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.