Holly Bush – Dave Pollard, Joe Bowley, Chris Noonan, Chris Shaw, Alex Love, Nigel Mainville, Vimal Patel, Russell Truran, Ashley Gibson, Dave Francis and Danny Beet (MC)

Last night I was in the West Midlands to attend the Holly Bush open mic night. This is a night I’ve been wanting to go to for a long time. Thursday is a popular day for comedy, as there are often gigs that are on my doorstep and some a bit further away, but still within 45 minutes from home. Hence it hasn’t been easy to find a free night. The Holly Bush is also miles away, which doesn’t help matters. However, I had finally made it. The pub itself is rather charming, with lots of little quirky features that make it something a little bit special in a nice way. From the wood fire, to samosas being on sale, this was nicely different. It is one of those rare local pubs that is still full of local people, as opposed to a glorified canteen that specialises in serving anonymous pub food. Rather than being a generic pub that could have been in any town, the Holly Bush has a unique feel to it. I like this. There is a downside, though and that was the huge number of in-jokes that were flying about. Luckily I knew why partial nudity from both sexes was barred and the connection between China and racism and neither were people humming the theme to Steptoe and Son a mystery to me. Anyone walking in off of the street, though, would have felt flummoxed. However, as the audience are regulars, they were fully in the know and this did help engage them in the show. Last night there was a compere, a booker who did a routine at the end and nine acts. This made for a rather long show, with the unlikely format of 1-3-6 and a tipping point that came well before Dave Francis came on to close the evening. This was probably an unfortunate format, but then I think anyone would have struggled to go on after Dave Pollard, who had had a very good night. Our MC was Mr Danny Beet.

This was the first time I’ve seen Beet compere, although seeing him ad-lib the first part of his set in the Roadhouse had hinted that he had some skills in this direction. Beet had a mixed night. He had some insider jokes that were well received, some prepared material that went down well, but was probably at his best when he was ad-libbing. This is a man who can think on his feet and I’d like to see more of that from him. When he is performing on the edge like that, he comes alive and moves up a gear. Quite often whatever Beet was doing would be thrown into chaos by a shout out from Francis behind the bar. These occurences were always very funny and went down a storm with the audience, but did make Beet’s job harder than it perhaps should have been. There was one slip up in Beet’s work and that was not noticing that Ashley Gibson had nipped to the loo and so he was left in the unfortunate position of having announced Gibson and whipping up a round of applause, only to be left on the stage looking around expectantly. Naturally this wasn’t without its comedy value and in fairness to Beet, this was the first time he had met Gibson and owing to the acts being sat with the audience, losing track of one individual wasn’t hard to do.

The opening act was Dave Pollard, who was doing some new material. Pollard has had a busy week, doing a fantastic pastiche of my reviews, incorporating every catchphrase of mine. Tonight, though, it was new material, which began with the Bruce Willis experience. Pollard has a wonderful prop, that although I’ve seen him use it 4-5 times, it doesn’t get old. If anything, it improves with the amount of times you see him use it. If he were to find a way of working it into his set in another slightly different context and getting two bites of the cherry so to speak, I wouldn’t be upset. He had a small routine about emails that seemed a little bit low powered at first, but which the pay off makes it well worth the set up. This was followed by some visual gags, which were in A3 and so actually visible, as all too many comedians rely on A4. The various off the cuff comments about the visual gags pushed them nicely and there is a fair amount of mileage in this. Pollard then had a darker section about Donna, which was hugely enjoyable. The closing section was something that on paper sounds ludicrous – doing a 2 minute routine in English and then repeating it, but in German – but which in practice and with the momentum he had built, worked tremendously well. This was a very good set that covered a lot of ground, but which stayed fresh. It also made him a hard act to follow, which may explain why a break was called.

Joe Bowley opened the middle section with a short routine of new material. He began with a Chinese joke, which worked well and then some Gangster Rap, which he does extremely well. There was one bit where he lost track of the next portion, but for new material, this isn’t the end of the world and to his credit he didn’t get flustered. There was one reveal that was a bit predictable involving a urinal, but that was the only downside to his set. I enjoyed it, as did the rest of the room. Bowley manages to do material that could be considered off beat, but still stays on the right side of being funny. I think we’ll be seeing him at more gigs.

Chris Noonan had a night of two halves, ending on a very nice high. To begin with he didn’t look that confident on stage (not helped by a chap walking through the door adjacent to him as he was in mid flow) and his delivery was a bit low key. It didn’t feel as though he was really selling his set. However, his material was extremely good and luckily the room listened to it. Some of this material was rather personal, but he relayed it in a way that kept it accessible to the audience and it never felt as if we were being used as a counselling session. Not every act who uses very personal material (whether it actually happened or not) can pull that off. Noonan received good laughs after a somewhat slow start and possibly had the gig of the night after Pollard. His writing is very good and with better performance skills, or at least looking more at home on stage, he will do well.

