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.

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