had only been written a few hours beforehand and it was possibly the first time it had been spoken aloud in the presence of others. He didn’t make it through to the final, but there is certainly a lot of room for development in this new creation. Jay’s voice did slip a bit back to his natural voice during delivery, but this is merely a slight teething problem. I’m looking forwards to seeing more.

The Maze – McGuire, Hollins, Pagett (10 spots) – Gong Show – Tommy Taylor, Chris Stiles, Sam, Ashely Gibson, Raj AC, Tom Christian, Fergus Caird, Pat Robinson, Michael Dryburgh and Peter de Biasio

Gong shows have something of a reputation for being a Curate’s egg. However, I think this reputation is somewhat unfair. The stereotype of misfits who have somehow eluded their carer for an hour is very much misplaced. I find them to contain a mix of up and coming acts using them for stage time, comedians hoping to catch the eye of the promoter, with a view to progression and of course the odd performing virgin. Tonight at Funhouse Comedy Clubs- East Midlands​ gong show in the Maze it was no exception. The initial line up was a particularly strong one, with the names Pagett, Uttley, Christian and Stiles jumping out. However, owing to various circumstances, the final bill was significantly different (regrettably no Uttley or Sherwood, etc).

Spikey Mike ended up with thirteen (count ’em!) acts. Three well established acts did 7-10 spots to warm the room up, taking no place in the actual gong show. This worked quite well, but had two side effects; one being that it ran the risk of depressing anyone performing for the first time and it also threw all my expectations of who was a contender for winning up into the air. Originally, I had anticipated an interesting fight between Pagett and Uttley, but instead, it now looked like being between Tom Christian and Michael Dryburgh, although Chris Stiles has progressed no end in the last 6 months and couldn’t be ruled out. This added some excitement to the night.

The first of the 10 spots was Billy McGuire, who gave the room a mixture of gags and short routines. It took me a few moments to adjust to his accent, but he gave an enjoyable set and nicely started things off. His poem was especially memorable, although it would have been improved if the other bar had turned their music down a touch.

He was followed by Matt Hollins, looking younger following a short hair cut. Hollins made a good start, but did skate a little on the edge of losing with the room with infinite monkeys, before pressing on. He had an extremely nice call back to his opening material which was a particular joy. Although he perhaps would have been better coming off when he first mooted the notion of his time being up, he gave a good performance and seemed to have more force to him that previously. I’ve seen Hollins four times. The first two occasions he didn’t seem to make much of an impression. The third time was at an unplayable gig where he did well in verbally battering a disruptive drunk and tonight he again did well. Things are looking up for Hollins.

The final of the ten spots was the ever impressive Phil Pagett. I’ve seen him three times. I’ve seen him do well three times and I’ve no doubt that the fourth time I see him he’ll do even better. He had really good short gags and puns, some clever word play and I’d say within thirty seconds, he was a man on a roll. This is a comedian who has both good material and a good delivery. A real joy to watch.

After a brief intermission the gong show began. Opening was Tommy Taylor, not to be confused with Tom Taylor. He strode onto the stage, looking plausible, but although he got through to the final, failed to deliver the goods. He had the basis of a routine and a confident delivery, but it was a tad light on laughs. However, it was a nice set and he didn’t do badly.

Following was Chris Stiles, a comedian who is really coming on nicely. I don’t know how full his gig diary is, but given his willingness to try new material, with enough stage time, he could get very good, indeed. He made a nice start and took a workmanlike approach to his time, hitting the room from the off with material. This is highly sensible in a gong show, with only two minutes before the first chance for the audience to reject an act. The clairvoyant provided laughs, the pilot even bigger laughs and the new part about Texas weddings worked well, although the ending needs a look at (possibly a call back to something earlier would work a treat). It wasn’t any surprise when he went through to the final.

A chap called Sam followed. Regrettably I’ve not got his surname, which is a shame, as he gave a strong performance. He had a play on PC terms for gambling and some good fun in turning stereotypes inside out. Although he lost a bit of momentum towards the end, he did well.

Ashley Gibson is an interesting act. He’s a nice pleasant chap who has a decent delivery, but who is let down by his material. Some of this material sounds rather common knowledge, almost dad joke territory, instead of having been written by the act specially for the night. This is a pity, as I feel with better material he’d give a much stronger performance.

