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.

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