Last night I was in Leicester at Manhattan 34 for the Comedy and Cocktails night. I like this little cellar of a club as it has a nice feel and also as it’s not a huge room only a few people in it gives a good atmosphere. The last time I was there, it was packed out and the feeling was immense. Last night it was surprisingly quiet, but it still felt like a proper comedy venue. We had seven acts on the bill, being introduced by Dave McGuckin. The opening act was Josh Pugh.
I’ve seen Pugh, winner of the Nott’s Comedy Comedian of the year award, quite a lot this year, mostly at new material nights and it is always enjoyable seeing him. This time, he walked to the stage carrying a little stool, which was a bit of a puzzle. He placed the stool down and then promptly ignored it, opening with some nice offbeat observations. His set covered a lot of ground and was very wide-ranging in scope. It was also a very pacy set with no one routine lasting much more than a minute or so. This kept the laughs coming quickly and consistently. The mystery of the stool was solved when it was used for a delightfully over-engineered scenario that worked all the better for being so overdone. This was a lovely set.
Next was Sean Morley. I’ve seen Morley before at the Cross Keys where he moved the audience about the room and then declared it a non gig. I’ve also heard him on the Radio 2 new comedian awards, where he did a similar stunt in declaring the night over. I enjoyed both airings, but was curious as to what he would be doing in Leicester – would it be a conventional routine, or would it be something similar, and if so would it suffer from the law of diminishing returns? How many times can a comedian turn a gig inside out and still receive laughs?
Morley began as soon as he was announced by McGuckin, but not by walking onto the stage as one may expect, but from his seat in the audience. He pretended that he was just an audience member and cheered and whooped, hollering for Sean Morley, demanding he get to the stage. This worked surprisingly well considering that half of the room knew who he was and in a larger, more anonymous setting, would be even funnier. Morley then took to the stage where he found a number of problems with the room’s ambience. This resulted in McGuckin dashing about, righting these issues. The end result was a room in total darkness – very unorthodox (I have heard of a gig in darkness in Copenhagen, where the MC stripped off, much to everyone’s surprise when the lights went back on). Naturally, Morley then declared the gig to be unplayable and that sadly he wouldn’t be able to continue. This was far funnier than it sounds on paper. The mirth of this is in Morley’s performance in getting from saying hello to saying sorry, but bye.
He is very erudite and has an excellent command of the English language. His demeanour whilst taking complete control of the room is that of the world’s most polite and remorselessly efficient public executioner. One who has just realised that if he can get everyone moving that little bit more quickly, he can have an early weekend (Come along you chaps! These executions won’t do themselves! Buck up! Some of us have a weekend to look forwards to. Not you lot, obviously, but I do…). The end result of this was that the law of diminishing returns did not kick in at all. It was hugely enjoyable and entertaining and I suspect that being as creative and verbally cultivated as he is, this will continue for a long time. I certainly hope so, although there is a lingering question of how long a set it can be done for.
After the intermission it was Tom King, who was trying out some new material. I’ve seen King four times now and I’ve enjoyed it every time. He’s got good material and a convincing delivery. Tonight was a work in progress where he was trying out three jokes that although the topics are different (geometry of crapping, a song and a dream), the actual mechanisms are the same in construction. Loads and loads of detail, then the reveal. They all worked well and received good laughs, although to my mind the length of time spent on adding the lashings of detail lowers the overall time for mirth in a set. With a few punch lines added in the midst of the detail any one of these would work very well, although the dream is probably the superior one. He finished his set with some established material that resulted in 3 big laughs in under 30 seconds. I like seeing Tom King’s name on a bill – I know I’m in for a nice set and one that will be interesting, whichever way he decides to take that night.
Next was the debut five, an act who was a comedy virgin prior to that point. Last night it was Anthony Pollard, who was making his beginning in comedy. I’ve seen a few debut spots and Pollard is by far the strongest I’ve watched in that particular venue. He began with the importance of where the emphasis is placed in the words of a sentence. This was a good beginning and although by the 3rd or 4th word the audience were somewhat in front of him this did not diminish the laughter or the appeal of his wording. His delivery was such that it continued to be funny. The surreal non link into home invasion worked a treat as did the call back at the end of his set. He would benefit from a bit more audience interaction (looking at the audience a little bit more and so on), but for a first time, that is an extremely minor quibble. This was a confident performance and one that suggests that Pollard should definitely continue in comedy. His material was good and the delivery of his lines was fine – if he hadn’t been introduced as a virgin performer, then I doubt anyone would have guessed it was his first outing.
Closing the middle section was President Obonjo, an act that I had not seen before. He gave us a set of two halves. Half in character and then concluding as himself. He began as the President, in medalled uniform. He has a very forceful delivery which ensures that he has no shortage of authority – anything less and the whole act would deflate. The room stood at his command, gave him an ovation on demand and had a good time without having to be ordered to do so. There was a lot of fun when he occasionally broke character and I personally enjoyed the fact that a little bit of general knowledge helped his jokes hit home. There was a nice running gag about ‘outside London’ and this was all very pleasurable. This is an act where there is a huge potential for satire and current affairs to play a part. With an audience fully versed in world affairs I can easily see the President having a phenomenal night. I did think there was a missed opportunity for a good visual gag when he took off his uniform to continue his set as himself. Of the two halves, this wasn’t quite so jolly. There were nice sections where he discussed the President taking over his life and wife, but unfortunately there wasn’t the same level of charm.
The final section was opened by Chris Norton Walker, the first act I’ve seen receive an applause break just for walking into a room. I adore him being present at gigs, as the man is a portable atmosphere generator and he seems to just make everyone that bit happier just by being there (this is similar to Pat Monahan’s joy for life). Every gig I’ve seen him at has been a weird or unusual one and tonight was no exception. He delivered his entire set from the centre of a group hug. This was highly surreal, but also very amusing and gave him ample scope for some good ad-libs. I’m not sure it would work in every room, but Norton Walker definitely got it right when he decided to use it last night. He was doing new material, some of it was very good, although I felt the reveal on alternative life style was foreseeable (perhaps with a different relative it would be more of a surprise and might still work), but still no less fun for it. This was a pleasing set from a strong performer.
The closing act was Jack Campbell. The last time I saw him he was doing a rather nice middle 10 at a Funhouse gig. He is observational in nature and whilst his chosen topics aren’t especially challenging (netflix and relationship breakdowns, etc) to the intellect, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun. The gratification comes from how he looks at the mundane and then makes it funny. I found his set to be very agreeable and considering that I felt the room had reached a tipping point, time wise, he did very well to get such good laughs. This is even more so when one considers he was performing in a cellar whilst the room above sounded as if it were being smashed up. Despite this distraction he held the room well and gave us a funny and pleasant send off into the night.