Bluey’s – Scott Bennett, Phil Reid, Jim Tavare and Chris Brooker (MC)

There are some nights when you travel miles to a gig in a town you’ve only ever seen mentioned on crimewatch to watch a group of comedians try, but fail to overcome the apathy of a pub full of people more intent on talking amongst themselves than listening. These are tough nights for comedians and for myself, as I see good material die an unnatural death. Then there are those nights when you travel for 15 minutes and see a splendid gang of comedians have a superb night, making a roomful of people laugh and you drive home on a bit of a high from all the joy. Tonight was one of those wonderful nights where everyone has had their lives improved, apart from Ethel.
 
I was at the Faf Promotions gig at Bluey’s, an Australian steak house in Alfreton. It’s a nice clean venue where the owner has put a lot of thought and care into the venture. Everything has the air of being cared for. The place is spotless, open plan and has very high ceilings, which made me wonder what it had started life as. The room was pretty full and it had a friendly feel to it. Alfreton doesn’t sound like a likely venue for a good comedy night. It’s basically a pit village that hasn’t found a life following pit closures, yet this venue and this crowd were rather wonderful (apart from Ethel) and were certainly up for comedy. This was helped by our MC, Mr Chris Brooker.
 
I was really looking forwards to seeing Brooker, as the last time I saw him, in Thorncliffe, he did a great job as compere and so I knew we’d be in good hands. In addition, he’s written an entire year of gig diaries that are fantastic reading and this was another reason to be happy to see him on the bill. Brooker is from Somerset and it’s not often one hears his accent up here. His nice to be nice came out as ‘noice to be noice’ which was rather endearing and certainly something different to the usual for the area. One of my bugbears about comperes is that so many are stuck in a rut of asking people what they do for a living; almost as if it is the only permitted question, or is what ‘proper’ MC’s do. I was very pleased to see that Brooker didn’t have to do this. He generated material and mirth in a more naturalistic manner. Some of this came from noting where people had sat and then working from there, other parts came from bits and bobs audience members had said. He is an experienced compere and this showed in his quick thinking. He had some great lines, plenty of authority and there was a lot of joy in him saying a line and then adding the twist, almost as an after thought. When he asked one chap about invented friends, he did this in exactly the right tone to get the maximum return without crossing any line into offensiveness or even just making his ‘victim’ look like any kind of wally.
 
There was a frankly baffling heckler who appeared during the 1st intermission. ‘Ethel’ demonstrated that it was possible not only to be so drunk as to have no sense of self, but also that one person can be amazingly disruptive. Ethel was amazingly persistent. When 99.999% of the population would have given up talking and started worrying that the rest of the room were measuring them up for a Wickerman, she persevered. She wasn’t rude or crude. She just wouldn’t shut up. I began to wonder if Josef Fritzl had once been a normal man with a family who didn’t know when to button it and if Bluey’s had a cellar….. There are different ways comperes handle people like Ethel. Some try to reason, some humour them, other’s ignore them and some bring an act on and hope for the best. Brooker went head to head with her. Not in a confrontational way, but in a way that kept his authority, generated laughs and kept the sympathy of the room – not an easy balance and all the more difficult in a pub where most of the audience know each other by name. Whilst it did resemble a chap trying to teach astrophysics to a hamster, Brooker was succesful. He got laughs and applause breaks and just as importantly succeeded in quieting Ethel.
 
This was until the final intermission, when she made a reapparance in way not unlike a villain in a Hammer, House of Horror, film. Her shout out was totally incomprehensible and firmly brushed aside. Brooker had a good night. He added a lot of laughs to the evening, kept things flowing and showed the audience why his skills as a MC are so highly thought of.
 
The opening act was Scott Bennett. As a local-ish lad he had lots of local references he could insert into his set and these all got big laughs. His joke about there being an equivalent to Bluey’s in Australia hit home to a huge response. Bennett’s material was very relatable to the audience and went down extremely well. Only two reveals didn’t get the response they should have got and this was on a set with a lot of reveals, giving him a really good hit rate. Some comedians have good material, others have a good delivery. Bennett has both, but to me, it is his delivery that really makes his act special. He brings his characters to life and has little touches, such as knowing just when to smile as he lets something sink in. These all add a lot of value to his set. This was a strong set from a highly skilled comedian.
 
The second act was Phil Reid, who is very much a rising star. Only last week he won the Hoofers talent contest against strong opposition. Tonight he gave us an exhibition of his talents. This was a set that had a nice bit of variety to it. He began strongly with the meaning of names, working the audience and talking with people, rather than to. This served to make the room feel included in his set. He then moved on to a routine based on Take me out, involving the ladies of the room in making the appropriate noises for the show. His ending to this piece is one that really depends on the audience member he is speaking to wanting to get involved. This can be a drawback if they don’t want to talk, or a real highlight if they play along.
 
Reid then went on to do a section involving ventriloquism (his lips didn’t look to move from where I was sat) and the moving mouth masks that Nina Conti has made famous. Whilst she may be the best known practioner of this approach, Reid had his own material for this, which worked well and again, involved the room. He picked a chap sat on the front row to be his volunteer. As it was, he picked the owner of the establishment, a popular figure in the pub, and was rewarded with fantastic laughs and people filming for posterity. Reid told me that this was blind luck, but I’ve noticed that he keeps his eyes and ears open for little bits of information that he can work into his set and so I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been good judgement.
 
