NCF – Stu Woodings, Liam Webber, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Jo D’Arcy, Winter Foenander, Katie Mitchell, Jon Pearson and Fran Jenking (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House in Nottingham for the wonderful NCF £1 night. It is no secret that this is my favourite night of the comedy calendar. There is a large variety in act present and they can go from new acts to professional within the space of 2 minutes. Being well organised doesn’t do it any harm, either. I’m very happy that it is now on twice a month, as owing to my shift pattern I can’t get to all, so having two chances a month is a big bonus. Present in the room tonight were local comedy circuit figures, Brent Reid and Ben Macpherson, who had come to view the night. In a huge mea culpa, I was actually late and for no good reason other than the gig is that close to home I didn’t feel that I had to rush. Hence I had a leisurely tea, watched the Professionals and then an episode of Auf Wiedersehn Pet and I still thought I’d got enough time to get there before the start. Sadly not. I was lucky I was able to get in without disturbing the compere, Fran Jenking.

I’ve long suspected that Fran Jenking has a fine compere in him. He is at home chatting to people and folk are happy to open up to him (see also Wayne Beese). However, I’d never seen him MC before. Being late meant that I missed a portion of his work and this was a bit of a blow. Fran had a decent night, but the room seemed curiously cold. He’d do his stuff, get people laughing and then it would swiftly reset itself. I’ve seen this in a fair few rooms and it is no criticism on Jenking. He has a pleasant stage presence, looks happy to be there and this is all to the good. He was stronger ad-libbing than when he was using material, although Satin Out was a lovely line. Fran kept the night moving, name-checked all of the acts and I’m looking forwards to seeing him at the Admiral Rodney in Nottingham in a month or so.

The opening act was Stu Woodings who held the room’s attention nicely. I really enjoy his Paint it Matt song and the fact it gives me fond memories of the late night programme Tour of Duty is just a nice bonus. His routine about being a comedy doctor was very interesting and looks like it holds a lot of potential for development, but his section on mugging seemed to peter out a touch, which was a shame, but for new material it was still creditable.

Liam Webber made possibly the entrance of the night, chanting U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, before getting the audience to join in. He had the balls (that is possibly the least elegant way of saying this, but the most fitting) to carry this, and a development of it, on for a good 90 seconds, which in a room full of people seems an eternity, before he broke it with the reveal. The mundaness of the reveal in comparison to the huge built up was such that it worked perfectly and he got an applause break. Webber is a fine actor and character comedian who is a real performer. He is also very well read and artistically literate. This gives his set a lot of depth, some of which I feel can be too subtle for a few audiences. I liked his porpoise gag and I enjoyed the performance, which was delivered with panache, but felt that whilst Sesame St had a nice ending, it was perhaps a bit over long. Considering how believable his performance is, Webber may get some nice mileage out of occasionally breaking the 4th wall, possibly in a different regional accent each time.

Following the intermission, we resumed with Jeanette Bird-Bradley who was doing new material. This is an act who is relatively new and it is nice to see her, or anyone for that matter, trying new material instead of resting on their existing set. The section regarding checking in wardrobes was nice, but the pet potato was very much a work in progress. The audience was receptive and appreciative, rather than enthused, but as this was a cold low energy audience this was probably not the best judge of new material. As it was, Bird-Bradley maintained her hold over the room and always looked plausible.

The very promising Jo D’Arcy was next. D’Arcy’s name on the bill was very pleasant to see. I’ve only seen her perform a few times and I’ve enjoyed it every time. D’Arcy began with a good opening and seemed to establish herself as a big presence within the first 20 seconds or so and the audience went with her on everything. ‘Hump’ was a lovely line and fitted in nicely. D’Arcy’s facial expressions, possibly honed by teaching, give her a real depth of expression, saying more with a frown or look of puzzlement than many people can get with a paragraph. She was the only comedian who had to deal with an audience member who wanted to shout out (over Shakespeare of all things), but she handled him well. This was a very, very good set and it is no wonder that she is so well thought of on the circuit.