Raj AC was up next. He had a nice reference to the Daily Express, before launching into a song. This was probably a tactical error on his part. Although he has a melodious voice, this song was a bit underpowered and there was a clock ticking. He didn’t make the final.

The final act of the first section was Tom Christian. From his first moment on stage it was obvious he can do the business. He made a strong start with Meatloaf and then basically went from strength to strength. The only bit that was anything less than really good was ant powder, but even so, this was a lead in to other material that was, again, really good. During the final, where the acts had one minute to make a final impression, he was the only one who received an applause break. He was the winner in the applause off and demonstrated a very high level of skill tonight.

Fergus Caird resumed play after the break. He looked confident, sounded confident, but unfortunately his material didn’t live up to this confidence.

Pat Robinson began with Essex Girl jokes, all current in FHM/Loaded/The Sun/Viz/The Beano/The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle circa many years ago. She then went on to tackle things like Embarassing Bodies and how people go on there with awkward problems, but don’t mind the world knowing all about it. I felt she needed far better material. However, the room laughed and she made it through to the final.

The next comedian was Michael Dryburgh, who is a good reliable act and one who is having a very nice Summer. He seems to have stepped up a gear recently and is proving himself to be very good entertainment. Tonight he seemed to make a slow start, but the audience soon warmed to him and he got consistent laughs. He had a good night and easily made it through to the final.

The final act was Peter de Biasio. He had a routine of two halves. Part based around a song, which went down well and another based upon weight, which was by far the stronger of the two. He has a good delivery and also made it through to the final.

The George, Kirton-in-Lindsey – Alfie Moore, Sammy Dobson, Alex Hylton, John Whale and Steve Royle

There are some gigs where being 30 minutes door to door is a selling point, and then there are those gigs that you’d don’t mind a 100 mile round trip for. Tonight I was at Funhouse’s gig in Kirton-in-Lindsey, also known as Kirton-in-the-Sticks. This is one of those rather charming nights where there is a country pub and something that’s been in short supply at a few gigs recently – an audience who are really up for a good night and appreciate the acts. Also, having Alfie Moore on the bill was a big inducement for me to spend two hours in a car getting paranoid about having gone from the national speed limit to 50, without having noticed the sign.
The audience was smaller than last time I was here, but there was easily enough people for a gig and a good one at that. The age range was broad and the atmosphere was eager. Compere was Spiky Mike and the opening act was Alfie Moore.
Alfie Moore is a comedian who is the performer and writer of what, to me, is one of the most consistently funny series on the Wireless – It’s a fair cop. Listening to this little gem of a programme has brightened up many a journey this Summer and I hope for an early return to the airwaves. Whilst Moore may be known for this show, I have seen him perform before, ironically, ten minutes from my house, so I knew we were in safe hands from the opening.
He started well, making an instant connect with the audience. Even a deliberate groaner of a gag about Jonathan Ross garnered lots of appreciation. Personally, I was interested in how much of a crossover there would be between his wireless show and his live show. I didn’t believe there would be a greatest hits scenario, but as a lot of his radio material was excellent, there is an obvious temptation to go down this road. Moore didn’t take this way out. He used some of the stuff from his shows, but sparingly and more as a framework to build a very nice set around. There is obviously no famine when he comes to selecting material to use. The entire set had a great natural flow to it, with call backs, some audience work and a belter of a closer. I would argue that his closer was worth the admittance price alone and judging from the audience reaction to this and the entire set, he will be well remembered in Kirton.
Following the intermission, there were three ten spots. The first of these was Sammy Dobson. She began fast, with a lot of words per minute, throwing energy out. She has quite an engaging persona and this helps her performance a lot. She did lose momentum a couple of times (Stolen joy and during the visual props section), but never for long. She has some nice touches and didn’t have a bad night. I’ll be interested in seeing her a bit later along her career, as with a bit more experience she’ll be stronger. At the moment, she had the feel of a work in progress – someone with talent and ability, who will get there, but isn’t quite there, yet.
Following was Alex Hylton, who was a surprise bonus to the night, not having been on the bill. He gave a very enjoyable performance and behind Alfie Moore was the act I most appreciated. His set had a nice balanced feel to it. He began by referencing the room. This immediately made an impact and it also made it clear that he wasn’t just reciting his performance – it gave him a real presence. The ad libs and audience work really gave his set a feel of the here and now. Frankly, I adore this kind of approach – it is miles away from someone merely monologuing whilst they are probably trying to remember if they got the mince out the freezer. He was on a bit of thin ice with some of the audience interaction, because as he missed Spiky Mike’s compering he did ask a few people questions they had been asked already, but this didn’t become a case of deja-vu and is something to learn from. His closing routine was very strong and one bit of new material that didn’t quite hit the mark (references) shows a lot of promise. When Hylton began, he did split the room with some of his more genital based material, but come the end of his set, the audience were lapping him up. This was a strong middle ten from a very talented comedian.
The third of the three 10s was John Whale. He began with a nice opening gambit, before going on to list euphemisms for being drunk. This list received an applause break, mostly for effort as it is a very long list, before he got to the reveal, which in the end was pretty decent and worth the set up. This was similar to his bus material, a fairly long set up, but for a decent pay off. The material regarding the horse stood out for being noticeably stronger than the rest and was great fun to listen to. Whale has a good delivery. In contrast to some acts, who are afraid of silence, he doesn’t mind short pauses. His pace is well moderated, he doesn’t swear much, but when he does, it works fantastically to add emphasis.
Closing was Steve Royle. There have been occasions where I have been in a room where I have been the only person enjoying a comedian. Usually, these are those sorts of gigs where people have paid good money to sit and be miserable. I find reviews like that easy enough to write up. What I do find more difficult is when it comes to writing a review of a comedian who I didn’t really enjoy, but whom everyone else did. Tonight Steve Royle had an excellent night and the audience were fully with him, laughing heartily. He has a style of delivery that isn’t that removed from Peter Kay and Dave Spikey. He repeats a lot of words and phrases and talks to the audience in a manner that a friend or neighbour would. Royle doesn’t deal with politics or other ‘issues’. Instead, his material is instantly recognisable to audiences over thirty – expensive UK holidays, advice from mum’s and continental quilts (that last one works just as well if you do it in a garlic bread style). This was really appreciated by the audience. However, to me, in a very definite minority, it left me cold. Apart from one reference to twitter, this was a set that could have been delivered in any year from around 1980 onwards. This is similar to how I feel about the work of Kay and Dave Spikey. However, as stated, I was in a tiny minority on this and whilst he isn’t for me the audience thoroughly enjoyed him.

