January End of Month Review

This month has been a bit unbalanced for comedy, as the beginning of the month was a bit slow for gigs, but luckily during the final week I managed to see four shows in four nights. This isn’t easy when my shift pattern is four on, four off. Gigs this month have varied from Sarah Millican in a theatre to Gong Shows. Millican was rather unique in actually being able to still make a big show feel like an intimate gig.

These are the people who have impressed me most this month. As ever, comedians whom I have recently included in the end of month reviews are time barred.

Tom Allen

He was supporting Sarah Millican and whilst he wasn’t the person the audience had paid to see, he still made a very good impression. I enjoyed his style, material and delivery. The overall feeling was that he was a bit constrained by the set up and was capable of a lot more than the situation allowed.

The review from the night:

Tom Allen was supporting and his style, which was smooth and intellectual made for a contrast that worked well with Millican. He began by referencing his sexual orientation and getting some nice laughs for his talk about recruitment. A comedian who has what some may consider to be a defining characteristic of some sort: sexual orientation, disability, a questionable background, ethnicity, or whatever, can sometimes concentrate on this to the detriment of their set as a whole. I was a tiny bit concerned that Allen would be a one topic comedian, but thankfully he was far from it. He swiftly moved on to talking about his mum using her phone to take a photo, which was really well described and easily pictured. Following this, he arranged for the applause to begin in one corner of the room and then ripple out to the corner nearest to him. This involved him conversing with a teacher who was sat as far away from him as possible. Allen had good ears, and instead of a medley of pardons and what did she says, he developed a lovely bit of repartee that not only showed him to be very sharp, but was also able to generate laughs out of very little. When this teacher delayed with one answer, he did inform her that it was her own time she was wasting, which is a bit of a hack line, but one that he would have been silly not to have used under the circumstances. Allen was only on for a very short while and this was a real shame, as I was enjoying his set. Support acts can be a mixed bag, but every so often they will throw up something in the way of a gem, and Tom Allen is one such gem.

Tom Wrigglesworth

This is a man who probably needs little description, especially to anyone who listens to the Home Service. He demonstrated that although he may be fairly famous for his work on the wireless he has not lost his touch in playing to an audience.

The review from the night:

Tom Wrigglesworth, who was on a double up, opened the night. I’ve seen him live before, but this was about three years ago and then he was trying some new material. Tonight I was seeing him only a month after his series on the wireless had ended. It was evident from the amount of love he received that there were a lot of fans in the room, who had also enjoyed this series. He began by discussing a speed awareness course he had been on, before moving to alternative ways of pronouncing Cockburn and recalcitrant printers before ending back with the speed awareness course. In between, we had a link that took us from international Jihadis to ebay feedback in one bound, which worked beautifully and a lengthy explanation of the ins and outs of Terry Waite’s kidnapping for the benefit of the youngest person in the room and a discussion of acronyms. These last two topics, Waite and acronyms neatly demonstrated the trust that the audience had for Wrigglesworth. Either of these explanations, which were not intrinsically funny, could have robbed him of momentum, but instead the room stayed with him and benefited from their trust. The material itself was tightly written, with not a single word in the actual set that didn’t add some value to it. Wrigglesworth has a great command of the English language and seemed to pick the correct words to squeeze the maximum value from each sentence. It was interesting to see how he handled coming off of the script when the town clock, located approximately 20 feet above his head, gonged out the time. This made no difference to him, he took it in his stride and showed an impressive dry wit, even setting up something in the way of an Easter Egg for whomever was performing when it chimed for the next hour. This was a great set.

Harry Sanders

I saw Sanders in the Maze at the Funhouse gong show. He has some really good material that is married to a very nice delivery. At the moment he is not widely known, but he has the talent for this to change.

The review from the night:

Harry Sanders closed the first half. I’ve only seen Sanders once before, which is a shame, as he is a very strong act who writes some extremely good material. He made a nice start tonight and then built momentum from there. His delivery was easily the most polished of the night and in my opinion, his material was the stand out material of the night, too. He received 5 green glowsticks all the way through his set and the only two laughter breaks of the night, where there was no point him saying anything as the room were still too busy laughing at his last joke. Some of these jokes were wonderfully dark, but as they were clever in their darkness, rather than merely an attempt to shock and worked tremendously well. As it happened, he didn’t win tonight, which came as a surprise to me, but he had a really good night all the same.

Moses Nassah (also known as Moses Hassan)

I’ve seen him a couple of times and I’ve always enjoyed his work. He has a good stage presence and does some wonderfully dark material. He writes a lot of new material and has an enthusiasm and hunger for comedy that is more refreshing than just seeking to make a living out of it. He’s just beginning to get paid gigs, but he has what it takes to go a lot further.

From the night:

Moses Nassah was an act I was very interested in seeing. I’ve only seen him the once, but he’s come a fair way since then. The jokes he airs on facebook are good, as are his comments on other people’s posts. Both of these evidence a keen wit, rather than give away a lot in the way of his set. In addition to this, a few of the bookers I know have been saying some very nice things about him. This all served to generate interest in what he would be doing. Nassah wasn’t as dark in tone as the first time I saw him, which may help broaden his appeal, but could be a move away from his strongest stuff. Having said that, he made a good start and was one of the acts that generated momentum in his set. He had a wonderful double reveal on alarm, an involved, but very funny phoning in sick and a great call back to the compering and received consistent laughs. Nassah made it through to the final four, which tonight was no mean achievement.

Sarah Millican and Tom Allen (support)

Tonight I was at the Royal Concert Hall to see Sarah Millican. Originally, I was to have gone with my wife, Siobhan, but owing to illness she didn’t feel up to it. There was a spare ticket going free, but as she had only made the final decision a hour before we had to leave it was hard work finding someone to give it to. Most of my friends were either gigging, having their first night off in ages or it was too short notice for them. Just when I was thinking it would be nice to treat someone selling the Big Issue to something different, I remembered that my mum was a Sarah Millican fan and so she ended up accompanying me. The seats, were on Tier 2 and mine was U2, but thankfully not close to The Edge. I wouldn’t say the seat was high up, but both Allen and Millican looked like they were on the set of The Borrowers.

