Comedy playlist music is rather Pavlovian, although I’ve yet to begin salivating when I hear Danny and the Juniors, or the Clash at work, I do get excited. I’ve not yet begun to play air drums yet, but that is surely only a matter of time. Some of you will have realised by the playlist that tonight I was at Spiky Mike’s gong show in Derby. I like Funhouse’s gong shows. They are friendly, with no baying mob mentality and I’ve yet to see any of the acts pack the audience with supporters. This gives them an open feel. Tonight was a busy night, with many newcomers, so many that more chairs were required – something that I like to see. I suspect there was a cancelation on a car share, as we seemed to be low on contestants for a change. Considering that the weather was that bad, I was almost as concerned that my car would sink as crash this would be no surprise. To add to the night, we had three established acts polishing material. Whilst I adore the box of chocolates that is a gong show, it is nice to see some professional acts share the bill, too.
The opening act was Jon Pearson, fresh from a weekend playing Glee down in Oxford. I’ve seen Pearson a lot of times and it’s always a pleasure to see his name on a bill. It does help that he is always developing his material, but you know you are in safe hands when he is present. Tonight he came on to a room that seemed a bit slow to get going, probably due to the number of people who weren’t used to seeing comedy live. This was only something that I noticed through having seen him so often, I daresay that no one else picked this up. They soon warmed up and had a great night. The new gym routine is continuing to prosper, giving great dividends. Tonight, Jon seemed to be on something of a roll with the number of call backs and this really added to his set, gaining him strong laughs. The same can be said for the accents and impression. The gluten material is showing promise, although the Terminator section isn’t there – yet. It will be eventually and when it is worked out it will be strong – like a four legged animal. After his set, Pearson had a good half a dozen people shaking his hand, complimenting him on his work, a nice sign of appreciation of a lovely set.
Jack Shanik’s set could be described via a mathematical formula: 1970’s style delivery + bang up to date references x good audience interaction squared by one liners + a nice flow = an extremely enjoyable set that the audience really went for.
I’ve seen a few comedians that have a whiff of the Wheeltappers and Shunters about their style. However, mostly these have been comics who also marry this delivery to a set that doesn’t contain a single reference to anything post 1980. Shanik is different. It was rather like watching an episode of The Comedians and suddenly Ken Goodwin starts doing a series of jokes about Nigel Farage, not that Shanik covered politics, but you get the impression. This made for an interesting juxtaposition and one that I warmed to. The rest of the room did, too, as he got constant laughs, something that probably didn’t help settle the nerves of the gong show contestants, but then you can’t please everyone.
I’m not always a massive fan of one-liner comedians, with a few notable exceptions (Pagett, Delaney, etc), as I feel a lot fail to build any sense of momentum or feel for a flowing set. Quite often a joke is left to live or die on its’ own with no sense of the set building to something. The best of the one liner experts join jokes together to give a flowing set that builds momentum (see Pagett) and tonight Shanik achieved a nice flow between his jokes, which gave this sense of a set, as opposed to snippets of one. The interaction with the audience was a nice bonus, as this served to draw everyone in. Very enjoyable indeed.
The third of the established ten spots actually went on to close a section of the gong show, but I’m going to review him here, to separate him from the contestants. Stevie Gray had the awkward job of following Jimbo, a contestant who had torn the roof off the gig for all of the wrong reasons. He had a high energy approach, which was a good choice on his part. His set could be divided into three unequal parts. Part one was straight stand up, this went down fairly well, although there is room for a possible double reveal on one section of his material (tossed himself off a bridge?). The second part consisted of some props and gags based upon them. The audience liked this, but I felt there was scope for improvement. Finally it was some songs. These weren’t bad, people laughed and there is room for development. The end result was entertaining without requiring too much thought, which was nice for a Monday night.
My feeling is that Gray was trying new material out and this was a work in progress tonight, rather than his strongest material. He had a nice delivery and plenty of stage-craft and went down well. I’d like to see the finished article, as he had a good night.
The opening contestant of the gong show was Ryan Mather, performing for the first time. Mather’s material consisted of a funny story involving a night out that turned bad. This wasn’t bad for a first attempt, but seemed more of a party piece anecdote than comedy. It would also be hard to develop further, as shown in the final, where he had nothing else to give.
Next was Andrew Marsh. He began with a song (never good in a gong) and then moved onto some material. Unfortunately this wasn’t punchy enough to win over the judges and he was gonged off. He stumbled a bit over his delivery just prior to the vote and this can’t have helped him. Should he begin with some fast jokes with quick pay offs, he would do better. Also, daft as it sounds, having kept his coat on, he didn’t look like he was staying, which is probably neither here nor there, but would have been the first thing my gran would have asked if she’d seen him.
The next contestant was very interesting for all of the right reasons. Ben Oram made a nice start, doing jokes about pubic hair, before making a reference to classic top of the pops that really deserved more than it received. His material was pretty good and showed a surprising level of depth. However, his Don Estelle reference was perhaps 40 years too late and was probably the root cause of what I thought was an undeserved gonging. Oram’s delivery was convincing and he definitely has a nice turn of phrase. I’d like to see more of him, as I thought he showed promise.
The following contestant was very interesting for all of the wrong reasons. Jimbo had evidently decided to take some Dutch Courage prior to performing. It is quite possible that he came to this decision at tea time last Friday and immediately commenced this programme. At first I didn’t realise he was totally rat arsed. I just saw a pensioner dressed as if he were going line dancing, who seemed to have trouble enunciating his words. However, as he mumbled through part of his opening sentence and stopped to breathe it became apparent that he wasn’t at his best. His material ran along the lines of, ‘There are known. The US secretary. The US secretary of defence. He said there are unknown knowns. No, he said there are unknown.’ We never got to the bottom of it, as this took five minutes to get out. By now, some of you will have done your maths and realised he lasted the entire five. In a fit of schadenfreude, every judge voted for him to continue, almost indefinitely. In one respect this was deserved, as he had the room in stitches. I was rather concerned that he might have won, instead he came second. I’ve no idea where he was going or what he was going to say. It’s possible he may not have done either.
Nicky Priest resumed after the intermission. He began with an old gag about a chap visiting the doctor with a cricket ball up his bum. This didn’t go down that well. Priest’s style of delivery also worked against him. Whilst being shouty and loud may work in a large room, or one that is rowdy, on a Monday night in a small intimate gathering it was counterproductive. If he had started with fresher joke and a more quiet and perhaps understated delivery he would have achieved a lot more.
Barrie Fox had a low powered start and failed to build enough momentum for the judges to keep him on. He wasn’t there long enough to leave a strong impression, but perhaps given more stage time he would do so.
The final act was Kevin Caswell-Jones. He had a very enjoyable and comprehensive set. He began with a list of heckles received, which was a way of getting lookalikes/appearance gags worked in, although surprisingly he didn’t reference Patrick Stewart, which could prove a rich vein of material. He then hit warp 9 (sorry) with a call back to contestant no 1’s story, getting good laughs. Caswell-Jone’s set had a nice balance between audience work, and material. Some of the material was better than other bits, but the good stuff was more than decent, even approaching what I would call strong. He has a good stage presence, making me wonder if he has ever done any am-dram. The simple things, such as a quick left and right look before mentioning his wife were real winners, adding depth to what was already a very good set. He was a deserving winner.