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.

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