Reid gave a great performance. His delivery is quick and enthusiastic and rooms warm to him quickly. He has great strengths involving the room in his routines and this gives his work an inclusive feel that rooms want to buy into.
 
The final act was Jim Tavare. He has a great physical presence, dressed in a tuxedo with a cello. His set is extremely polished and delivered impeccably. He has a set of great visual gags and prop gags and musical gags that get great laughs and applause breaks. His stripper section is a real show stopper and he is one of the few acts I’ve seen who have closed to cries of more.
 
This was a great night.

Roadhouse – Jay Handley, Graham Milton, Ben Clark-Betts, Caroline Ryan, Dave Cheddarton, Sarah Airey, Danny Beet and Chris Shaw

Last night I was at the Roadhouse in Birmingham for a night of new acts/new material. I like the venue and I really like the people inolved, but cripes, I wish it was closer. The 2 hour journey there is soul destroying in the dark and rain. The MC was Laura Monmoth who tried a different approach to compering the room. The last time I was there, I had suggested that the room didn’t really need compering, as the audience was made up of 80% comics and 3 permanent residents sat at the front – so Laura put this to the test (after checking it would be ok with the first act). I’ve got to say that this light touch wasn’t a detriment to the night, as every act went on and performed as you’d have expected. The intro music was a very nice touch and added to the night.
 
The opening act was Jay Handley who instigated a running gag whereby every performer had to do a Masai Graham joke. Handley gave a performance that mixed chatting with the audience and some material. Given his particular looks, he got good material out of Jesus, with disciple bingo being fun. This was easy enough to follow and didn’t rely on any obscure references to sections of the bible beyond the nativity. This is a topic that he could have exploited in a few ways, such as the ‘what would Jesus do’ phenomonon and some of the more unlikley places that Jesus’ face has manifested itself. He did receive an unusual heckle that was 2 steps beyond any kind of logic, but he dealt with it neatly and continued without being derailed. I did feel a bit sorry for the live in chaps on the front row he chatted to, as they get asked what their names are and what they do for a living on almost a weekly basis and one would reasonably expect them to have produced laminated dossiers by now.
 
Next was Graham Milton, trying new material, who entered to the sounds of ‘I’m Happy’. Milton is very similar in style to Andrew Lawrence, being world weary in the extreme. He began with some suitably disturbing dreams. His section on Evian bottles and housemates requires something at about the halfway mark to keep it buoyant as it is a lengthy set up for the reveal, which itself is fine. Similar could be said for the Street Fighter part, which shows promise, but needs a bit more. This set was obviously a work in progress and looks interesting.
 
Ben Clark-Betts began with some look-a-likes, which is getting to be quite a common opening gambit. I wasn’t too sure about the accuracy of either of the ones he proposed, because I didn’t think he looked like one and I’d never heard of the other. Kasabian went down well, as did the Brady Bunch reveal, both of which I liked. Some of the material seemed a bit overwritten, with links crowbarred in as if every word had to be funny, such as hip (h)operation. The set may benefit from the removal of some of these weaker links as this may improve flow. I felt his delivery a bit pedestrian, lacking flair or the spark that would bring people in. I wouldn’t say his delivery was more a recital from memory than an actual delivery, but it certainly lacked. This will be improved by regular performance, though. In fairness he did get laughs, but with tweaks, will get bigger laughs.
 
Next was Caroline Ryan, who was trying new material for her Leicester show – The anatomy of Dating. Ryan has set herself the challenge of making a show about dating interesting and funny. During the Summer I heard northwards of twenty comedians discussing tinder – swipe left, swipe right, profile picture horrors, do’s and do nots, comparisons of tinder to everything and anything and then the problems of dates based on it. All were covered and I was on the verge of doing an online dating bingo card. In fact the only person who seemed to have a different angle on it was Lucy Thompson, who had a nice simile for it. I’ll freely grant that not many people see as much comedy as a reviewer, but Ryan will have a tricky job on her hands getting something new out of this topic. Last night she gave a small part of her show a tentative airing. This covered neanderthal messages not being limited by gender, pub names that most towns share and an anecdote from the days of postal dating. There is the basis of something here, as it isn’t an intrinsically dull subject, just merely a very well travelled one. As Ryan only gave us a short set and it is a work in progress, it is too early to say much as regards how she is progressing.
 
Following was Dave Cheddarton, a character act. Dave is a comedy industry figure who was big in the late 70’s and has now moved on to managing and booking. This is a character who has fantastic potential and can be taken in almost any direction Hollins wants to go. If this is developed correctly, the material will almost write itself and could be extremely funny. There is scope for a lot of injokes and also for an almost unlimited amount of comedy industry cluelessness. I’m very interested in seeing how Hollins develops this character as he has massive potential and if handled right, will do Hollins’ career a lot of good.
 
Sarah Airey gave us a surprise set – surprising as she was very much unwell and would probably have been better off at home in bed with hot water bottle and next of kin (but not George McDonald). The set was of two parts – relationship breakdown and a new relationship. The relationship breakdown section is ok, but is light on laughs and doesn’t really add anything beyond the personal details to what a thousand other comics have said about their own relationship issues. The real joy is the second part. If the first section were dropped and her set began in part 2 then I think audiences would buy into it a lot more, as this is joyous, different and has a far higher laugh per minute ratio. I also think a rather nice double act could be worked up with Laura.
 