Winter Foenander had a mixed night, or rather more accurately a night of one step forwards, one step back. He began well by injecting a bit of energy into the room by talking swiftly, but then he changed tack and started to reprimand the audience for being so consistently unresponsive during the course of the night. This received a laugh at first, but he made too much of it to sustain the good will and the feeling in the room turned. This was then exacerbated by an extremely ill-judged reference to the recent bombing in Brussels. From where I was sat, I could hear a lot of intakes of breath and a couple of low hisses. To his credit, Foenander did manage to get some people back on board, which was no mean feat, but then he squandered this by returning to the topic of the audience not being up to much. He did mention a couple of times during his set about him being a professional comedian, which seemed to alienate some of the room further. The Canal House attracts a mixed audience, but a lot are pretty comedy literate and I think a fair proportion may have been questioning whether there is a different definition of professional comedian down in that there London. Foenander was a frustrating act to watch. He would come out with something decent and gain a bit of ground (Such as the Game of Thrones reference), but would then shoot himself in the foot by complaining about the audience. This approach can work, one only has to see Ken Goodwin on The Comedians to see how much mileage he got out of having a gentle dig at the audience, but tonight it was highly counter-productive. I felt that this could have been a decent set, there were enough glimpses of decent portions to give hope, but the end result was not as good as it could or indeed should have been.

Katie Mitchell who opened the final section had her set partially derailed within the first minute by a spot of feedback, but luckily she continued. Mitchell is very much rocking the Goth look and whilst someone’s look or style isn’t something I tend to consider relevant, in her case it is. A lot of her material comes from this look, which is fine to a point. She did reference the lack of surprise about a Goth concentrating on ‘Goth’ topics, but I don’t think she went far enough with this to really get the most from it. The end result was that it did still feel like a Goth concentrating on Goth material, knowing wink to it, included. There were, however, some very nice touches and she did receive a deserved small round of applause, although I felt that the Jonas Bros nod was a bit on the niche side. The closing routine was a bit surreal and perhaps overlong for the return, but all the same Mitchell was an interesting act.

The ever impressive Jon Pearson closed the show. Like D’Arcy, he won the room round extremely quickly. Tonight he was trying a few improvements on existing material. This was a case of incremental improvements and everything was good, although the limerick did bear a second reading. There were many nice additions to the routines and it’s good to see a great act continue to hone material.

Bluey’s – Josh Pugh, Andy Woolston, Ryan Brown, Steve Shanyaski and Jim Bayes (MC)

Tonight I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy Night. FaF have some very nice gigs, in particular, this one and Thorncliffe. Both venues have a bit in common in as far as neither sound like an obvious comedy hotspot. However, both have not only an audience that really enjoy the show, but they also have a really nice feel to the rooms. Bluey’s is a very welcoming establishment, with the owner himself personally thanking all of the acts and there was a very kind barmaid (with the sort of laugh that comedians wish they could bottle and take to other gigs) who made sure that all of the comics were well looked after. This included the present, but sadly not on the bill, Jed Salisbury who has had a very good week with a funny comment of his going viral. The numbers weren’t massive tonight, but luckily it never became anything other than a lovely room thanks to the compere, Jim Bayes.

Bayes was a real asset in bringing everyone together and making the night feel inclusive. He began with a high energy opening and between his onstage lunging, which made it look as if he were working out and his fast thinking, he seemed to radiate enthusiasm for comedy. His crowd work took in most of the room and he could do this not because it was that small a crowd, but simply because he never got bogged down spending 5 minutes failing to get someone’s real name (his reference to Namey McNameface was wonderfully timely). Bayes avoided this, through a natural grasp of when to move on. I was also extremely happy that he never asked anyone what they did for a living, this is a most welcome change to the standard approach. Asking a chap what his favourite dog breed was led into a solid piece of material. The audience enjoyed his work, he remembered to do the rules and he kept the night on track. This was a good performance.

The poster for the night contained that tantalising lucky dip that is ‘with support’. The first person I saw when I entered the pub was Josh Pugh, which immediately confirmed that all was well. I like Pugh, he has a lot of style and is consistently funny. I really enjoy how the reveals are totally unexpected. Considering he has only been going for 2 years he has done well and he is very much one of the comedians of the future. This was the first time I’d seen him open and whilst a pit village may not be considered the natural home of off beat comedy with a touch of surrealism, he has the skill to make it work and by heck did he! Pugh had an applause break within the first minute, a laughter break 30 seconds later and before long he had the room laughing at the set ups, as well as the reveals. Tonight he made it look effortless in a way that only someone who is at the top of their game can. I’ve always liked Pugh and felt him a strong act, but tonight he seemed to have stepped up a gear. This is a man to watch.

Following the intermission it was Andy Woolston. His material and performance was decent enough, but not a lot seemed to land heavily. He received laughs and whilst he didn’t have a bad night, the room just didn’t seem to go for him in a big way. The only reason I can think of for this was that whilst his material was decent, nothing seemed to be especially stand out. There was a nice routine about other people’s kids, but this is a fairly well travelled area, which may have diluted its’ impact. This was a shame as I felt that he has talent and I’m hoping to see him again.