Nottingham Jongleurs – Bethany Black, Addy van der Borgh, Colin Havey, Ignacio Lopez and John Scott MC

If yesterday i had been asked what do four comedians and an MC in Jongleurs have in common with the chaps who paint the Forth Bridge, I’d have been stumped. After attending a night of comedy, I can now provide the answer: as soon as they think they are getting somewhere, they have to start all over again at the beginning.
Ironically, this wasn’t the night out I was supposed to be having. All week I’d been set to go to The Gladstone, but owing to various factors, it didn’t look as if I would be going out at all this Friday. Luckily I managed to arrange it so I could. However, I then realised that all of the acts at The Gladstone have been reviewed by me fairly recently. I then noticed that Colin Havey was going to be in Nottingham Jongleurs and so this problem solved itself.
For a Friday night, Jongleurs was fairly empty – in fact the tables looked as if they had been spread out to create the illusion of a bigger audience than what there really was. The crowd was older than what you’d expect for a Friday night, centre of town comedy club, too. There were a lot of couples and in contrast to my last visit, nary a stag party in sight. When I arrived, there were still plenty of people dining, giving the room the air of a rather upmarket bistro. The staff in Jongleurs are friendly and courteous and know how to run a comedy night, closing the bars, announcing the rules and so on, which made the arrangement of tables all the more surprising. From my position, it looked like a sprinkling of tables in a sea of floor. Not the sort of set up to help generate critical mass, or even any kind of mass, really.
As stated, this room was like the Forth Bridge painting contract. The comedians would hit them with a solid line, get a bit of a laugh and then the room would automatically reset itself and they’d have to begin from scratch again. Unfortunately, the default setting of this room tonight was apathy. They weren’t an unpleasant crowd, or even rowdy; just dormant. It was as if they were in hibernation. My belief is that a different lay out with the tables would have worked wonders. As it was, it was a deeply frustrating night for Bethany Black, Addy van der Borgh, Colin Havey, Ignacio Lopez and above all for the compere, John Scott.
I was quite surprised to find that John Scott was MC – I had assumed that he was the headliner. This gave me mixed feelings, not unpleasant ones, just mixed. I’ve seen him perform before and he’s got some wonderful political material, with some very astute observations. This set is a joy to watch and I was looking forwards to hearing his take on the Labour leadership election. However, this was not to be. He was down as compere. I’ve not seen him compere, but he looks like he doesn’t take prisoners and I was sure he’d have the sort of natural authority to rein in any rowdy stag parties present. So, on balance, I decided that although I wasn’t getting the political comedy he is known for, I would still be thoroughly entertained by him. This was all good stuff as far as I was concerned. Scott had started the day in Greece at 5AM, flown home to Newcastle and then driven to Nottingham, which put my commute home from work this morning in the shade.
Scott came on to the stage to what could be described as a muted response. It was one step up from indifference, but not by much. Sort of like a batsman fumbling a certain six and just getting a single. He began with some banter, not made easier by a large and conspicuously empty table right at the front. However, no one seemed to want to talk. Every answer was as monosyllablic as it could have been. He made what he could from the responses, but everything seemed to fall flat. With one girl, he seemed to have a lucky break – she was a politics student. As soon as I heard this, I thought he’d got a wonderful opportunity to work material in, as the room wasn’t going for banter. Scott made the most out of this, throwing in some really strong material and the result of this was merely smiles and titters. By this stage, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was wondering if this audience were stooges for a practical joke. He was using bits of his routine that I’ve seen smash it elsewhere and nothing was coming back. This was a shame, as he is talented and has great material. After the first intermission, he brought out the big guns and hit the room with some of his best stuff. These are what I’d consider to be bankers. However, he again fell victim to this weird factory reset into apathy that the audience seemed so keen on. He was a man working his proverbials off, to very little effect. Although I’ve seen him compere now, I don’t really judge this as a fair trial due to the nature of the room. He worked hard, I enjoyed him, but he was stymied by a mute audience.