Danny Beet (walk on music Steptoe and Son) was doing new material on uncontrollable orrifices, which was quite good. He received the laugh of the night for his pounded rectum. This material was the best I’ve heard him use and whilst it was new, it is a keeper. It does require a bit of polishing, but shows nice potential and got good laughs. I do wish he wouldn’t move around so much, though, when delivering his set, as it does distract a bit.
 
Chris Shaw closed the night. I’m not totally sure the Roadhouse is insured for his act. This involved some fire blowing (because he can) and him dropping his trousers to show a vegetable shaped like something and his bum (because he could). Shaw is doing a comedy course and this was a filmed practice for a show he is putting on as part of this course. He came on wearing a headband with a light attached to it, missing the chance of a Dalek reference. He did a few magic tricks (because he could) which weren’t too far removed from the sort of things one saw advertised in the backs of comics in the 1980’s, before doing a spot of blowing fire towards the ceiling. There wasn’t a lot of comedy value in this and his actions weren’t especially smooth – throughout his entire set he seemed to mislay things or have trouble with various items – so much so that I did wonder if this was actually part of his act at first. He had a lengthy section where he told an anecdote about Nicky Campbell, who truth be told, isn’t famous enough for the audience to really get animated about. This used visuals and film, but as this was on a 7″ x 5″ notepad screen, it worked, but only in a fashion. In any room where the audience is more than 10 feet away everyone will be squinting. This was followed by him dropping his trousers to show off a novelty shaped vegetable and then his bum. I couldn’t see all, as I had the high back to a chair in my way, so some of those details may be sketchy, but frankly, I had no inclination to see any more. This set could be described as eclectic, with a bit of a mixture containing magic, physical comedy, visual comedy and performance. However, that is being more charitable than I’m prepared to be. I’d say a total dog’s dinner is more accurate. The various sections didn’t tie in, there was no running theme to hold them together and it felt like three weak ideas that weren’t strong enough to stand on their own. It would benefit from either a theme being added to give it a sense of being one set, not a portmanteau, one part being expanded and developed fully, or just scrapping and a total rewrite.

Kayal Gong Show – Willy Nilly, Eric Rushton, Fran Doyle, Radu Isac, Mark Hayes, Sam Blake, Boshir Ahmed, Patrick Draper, Bannie Cheff, Ric Wharton, Neal Sullivan and Roger Swift

 

Tonight I was down south in Leicester for the Funhouse Gong show at the Kayal. This is a cracking room and tonight also a room that had sold out. This was wonderful and created a nice buzz. Spiky Mike as compere had the mixed fortune to find a teacher in the front row. Whilst this gave him scope to question her relationship with a former pupil she was with, he did have to sack her as a judge on other grounds – the first time I’ve seen this. Spiky Mike had another good night compering – he’s had some really good nights just lately – treating us to some work in Italian and he also pulled a wonderful face upon finding out someone’s job was comedy proof. The room was nicely in the mood for the opening act within next to no time.
 
First on was Willy Nilly, hailing from Chesterfield, but sounding more Northern than a Yorkshireman. Nilly tells gags, as opposed to doing routines and dresses in hat and red braces to do so. Some of these gags are good and his set does flow smoothly, however with many of the gags, the audience got to the reveal before he did. To me, his set had the feel of a routine off of The Comedians or the Wheeltappers and Shunters and his pace and speech pattern was indeed reminiscent of the 1970’s comics. This didn’t stop him from receiving consistent laughs and getting into the final, though.
 
Eric Rushton was an interesting act. He seemed to make a hesitant start and then proceeded to deconstruct his first joke before he’d even told it. Generally this is comedy suicide, yet in his case, he made it work and got good laughs for it. This surprised me, as from his apparent poor beginning I had lowered my expectations – very much in error. Rushton went on to do an intelligent set that was very funny and received an applause break. Some of his set was a bit depressing as he was putting himself down a lot, but with a longer slot I’m sure he’d change tack and raise the room a bit, as 10 minutes of this would be bleak. His delivery was confident, apart from the odd erm, but would benefit from a little bit more interaction with the room to help tie people into his performance. He had some very nice call backs, which I enjoyed, although he may want to mix up the rule of three a bit. This was rigidly adhered too and I think the audience had gotten very used to it by the end of his set – perhaps he could play with the room’s expectations by messing with this convention a bit.
 
Frantique Doyle was the only lady on the bill, which was a shame. The last 3 gong shows I’ve been to have been very male comic heavy. She began with a low key approach, utilising a nice prop and then she spent too long on one section of her set. This robbed her of momentum and also failed to grab the room’s attention. She had some nice stuff on proverbs that went down well and possibly missed a chance of a good line with the Irish ancestry section. Her material seemed to go down better with the ladies in the room than the men, but with added time this could have been balanced out.
 
Radu Isac wasn’t part of the gong show, but was doing a ten spot to gain experience. He’s a Romanian comedian who was doing this in a second language. He does have a bit of an accent and every so often this made a word or so hard to understand. No disaster, but it did make it harder for him than what it would have been otherwise. He demonstrated a nice sense of irony and although not everything landed with the audience he was on firmer ground when discussing his grandparents and Romania.
 
Mark Hayes, a new character act, opened after the intermission. There were some nice touches, such as Harry Potter and then the spoiler list, but the character failed to win the room over and was voted off 5-0 as soon as humanly possible. This was unfortunate as I was interested in where he was going with this act.
 
