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.