The first act on was Bethany Black. It’s been at least a year since I last saw Black at Just the Tonic and there she was the victim of an unfortunate running order. She opened that night and the audience was too sober and too pre-watershed for her strongest material to hit home to full effect. On that particular night, she would have had a far better gig if she had closed. Since then, her acting career has really taken off in a wonderful way, with credits in Banana, Cucumber, Tofu and most impressively an upcoming appearance in Dr Who. Whilst all this success is well deserved and lovely, it did make me wonder how it had affected her as a comedian.
The answer is that it hasn’t. Tonight her timing was good, her delivery was fine and her material is as strong as ever. Alright, she seemed to go up a bit of a blind alley with fitbit, but this was very minor. However, just like Scott, she would throw out solid 8-9s and get the response from a 4 come back. In some respects this was a bit surreal. Her performance was fine, but nothing seemed to be happening. The only time the audience briefly came awake was towards the end of her set, but apart from this, apathy and a resistance to momentum dominated.
Her material is strong and whilst a lot of it consists of things you perhaps wouldn’t repeat to your gran, it has a large number of hits in it – jigsaw, clean by now, clown music to name but a few real gems. However, this material poses a question that I think must be difficult to answer: When do you change what is a winning set and also is it wise to try new stuff when an audience is as unreceptive as this one? I would estimate that a large proportion of her set is unchanged from when I saw her previously. This is not a criticism, although I daresay it sounds like one. Any comedian who had a set this good would be wary of chopping and changing too much and especially on a night when solid bankers are needed. I enjoyed her and I hope to see her again. Bethany Black is good fun to watch.
Following Black was Addy van der Borgh. This is a comedian who gives a really strong performance that adds real value to his material. Some comedians deliver their material, Van der Borgh performs it. He adds little dance moves and sound effects that are a real pleasure to see. His material isn’t yet as strong as his performance, but of the two this is something that will come. A style like his is natural and can’t be learnt. This is very much on the credit side of the ledger. At present his material just lags a bit behind his delivery. The terrorist insurance routine is extremely strong and is a real stand out, but the rest, whilst decent just requires a little bit more to it. This will come and with his strong performance will make him a really good act. I’m also sure he will manage it, as he demonstrated a wonderful creativity with his ad libs. Like everyone else, though, despite his strong showing, he didn’t get the response from the audience that he deserved.
After the intermission it was Colin Havey. Jongleurs booking him is quite an astute move on their part, as he is a future star of the UK comedy scene. I’ve seen him just the once before, where he gave a strong showing on an above average bill. Havey appearing here was one of the things that influenced my attendance, as I was interested in how he had developed since our paths had last crossed.
By the time Havey got onto the stage I knew that tonight was going to be a really difficult night. The audience had ranged from apathetic to mute for everyone else, despite being offered material that would have smashed many a gig. At this stage, the question wasn’t so much how well Havey would do, but more how would he deal with such a room. The conclusion to this was fairly well. He made a bit of a slow start, but then relaxed into his set and came out with some really nice material. The audience laughed when they were meant to, but like every other comic tonight, they consistently gave back less than what the material deserved. He bravely tried some new stuff which worked well and is well worth keeping and developing. It was a bit frustrating watching him work for a smaller return that he should have got and I think it would have put a lot of comedians off their stride more than it did him. Whilst Havey didn’t have the night he was hoping for (no one did tonight), he still did well and provided a lot of entertainment in his set. Havey is a someone to look out for in the future, as he has a lot to offer.
Closing was Ignacio Lopez, an act I’ve seen in part on television, but never live before. He’s a good looking chap who has a nice loud laugh and was a welcome addition to the bill. Tonight he gave a confident performance with a set that hung together well. As a man of mixed parentage he had a lot of material from both sides of his heritage and this made for a strong set. Also, he resisted that perennial favourite of comedians born elsewhere – the outsider looking in. Quite a few foreign born comics essentially give the audience the contents of a postcard home, describing the foibles of British society. This can be good fun, but it is also a trifle overused. Lopez stayed away from this, delivering material unique to his heritage and ending on a couple of really good songs. In fact it is a testament to his ability that he was the person who came closest to actually having a gig tonight. Every so often, he’d get close to building some momentum, which with this audience was no mean feat.