Sam Blake who is 6’4 began with a routine about his being tall. He had a confident delivery and his standard issue British old lady was very good. He was building up a nice sense of momentum that saw him through the first vote, but then he lost this by doing a routine about text speak. This involved him looking at his phone and he not only lost his connection to the audience, but it also took too long for any laughs to emerge for the room to keep confidence in him. This is often fatal in a gong show and proved so tonight.
 
Boshir Ahmed split the room. He received good laughs from some parts, but silence from others. I found his material on being British by way of Asian descent to be the stand out section and this received the best response generally. Some of his material seemed to be missing the reveals or left me flummoxed if that was all there was. I still feel there is a basis of a set in his material, but it’s going to need more honing.
 
Patrick Draper closed the middle section, not as a contestant, but as quality act giving the room ten minutes of his time. I like Draper a lot. Every time I see him he is better than the last time. Some acts plateau out, or suffer a reverse – he hasn’t. This is a comedian who I think is easily capable of weekend club work. Tonight, he had this room from the off and held it effortlessly. His set has a lovely mixture to it, with jokes, some impromptu audience work, songs, a singalong, call backs and possibly the funniest visuals I’ve seen. Draper demonstrated his presence of mind by adding in call backs to earlier events of the night and by talking to and neutralising a potentially disruptive audience member at the start of his set. This gave his performance a feel of the here and now. He received not only consistent big laughs, but 6 applause breaks and the sight of one audience member corpsing with laughter. This was a strong performance from a professional level comedian.
 
Bannie Cheff opened the final section. He began with a few nice call backs to Draper’s set, but then seemed to lose ground with material relating to tangerines. He had a small routine based on museums, which went down well with his fellow students who were all doing a course about museums. This was followed by a selection of things that people may have that aren’t disabilities but they may say it makes them feel like someone who is disabled. Some of this was quite good, but it did feel a bit drawn out. Cheff would perhaps do better with material that has a broader appeal and has more punch to it. His friends enjoyed it, the rest of the room a bit less so. He did make the final, though.
 
Ric Wharton had a very good night, receiving an applause break from the beginning of a bubbly and enjoyable set. He looked and sounded confident and was happy to work the room. His material was very good, with a nice knock knock joke and a great reveal on the response to a job application email. This, combined with an uplifting performance gave his set a good feel to it and saw him win the contest.
 
Neal Sullivan didn’t have the best of nights. He began by talking to one of the audience members, but realised too late that this was a comedic cul-de-sac. He then went on to deliver a selection of puns and a routine about his gran that unfortunately lacked pace. This was bad timing to lose momentum as a vote was called, which saw the end of his night. This was a shame as I was hoping to see more of him.
 
Roger Swift was the final act of the night. He is an entertaining prop comedian who delivers very fast puns, some awful, some dreadful, but all with enough chutzpah to make them work. Swift does split rooms a bit, but I find that the longer he is on, the more audiences warm to him. Tonight the room liked him more the longer he was on stage. If he could somehow bring in audiences from the off he would be a really strong act. I have a lot of time for Swift, as I like what he does and I find him to be really funny. His material is gloriously daft, but also extremely good fun. Tonight he made the final.

Blessington Carriage Gong – Rebecca Fearnley,Ben Wearmouth, Chris Stiles, Scott Walker, Brandon Barnett, Matthew Bonanno, Chris Sullivan, Aaron Levene, Liam Tuffy, Ethan Smith, Philip Mason, Simon Wozniak and Owen Naughton

Tonight I was at the Blessington Carriage in Derby for a Funhouse gong show. These are nice friendly shows, as witnessed by the amount of people in the audience and also 14 comics waiting to take their turn on the stage. We had a number of comedians who had travelled to the gig from Manchester and Liverpool in a couple of car shares. This gives them the benefit of spreading costs and tedium and us the benefit of seeing people whom one wouldn’t get chance to see otherwise. Unfortunately, I wish they had all had a chat about their material beforehand. Four of them used the fact that they came from a rough area/background in their sets. Individually, not a problem, but in such numbers, it did make me wonder if we were going to get Yosser or Frank Gallagher up next to tell us about how rough it was where they were from. This is just a minor quibble, but by the time the last couple had told us how bad it was in their area we had hit the law of diminishing returns, which isn’t good for any act on a gong show. Spiky Mike was compere and his work revealed a few facts that some of the luckier, or more astute comedians were able to work into their act, or use as material, as shown by our first act of the night.
 
Opening was Rebecca Fearnley, the only lady on the bill, which was a shame as gender places no limits on the ability to be funny. She began well with banter, using things revealed by Spiky Mike’s compering. This was rather nice and gave the set a feel of the now and present. She looked confident and gained consistent chuckles. However, nothing really landed heavily. Her set was a bit like watching an episode of The Detectorists – enjoyable and made the world a bit of a better place, but no really big laughs and also like The Detectorists, just seeing a bite-sized segment wasn’t really enough to buy into it. She was gonged off, which was a shame as her delivery had a smooth flow, with no erms or overlong pauses. This was impressive in itself and with more punchy material, or perhaps having gone on later, she would have done better.
 