Tom Allen was supporting and his style, which was smooth and intellectual made for a contrast that worked well with Millican. He began by referencing his sexual orientation and getting some nice laughs for his talk about recruitment. A comedian who has what some may consider to be a defining characteristic of some sort: sexual orientation, disability, a questionable background, ethnicity, or whatever, can sometimes concentrate on this to the detriment of their set as a whole. I was a tiny bit concerned that Allen would be a one topic comedian, but thankfully he was far from it. He swiftly moved on to talking about his mum using her phone to take a photo, which was really well described and easily pictured. Following this, he arranged for the applause to begin in one corner of the room and then ripple out to the corner nearest to him. This involved him conversing with a teacher who was sat as far away from him as possible. Allen had good ears, and instead of a medley of pardons and what did she says, he developed a lovely bit of repartee that not only showed him to be very sharp, but was also able to generate laughs out of very little. When this teacher delayed with one answer, he did inform her that it was her own time she was wasting, which is a bit of a hack line, but one that he would have been silly not to have used under the circumstances. Allen was only on for a very short while and this was a real shame, as I was enjoying his set. Support acts can be a mixed bag, but every so often they will throw up something in the way of a gem, and Tom Allen is one such gem.

Millican came out to a lot of love. When I saw Alan Carr he had a similar effect on his audience and that was more of an evening with his fans than a gig and he didn’t really have to work hard, or even do anything particularly funny to get laughs. Millican didn’t fall into this trap. This was still very much a comedy show, with a structured set and some very good laughs. The first half consisted of her talking about living in the countryside and how she is getting on with the animals. This lead itself to her asking the audience about their encounters with animals in the wild. This perhaps went on a touch too long, as by the 5th person, I was struggling to stay engaged. Millican got some nice lines out of what people had to say, but this was very much a second fiddle to her actual prepared material. The second half was the stronger of the two halves, where she mined body image and the differences between men and women for material. These topics are fairly common fare for female comedians and although it would have been nice to hear something that hasn’t already been covered, her take on them was still a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the quiz showing the difference between men and women, but this was more so because I’ve seen her husband 4-5 times and can appreciate his answers more. Millican has a reputation for being far cruder live than on the telly, but I’d not say that she was crude. There was a lot of F’s but nothing that was out of context or didn’t add to the impact of a line, something she went part way to referencing in a different context, when saying that a line had just the right amount of fucks in it. Her persona is that of a very sweet lass who can say anything she likes and get away with it, which works beautifully. The delivery was smooth and made the material seem even more relatable. I enjoyed this show, as despite it being in a huge theatre, it still felt like a comedy gig, something that is often missing in big shows.

Guildhall Grantham – Tom Wrigglesworth, Roger Swift, Pat Draper and Jeff Innocent

Tonight I was in the Guildhall at Grantham for a Funhouse Gig. This place, for those who haven’t been yet, is a cross between a town hall and a stately home. It has high ceilings, huge oil paintings of long dead local worthies and more ornate plaster work than one can shake a stick at. Considering the gig was effectively in Downtown Abbey, it made me wish I’d put a tie on, or at the least some tweed. The crowd were largely middle age and middle class, but impeccably polite and well mannered, making this another lovely gig that the award winning Funhouse run. It was also a sell out, with chairs having to be sourced, with the room totally full and this was not a small room, either. Watching Spiky Mike compere was enjoyable and added to the night. He came pretty close to an applause break for an off the cuff comment about a make up counter and showed some good skills in managing to extricate himself from an exchange that was looking unpromising. He nicely set the room up for Tom Wrigglesworth.

Tom Wrigglesworth, who was on a double up, opened the night. I’ve seen him live before, but this was about three years ago and then he was trying some new material. Tonight I was seeing him only a month after his series on the wireless had ended. It was evident from the amount of love he received that there were a lot of fans in the room, who had also enjoyed this series. He began by discussing a speed awareness course he had been on, before moving to alternative ways of pronouncing Cockburn and recalcitrant printers before ending back with the speed awareness course. In between, we had a link that took us from international Jihadis to ebay feedback in one bound, which worked beautifully and a lengthy explanation of the ins and outs of Terry Waite’s kidnapping for the benefit of the youngest person in the room and a discussion of acronyms. These last two topics, Waite and acronyms neatly demonstrated the trust that the audience had for Wrigglesworth. Either of these explanations, which were not intrinsically funny, could have robbed him of momentum, but instead the room stayed with him and benefited from their trust. The material itself was tightly written, with not a single word in the actual set that didn’t add some value to it. Wrigglesworth has a great command of the English language and seemed to pick the correct words to squeeze the maximum value from each sentence. It was interesting to see how he handled coming off of the script when the town clock, located approximately 20 feet above his head, gonged out the time. This made no difference to him, he took it in his stride and showed an impressive dry wit, even setting up something in the way of an Easter Egg for whomever was performing when it chimed for the next hour. This was a great set.

After the intermission the award winning Roger Swift resumed. Roger had an interesting night, but possibly suffered from two factors, one of which was out of his control. The size of the room and to a lesser degree, the layout, made it tricky for everyone to see some of his props. The grate/great escape gag is wonderful, but the prop picture is about 6” x 4” and this may have been unclear to some people at the far ends, sat stage side. The other factor is that some of his gags can be a little bit niche. Having said that, I like Roger’s act and I like it a lot, his performance really sells it. He received groans and laughs in more or less equal measure, but the room warmed to him and enjoyed his act. The puns are good, but they are groan worthy, but this is something of a strength, as Swift delivers them with panache and his throwaway comments, where he breaks the 4th wall are a massive joy to see. However well a particular pun had fared and I’d say he had more hits than misses, he’d get an even bigger laugh for his remarks about how much or how long he’d spent on a prop. The more I see of Swift, the more I enjoy his work.