Chris Shaw closed the middle section. Last year he was the recipient of one of two reviews I gave where I really struggled to find something positive to say about an act. In contrast to the other artist, who will remain dire, I did believe that Shaw would improve. Last night he demonstrated that he has, indeed, improved. This was new material, with him working off of note paper, which is fine by me. His set still covered jokes and magic and he possibly would have done some fire breathing if Francis had allowed him, but this would have distracted from the comedy. Shaw had a nice dalek joke, a good prop gag involving the microphone stand and then a lookalike gag that worked well. There were two occasions where he was stood with his back to the audience setting up a gag and this was dead time. If Shaw were to develop a line of patter or just a couple of short one liner jokes to cover these moments he would reap a good dividend. The finale was a floating candle, which worked in a fashion, but could have been a bit stronger on the mirth. This set was much improved and Shaw received some good laughs, leaving the room with an overall positive feeling.

Alex Love opened the final section. He began with a nice joke about his GCSE results, which was improved mightily by a double reveal. This was then followed by some new material that was political in nature, using a girl he has dated as a frame to build it around. This was interesting material, but he seemed to have to explain every reveal to the room as a lot were missed first time, although Bra Exit was a rather strained link. This robbed him of momentum and was very frustrating. The part where he first described his lady friend and then went to some trouble to explain she was actually real was a bit well worn. It seems that 90% of comedians when discussing a partner or date have to explain that, yes, she is indeed actually real. It is almost a convention of comedy. He did get laughs for this, but I felt that he could have used that time more productively and certainly more creatively. Love rounded off his set with some quirky facts, but again, a lot of these seemed to require explanations. Tim Fitzhigham, whom Love reminded me of to a small degree, does quirky facts, but he also makes them more accessible to the audience, whilst still letting them have to use their brains enough to feel a small sense of achievement at having got the references. Love’s set was probably the most frustrating of the evening. It’s obvious that he’s talented and has a lot of ability, but it was hard to escape the conclusion that this was a good act having a bad night.

Nigel Mainville was next. He managed to pull off the unlikely combination of being both the most exotic act on the bill, but simultaneously being the least memorable, too. Mainville is an American from New England who is working in Hong Kong teaching small kids. This occupation formed the mainstay of his material. It wasn’t especially bad material, but it just felt really bland. He received laughs, but I doubt that anyone would be able to remember a word of it ten minutes after he had finished. This is unfortunate, as he’s not a bad act and with stronger material he will be much improved. His delivery was competent, he had a decent sense of timing and did a great prat fall, but he will need better material to stand out. As it is, everyone will remember there was an American on the bill, but that is all they will remember.

Vimal Patel is an act that I’ve seen at a couple of gong shows and whom I was interested in seeing do a longer set tonight. I liked his opening section about various permutations on his name and the size of his ears, although some of this was at the level of playground insults he may have received. This is an area he could probably improve, but as a new act, that is to be expected. The Asian Wedding part was enjoyable and with some more colourful similes it will be pretty strong. The story of the Patels shows promise, and could provide a nice call back to his ears to round off his set. This was a nice set that is a work in progress.

Russell Truran did a short set of new material that felt very relevant and seemed to catch the mood of the pub nicely. I’m not sure how much of the set was ad-libbed, but I suspect a lot of it was. This worked well in his favour, giving it an immediacy that most of the other acts had lacked. Truran has a big grin, which is endearing and makes him look as if he’s having a good time, which in turn seemed to help the room have a good time. He knocked a guitar over, but got laughs for his apologies and enquires into ownership. This set was too short, as I was enjoying it and it made me want to see more.

Ashley Gibson was next, performing his first gig outside of the East Midlands. As related earlier, he was announced and applauded whilst in the loo and came back to resume his seat totally oblivious to this. He was then announced and applauded for the second time and began his set. He did one-liners, some of which landed well. However, doing pedo jokes about Rolf Harris with the reveal being (all together now) ‘Can you tell what it is, yet?’ were passé years ago. The same can be said for taking offence/a fence at B and Q, which has been doing the rounds in some form or other for donkey’s years. The harmonica joke is a winner and it was nice to hear a DFS joke that doesn’t revolve around them having a sale on. Gibson received laughs, had a good time and provided entertainment.

Dave Francis closed the night with a routine based on Bruce Forsyth and Play your Cards right, with a voice that sounded like a combination of Forsyth and Ray Winstone. This included insider jokes galore, most of which were easy to get from the context and it was good fun. Coming at the end of three hours of comedy, the room had reached a tipping point and I think the response was a bit more muted than it would have been if Francis had gone on earlier. This was good fun, it was funny and it wrapped up the night nicely.

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