Nottingham Royal Concert Hall – Alan Carr

Tonight I was at The Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham to see Alan Carr. He’s a comedian who I’ve seen on dvd and obviously on the telly, but never before actually live. The show was 45 minutes for the first half, a 20 minute interval and then a second half of 45 minutes. The title of the show is Yap, Yap, Yap. A nebulous and random title in some ways, as there was only one reference to it during the entire show.

Carr came on to a lot of love from the audience – a bit too much really. These were people who had come to see Carr, not because he is a comedian, but because he is Alan Carr. Throughout the night he received good responses to his work from a crowd that he would have been hard put to totally alienate. This can make a nice evening, but you can wonder how hard someone with such a following has to try to keep them happy.

I, personally, found his material to be weak. There were some nice touches, mostly around ad libs, where he did demonstrate some sharpness, but a lot of the routines were banal. There was no real sense of a thread running through the night, nor of him ever building up to anything. This was more a collection of anecdotes delivered to a friendly room than an actual comedy show. He had a lot of call backs and generally I like these, they really add to a night, but in this case they just seemed to highlight how weak his material was. There was nothing in his routine that really stands out as being a killer line, routine, high point or even that memorable. There will be few people at work on Monday, saying, ‘I saw that Alan Carr and he said this….’ It was all very congenial and was well received by his audience, but it considering how the show title had so little to do with the show, it could just as easily have been titled ‘An evening with….’

Carr’s delivery wasn’t bad, but seemed to rely more on persona, than anything else. How he was putting things across was funny just because it was Carr saying it. His physical actions and dancing about were nice and did add to his delivery, but this couldn’t help shift my feeling that his material was rather hollow and this was glossing over that. A case of style over substance.

After the intermission there was a 5 minute photo opportunity, which the fans loved, but which I felt summed up a lot of the night: great for the fans, but not offering much for the outsider. Everyone else laughed and had a good time, but I feel this is despite the weaknesses in material, rather than any strengths.