Ben Wearmouth was next up. I felt his delivery let him down. He seemed a bit hesitant and had too many erms for his set to flow. His material wasn’t bad, although more could be made of the £1 shop and there is possibly a big laugh involved in tying his local laws section into that individual gig’s location (instead of Wales, tonight could have involved Derby and local rivals, Nottingham, etc). Some of the material was a bit wordy and would benefit from being cut down to the bare essentials. If a word adds neither context nor mirth, but merely repeats what has been said, then it can perhaps be omitted to help build momentum.
 
Chris Stiles followed. He made a good start, despite being the 2nd out of 3 comedians who said, ‘I’ll tell you a bit about myself’. I feel comedians have got into a bit of a rut with that phrase, the same as ‘because that’s how I roll’ and ‘where are you from and what do you do there?’ and to me, it doesn’t really add any value to their set. Anyway, he did very well. Clairvoyant and pilot are good as is the new surgeon bit and the voices in arguments is very good. He made it through to the final, but like all acts in the first section, the audience seemed a bit subdued and stuff that should have received a good laugh got less of a laugh. This affected all four acts that appeared in this section.
 
Scott Walker closed the first section. He’s got some nice phrases that I like. His material on the difference between a night out with his gay friends and his heterosexual friends is really good and could easily be expanded, as it has real potential; although tonight he did get a bit tongue tied over it. His section on reality TV started off as a bit of low hanging fruit being picked – I think we all work with, or know someone who can point out the banality of reality tv. However, this still got laughs and he did raise it by the BLT reveal, which added a lot more to that section.
 
Brandon Barnett opened the middle section. This was his first ever gig. He began with material on how losing his virginity was like going on a car journey. There is some mileage in this, but it needs a bit of a polish to get the most out of it. The belly button reveal was good, but would have really benefitted from a second reveal to build off of the first one. This was a creditable first performance.
 
Matthew Bonanno was next in. He had something of a mundane beginning about changes in Morrison’s, which although the room didn’t seem to go for massively, I liked. However, including material on 5p plastic bag charges and unexpected items in the bagging area just made it seem like he’d used what was trending on facebook as inspiration for material. These are areas that have largely been done to death on both social media and the comedy circuit (Ross Noble’s unexpected item was his balls, with a label for plums attached). Bonanno was on firmer ground when he talked about his gran and Malta, but then came slightly unstuck over a joke involving a foursome. He made it through to the final, though.
 
Chris Sullivan is an act I’ve seen before at the Roadhouse, where he gave an impressiver performance. Tonight, however, it wasn’t his night. Sullivan has the look of a comedian – he dresses like you’d imagine one to, is tall and gangly with interesting hair and looks plausible. I mention this, as to me, he looks like he should be funny and persuading the audience you are funny is half the battle. This advantage, if it’s not just me who thinks it, was possibly lost as soon as Sullivan began. He started with material about drugs and this can split a room, the same as if someone were to start with a joke that sounds racist, but isn’t. People tend to drawback from material like this without always giving it a chance to be funny – it works far better once a room has started to trust the comic. This isn’t really fair, especially as Sullivan had some really nice lines – Ctrl, Alt and Delete was fantastic and may have been the line of the night for me. It was hard to make out some of what Sullivan was saying, as his projection isn’t the strongest and if a audience can’t hear the jokes, they can’t laugh. I’d like to see him again, as despite tonight not being his best night, there is a good act here.
 
Aaron Levene continued from where Sullivan had finished. He did a few gags about lookalikes, which if he hadn’t would have left an elephant in the room. He then did some holocaust jokes, which split the room 80/20 against him. These jokes weren’t bad or even poor taste and I thought the Eva Braun reveal was very good, but the audience did not care much for them. Levene demonstrated some impressive thinking on his feet with ad libs about a red stick and a reference to tinder (call back to Spiky Mike’s compering) which brought his set to life, but this was a bit too late to rescue his show. Whilst his material was a bit hit and miss, his ability to work with the room was good.
 
Liam Tuffy was next. He had a workmanlike start, launching into his set without declaring he was going to tell us a bit about himself. His material involved nightclubbing, which set up his dance moves routine. This was pretty good and although nothing was a massive stand out, his set had a pleasant feel to it and he danced his way into the final.
 
Ethan Smith was an interesting act and one who I felt deserved more appreciation than he received. He began with a weak dyslexic joke, which I think we’ve all heard a version of. However, he bounced back from this extremely quickly. He is a high energy act who does very well bouncing back from the audience. This was very nice and refreshing, as the energy level in the room had dipped a touch as the night had progressed. His Shakespear recital translated into Scouse is very good and considering his impressive command of accents could even be made into a trio, with a very short 3rd reveal. He made the final, where I expected him to get more support than he received.
 
Phillip Mason started with a confession that he’s not good at telling jokes, followed by two deliberate groaners. He then began a set with loads of local references, but unfortunately local to Sheffield, which didn’t really garner so much appreciation in Derby. I liked his reference to Dangermouse, though and felt he should have got more for that than he received. His set picked up when he spoke about his own house and toilet lids. This was good stuff. However, the section on burglars and then grabbing the thing next to the bed and being ready to confront the burglar with said object and a dream induced hardon needs a rethink. This is material that has been covered by both Jason Manford and Nathan Caton, with one having a deoderant as object next to the bed (if I remember correctly) and the other pretending to be gay and scaring them out the house. By this I’m not suggesting that Mason has been inspired by the other two comics, but more that this material is relatively common ground and his will need to stand out more. All said, this was a nice set and Mason has potential.
 
