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.

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