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.