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.


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