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.

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