Tonight I was at my favourite gig of the month – the Midlands Comedy Award nominated NCF £1 night at the Canal House in Nottingham. This was the Christmas Special, which was perhaps a bit early in the month for it to feel that festive, despite the tree, tinsel, fairy lights and Star Trekkin being on the play list. Tonight wasn’t the busiest that I’ve seen it, which was a shame, as this is a great comedy night. It was nice to see some familiar faces in the audience, such as Ben Macphearson, but a few extra people would have helped with the energy levels. The compere was Rob Mulholland.
Although I’ve seen Mulholland gig a few times (and if you haven’t – why not?), I’ve never seen him MC. I suspected he’d be rather good at it. He has an irrepressible air of mischief about him, similar to a school boy who’s been given a whoopee cushion by an uncle. He began with a room that was fairly cold. He did the basics, asking people what they do and so on – as I’ve stated in other reviews, I wish comperes would move on from this and ask other questions, even asking what people want for Christmas would be a nice change. Mulholland got enough back from the audience to work with and slid in some nice contemporary references to relationship status’ and received nice laughs. He was honest enough to admit to no longer being interested and moving on when a lady seemed to drag things out a bit and this got a good laugh, too. After he did the rules, he offered a heckle amnesty and received the wonderful heckle of being told he looked like a moist David Tennant; cue a round of applause for the heckler. This was all entertaining, but to me Mulholland seemed to be operating in a bit of a straitjacket. Luckily during the second session, the gloves came off and he was able to let his personality run wild. Mulholland went on safari around part of the room, striding from chair to chair, looking like a 6’7 BFG, stood on chairs. This was splendidly loopy and the room came to life in a big way. His legs look about 5′ long and it was reminiscent of Cleese doing a silly walk, but on a chair, precariously balanced. This really suited his style and suddenly anything seemed possible. Including straddling an audience member and getting massive laughs for doing so. He did use a fair bit of material, but I think this was mostly to keep a room that was, tonight, predisposed to being quiet, laughing. Mulholland’s compering can be split into two halves. The conventional half, was decent, but the section when he just decided to go wild was fantastic. The more splendidly loopy Mulholland went, the more I enjoyed his work. I doubt many people will forget the sight of him striding about on chairs in a hurry.
Opening was Lucy Thompson, who has been nominated for the Midlands Comedy Awards breakthrough act of 2015. Tonight wasn’t really her night. Despite Mulholland’s work, the room seemed to settle back to being cold as she walked to the stage. This was a shame, as she’s a good comedian. Thompson made a bit of a slow start and the audience never really seemed to get behind her until towards the end of her set when she was discussing weddings and days it is permitted to have a drink. Thompson is a reliable, funny comedian with decent material and a nice delivery, so I’m not sure why she didn’t have a good night. I’ve seen her do these routines on comedy nights and new material nights and get a lot of love from the audience, so I don’t think any fault is on her side of things. For whatever reason and it may just have been the running order, she didn’t have the sort of night I’d have expected or hoped. Thompson didn’t die, she got laughs and on another night will do as well as she normally does.
Sean Moran did a nice routine based around families and being a dad. A lot of this material struck a chord with the audience. His delivery was at a conversational level and was rather low key. This did suit the domestic nature of his material. Although only two lines seemed to land heavily with the room (gang of lads and shed) and in truth nothing of his set was especially memorable, he did build up an enjoyable set. It was a bit like an episode of the Detectorists – you may not be belly laughing and you may be hard put to remember any of the jokes, but it was still very pleasant to see and the night was quietly improved by having seen it.
