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.
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.
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.
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.