Next was Patrick Draper, who I only reviewed two nights ago. In order to be fair to his sanity, I won’t do a full review, as two in a week is too much for any act. However, I will say that whilst he has improved every time I’ve seen him, tonight he was simply fantastic. He received great laughs and the audience lapped him up. Following what Wrigglesworth had said about the town clock sounding the hour, it was with an air of inevitability that it did indeed boom out during a crucial section of Draper’s act. This didn’t throw him off, he simply made reference to it, received laughs and then went back to his set and even more laughs. Draper had a brilliant night.

Closing was Jeff Innocent. I’ve seen him once before, where he had headlined at Jongleurs on a Friday night to a largely drunken and indifferent crowd. He hadn’t had a great time that particular night, but in retrospect this was more due to the audience than any fault on his part. In Grantham he had a much better time of it and went down very well with the room. A lot of his material comes from his background, looks and build. I enjoyed most of this material, but wasn’t that keen on the drugs related jokes. This isn’t to say they weren’t funny – the rest of the audience, middle aged and middle class, remember, really liked them – it’s just a topic I struggle to warm to. His delivery was smooth and well timed and he played well to the crowd, picking the right people to talk to. It was a surprisingly intimate set that went down very well and closed the night off to everyone’s satisfaction.

Mock the Flock – Jon Pearson, Eric Rushton, Chris Noonan, Joe Bowley, Tony Cowards and Jay Islaam (MC)

Tonight I was at Jay Islaam’s Mock the Flock night in Birmingham. Luckily I was in a car share with Jon Pearson, which made the journey a lot more fun. The last time I was here was only a week previously, when the room had hosted the Midlands Comedy Awards. Numbers were down on that evening, but for a midweek free night, there was enough people for an audience. Although I’m not sure that Thor, apparently his real name, was the ideal audience member. Our compere, Jay Islaam, had to repeatedly engage Thor and restrain his natural impulse to hold the limelight. Towards the end of the night, frankly, I was hoping that Thor would be sent to Asgard just to give us a bit of a rest. Jay’s compering ticked a lot of boxes, but was no less fun for that. He had no trouble in chatting to the audience and they were happy to chat back to him, leaving no awkward pauses or silences. Jay was affable and asked open question and his work helped to create a nice feel good atmosphere for the show.

The opening act was Jon Pearson, who was largely trying new material. He opened with his gym routine, which is a cast iron banker. Once he had established his credentials, as it were, he then began with new material. This was of a very high order, despite being a work in progress. Leaving cards and office attire were excellent with the ‘unexpected item in bagging area’ working extremely well in a different context to that which one would usually expect. The rest of the new material wasn’t quite so stage ready, but certainly shows a lot of promise. There are some acts, such as Thomas Rackham, who have a reputation for writing a lot of new material. Jon Pearson should also be known for not resting on his laurels. He is well on his way to crafting his third distinct twenty minute set within a year or so and I feel he has pulled something of a rabbit out of the hat with this.

Next on was Eric Rushton who I have seen previously at a Funhouse gong show (The Kayal). He began in the same way by de-constructing his opening joke prior to delivery and as before, this worked very well. His coming or going gag was a groaner, but all the more funny for it. There were a number of very nice lines, with some good call backs and the overall feel was of an intelligent and well constructed set, so it was no surprise that he received good strong laughs. On the downside, I did feel that his delivery wasn’t quite as engaging as it could have been, as he seemed a trifle aloof on stage. This is a minor quibble and he had a good night.

Following was Chris Noonan, whose photogenic reveal was a bit predictable, but the development of this was very pleasant and went down well. He spoke about a number of topics and these would profit from some links, as it made his set feel a tad disjointed as he flitted from one topic to another. I especially enjoyed his take on the problems of identical twins, as this was both novel and funny. Noonan only did a short set and it was one that I wish had been longer.

Resuming after the intermission was Joe Bowley, who is in effect a one man variety act. His set contained, magic, jokes, a prop, an impression and a song. All within 7 minutes or so. To begin with, the pick a card felt a bit plodding, but this went down very well and the green pepper stunt reinforced the joy of this. The impression was decent and the Bieber Fever joke dark and funny enough to warrant it. The song would probably have benefited from only being played once, as the amount of time taken in the present form wasn’t really justified by the pay off – the song itself was fine and Bowley’s voice is surprisingly good. This was an eclectic set, but one that could be improved by a running joke, or a common theme, as either would hold it together and make it into more than the sum of its’ parts.

Closing was Tony Cowards who was trying new material out. He suffered from two issues tonight: a fairly small audience that didn’t really have the critical mass for a one liner expert and the fact that a lot of his reveals seemed to go over the heads of some people. This was a real shame, as his material was first class. He would throw out a one liner that I’d say was a 9 or a 10 and get the response back as if it were a 7. His Taipei reveal was the joke of the night and whilst it relies on people having some general knowledge, it easily deserved better than he received. I was still laughing at this two jokes later. I’ve seen Cowards before at a FAF Comedy night and so some of his material was familiar, but even so, I wasn’t sure which bits were totally new and being tried out for the first time. Everything seemed to be of a very high order. Cowards has a good reputation on the comedy circuit, but considering the strength of his material, he should really be better known to the wider public.

