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.