Canal House – Chris Sherwood, Ashley Gibson, Theresa Farlow, Alex Leam, Graham Whistler, Pat Draper, Carl Jones and Jared Shooter (MC)

Tonight I was at my favourite event of the comedy month – The NCF Canal House £1 night. This is now to be my favourite double monthly comedy night, as NCF have wisely decided to run it twice a month. As they are booked up for acts until well into May, I can’t see there being any problem with getting decent acts in, nor with selling tickets, as it was nigh on full tonight. This was the first time that NCF have run a book in advance system and my feeling is that people may have to use this to avoid disappointment. For £1 this night gives terrific value for money. Not only do you get quality acts, like Draper and Jones (tonight) trying new stuff, but it also gives up and coming acts stage time. Although it sounds cliché, there is a real chance of seeing someone here who in the not too distant future may be a household name.

Our MC tonight was Jared Shooter, who I had last seen compering at his gig in Chesterfield. That night I felt that he had used too much material when he was working the room. Tonight there was an improvement here, but he did still use his best material. This worked well and gained laughs, which is a positive, but the negative side is that solid bankers can become overexposed, especially on a gig just down the road. Shooter had a bit of fun asking audience members about their plans for Valentine’s Day and did the rules. He was thorough with the rules and made it quite clear how the night would work, this was all to the good. I would have to say that Jared’s greatest attribute as a MC is his likeability. He is a chap that people like from the off and this gives him a lot of latitude in his approach. He was also indirectly responsible for what was the line of the night. Last year only two comics made me laugh that hard I hurt myself (Briggs and Binns), but tonight Elliott Bower came within an ace of achieving the same. Bower who was on the sound system, introduced Shooter as the ‘Magnificently Beautiful’ which was just so out of the usual line of introductions to be absolutely brilliant and because it was so unexpected to be totally hilarious.

The opening act was Chris Sherwood, who was making his debut at the Canal House. In contrast to his usual attire, which is casual, Sherwood was in smart suit jacket, which added a layer of authority to his demeanour. This helped, as he launched straight into his set, without chatting to the audience. Normally he will interact with the room a bit, whereas he changed his tactics tonight. Following a discussion with him afterwards, this change was because he hadn’t anticipated not being able to see the audience due to the glare of the lights. It looks as if this unsettled him a touch, although he began well with a story about school and cross country running (which may have possibly benefited from a few local references, as he is a Nottingham lad). This led into a routine based around the adorable sounding pounds, shillings and pence of pre-decimal currency. It was here that he lost momentum. The explanation of what a florin and so on was, was quite wordy and took up time that could have been used better. He did make a recovery with the tale of the cleaner, but a few less descriptive words would have helped that, too. There is the basis of a good set here; one which tighter editing would improve no end. I look forwards to seeing it.

Ashley Gibson followed. This was my first time of seeing him at something other than a gong show. He started well with one-liners, the first one being nice and topical. These all flowed very well and he was building up a very enjoyable momentum, before he choked on the 2 minute mark and came totally unstuck. I’m not sure what actually happened, but I think he may have delivered a reveal out of sequence, definitely prior to the set up and so ended his night there, with the room sympathetic, albeit in some confusion. In the past I’ve seen Gibson utilise jokes that are internet sourced, or common knowledge (hole in the road – council looking into it, etc) and it’s hard not to be suspicious of his material, which is highly regrettable.

The final act of the first session was Theresa Farlow, whom I have only seen the once before. This was where she opened an awful free gig, that should have been very nice, but which was stymied by drunken fuckwits constantly heckling. Everyone had a bad night that night, most of all the promoter, who was mortified about what had happened. So, I was curious as to how she would perform under more propitious circumstances. The answer is very well, indeed. Farlow began strongly with a joke about playing the (C)anal House and her googling it first, which got a big laugh and immediately established her credibility – I hope this is a joke that she can somehow work into her regular set, as it was excellent. This was followed by material which varied from being about her life, family and relationship with her husband to a section on sticks and stones that was a tad derivative, but nice all the same. Some parts were slightly dark, some sexual, but it all worked well. Her delivery was good and there were some great looks and the odd hand signal which added value, plus a lovely double reveal. Farlow gained consistent big laughs and the first applause break of the night. This was a very good set.

We resumed after the intermission with Alex Leam, who only gave us five minutes. I would have been happier with him doing more, as I was enjoying his set. Leam has a talent with accents and has built a set around them. This went down well and he could get a lot of mileage from this ability with an expanded set and routines involving various character pieces from distant corners of the realm. I’m going to be interested in seeing how he develops, as I feel he could go in a number of very different positive directions.

Graham Whistler had a good night He was easily the darkest in tone of the comedians on the bill, but possibly gained the best response of the night from the audience. Whistler’s background provided him with plenty of material in which to base his set. This received good laughs, an applause break and went down very well. He was a touch aggressive with some people in the audience, which may have been situational, rather than habitual, but which may also lose some of the room over a longer set.

Pat Draper closed the second section. Draper is easily the act I’ve seen the most of this year and is possibly suffering a bit from being over-reviewed, although they are all very positive. Hence, I’ll keep this short. As ever, he had a good night, the audience really enjoyed him and rather surprisingly, he’s the first comedian I’ve heard do material about vaping.

The final act of the night was Carl Jones, who was treating the room to a bit of an Edinburgh Preview. Jones is a local act, who I don’t seem to see much of. This is unlucky, as I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve seen. Jones’ Edinburgh show is autobiographical in nature, with plenty of slides to go along with it. I was probably sat in the worst seat in the house to see these slides, with a portion of a slide being obscured by a speaker and much of the remainder hidden behind Jones himself. Unless someone has led a truly remarkable life, it can be difficult to become that immersed in their back story. There is a real skill in making an audience care about school crushes, holidays and suspect haircuts. Jones manages to tick this box of making an audience care. He’s a nice guy who draws you in, as you are curious as to what is coming next. There was an IT problem and so we did miss the end to the show and I suspect that the big pay off may well have been missed due to that. This was a shame, because as it stood, the show had an undeniable feel good factor to it, but the humour quotient seemed rather low. This is a work in progress, where Jones is testing how things work and I suspect that the final incarnation will have addressed any issues.

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