The Maze, Pat Draper, Noddy of Nottingham, Oliver Sillitto, Grenville Glossop, Jack Topher, Allan Crow, Harry Sanders, Liam Webber, Vim Patel and Nial O’Sullivan

Tonight I was in Nottingham at The Maze for the Funhouse Gong Show. This started off with reasonable numbers, but a large number of late comers added nicely to the crowd, making it a fair sized audience. This included Robert Stevenson who has impressed me before in a gong show, but who wasn’t working tonight. There was a bit of difficulty with finding judges that weren’t friends with the acts, but this was managed satisfactorily. Spiky Mike received a bit of a surprise during his compering when he discovered a chap who did sky diving for a living, genuinely so, too, rather than it being his joke profession. This was something a bit different to engineers, students and office wallahs. One of the acts may have made a tactical error in shouting out three times during the crowd work, as I felt he was possibly alienating judges before he had climbed onto the stage. The judges themselves were not as lenient as the ones in Derby last week, but no less fair for it. There were four finalists, with the vote going to a show of hands. This ended in a draw, between Topher and O’Sullivan, but as O’Sullivan had seven friends in the audience who had voted for him, the prize went to Topher, who had arrived alone. This was fair, although it must be stated that O’Sullivan had earned his position in the final on merit.

To begin with though, the night opened with Pat Draper, who was nominated for the Midlands breakthrough act of the year. As it happens, I’ll be seeing him again on Thursday night, when he is gigging with Tom Wigglesworth. I’ve a lot of time for Draper. He’s a very strong act who seems to improve with every performance. His set consists of good strong reliable material, which he delivers flawlessly. Everything tonight worked very well and he received strong laughs. There were some very good topical references to dead rock stars that went down well and some beautifully ad-libbed lines, or if not ad-libbed, very very good impersonations of being ad-libbed. This was a cracking start to the night and it was probably for the best that we had an intermission after his set.

The first of the gong show contestants was Noddy of Nottingham, a name which I wasn’t sure what to make of when I saw it on the list. He made a start by asking for a show of hands from the audience, which was probably too early in the night for anyone to really want to get that involved. This was followed by a mixture of puns, some decent, but most a bit laboured and a couple of fairly long routines that didn’t deliver much in the way of a pay off. There was no real sense of a unified set here, more a series of jokes that could have been told in any order or even spread out amongst all of the competitors. The actual delivery itself wasn’t bad, though.

Oliver Sillitto was next, making a return to comedy. His set was interesting in that the material itself was rather lightweight. There was nothing that memorable about it. He would start running with something, jump to talking about having a baby, change topic and then move back to discussing having a baby, again. This was interspersed with lots of tongue in cheek talk about dying relatives and the need to see green glowsticks. Although I doubt that anyone in the room will be able to remember any of his jokes by tomorrow morning, this didn’t make his set any less enjoyable, it was very much in the moment. It was still pleasurable to see, but with stronger material he would, naturally, do better. He was one of the four finalists.

Grenville Glossop followed with what I think may be his second performance. I saw him pop his comedy cherry before a home crowd in Sheffield at the start of the month and I wondered how he would do playing away. The answer was not too badly. He had some new material, which I quite liked, but he then lost momentum when he was talking about dogging. He was getting laughs for this, but there was really too many gaps between laughs to sustain him.

The winner of the night, Jack Topher, was next. Whilst his performance seemed a bit pedestrian, his material was extremely good. His set was a bit of a monologue about religion, his mum and Debbie. To begin with, it felt like a slow burner, but it was certainly very engaging and the room bought into it. The story was mostly a framework for him to fit asides into. When he broke the fourth wall it was to great effect, getting strong laughs and proving to be very funny. I liked Topher and when his delivery matches the strength of his material, he should be very good indeed.

Allan Crow began by explaining how his humour worked, which perhaps begged the question of if you need to explain your style is it really the best style to go with? He then did a joke about sky diving, which was a call back to the compering. This was quite a good joke, but unfortunately his delivery of it was flat, with no real panache. This was then chased by a prop gag, which didn’t tie in to anything and stood out badly for that. This was succeeded by a routine about 5p bags and self service tills, both of which are topics that are past their use by date and both of which proved bad for his health, as Crow was voted off soon after.

Harry Sanders closed the first half. I’ve only seen Sanders once before, which is a shame, as he is a very strong act who writes some extremely good material. He made a nice start tonight and then built momentum from there. His delivery was easily the most polished of the night and in my opinion, his material was the stand out material of the night, too. He received 5 green glowsticks all the way through his set and the only two laughter breaks of the night, where there was no point him saying anything as the room were still too busy laughing at his last joke. Some of these jokes were wonderfully dark, but as they were clever in their darkness, rather than merely an attempt to shock and worked tremendously well. As it happened, he didn’t win tonight, which came as a surprise to me, but he had a really good night all the same.

Liam Webber resumed in the second half. Webber is an act that I find very enjoyable to watch. He is a real performer and whatever his day job is, he is probably wasted in it, as he should be on stage doing some acting. He’s also an act that benefits from having enough time to build a character and then work in the humour. Tonight, he didn’t have this, but his set was no less a joy to see. He was trying out a new character piece, a Republican Trump supporter from the deep south, probably Louisiana or Mississippi. In this he not only had the accent spot on and wisely resisted tearing the arse out of it in a Foghorn Leghorn meets Forrest Gump match up, but his pattern of speech and mannerisms were spot on. Within a minute or so the character felt fully drawn out and as Webber has a powerful vocabulary he was able to throw in words that really added to the feel of the piece. The question is, was it funny, though? It was in parts and in more parts than not and the bits where laughter was thin, were the bits that were adding flesh to the character. With longer stage time, I think this would have been a thoroughly good set, as the skeleton was there, a lot of the flesh was there, it was just the time that was lacking to weave in enough material to finish the job off.

Vim Patel was next. I thought that he had been unlucky in Derby the week before when he hadn’t made the final. Tonight his set failed for largely the same reason. He has a decent delivery and looks confident, but his material isn’t punchy enough for a gong show. Whilst the section about the body fluid sample has nice parts to it, the amount of time taken over it for the return probably make it unsuitable for a gong show. The same could be said about the Patels colonising the world. The references to terrorism and him not being there to blow people up are funny, but did suffer badly from diminishing returns by the third one. I feel that there is a good set in Patel, but this wasn’t it.

