Manhattan 34 – Joel Henderson, Lucy Thompson, Aaran O’Tang, Lori Edwards-Suarez, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Thomas Rackham and Dave McGuckin (MC)

There are certain stock phrases that are used when it comes to commemorating the death of your wife’s gran, however, I doubt that ‘she’s dead, but the comedy in Leicester is live’ is one that will be used often. It seemed logical, considering she died two years ago and it was just my presence at a family dinner that was being discussed, but I think the logic was lost in translation. So tonight, I found myself driving to Leicester on another stormy night. The venue was Manhattan 34, with a cracking little cellar for a comedy night. It was also packed, with standing room only and extra chairs being needed, giving it a tremendous vibe – the polar opposite to 5 comics in the corner of a room of drinkers who are wondering what’s happened in their pub. I do wish the chaps upstairs would turn the music off, though, or at least turn it down, as it does seem to compete the comedians at times.
The compere tonight was Dave McGuckin who took a light touch approach to adding humour, injecting energy instead. Although to be fair, this isn’t a room that requires that much warming up. Half of the Leicester comedy scene were present, so there was a backbone of people who were really up for comedy and the rest of the room were polite and attentive. All that was really required of McGuckin was to organise the night and get acts on and off, which he succeeded in.
Opening was Joel Henderson who took a somewhat novel approach, almost an anti-comedy approach. He turned the conventions on their head, delivering jokes without punch lines, anecdotes without endings and dropping material seemingly part way through. He’d then return to this material much later on, not in chronological order, adding the reveal. When it became apparent that this was his tactic, it made sense of him leaping from topic to topic at random with no links or flow. This did generate laughs, not huge laughs, but laughs none-the-less. I felt that tonight, it seemed more of a concept than a finished product. There is certainly mileage in it and I admire the intelligence of it, but I think it needs more work. It might have worked better if there had been more of a balance to the set. Getting the set up, then an apparent dead end to that material and then 5 minutes later the reveal dropped out as an aside is ok, but it gives the routine a lopsided feel. If the set up was intrinsically funny, then he could be onto a real winner with this.
Lucy Thompson was up next. I like Thompson, she’s got good material and a nice delivery. Tonight she was doing a mix of established stuff and material never aired before. She had nothing to worry about, everything went well with her getting a lot of appreciation from the audience. A couple I was sat with on a rather comfy sofa, thought she was very good, and it’s nice to hear people speaking highly of comics they have just seen. The bull fight could do with a bigger surprise to the reveal, but the rest of the material stood up extremely well, including the new stuff. She is onto a real gem with the list of beverage times. I can imagine this becoming really well developed and worked out into a real banker. It has tremendous potential for the occasions to be tied in to anything topical or relevant to the night.
After the first intermission, it was Aaran O’Tang trying out some new material based around religion and heavy metal. It’s perfectly acceptable for comics to refer to their notes on new material nights. I prefer this to someone desperately trying to find their place on an Iphone. However, tonight O’Tang referred to his notes that often it had the effect of crucifying his set. It became less a delivery and more a read through, robbing him of a lot of his momentum. The bits that he didn’t need to refer to he delivered well enough and it is a shame he hadn’t prepared better, as he would have had a better night and also gained more of a feel for the potential of this set. The material contains a few nice touches, especially the CD/Tape section, but it really requires stripping down to its’ essentials, as there seemed to be a lot of extraneous detail that didn’t add substance nor comedy value.
Next was Lori Edwards-Suarez who was the comedy virgin of the night. She had material that was personal to her, being half Spanish and so on. This wasn’t bad, nor was her delivery. The room listened to her and she received laughs.
Resuming after the second interval was Jeanette Bird-Bradley, who began with the sort of night that comedians wake up sweating about. She stumbled over her opening sentence and then a minute later, a crucial prop was nowhere to be found. Being stood on stage in front of a room full of people desperately searching through paperwork for the right prop as the seconds tick by can’t be a pleasant experience. It is much to Bird-Bradley’s credit that she kept it all together, without panicking or asking to be beamed up by Scotty. Thinking on her feet, she acknowledged this nightmare and got laughs for it. Not sympathy laughs, but nice laughs of appreciation. She then put this behind her and cracked on with her set. She delivered an enjoyable set, although she could improve the lost list (Library, Debenhams) by obeying the law of three and chucking in a really good, unlikely, third place. Lenny Bennett could do with a bit more work, but as this is new material, that is to be expected. This was a creditable performance with 8 likes used.
Closing the night was Thomas Rackham. You can go months without seeing someone, then you see them every week, no hardship for me, as at his best, this chap is excellent. Tonight he bounded onto the stage looking a bit of a cut above the rest of the comics. I’m not sure why this should be, but he seemed to get the room’s confidence before he had even opened his mouth. This could be because he is on a roll at the moment and is gigging regularly, but either way, it was very nice. He had a belter of a gig. Whilst I felt the clipboard at work stuff wasn’t his best, the rest of his material was top notch. Hand movements, horse, in fact pretty much everything worked wonderfully. His delivery seemed to keep up the momentum, building up the laughs. This was in some ways a lot like watching a professional act doing a quick 10. And speaking of ten minutes, Rackham’s time seemed to fly by, ending all too soon. The standout material tonight was the British Bake off, which was gloriously OTT and worked all the better for it. Rackham is the first comedian I’ve seen to be asked for his autograph after a show.

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