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.