Closing was the much improved Nial O’Sullivan. He looked more comfortable on stage and seemed to deliver his lines with more confidence than before. His material was new and a lot more unique to him, with a nice line about breeds of sheep and a story about a train journey, which whilst it could have been pacier, was still gratifying and more than worth the reveal. It was nice to see him go through to the final, where he made a strong showing, even allowing for having a lot of friends in the audience. I’m looking forwards to watching him gig again, as I feel he has taken a big step forwards.

Blessington Carriage Gong Show – Ashley Gibson,Chris Stiles, Paul Rogers, Harvey Hawkins, Dave Carlisle,Vimal Patel, Michael Gladstone, Dorian Wainwright, Moses Nassah, Jo Duncan and Alex Black

Tonight I was at the Funhouse Gong Show at the Blessington Carriage in Derby, where I arrived early enough to witness the selection of judges. Selection was a random process, but what struck me was the limited enthusiasm for the role, with only 1 out of the 5 not looking nervous at being asked. There was a good sized crowd, helped by a party of 14 who had made a block booking. There were to have been 14 contestants, but only 11 made it, which was a shame. We were missing two Liverpudlians and Chris Shaw, who I was curious in seeing how he was progressing following my last review of him. Present tonight were Billy McGuire and Elliot Bower who were supporting and assisting the night respectively. It was nice to see Spiky Mike having another good night – his lines about Keele University were a particular success. This was also the most closely contested gong show I’ve seen. Whilst 8 of the 11 contestants getting through to the final reflected leniency on the part of the judges, having 8 finalists and then a 4 way cheer off, followed by a counting of arms and then a second count of arms was a reflection of the ability of the finalists. The eventual winner won by the margin of 22 votes to 20.

The opening act was Ashley Gibson. Whilst his delivery seemed improved to begin with, his material still needs work. He is the second comic in a week to do a joke about taking offence/a fence at B & Q, whilst award winning comedian (swimming award) and not got thyme/time to name 100 spices both had an air of google about their inception. The Ah Monica reveal received a well deserved laugh, though. I’ve seen Gibson 4-5 times now, doing one liners and I’m not sure this style is really working for him. It may suit him to try other approaches and experiment with his comedy.

Following was a genuine award winner, Chris Stiles, who last year won an award for the most improved gong show entrant. He continued his journey upwards with a strong set, which earned one of the few applause breaks of the night. The Barnsley pilot routine continues to be a real banker that sets the tone for rest of the set in a rather charming way. This led into some new material about tight Yorkshireman, which was really enjoyable. The delivery for this was good, with nice pacing. It was no surprise to see him reach the final and I look forwards to seeing him again.

Paul Rogers was next, doing his first ever gig. Although his delivery was a bit too fast, this was a first performance and so is not the end of the world. A similar conclusion could be drawn about the material – not the strongest, but not at all bad for a first timer. There was a nice, but predictable twist on him talking to himself on his way to work, a bad gag about first impressions and a set up for a joke (birth) that was too long. Despite this, he got good laughs for his Christmas card and being a twat material and made it through to the final.

The final act of the opening section was Harvey Hawkins, who epitomises why I like gong shows so much. I’d be lying if I said I’d ever heard of him prior to the evening, and so him putting in such a strong night was completely out of the blue. It is these surprisingly excellent performances that make gong shows so entertaining, not the car crash acts as too many people seem to believe. Hawkins came onto the stage and stood with his shoulders hunched, looking as if there was still a coat hanger lurking somewhere. His stage persona was deliberately awkward and uncertain (reminded me a touch of some of Dan Nicholas’ work), which worked really well with his material. This consisted of off beat one liners. These received good strong laughs for the twists on the reveals. I was especially impressed with his material on his mum and facebook. Where many comics would probably have gone with ‘cock’ as the crucial word, Hawkins replaced it with something far less obvious and much funnier. He earned the second applause break of the night with a cleverly ad-libbed call back to Spiky Mike’s compering. Tonight he was a narrow winner, but it was still a well deserved win.

We resumed after the first intermission with Dave Carlisle, who was the second of three entrants who were performing for the first time. Carlisle mangled his first joke and began a-new. His material was rather weak, with a lot of ‘dad jokes’ although the shopping list was a nice touch. Despite his material he did make it through to the final.

Next was Vimal Patel who I think was unfortunate tonight. He looked polished and was certainly smoother than a lot of acts that made the final. He had a decent delivery and his material was pretty good. Where he fell down was on the length of the set up for a section on a relative’s health that was quite lengthy. This was an enjoyable routine that seemed to promise much, but which probably wasn’t punchy enough for a gong show.

Following was Michael Gladstone who was the final part of the trio who were performing for the first time. He began with a confident delivery, but seemed to run out of steam by the 3 minute mark. He had garnered enough good will to survive the 2nd vote, but not enough to pass the final vote. His material wasn’t bad, but nothing seemed to stand out and there were lengthy sections where there were no laughs. What did stand out was his accent (American), which he didn’t reference at all during his set. This may have been a mistake, as I was probably not the only person in the room half listening to his set and half trying to work out where he was from.

Dorian Wainwright had a very good night, despite not winning the evening. He had a very fast delivery, which worked well for him and some very enjoyable material to match to it. The line about his relative working in Africa was an early stand out. What I liked most about his set was the performance as a whole. He had lots of enthusiasm and energy, which helped push the material further than what an on paper reading of it would suggest was likely. This isn’t to say his material was weak, more that his presentation was strong enough to take really add to it. His delivery had a natural flow and rhythm to it which will stand him in good stead for the future.

Moses Nassah was an act I was very interested in seeing. I’ve only seen him the once, but he’s come a fair way since then. The jokes he airs on facebook are good, as are his comments on other people’s posts. Both of these evidence a keen wit, rather than give away a lot in the way of his set. In addition to this, a few of the bookers I know have been saying some very nice things about him. This all served to generate interest in what he would be doing. Nassah wasn’t as dark in tone as the first time I saw him, which may help broaden his appeal, but could be a move away from his strongest stuff. Having said that, he made a good start and was one of the acts that generated momentum in his set. He had a wonderful double reveal on alarm, an involved, but very funny phoning in sick and a great call back to the compering and received consistent laughs. Nassah made it through to the final four, which tonight was no mean achievement.

