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.