Ryan Brown closed the middle section. He came onto the stage wearing a fedora, a striped shirt and what 60 years ago would have been described as a demob suit. This gave him the look of a rather dapper Tommy Trinder or Jack Leonard and the effect was to make him stand out before he had even picked the microphone up. Having a unique look is a definite asset and I liked it. I had seen Brown before at Roger Swift’s best of the year gig in Telford, so I was looking forwards to him. Brown is a one-liner merchant, who has the endearing habit of corpsing just before he delivers a pun. This aids his delivery and works well in building up the momentum. He received big laughs throughout his set, getting a well earned applause break. I particularly enjoyed how Brown strung a series of puns together to get an even bigger laugh. I would have been happier with a few more call backs, but the two he did were splendid. Brown had a great night and made 10 minutes pass very quickly.

The headliner was Steve Shanyaski, who I’d not seen him before. Stoney was really enthusiastic about having booked him, which had definitely whetted my appetite. I’ve got to say that Shanyaski hit the ground running and went from strength to strength. He began with some very strong room work, he weaved in a bit of material and the audience lapped it up. Shanyaski has an infectious mischievous grin that is half way to selling whatever he is saying before he has even said it. When this is combined with him acting out the routines on stage, his whole set seems to spring to life with the result that it goes through the stratosphere. Shanyaski also has some highly impressive improv skills and was able to take anything that was shouted out by a chap on the front row and weave comedy gold out of it and all without causing any ill-feeling with his interlocutor. In places Shanyaski was a touch surreal, but this was something he built up to, one layer at a time, making it a natural progression and this really suited his style. This was an excellent set and ended with something I’ve only seen the once during a year or so of reviewing – calls for an encore. I’ve seen plenty of these in arenas and theatres, where they are de-rigour, but not in 130 or so gigs I’ve reviewed. This was something new and summed up the impact that he had had upon the audience.

Blessington Carriage – Adele Cliff, Ric Wharton, Harry Sanders, Kevin Caswell-Jones, Matt Adlington, Simon Wozniak, Mark Dennett, Ryan Lewis, Radu Isac and Alf

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Champions’ Special gong show. This featured ten previous winners of gong shows battling it out with 7 minute sets for a £100 prize. I’d seen a lot of the acts before, so had some inkling as to whom I expected to place well, but there is always a large element of uncertainty with audience voting. Two things I did know, though, one, the audience were in for a treat and my end of month recommendations list is likely to be a bumper one. This was a packed out gig, with Brent having to manually check for spaces to get all of the crowd seated. The compere was Spiky Mike, who quickly found an engineer in the audience, as Derby is always full of these and then a student teacher, which led to some good laughs, especially his questionable claims as to the status of Derby Uni. The opening act was Adele Cliff.

Cliff was an act that I expected to make a strong showing in this contest. She delivers one-liners and puns swiftly and the vast majority do well. These can be divided into two categories. Ones that are clever and get a laugh and ones that are groan worthy and get a laugh. Whilst no one would wish to open on a night, I thought she had the best chance of it not interfering with her set, as she tends to build momentum and would be swiftly rattling along. I was partially correct in this. The atmosphere was rather flat, which was odd as Mike had done well with the MC side. As a result, Cliff didn’t seem to get the response that she should have got. She was voted off just after she had received an applause break, which was a real shame as she is a very talented comic.

Ric Wharton was next. A lot of his material was autobiographical, which can make a set seem self-indulgent. In Wharton’s case, this was never a possibility, as he kept everything light, funny and relevant. His set contained routines about his degree, his job searching and his father, all of which went down nicely with the audience. Wharton has an open personality and is expansive, which combined with his Geordie accent results in an engaging delivery. He was easily voted through to the final.

Harry Sanders was the final act of the first section. Sanders writes good quality intelligent material and I felt that tonight he would be in something of a race to establish his credibility quickly enough to gain the time for his writing skills to shine. A longer set would probably have suited his style more than a gong show, although having said that, he has done very well at every gong show I’ve seen him in. To begin with, his night was almost over before it began, due to a technical malfunction sounding the music to leave the stage, but this was soon rectified and he resumed. He had some clever stuff about bacon and then went into some darker material. It is hard to write smart material that is dark but also funny, yet Sanders has managed that, especially the great dignitas line. He was picking up laughs as he went, but was ultimately voted off, which was unfortunate. He may have benefitted from a bit more audience interaction, but either way, I enjoyed his set.