Jo Duncan was the only lady on the bill tonight and was narrowly pushed into second place in the final. She began by demonstrating some quick thinking, having generated some material talking to a couple of audience members during the break, literally 5 minutes before she went on stage. This was wonderfully of the present. This was topped by material relating to her former profession – teacher – which was very good throughout. Her approach was low energy and her delivery was quiet in tone and the result of this was a solid set which went down extremely well.

Alex Black closed the night and may have possibly suffered in going on after a strong contestant. He had a routine based around kids and swearing, which whilst it didn’t break any new ground was good fun. He then followed this by rapping, which reminded me a bit of MC Pitman. The rap was possibly more creative than funny, but it gained laughs and was enough to see him through into the final.

Roadhouse -Aaron Twitchen, Dave Cheddarton, Josh Pugh, Ben Clark-Betts, Ben Hall, Ben Briggs, Danny Clives, Nig Lovell and Danny Beet

Last night I was in Birmingham at the Roadhouse for the New Act/New Material night. Hosting was Laura Monmoth, who injected some topical fun into the night by giving each act a David Bowie song title to mention during their set, with the audience being challenged to spot it. This was a welcome antidote to the fashionable Bowie admiration seen on Facebook that day. The winner of this was one of the trio of actual punters who sit at the front every week. A new idea being trialled was that of written heckles being submitted by the audience for the week following. This lead to a nice pair up between Monmoth and Twitchen, with Twitchen acting out the part of a chap whose partner is missing under questionable circumstances. This was a nice bit of fun. Present but not gigging, were Jay Islaam, Moses Nassah, Glen Gandy, Chris Sherwood and Chris Shaw and as ever it was great to see comics supporting a night that they weren’t booked for.

Opening was Aaron Twitchen, who gave us a ten spot of new material. This consisted of tales of his recent panto and ferry experiences in Ireland, a bit about driving and knock down ginger. This was a work in progress and shows some merit, but would benefit from a few tweeks. The ferry anecdote involving sea sick is presently a bit low powered and there is room for a possible improvement to be added to the Irish safety message. The story about Summer driving was nice, but did need a bit more, which could also be said about knock down ginger. Here the reveal was good, but the set up perhaps a bit too long for the pay off (lovely line about the chap being brazen, though). I enjoyed the section about Twitchen not having done something for four days, and does it make him straight, but felt that he may have received a much bigger response by reversing it, to ask if he’s not done something else for four days, would it make him Gay? This all sounds fairly negative, but in truth, this was new material and is something that is a work in progress, being trialled and worked on. Twitchen himself has a lively and pleasing stage presence and gives a nicely flamboyant performance. This performance isn’t dark or challenging, but is light hearted and rather uplifting and in his case, all the better for it.

Dave Cheddarton made a guest appearance to answer questions set by the audience and to tell anecdotes. Dave wears a hat, which daft and simple as it sounds, really adds to the character and delineates him from the Hollins. The anecdotes were of varying polish, but the Hicks one was rather entertaining, with there being a lovely focus on Hicks being more interested in DC. This is a good direction to take and I enjoyed it. Some of the responses to questions were very nice. What impressed me most, though, was the progress made by Hollins, the man behind DC. He was a lot faster at thinking on his feet and giving good solid replies to the questions put to him. With any character piece there is a learning curve, but with this there has been some real progress made.

Closing the opening section was Josh Pugh, who along with Ben Briggs, added a touch of quality to the night. Pugh was polishing some existing material and trying out what appeared to be a bit of new stuff. I like Pugh, and I’ve yet to see him have a bad night. He also has good stage presence and manages to grab the entire attention of the room. His material jumps from topic to topic and whilst this is something that I may adversely comment on with other acts, in the case of Pugh he makes it work to his advantage. It suits his style and the various leaps make his next reveal land even more strongly. It was no surprise to see him get strong laughs and an applause break.

Resuming after the first intermission, we began with Ben Clark-Betts. I’ve seen him twice before, once at a gong show and then at the Roadhouse where he was working on his set. He’s a fairly new act and is one that is on a learning curve, finding his voice. His delivery could stand improvement and this will come with more stage time. At present, he moves his head about a lot, which I found quite distracting. He also has yet to discover a natural rhythm and pace, which is a shame, as his delivery is more of a recital at the moment, almost a wall of words with no noticeable pauses. The material, which came in paragraphs, did have some nice touches, such as his line about hypocrite vegetarians who eat fish and chips. This received his strongest laugh of the night and was a good line. The routine about losing one’s independence regarding fashion upon entering a relationship is well travelled ground and various versions on this theme have been done by a lot of comics. Clark-Betts did ten minutes, which last night seemed to be a long time. However, with greater experience and more punchy material this should change.

Ben Hall followed, making his return to comedy after a time away from it. Hall had a confident delivery, which promised more than he delivered. There was a theme to Hall’s material. See if you can spot it. He began by describing the life cycle of a cock, did an impression of a talking cock (the second such impression I’ve seen in just over a week) and then entered into a lengthy confessional section about wanking. Yes, there was a definite theme here, which whilst possibly interesting from a psychological angle, was a bit too cock-centric from a comedic point of view. Whilst a good knob gag can work wonders, a set built around them could be described as too much of a good thing. The strongest of the trio was the part about his teenage activities, which seemed to constantly skate on the edge of giving us more information than was actually required. However, there was the basis of a decent set in this last section, but one that I think will require some work, as there is a balance between common experiences and too much information. Perhaps with a few twists it could work very well. As it was, this part of his routine suffered from the running order. After the life cycle of a cock and the talking cock, it was all a bit too much, whereas as a stand alone section it would have been better received. This was unfortunate, as Hall had a good presence, a nice delivery and gave what was a good performance. I’d like to see more of him, but with different material, as he certainly looks to have both potential and the skill to realise it.

