Nottingham Jongleurs – Justin Panks, Leo Kearse, Mark Maier and Sally-Anne Hayward (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham Jongleurs for a night of comedy close to home. I’ve been here a few times before. The first time, there had been two stag parties sat at the front who seemed to be constantly vying for attention from the acts. The last time, it had been very quiet and the audience seemed to have paid to just sit and look miserable. This was not down to the acts, as I’d seen three of them do the same material to great effect in other rooms. It was just a bad night for all the acts. This time, things looked pretty near perfect. There were over 100 people, only one stag party, which was well behaved, a few birthday parties, but none that were raucous or disruptive. There was even a nice balance between genders and ages. The mood was pretty vibrant. The only downside was that the air con seemed to be set on polar. Half of the audience were sat with their coats on, making it look like a gig in the middle of Ice Station Zebra. The format was two acts, a break and then the closer. Our compere for the night was Sally-Anne Hayward.

Last year I went to 92 gigs and out of these, I only saw 4 female comperes. That surprised me then and having seen Hayward tonight, it surprises me even more, as she demonstrated a high level of ability and gave the room a splendid time. It did take a second for the audience to settle down initially, but this was mostly people just winding up conversations and so on. One of the first people she spoke to had caught her eye before the gig had started, because he was the only person in the room sat reading (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, fact fans). He turned out to be a comedy reviewer, which could have been tricky, but which Hayward handled with aplomb, getting some very nice laughs for it. She then had a chat with the stag party, which led to some confusion over Harvey, which turned out to be short for Harvinder and not the gay wedding that everyone had at first assumed it to be, although there was room for a cracking aside about what Harvey was up to, prior to this discovery. Hayward was not only skilled at asking questions that led into little bits of material, but she also avoided going too deeply into anything that wasn’t relevant to the here and now; she even evaded the blind alleys that some MCs go up with uncommunicative members of the audience. Everyone was happy to chat to her. I think this is perhaps because she isn’t an intimidating presence, looking to make people look silly. Instead, she came over as a rather warm person with lots of charm. She did the rules, explained how the night would work and really added to the success of the evening.

The opening act was Justin Panks, who used the presence of a couple of birthday parties as a nice lead into a routine about turning 40 and how he was now starting to moan about everything. This was followed by material relating to his relationship with his wife and kids and then a lengthy section about his cock and shaving body hair. I found some of this material to be fairly well travelled ground. Turning 40 and starting to moan isn’t especially ground breaking and a parent liking one kid more than another has been covered a few times. However, there was still plenty of fun in this and the audience enjoyed it. Panks got a great response to his line about the tennis ball and the factory setting cock joke also did well, but probably deserved an even bigger laugh than it received, as it is a truly good line. His closing section about different taste in films provided a great ending to his set, which had gone down well. I enjoyed it myself, but felt that he would have entertained me more if he had chosen different topics to build material from.

The next act was Leo Kearse, who was actually instrumental in me picking Jongleurs over Glee for a local gig to attend. I had seen a fair bit of his creativity shared on social media and this had served to whet my appetite. Sharing material online can work for and against comedians, especially if Keith Chegwin decides to ‘borrow’ it. In this case, it had pushed Kearse up my ‘to see’ list and so him being on at Jongleurs tonight swayed me into going there. I wasn’t disappointed, either, despite his material being something of a mixed bag. On the negative side, unexpected item in bagging area has been rather ubiquitous for a while. Similarly, having a frustrating time entering a password and then picking a new one that insults the company had the same result that it did every time I’ve seen or heard that joke. Kearse was unlucky to share the bill with another act that had a long routine that involved his cock. After the earlier cock based routine by Panks, Kearse’s didn’t land as well as it might have done. Now, as said, this seems rather negative, but in truth, Kearse had a good night and the laughter rolled around the room with ease. He has a lot of positives that easily outweighed these negatives. For a start, he has a fantastic turn of phrase that really elevates his delivery and makes it something of a joy to see. Also, the rest of his material was more unique. His solution to a blocked Thai toilet had me laughing all the way home and I dare say I’ll still be smiling about it tomorrow. Similarly his close encounter with a pig was wonderfully fresh. These routines allied to a fast, momentum building delivery, worked very well and provided good entertainment.

The closing act was Mark Maier who ticked a lot of boxes for me. He felt very relevant, covered lots of topics, used accents, had actions that went with his material and used plenty of call backs. All of these are big ticks in the plus side of the ledger, as far as I’m concerned. Everyone’s list of boxes will be different, but judging by the laughs, I think the rest of the audience really enjoyed Maier, too. From the start of his set it was obvious that he’d been listening to the other comics and even more importantly, to Hayward’s compering. Maier was able to make references to various people and conversations that had happened previously. This made him feel immediately relevant. He even received an applause break for mentioning the elephant in the room – the fact that it was ruddy freezing in there. His material, which thankfully didn’t include a lengthy segment about cocks, seemed very wide ranging, taking in lots of areas. Although he is the third comedian I’ve heard talk about attending a speed awareness course (Tom Wrigglesworth and Caimh McDonnell being the other two), he came at it from a different angle, which made it seem fresh. A lot of his observations seemed to be very relatable to the audience and struck a chord with many, especially the use of notes on fridges and lying in bed needing a wee. I especially enjoyed how Maier would pull faces or mime actions to match his routines and these had the effect of selling his set that bit more effectively. The call backs were also a particular joy. He used a lot of these, mostly to his own material, but a lot went back to the acts that had preceded him. This was an extremely strong performance.

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