Ashby de la Zouch – Dominic Woodward, James Bran, James Sherwood and Mike Gunn

Tonight I was in the Lyric Rooms in Ashby de la Zouch, a land of ‘private – resident parking only’ signs and a walk from the car park long enough to count as a constitutional. Funhouse Comedy Clubs- East Midlands​ run a very nice gig here. The venue is in a room that is approximately the size of a barn, with the stage on one side and the audience in a 180 degree crescent surrounding them. The acts tend to look as if they are imitating a lighthouse, spinning round to address all 180 degrees. This is by far the best layout for such a large room, though. One nice touch in this place was having staff wander the audience during the intermission selling ice cream. The audience was largely over forty, but with a fair number of youngsters. They looked a bit more respectable than many audiences, making me wonder how any blue material would play out. This was a sold out gig, or jolly close to it, which is always splendid to see. The compere was Spiky Mike​, who gave a good performance to a receptive audience. In fact, it was a bit of a shame he came off, as he was having a nice night, but in truth, if he had been up longer, it would have unbalanced the evening. The opening act was Dominic Woodward.

Woodward hit the ground running with material about schools going back that was instantly relatable to most of the audience. This set the scene for an entertaining twenty minutes. Whilst some of the room twigged on to the first reveal with the utility bill material, this was no less enjoyable for it and was the spring board for a snappy routine. Woodward is pretty good at doing characterisations of the people who inhabit his world and this helps to sell his work to great effect. Out of all his material, though, the cold call section has to be the most enjoyable – this is really good stuff. During Spiky Mike’s compering, Woodward was presumably concentrating on his material, as he managed to pick an audience member out for banter whom Mike had already used, asking him exactly the same questions. This was a bit of a slip; naturally he mined this faux pas for laughs and received them, coming out on the credit side. Woodward had a good night and in the unlikely event of the bottom falling out of his career, I think on the evidence of some of his routine, he would make a fine Shakespearean actor.

An essay on philosophy might ask how can a comedian who didn’t make you laugh the most, still be the one that you enjoyed the most? The answer to this would be that they were incredibly sharp, had good material, a great delivery and held the room in the palm of their hand. In other words, it was James Bran in Ashby. Bran delivers his lines in a way that most of us would converse if we were tucked up in bed and drifting off. This is actually very endearing and his diction isn’t a million miles away from Andrew Lawrence. Some comedians deliver material in a shouty way to add the emphasis. Bran doesn’t. He speaks quietly and draws people in, making them concentrate on what he is saying. Whilst he speaks slowly and quietly in a sleepy kind of way, this is deceptive, as his brain is actually very sharp indeed. He demonstrated this by making a knowing play of asking the same audience member the same questions that Woodward and Spiky Mike had, naturally to huge appreciation. Of his material, it all stands up and hangs together with nothing that shouldn’t be in there and some lovely lines, indeed. He deserved more for his Pirate crows nest than the room gave him, though. This is a comedian who I think we’ll hear a lot more about in the coming years.

The second of the middle spots was James Sherwood, a musical comedian. Sherwood began with a literal interpretation of signs, moved on to grammatical deconstruction of songs (with keyboard and vocals) and clues in the songs of people who have gone on to be notorious. So far you could be forgiven for claiming that there is nothing novel in any of this. All of these have individually been covered before. However, taken collectively, they result in a nice mellow set that is both enjoyable and also strangely relaxing. Sherwood has a fine voice and is a talented musician, but when he stepped away from the keyboard and began a more traditional stand up, he demonstrated that he has skill there, too. His section on drugs was particularly solid. This was a nice act who certainly added to the night.

Closing was Mike Gunn, who began with a string of jokes, had a middle section of a string of jokes and then ended in the same way to lots of laughs and applause. All of the acts tonight had a good time, but Gunn was the one that the majority of the room seemed to appreciate the most. He’d begin with a joke and then build a small routine around this with a dozen or so jokes, creating a lot of momentum. He had an amazing work rate, coming close to some of the one liner experts in the number of gags he hit the room with. His set was very polished and I especially enjoyed the call backs. Gunn didn’t put a foot wrong and was  very generous with his time, giving us over 30 minutes of laughter.

This is the second gig in a week I’ve been to where all of the acts had a good night and that is lovely. And just in case you were wondering, any blue material went down absolutely fine.