Simon Wozniak, the eventual winner of the night, had a good time tonight and gave the audience a good time, too, with two applause breaks. He began with some very good room work and lots of call backs to the compering. This made his set feel relevant, not phoned in and very much of the now and present. His facebook references landed well, the meal deals section getting great laughs and despite reality tv being an easy target, the room loved it. He had real momentum in his set and this built up very quickly. A worthy winner.
 
The next act was Isa Da Entertainer. However, despite having been present in the pub, he had vanished without letting anyone know. It’s unclear whether there was an emergency of some kind or if he had been abducted by aliens, but it was a shame he disappeared as I was looking forwards to seeing him.
 
Owen Naughton found himself suddenly on stage earlier than what he might have expected. Rather than have Isa on stage before him, he was suddenly up there taking his place. Between this and half the room looking down the corridor to see if they could spot our errant act his set didn’t go that well. Partly this was down to the circumstances. Another part was down to him being a bit hesitant and having too many erms and arrs. His section on gambling showed promise, though.

Nott’s Comedy Festival – Jon Pearson

Tonight I was at my final show of the Nottingham Comedy Festival – Mr Jon Pearson. I’ve seen 12 shows during the week, had thoroughly good week and felt this a real highpoint to end on. I wouldn’t object to the festival being moved to June, though, as it would have been nice to go out into sunshine, instead of dark stormy nights. I’ve seen Pearson a lot of times and he is one of my favourite comedians, hence I had little trouble persuading my mum, dad and sister to come to the show. The venue was the Nedd Ludd, where 24 hours ago I had been present for Dan Nightingale. In another coincidence, Jon’s fiancé was present, just as Nightingale’s was for his gig. The room was almost full tonight, which given that it isn’t a huge room, gave it a good vibe. This was Pearson’s new show – Tall Order.
 
I feel like I’ve seen this show from inception to finished article, as I can recall seeing lots of it being given run outs at various new material nights throughout the Summer. It’s very interesting watching this process, as one sees the original concept in, say, The Roadhouse, then a reworked version in the Canal House and then another model with the killer twist in the Nedd Ludd. As it stood, we were all sat on the front row looking forwards to tonight.
 
Pearson began well and got cheers and boos for his references to Mansfield, depending on how people felt about this lovely little town, and then did very well to extricate himself from some banter that his audience member wanted to shut down. He did this in a way that gained laughs, which kept the momentum going. However, this wasn’t the end for Alex, the audience member. About 20 minutes later, he gave Jon a heckle from the blue. I detest hecklers and have yet to see one really add value to the night. I also hate it when they tell an act they aren’t funny. 29 people had been laughing consistently, but not Alex, so it’s not only rude, but also highly inaccurate. Luckily he then left, leaving us fewer in number, but all happy to see him go. Considering the mood of the room, it was probably better for him to leave. Jon didn’t get aggressive with him, but my feeling was that the audience would have quite happily bounced Alex on his behalf.
 
These moments of unpleasantness can really mess up a night, robbing the comic of momentum, but Jon is all but unflappable and continued from where he left off once he’d remembered his place. The cannibalism story is now working extremely well, whereas when I first heard it, it had required some attention. The personal trainer routine is now my favourite piece of Jon’s material. It is a real stand out section and is lovely to hear. The history of sexual positions is good, but does need a big climax to come at the end to feel complete. I find call backs really enjoyable and this show was full of them, which I liked.
 
This was a strong show and demonstrates Jon’s skill nicely. The verdict from my family was highly favourable, with my sister preferring him to Peter Brush, which is high praise indeed.

Nott’s Comedy Festival – Dan Nightingale

Tonight I was at the Nedd Ludd to see the well respected Dan Nightingale. The last time I was in this venue it had been the hottest day of the year and the room was absolutely sweltering. Fortunately the environment was more conducive to comedy tonight. As ever, the room filled up from the back, leaving a few empty chairs dotted towards the front. The audience needn’t have worried, as Nightingale isn’t a comic who insults people and they would have been perfectly fine.
I’ve seen Dan Nightingale before at a Funhouse gig, where he had given the room solid entertainment and the standout line about his Viking forebears not being in the first wave. So I knew that this would be a good show. Nightingale had his fiance and future inlaws present in the audience, which could put off some acts, but didn’t make any noticeable difference to him. He opened by promising us lots of stories, silly voices, some observations and one joke. All delivered as promised.
The audience was very appreciative of Nightingale and he hit the ground running; his first routine, Gay Chicken getting good laughs from a rolling series of reveals. This was then followed by sections on genealogy, age, homes, Sky, the gym, racism in jokes and then a big finish concerning dietry side effects – all with call backs. This material was all solid. There wasn’t a particular climax to the gym material, but this didn’t really matter. There was that much joy in the routine and the various asides and observations that I believe the entire room was just entranced with the whole story and a climactic ending wasn’t necessary. The deconstruction of the psychological aspect of telling a joke that may or may not be racist was very nicely done and despite sounding like an Open University dissertation was also very funny.
Nightingale is a remarkably skilled comedian. He has managed to garner good material and marry it to a really strong and flamboyant performance. He’s got real vocal talent and can change accent, tone and inflection rapidly. This adds real depth to his delivery and this really brings his material to life. When he camps it up he keeps it credible instead of dropping into caricature, which keeps the mirth rolling.
This was a splendiferous show and I look forwards to seeing more of Nightingale. He is one of those acts who should be better known amongst the general public than what he is.