Ben Briggs closed the middle section. I like Briggs, so much so that I put him on my fantasy comedy night in my end of year round up. He’ll stand on stage and grin and one just knows that although we may go to some dark places, he’ll bring us out into the light with a lot of laughs along the way. This time, he was doing new material, in effect a new ten, really. He began with Adam and Steve, which had a bit of a slow beginning, but really paid out well once it started moving. This was followed by material on Pistorias, with one great line (re-shod) being topped by an even better line (vest). There was a vivid picture drawn of the exchange between Pistorias and a future partner that was very easy to imagine and also very funny. There was then a routine about sexual politics, promises and demands, which worked very well. This was an impressive performance from a good act who not only has a great delivery, but strong material, too.

Opening the final section was Nig Lovell, an act I’d not seen before. He has a professional demeanour about him. He looks the part with a nice jacket on, he has a great delivery and really good pacing. His set is well honed and flows smoothly, which is all really good. However, his material was a let down. The jokes all seemed to have an air of having been heard before, or at least a version of it. One of his jokes involved being accused of shoplifting at B & Q and him having taken offence/a fence (he could have gone double or quits here, and said about being accused of taking a fuchsia bush, but it was a plant). This gag got a laugh, as did a lot of his material, but I think he could have done a lot better. Throughout his set, I felt as though I was in a constant race to get to the reveal before he did. This is a comic with timing, delivery, professionalism, likeability and stage presence who could do so much more with stand out material. I’d love to see Lovell again, but with different material, as it is plain that he has a lot going for him.

Danny Clives followed. He was doing material so new, it was still on a piece of paper, which is fair enough and a vast improvement on one act who was reading hers off of a iPhone and constantly losing her place. What followed was a bit unusual in that there were a lot of awkward silences, as the various jokes (which Clives helpfully announced were jokes) were delivered. These jokes didn’t get a great response, but where Clives did very well were in his ad-libs. His various off the cuff remarks generated good laughs and were of a very high order. His ability to think on the spot and throw out the perfect throwaway comment was definitely impressive.

Closing was Danny Beet, who as is the tradition, came on to the theme of Steptoe and Son. He had a night of two halves. He began very well by injecting some life back into the room. He had a great topical Bowie joke, which was followed by some really good references to the material of other acts. This was really nice to see. Beet ad-libbing and living by his wits, as opposed to prepared material was not only refreshing, but also very funny. This had a wonderful feel of the here and now and received good laughs. This was better than anything I’ve seen him do, as his delivery was so much better for him not having to think about it – he just delivered it naturally, which worked wonders. However, he then had a problem with the microphone, where he lost momentum. Following this, he never really recovered, as his routine about water in Africa got shanghaied by a time consuming discussion involving proprietary rights to waterholes with an audience member. This, which he needed like a hole in the head, brought his set to a juddering halt. This was unfortunate, as he had began so strongly. He still has to get the balance right between being static and pacing, but he’ll get there. As it was, I really enjoyed watching the first section where Beet demonstrated talent at making material up at short notice.

New Barrack Gong – Boshir Ahmed, Russell Cutts, Brandon Barnett, Jake Donaldson, Grenville Glossop, Rik Carranza, Niall O’Sullivan, Jamie Hutchinson, Philip Mason, Joe White and Marshall B Anderson

Last night I was at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield for the Funhouse Gong Show. This was my first time at this venue, but it won’t be my last, as it is yet another lovely room discovered by Funhouse Comedy. Sheffield seems a long way away from home, but this is probably because I mostly associate it with interminable shopping trips to Meadowhall. As it is, this gig is easier to get to than The Kayal in Leicester, despite me somehow managing to miss an entire ruddy motorway junction (33, fact fans). The venue was sold out and as the room wasn’t enormous, this meant we were somewhat packed in. Ironically, I’d told my wife I wasn’t getting dressed up, as the chances were I’d be keeping my coat on, as I’d be cold. I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was very hot. As opposed to most Funhouse shows, the sound equipment had been supplied by the venue and what Spiky Mike gained in not having to set up, he may have lost in frustration with the hands free microphone cutting out every so often and an irritating intermittent background beat from the speakers. This wasn’t the end of the world and did provide the landlord with plenty of chances to say that this had never happened to anyone else. This became something of a running gag. The audience were quite witty in themselves. They weren’t prone to shouting out, but when they did, it was usually actually funny (see Joe White, below). As ever, the compere was Spiky Mike, who gave us some enjoyable audience work before the night commenced.

The opening contestant was Boshir Ahmed, who began by saying hello by name to everyone Spiky Mike had spoken to during his warm up. Whilst this was an impressive feat of memory, he didn’t add anything in the way of wit or observation to it and as a result, this took up time to little effect. He then went into his material on Jeremy Corbyn meeting the Queen, which six months on, is beginning to feel a bit dated. Dated or not, though, this is still terrible material, which manages to be needlessly offensive not for the content, but just because it is so bad to little point. I can handle offensive material if it has a point, but this section hasn’t. Ahmed then went into a promising section about being British and Muslim and about if he dies on stage, it’s a martyrdom. This was good and the audience were really going with it. However, he swiftly ran out of steam when he went into a section about clothing that didn’t seem to have an obvious exit and some sexual references that lost the room completely.