The urbane Kevin Caswell-Jones opened after the first intermission and he was another act I had as a likely contender. I did wonder if having won a gong show in that room in Autumn would affect his chances, but I didn’t think it would make a material difference. He began well and made a quick impact with the audience. His joke about Cameron and the pig shows that this is certainly the gift that keeps on giving. Similarly his reference to Quadrophenia was very vivid and wonderfully easy to picture. Caswell-Jones is a smart chap and unlike an act I had seen on another night in that room making a reference to Leicester being the local rival city to Derby, he had done his homework and correctly named Nottingham for the disparging comparison. Throughout his set he received big laughs as he enunciated his material to perfection and he went through to the final, where although I had him down as being a real possible contender, the voting wasn’t in his favour.

Matt Adlington followed and his set left me with mixed feelings. On the debit side of the equation, I don’t think I’ve met a chap with a bald head and a beard who hasn’t made a comment about their head being on upside down – Adlington didn’t break this trend. Mentioning a girlfriend and then saying ‘thanks’ in an ironic way has also been done to death and much the same could be said of the phrase ‘because I’m a winner!’ However, despite my thoughts on these, all three received good laughs from the audience. On the more positive side, Adlington has a good delivery and he has a nice way of emphasising certain sylables in a word that gives added impact to them. His tale of medicinal side effects (including nice flourish as they are unveiled) was very good as was the playstation call back and he made it through to the final.

Simon Wozniak was the comic that I had as the likely winner. Tonight he did extremely well, with an improved delivery and some excellent material. His shoplifting routine was very well acted out, which added no end to its’ reception and his crack about Sunderland was very timely and earned him a laughter break. Wozniak had lots of little asides that he’d address to the audience, which served to bring them into the act and made it feel very inclusive. He built up a lot of momentum and was the eventual 2nd place after 2 close counts of hands. This is a comedian who has obviously got a future in the industry.

Mark Dennett closed the 2nd section and he may have misjudged his pacing. He began with a routine about how the colour pink came to be called that. This was a bit convuluted for opening a set at a gong show with. He may have been better advised to start with something a little bit more punchier, as I felt that he was on the verge of losing the room before the first vote. The routine did come alive with The White Diplodocus, which was a nice touch and I think there may be a good section based upon just that alone. From this Dennett moved on to going clothes shopping with his wife, concentrating on lingerie shopping. This did have a touch of Father Ted about it and whilst not a bad section, it is a topic that has been covered a number of times by other comics and I think this did detract from the strength of what he was saying himself. Dennett made it through the first votes, but was ultimately voted off.

The final section was opened by the versatile Ryan Lewis. Lewis mixed songs, audience work and material into his set, with the result that it was never in danger of going stale. He was quite a performer and worked the room marvelously. Some of the material felt a touch lightweight, but it was performed so well that this didn’t seem to detract from his set half as much as it might have done. I especially enjoyed his take on a PM with a Brummie accent. Lewis made it through to the final three.

Radu Isac, the winner, made a good start by discussing his being Romanian, although I did wonder if some of the audience members thought he was a character act at first. He quickly addressed what may have been an elephant in the room involving Meerkats and got a strong laugh for doing so. He had a lovely line about 20 fights that landed extremely well. His timing was very good and he received strong laughs throughout. Although his winning was a close vote, he was still the winner of the night.

Alf (Chris Leworthy) closed the night. His set contained a bit of everything. Props, puns and music, making it look at times that he would need a third hand just to handle all of the paraphenalia. He gained a lot of laughs, but in an unfathomable vote, he was sent off early by the judges, much against the mood of the room. He seemed to have a lot to offer and it would have been nice to see more of him.

English Comedian of the Year – Ashby Heat -Aaron Twitchen, Pete Teckman, Nick Page, Phil Pagett, Wizzy Janew, Hannah Silvester, Jon Pearson, Lou Chawner, Roger Swift and Bambam Shaikh