Nott’s Comedy Festival – Paul Kerensa

Tonight I was at a new (to me) venue to see Paul Kerensa. I’ve driven past the Navigation a few times, but never been in prior to this. The gig itself was held in an upstairs room, which was quite long with high ceilings. It could have hosted an evening group into basket weaving just as easily as a comedy gig. Downstairs there was a small band warming up, which didn’t bode well for the night – I’ve seen a few sets derailed by a band blasting out at 11 before. There are actually two Navigations in Nottingham. I double checked to make sure I got the right one. Paul Kerensa wasn’t quite so lucky, but wasn’t late for the gig although I daresay this must have given him a bit of a turn.
 
The show was Back to the Futon, part II. I saw the preview to this back in July at a Funhouse gig and enjoyed it. The show had a nice feel and there was a belting song in it. When I was booking tickets for the Nottingham Comedy Festival, I found a gap tonight where this would fit in, although I would have had to hot foot it from one venue to another. As it turned out, there were a few rearrangements to the schedule and this was my only event of the day 😦 There were others I could have gone to tonight, but none would have fitted in easily with me being in the Navigation on time. As it was, I knew I was still in for a good time.
 
Some comedians deal with issues of great import, changing one’s views on politics and society. These can be very entertaining and are often extremely skilful. Kerensa is a lot more light hearted, but just as skilled. It’s nice to see something that has a nice light feel that one can just sit and enjoy. Kerensa made a nice start, gaining lots of chuckles over some signs, which warmed the room. He used visual aids throughout the show, weaving his material around the visuals. This worked very well and gave the audience a viewing point to anchor to. The music from downstairs was clearly audible, but this didn’t make any difference to the night, as we were all listening to Kerensa. He didn’t shout or raise his voice, but just delivered his material in a conversational tone. This suited his work very well and served to make it feel low key in a good way.
 
Kerensa has some lovely phrases, such as ‘BBC4 and relax’ and struck a chord with TV themes one can sing the name of the show to – my immediate thought was The Sweeney. We then came to what to me was the highlight of the night and indeed the main reason that I was happy to pay out money to watch the show again: a splendiferous song that recaps the events of the first Back to the Future. This song is tremendous fun and I can’t emphasis how much I enjoy it. On the face of it, a simple idea, but one that works extremely well. Following this was Kerensaoke – which was similar to one song to the tune of another. I never expected that the theme tune to Benny Hill would work so well with the lyrics to Teach the world to sing, yet it did. The ending was family related, but tied in nicely to the self-confessed geek theme that permeated the show. This was a very pleasant night and well worth coming out for.

Nott’s Comedy festival – Pat Monahan

Tonight I was supposed to be in Glee to see James Acaster. However, when I awoke from a short 3 hour nap this afternoon I had a real burning yen to go and see Pat Monahan, instead. A quick message to Helen Stead reserved me a seat and I settled down to tea a happier chap. I’ve nothing against seeing Acaster, although I didn’t enjoy his series on the wireless last year. I’d have been happy to see him, as I’ve often found that some mediums don’t allow a comic to get the most out of their talent (see Caton on panel shows).
 
The canal house was pretty busy, especially when one considers it was a Wednesday night. Monahan has a large fan base and they are loyal, too. A group had travelled from Lincoln to see him – he was able to name check a surprising amount of people in the room. If all comedians had this sort of following then nights would sell themselves. The demographic was a fair bit older than what you’d expect, but Monahan made it obvious that age is no barrier to laughter.
 
Elliott introduced Monahan, as there wasn’t a compere or warm up act. Tonight Elliott added to the value of the show in a couple of subtle ways. He did the rules, showing a nice level of authority and then introduced Pat as if it were a wrestling match, giving him a lovely big build up – the man, the legend….. MR PAT MONAHAAAAAAAN!! This was splendid. The other thing that Elliott did that added to the night was joining in some of the dancing to a punk metal band – the sight of him head banging at the sound controls, joining in was great.
 
The show got off to a big start, with possibly the most spectacular opening to any of the shows I’ve seen at the festival so far. Monahan recreated a 70’s disco and had all of the audience dancing whilst he lead a small conga around the crowd. This demonstrated his powers of not only persuasion, but also his feel for what he can achieve with a crowd. This community dancing and clapping in time to D.I.S.C.O gave the night a feeling of inclusivity and that we were all in it together, enjoying this. The room was somehow no longer a roomful of strangers. It was also a highly appropriate song, as the show is entitled ‘The Disco Years’ and is all about Monahan’s early life. Owing to Pat’s legendary sense of timekeeping on stage and ability to explore tangents, I think it would take 4-5 shows to get through this topic. He began with a discussion about varying amounts of calories burnt doing various dances and then other activities. I’d be interested in knowing how many calories Monahan burns during a show, as he never stands still. This man is like a human Duracell bunny.
 
Monahan is one of those chaps who can bring a smile to one’s face just by his mere presence. He has an incredibly joyful demeanour, which helps. His real talent, though, lies in two areas. One being his razor sharp brain – whatever an audience member says, he has a great response for it and this comes back very fast. The other great talent is his memory. He could remember individual members of the audience by name and also he could remember little bits of information that had been revealed by his crowd work. These formed a stream of call backs that made the night feel very much of the now. Needless to say this was loved by the audience.
 