After the first intermission it was Dave Cheddarton, a late addition to the roster. This is a character act that I believe has a lot of potential if handled correctly. Tonight we saw new material being trialled and perhaps one way of delivering it being eliminated. Cheddarton (a legendary [in his own kitchen] figure in the comedy industry) began with a brief rundown of his career. He gave us a deliberate mangling of the names of acts of the 1980s, which got a few scattered laughs, before going onto a Q&A. This evoked questions such as asking his opinion on the legacy of the Goons, an explanation of why people see McIntyre (I’m interested in that, too) and an opinion on Carlin. Hollins, the man behind Cheddarton, played him straight tonight and this may have been a tactical error, as it became apparent very quickly that the room hadn’t realised he was a character act and were taking it very seriously, putting Hollins on the spot. Perhaps if he had been more ridiculous at the top, this wouldn’t have happened. The deliberate mangling of names mentioned earlier, could have been more exaggerated perhaps, with Alexei SaylesRon and Rik Mailorder, etc. This would have alerted the room to the fact that this was a spoof. Similarly, a running joke, such as whenever a comedian is named, from Charlie Chaplin, to Carlin, by way of McIntyre, Cheddarton could have immediately said, ‘I gave him his big break when he applied as an open spot at my club in Chiswick!’. Rather than being played straight, being OTT could possibly improve the delivery of what I think is still a splendid concept. Hollins was trying a new character act tonight, one that is going to take some settling down and whilst it didn’t work as planned, that is what new material nights are for and I’m glad he performed.
Calum Tingham is an act I’ve seen a couple of times at gong and new act nights. He’s relaxed on stage and has a decent presence, but is still being let down by his material. This is nothing that can’t be improved. He had a section on tinder, which is a subject well covered. He received some laughs for his take on it, but did better with his turtle joke. The coffee shop felt a bit strained, though. The changes from topic to topic were very abrupt with no segway into a new routine. This gave his set a bit of a jarring feel. He didn’t have a great night, but he didn’t have a particularly bad night either and the only way he’ll get better is to carry on writing new material and trying it out at nights like this. I’ll be interested to see how he gets on with it.
Andy Gleeks had a mixed night. He began by referencing his Northern Irish accent, which lead naturally into material based on his ancestry and home town, with a good local reference to a rough part of Nottingham thrown in for great effect. This lead neatly into him saying about being in England due to meeting a girl and so into material on birth and so on into a nice closing section on loo roll. It wasn’t always obvious where he was going, apart from when he made it deliberately so with the loo roll. A lot of his jokes required a modicum of general knowledge, which I liked, as they made the reveals feel a bit more special. However, to me, he fell down on two jokes, both for the same reason. He had a bit about witnessing birth being akin to witnessing your favourite pub burn down, which is a joke all over the internet and he had a well known bit of material about unpopular housemates and if you don’t have one, then it’s you. The inclusion of these two well known sections took the shine off of what had been an enjoyable set.
Liam Gardiner Webber had a splendid night. He was doing new material, some of which was only from that afternoon. He began with Shakespeare, three performances from three different plays. One delivered with full on acting, one a daft, but very funny gag and one bonkers and funny. This was a good start. He then moved on to a routine based on the USSR, which I especially enjoyed. A more forceful comic than Webber, Sean Morley, perhaps, would have insisted that everyone in the room stand for the Soviet national anthem and this would probably send an already good joke through the roof when the reveal landed. The end of this section would have been hard to carry on from for a lot of comedians, but Webber did well to jump back into the set, where he gave us dogs in space (that works well when said like Pigs in Space from the Muppet Show). This was also good fun. This material is eclectic, but worked very well for Webber, as he is a fantastic performer. He totally commits to his performance and this adds a wonderful level of conviction to his delivery. I enjoyed his set.
Closing was Dave Rivers, who when I last saw him, was putting in a very strong performance in a comedian of the year heat. He had a bit of a tricky start and was perhaps lucky to remain unscathed after a couple of unfavourable references to Nottingham, as these could have gone either way. His material is of a very high quality and I’ve yet to see him have a bad show. He had some new sections which worked well (wings, etc) and his established material, which he focussed on as headliner, has been improved through an enhanced delivery. His facial expressions when showing how his dad copes with takeaway food added a lot of value to the routine. This is a comedian I’d like to see a lot more of, especially a new character piece that he is trying in January that sounds very promising.