Tonight I was in Ashby at the Funhouse heat of the English Comedian of the Year. As far as I’ve been concerned, this has been the gift that just keeps on giving. Throughout the week, the line up has been released, or at least come to my knowledge, in dribs and drabs and every new name was a real bonus. Pretty much every act I’d seen and enjoyed. It’s not lie to say that some of my favourite comedians were present tonight. This is very likely to be the best £10 I have spent in my life. With a line up this strong, running order could be crucial. Spiky Mike arranged this through the acts picking numbers and those who had luckily picked a lower number getting to choose their position in the running order first. The format was 3-4-3 with each act getting 7 minutes to perform. The time limit suited some acts more than others, as it is a bit neither one nor t’other. Prior to the show, I had some thoughts about the 5 most likely to go through, but with this line up, it really was all up for grabs. The compere was Spiky Mike, who admirably kept things on track and not only didn’t allow the night to drag on to the detriment of later acts, but who also had the hard job of counting the hands at the end. One strange thing about the votes cast was how they didn’t always tally with the support that individual acts had received. A few acts received single digit support, which was totally out of proportion to the laughter they had generated. This definitely threw me when I drew up my list of the likely contenders to go through. As it was, only three were permitted into the next round.

The opening act was Aaron Twitchen who had generously swapped places with the person who had drawn the opening slot. This was admirable and may have hurt his chances of progressing. Twitchen gave the room a mixture of material and audience work, which could have been risky depending upon whom he spoke to. At one point his set did suffer slightly from an audience member claiming to know a lady he was speaking about, but he kept things moving well. Twitchen is a likeable chap and this helps his performance resound with a room. His material was decent and received good laughs, especially his line about mayonnaise – that got a huge laugh. He had a good night, but ultimately didn’t progress.

Next was Pete Teckman, whom I had last seen at a car crash of a gig down South. He opened with a great line and never really looked back. A lot of his material was relatable to the audience and combined with a commanding delivery he definitely built up a good head of steam. He was rewarded with the first applause break of the night and the room really went for him. I was impressed with what I had seen, but I wasn’t totally sure he had done enough to get through – on any other bill I’d have been more certain. As it stood, he was well liked in the vote off and progressed as joint second. This is even more commendable considering how early he had gone on.

The closing act of the first section was Nick Page, who I think was the man most of the acts and myself, had as the man to beat if anyone wanted to guarantee a place in the next round. Page suffered from two disadvantages: he had performed there last month and he had given the room a bumper 40 minute set, that must have used a lot of his material. This was never going to be anything less than interesting. He opened with a call back to Spiky Mike’s compering, which went down well and then proceeded to devote most of his time to a story, rather than short routines. Only he and Pearson took this approach and in both cases it paid a handsome dividend. He deserved an applause break for the Middleton reference, as that was wonderful and also one for his best paid piece of work. The tale he told involved community service and complications arising from it, with a very clever touch concerning the extra hours. This drew the audience in and I think everyone wanted to know how it all turned out. Unfortunately his time ran out before we got to that stage, but everyone had been laughing throughout. This was a master class of how to do a 7 minute set. It was no surprise when he went through in first place by a very respectable margin.

We resumed after the first intermission with the very smartly dressed Phil Pagett. Whilst a waistcoat may not make someone funny on its’ own, in Pagett’s case it adds a touch of class to his stage presence and helps to set the tone for his set. I’ve a lot of time for Pagett, he does very clever one-liners and its nice to hear the laughter rolling around the room as people got the jokes in their own good time. Pagett set a cracking pace, hoovering up laughs at a frightening pace and collecting a huge groan for the icing on the cake. Tonight he became the 3rd act that has made me laugh so hard I’ve hurt myself. I had Pagett down as a contender for the next round, but despite getting a huge response from the audience for his set, he was curiously passed over by the voting, which was a shame.

Wizzy Janew followed and hit the ground running with the audience really enjoying his set and all of his references to the ups and downs and airing cupboards of life. Janew delivers his material with a huge smile, which pushes his material nicely. It’s hard not to enjoy someone’s work when they are so evidently having a good time themselves. He very nearly got an applause break for his stressed out Labrador and whilst he didn’t go through, he had a very good night, with the shorter time limit helping to keep his format fresh.

Hannah Silvester was an act that a lot of people were tipping as a possible contender. I’ve only seen her the once before and that was some new material at the Roadhouse. She’d had a good night then and so I was looking forwards to seeing her tonight. Her approach was a change in style to the previous acts and it seemed to take a moment for the room to adjust to the change in pacing. Her routine about female pilots works on a couple of levels and was a real stand out routine in her set, especially the call back. Silvester gave the room a lot of laughs and whilst I wasn’t sure she’d get through, the votes she received were, like Pagett’s, not in proportion to the laughter she had generated.