I was interested in seeing Monahan do a structured set based around his life, but as this chap can improvise a comedy tangent out of almost anything, we only covered some of the ground. I don’t think this really mattered, as the night was splendiferous. The Pablo Escobar reference being massively funny. As we had a big start, we also had a big ending, with several of the audience members dancing away on the stage.
 
This was a really good night and I think that Helen Stead did well to keep it more or less within the expected time frame.

Nott’s Comedy Festival – New Comedian of the Year Award

Last night it was the NCF New Comedian of the Year Award, a show that I think everyone has been looking forwards to. The Canal House was packed out, giving the place a massive atmosphere. A few of the acts had brought friends with them, but these were only there supporting, as owing to the voting system, this wouldn’t have skewed the results. The format was that 6 invited acts were to do a short set (3 then an interval followed by the other 3) and then Stevie Gray would entertain the audience for 10 minutes whilst votes were counted, before the winner and runner up were announced. Voting was by selected judges with the audience applause off being counted as a single vote. The night was held together by Carl Jones, as MC.
 
It was very nice seeing the former winner of this award, Carl Jones, return to the Canal House to compere this event. He has a good stage presence and appears unflappable. I also appreciated the fact that he didn’t need to ask location and occupations of any of the audience members – he went down the topical route of enquiring about Bonfire Night. A welcome change. This rewarded him nicely with a series of revelations involving a friend who had gone AWOL on Bonfire Night and a lady in Derby. A fact that got more than a few callbacks, which really added to the mirth. He did a longer section in his second session, using material, but this was very well received and was a good shop window for his own show on Saturday night.
 
The first act on was Mike Dryburgh, who made a good start with some new material. His set was well polished and I could see a few improvements in delivery and material. Dryburgh gave the room a fine opening and I was particularly taken by his asides.
 
Next on was Josh Pugh, who has been having a very good year so far. His set was quite ecclectic, with some very nice touches indeed. He gave us an enjoyable poem and then topped this by a great accordian gag and a wonderful double reveal on a jogging joke. His material was a touch surreal, but it wasn’t that far out to be inaccessible, it was all stuff that hit home and there was a sense of momentum building.
 
Thomas Rackham was next in. He seemed to make a slightly slower start to his set than the previous contestants, but very quickly made up for it. I loved his line about dignity and the punchline concerning the jacuzzi. The room really warmed to him and the response to his gloriously OTT flapjack section was extremely enthusiastic.
 
Resuming after the intermission was Rivka Uttley. She began with solid material about her cat, which was delivered with utter conviction. This was followed by a section on dating, which also went down well. I really like how she comes alive when discussing the oddballs online and so did the rest of the audience if the laughter was anything to go by. Uttley held the room well and gave a strong performance, although I did think she may have benifitted from a longer time on stage.
 
Next was Jeanette Bird-Bradley, who began well and carried on well. Her delivery isn’t  energetic, which wouldn’t suit her, but she gets a lot out of how she uses her voice. I especially enjoy the inflection she uses when describing a chap whose bed came a cropper. Her material was good, with the bed tale being the stand out, although having said that the scooter is also pretty good, too.
 
The last of the contestants was Peter De Biasio, who made a musical start. Although I’m not too sure about this section, the audience liked it. He seemed to make a slower start than the rest, but was rescued by the only shout out of the night. At first I thought it was a friend of his, but now I’m not so sure. He seemed to have some great material to ad lib with in response to a shout out. He abandoned his set and set about giving his thoughts on hecklers. This was by far his strongest section and he received great laughs for it.
 
Stevie Gray then took to the stage to entertain whilst the votes were added up. He made a flying start and built up a lot of energy in the room. I like his set, there is something of everything in it and audiences respond well to him. The new material about the parrot was good, although as always, A4 size visuals make life difficult for anyone over 15′ away from the stage. The audience really bought into Gray’s set, joining in with the pirate song and laughing a lot. He did change his ending as he felt the room wasn’t going for a political song, but as Gray has fine comic instincts I can understand this, as much as I felt they would have got there with it. This was a good set.
 
Following this the results were in. Thomas Rackham was runner up and Josh Pugh the winner. The other winners were the audience, who had a great night.

Nott’s Comedy Festival – Jim Smallman

Last night I was at the Canal House for two gigs. the first of which was Jim Smallman’s show – My Girls. He had taken this up to Edinburgh earlier in the year and it was by all accounts an enjoyable show. Originally another comedian had been booked in for this slot, but had dropped out only 2-3 weeks prior to the night, which had hurt numbers. This wasn’t something that bothered Smallman, though. Prior to his opening, he was quite happy chatting to the audience, sharing a large bag of Haribo out. This was very pleasant and one couldn’t help but get a good vibe from him.
 
The show itself was totally charming and surprisingly emotional. It was a very uplifting hour, with some surprising pathos concerning his mum, who is a legend. The subject matter was anecdotes concerning the 2 ladies in his life: his wife and daughter. The material was very funny and had a nice depth to it. At the end, if Smallman had put on screen a number of statements his daughter had made and one’s she hadn’t I think we would have known enough of her to spot the true ones, which shows how well we got to appreciate his girls. As solid as the material was, what really made the show was Smallman himself. He is a man who has the gift of happiness and this really shines through, manifesting itself in an infectious geniality. The end result was an uplifting feel good hour of comedy that brightened up everyone’s night.