Tonight I was at what is without a doubt the best Gong Show I have ever been to. The venue was the Maze, the promoter was Funhouse and this night had almost everything one could desire from a gong show. There were some fantastic acts and some who were very much at the other end of the scale, possibly 25 miles further down the scale. Whilst numbers weren’t great, The Maze is one of those venues that generate an atmosphere and an energy totally out of proportion to the numbers. 20 people make a good gig, 50 would make it feel like an arena. I like this. As this was Funhouse, Spiky Mike was the compere and he had a cracking night, with two applause breaks and some great laughs. The room was fully ready for the first contestant.
Opening was the confident Boshir Ahmed, who tonight gave us two sides of a coin. He began with a joke about Corbyn and the Queen that wasn’t offensively bad, but was just bad, He then moved on to some satire and this was good. He had various actions which gave his lines added emphasis, although the penis-vagina conversation was too long for the return. My feeling was that there is the basis of a decent set in here, but it will require work to bring it up to scratch.
Next up was Ashley Gibson who offered one-liners. These were of a mixed quality, with some good, some bad and some sounding a bit familiar. He got laughs and was doing well until he got tongue tied and lost momentum just prior to a vote.
Steve Wright followed, also doing one-liners, but without looking at his hand to remember his gags. He had some strong material; I especially enjoyed the way he raised our expectations about women and buses before taking us in a different direction. The audience liked him, too, giving him an applause break for his magic line. Whilst his material was good, I felt his delivery lagged a bit; it seemed to lack that bit of spark that really helps push puns into the stratosphere (see Gary Delaney and Phil Pagett). I’m not sure what the answer to this is, whether injecting energy and pace would work better or to play it deadpan, or even to carry on, because despite this, he was easily voted into the final.
The next man in was Chris Sherwood, an act I’ve seen before and enjoyed. Sherwood takes gong shows as a chance to try out new material, so is at something of a disadvantage as a competitor. When he’s on stage, he has a great grin on his face and looks as if he’s enjoying every second. This is a nice asset and helps his material go further. Tonight he gave us a tale about an old co-worker of his. This was a bit of a gamble, because if the audience hadn’t been sucked in at an early stage they may have voted him off. Instead, they bought into it and leaned in to listen. The story was enjoyable with some good laughs and although the Worzel Gummidge reference was a bit old for the room he went through to the final. I liked his work, I can see a lot of potential in the basic premise and this could be modified and used for some very nice crowd work.
After the intermission it was Tommy T who gave an exhibition of how to lose a room in the fastest possible time. He made a very dark start by doing a routine about the disabled. This wasn’t a light hearted series of gentle gags, but stuff that was just unpleasant. If a comedian whom a room trusted, such as Frankie Boyle used this material it would be considered high risk and would have probably ended with a media kicking the next day. Tonight it went down badly. When the first vote is with 2-3 minutes, the basic idea is to win the audience over quickly. He did the opposite. You could feel the mood in the room, everyone waiting for the first chance to put up a red glow stick. As it was, he was gonged off at the first opportunity.
Vaz Wolf had the job of raising the atmosphere. If Tommy T had given us the ugly, Wolf gave us the WTF. He began with a magic trick that involved rolling up tissue and sticking it up one nostril. That is the beginning, middle and end, unless I missed something. Don’t try this at home, unless you are fully trained and insured. This seemed to eat up a lot of time and was watched in silence. Part of the silence was from people waiting for the reveal (not yet apparent), the rest from people just wondering what on earth was going on. Wolf then went on to admire the wife of an audience member, but in the same sort of way you’d comment on someone’s slice of steak, whilst sat in a restaurant, awaiting your own meal. This led to him asking for a lady to step onto the stage for him to weigh. I’ve no idea why this had to be a lady, but there were no takers. Eventually, after much asking, he managed to get a member of the bar staff to step onto the stage. It was at this precise moment that the first vote was taken and he was promptly voted off. I’ve no idea what he was doing or where he was going, but whilst some acts are that bad they become entertaining (see Jimbo), this was just WTF.
Spiky Mike then took to the stage for some emergency compering, to raise the atmosphere prior to bringing Alex Leam onto the stage. The last time I saw Leam I had felt his material was on the weak side. I can say that he has rectified this deficiency and has also improved his delivery. This is very nice to see. Tonight he got onto the stage and began with a high energy fast set – ideal for a gong show. He managed to vary his tone of voice as he changed his topic, which is good, as was a quick ad-lib he threw out. The improved material involved call centres and accents. The section about his wife had a few too many erms in it to flow as smoothly as the rest, but this was a minor quibble as he kept momentum and went through to the final.
Adele Cliff was the only lady on the bill. 13 comics and all male bar one. I feel this is a shame as having a Y chromosome isn’t a prerequisite of being funny. Cliff delivers one-liners and at quite a pace. Some of these were great, some cringeworthy in a good way and most were very clever – what they all had in common, though, was that they worked well and were lapped up by the room. Three applause breaks, count ’em! Cliff even managed to get life out of the ‘walks into a bar’ gag. I thought this had been done to death, but she came out with a great line and then before the laughter had finished, she topped this with an even funnier walks into a bar joke. Cliff went through to the final, where she was a worthy winner of the night.
Neil Irving closed the middle section. I’ve seen him twice before, but always at car crash gigs. These car crashes weren’t his fault, far from it, but I’m sure we were each convinced the other was jinxed. I’m happy to say that tonight he had a normal gig and one that went very well. He made a bit of a brave start with referencing a household object that could be used for sex. This could have lost him the room, but he kept them – no mean feat. He then went on to a routine involving beads, this earned him good laughs, plus an applause break. The sound effects make a big impact and he had a good night, getting through to the final. Although he didn’t win, it was near to a three way split with the votes.
Ben Clark began the final section. His material was a bit patchy; the poo joke was weak, but the Kasabian lines were good. However, he didn’t make enough of an impact to reach the final.
Next in was Jimbo. I’ve only seen him once before, where he was suffering from too much ale. Tonight he wasn’t quite so drunk and so managed to complete his opening line that he failed to finish last time. Jimbo is one of those acts that are so bad they become entertaining. He received five out of five green glow sticks all the way through to the final. It’s almost as if he has a license to turn up and make a room laugh for all the wrong reasons. This is ridiculous, but he got really good laughs and certainly adds to the variety of a night. He made it through to the final, but we still never got to the end of what’s known and what’s unknown.
Graham Whistler had what was possibly the most personally satisfying 5 minutes of the night. Earlier Tommy T had done a routine having a go at the disabled. Whistler has cerebral palsy and had a whale of a time using Tommy as a foil for a series of call backs that all but took the roof off of the venue. These went down fantastically and demonstrated an impressive ability to think on his feet. The rest of the set was good and he went through to the final, where on a different night he may have won.
Danny Clives was the final act of the night. I was a bit surprised to see him on the bill. The last time I’d been in the Maze there had been some established acts doing ten spots of new material to warm up the room and I had assumed Clives was there on the same ticket. As it was, he was part of the gong show, albeit trying some new material. Most of this went down well, although not all of it hit home. In fairness I think this was because his style benefits from longer stage time, giving him time to build up momentum and to play with the audience’s expectations. The shy joke is a real winner.