Russell Cutts followed. He was an act with good stage presence, but very questionable material. I felt that he had a lot more to offer than what we received. He began with small cock jokes before doing an old joke about hiding behind the microphone stand. This was followed by a section about his life, where he ticked a few boxes: being asked a loaded question by his wife, loving his kids, but not liking them and so on. Cutts’ material had a familiar air to it. Beyond the known microphone stand gag, he had a joke about his wife’s cameltoe being like a folded mattress – this joke is all over Twitter. Similarly his joke about Skegness and Las Vegas being the only places you can exchange chips for sex is another gag you can find on Twitter. However, despite this material being well known, he still did well and this was down to delivery and presence. He delivered these gags well and the crowd voted him through to the final. He’s a local lad which didn’t hurt, but I felt his stage presence was good enough that he didn’t need to be local to make a good showing. He’d be a presence even if gigging out of town. It’s just a real shame that his material is so common knowledge; with his own unique material he would do a lot better.

Brandon Barnett was next. He had a low energy approach that failed to build momentum. His set consisted of material relating to how losing one’s virginity was like going on a car journey. This material wasn’t bad, but his low key delivery didn’t really sell it and he was an early gonging.

Jake Donaldson put in a very impressive performance, injecting some welcome life back into the room. He had a confident, albeit fast, delivery, with some nice actions to match his material. His set was well constructed, with some nice clever touches that reminded me a bit of Peter Brush. This was material that was also refreshingly different. Donaldson had a routine that drew the audience in, getting good laughs and also making them want to hear more. He made a strong showing, but for some reason when it came to the cheer off at the end, this support seemed to evaporate, which was a real shame. He’s from Newcastle, which is unfortunate for me, as he was the act that I would most like to see again.

Grenville Glossop, as a comedy virgin, occupied the sweet spot – first on after the first interval. Truth told, he could have gone on at any time in the night, as he gave a good solid performance. With a name like his some of the material writes itself – I can’t think of a more Yorkshire name than his off the top of my head. He gave the room an enjoyable time, only slightly marred by him having to look at his notes every so often – no big deal in a first timer. He had a good set, which was helped by some very local references that the locals in the pub got very quickly, possibly too quickly in the case of a nearby dogging spot. I’m not sure all of his references would play out so strongly if he had been gigging 20 miles away, but he was good and he has something to offer. It was nice and encouraging to see him go through to the final.

Rik Carranza bucked the established form by walking onto stage with a guitar and not only beating the first vote, but also making it through to the final, where he placed second. One of the things that differentiated him from other musical acts was that although he opened with a song, this only filled 30 seconds and was punchy enough to hold the room. Following the song, he did a bit of audience work, which helped to build a rapport with the room and then he went on to discuss race and his mixed heritage. This got a good response, but he did perhaps suffer a bit from talking about race for too long. Perhaps 70% of his material was various routines about this one issue, which gave his set a bit of an unbalanced feel. His delivery was very polished and reminded me a lot of some Canadian comics, such as Tsonos. He had a good night.

If Niall O’Sullivan’s review was to appear in a tabloid, the headline would be: ‘Shock! Irish comic jokes about the Church.’ To my memory, Dave Allen started taking the piss out of the Church in the 1970s and Father Ted more or less finished this topic off in the 1990s. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from the Emerald Isle who couldn’t give me 2 minutes of material about Catholicism and this is a shame, as it meant that for O’Sullivan to stand out on a crowded field his material had to be of a very high order. It wasn’t. It wasn’t bad, but it simply wasn’t that different to anything we’ve heard before to make an impact. This was unlucky, as he had a nice slow delivery, that the room seemed to like and he had some references to Spiky Mike’s compering that were very good. There was a cracking line about the glow sticks being Vader or Skywalker that was lovely and demonstrated that this chap is definitely capable of something more original in the way of material.

The eventual winner of the night, Jamie Hutchinson was next. Initially, I wasn’t too impressed, as he made a slow start, with a low number of laughs per minute. I thought at first his material was a bit slim and that he had perhaps not done enough to pass the first vote, but luckily he had. His set was built around the first half of his routine providing the foundation for a very good second half. The clues to his talent were there from the beginning, though, where he showed good timing and a perfectly delivered knob gag. The real joy was in his description of the Mancunian in London and Warrington and his performance really brought this material to life. Unlike a lot of the regional material used tonight by the other acts, this is material that will travel well. Hutchinson did very well and I’m definitely interested in seeing what else he has to offer.

Philip James Mason was possibly the act under the most pressure last night – his mum and dad were in the audience seeing him perform for the first time. Mason is an interesting act and one who I feel is underachieving. His delivery is not challenging, but is all the more pleasant for it. He has the demeanour of the sort of good egg that you’d like as a neighbour – the type of bloke who you’d ask to keep an eye on your post when you are away. This helps give him a likeable presence. However, he is being let down by his material. The last time I saw him was in Derby, where his Sheffield-centric set fell flat. Tonight in Sheffield it went down very well, which was good, but not so good if he ever wants to perform beyond the seven hills. His section on the slow closing loo seat seems to promise of broader based material and I’d like to see him again, but with some different material. Although it is becoming a bit niche with age, I really enjoyed his Dangermouse reference, which as in Derby didn’t get the response it should have done. He got through to the final easily, where he was a very strong challenger for both second and first. To sum up Mason, likeable and has some potential, but would benefit from rethinking his material.

I mentioned earlier that the audience were quite witty and that although not prone to shouting out, were funny when they did so. Joe White actually suffered the misfortune of the landlord of the pub getting the biggest laugh during his set. White is a self confessed miserable chap and had material pertinent to this. He got good laughs for his ledge line, which was a very nice line, but unfortunately the rest of his set failed to draw the audience in. It seemed hard for the room to relate to and so he failed to reach the final.

Marshall B Anderson closed the night. He took what could have been a risk with putting current events in Syria to a Gilbert and Sullivan tune and singing a summary of where we stand with the various countries involved. Although this got a good laugh for the arms dealing line, it was more impressive for the length, content and technical expertise than any intrinsic comedy value. This song also took up a lot of time. Anderson stayed on until the final vote, when he was a late gonging. Ironically, this was when he was giving the room, what to me, was his stand out material, about time travelling. I was really enjoying this – it was clever and funny, as opposed to the song, which was more clever than funny.