The final act of the middle section was Jon Pearson. Last month I saw him perform his one man show in Melton Mowbray, which was an hour of very good material. Seeing him perform a 7 spot for what may be the first time in ages was going to be fascinating. I suspected he would go with his gym routine as that is the stand out of a very good set and would more or less fill the time scale. He was wise to go with this, as the audience were very supportive of a routine that built and built. It was also nice to see some little tweeks that added to the performance. Pearson received great laughs and had a big presence on stage, looking extremely natural. I wasn’t surprised to see him go through as joint second. This is an act who is going to make it a long way in the business.

Lou Chawner, the only act I hadn’t seen before, opened the final section. He began with a heckle he received the other night, which was good in itself, but which was pushed a lot further by the double reveal that followed. Whilst his section on West Brom could have been set in any town it was very accessible and went down well with the audience. Chawner used the most edgy material of the night (until Bambam went on) and this could have been risky, but he judged it well and he received a lot of laughs, delivering a professional set. He didn’t go through to the final but again, the votes weren’t in proportion to the joy he gave the audience.

Rodger Swift was next. It would be easy to just say that Roger was #Roger as most people know him and how his set works and how he’ll divide a room, but that wouldn’t do him justice. He is a veritable whirlwind of props, mirth, asides, laughter and disbelief. He hit the room like a locomotive and probably did 10 minutes of material in 7, with props flying everywhere. His asides at the end of each gag are ludicrously hilarious and I am a big fan. As ever, some people were looking on with disbelief at a man with Tinkerbell in a blender and others were laughing that hard that they were probably adding years to their lives. This was a great performance and provided bags of fun. Swift didn’t make the final, but from the laughter I had him marked down as a contender.

The closing act was Bambam Shaikh. Whilst Bambam may have initially benefited from following Roger, the momentum he built was entirely his own. Jay has a splendidly drawn character act that he brings to life. Bambam works on a lot of levels and tonight he seemed to be scoring bullseyes on every level. Jay received huge laughs and as ever he built up the tension magnificently. This is probably the sharpest I’ve seen him and I was sure he’d kicked all of my considerations on who was going through out the roof. As it was, the audience was split over his act and whilst he received a lot of votes he didn’t make it through.

It’s a cliché to say that everyone was a winner. It’s even more of a cliché to say that tonight it is true. So what I will say is that every comedian gave a splendid performance, made a lot of people laugh and created joy. 100 or so people had a fantastically good night tonight. This was the comedy night of the year so far.

Blessington Carriage – Jamie Hutchinson, Tom Short, Rich Carranza, Ben Briggs, Red Richardson, Sara Mason and Alfie Brown

Tonight I was in the Blessington Carriage in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy and unintentional burlesque show. This featured a good sized crowd in a medium room. A lot of the faces in the crowd were familiar, as regular attenders and this does give a bit of a community spirit to the audience that is remarkably pleasant. It was also nice to have two friends with me, my brother in law and my boss’s brother. There was a bit of music noise from downstairs which was mildly distracting at times (during the odd dramatic pause, half of my brain was trying to figure out if that was Meatloaf they were playing), but this didn’t really impact upon the night. A very on-form Spiky Mike had a good night compering, getting a fair bit of fun from Adrian and his posse. The first act was Jamie Hutchinson.

There aren’t many people whom one can look at and know instantly where they are from, but Jamie Hutchinson is probably one. The very way he stands, dresses, walks, thrusts his chin out, moves his arms all scream Mancunian, even before he opens his mouth. He uses this to great effect in his set, where he describes the Mancunian in different habitats. However, there is more to him than this. His delivery is well paced, with pauses at the right points and he has a lovely habit of just dropping out a good line at the end of a delivery that really twists the humour a notch higher. These asides are strong. This gong show winner even had a different take on tinder, which is probably the topic hardest to be fresh with. He had a good night and even going on first didn’t affect his set.

Tom Short followed, opening with some observations about the room, which were a bit hit and miss, but a valiant try none the less. Coming from Salford and having a set that was partly based around this area could have been tricky following Hutchinson’s Manchester based set, but curiously he wasn’t affected by this, which was lucky. Short had some good lines, especially the ones about wishing he were a character act and his section about dyslexia. The Crystal Maze jokes worked very well, which is all the more surprising, and perhaps a testament to the enduring popularity of that show, as it hasn’t been aired in over 20 years. Short isn’t a huge presence on stage, but there is real quality in his writing and he was thoroughly enjoyable.

Rich Carranza, who I last saw placing a fairly narrow second in a gong show closed the first section. A lot of his set concerns race and racism. His take on this is pretty astute and he gains a lot from it. This is stand out material. However, his set does feel a little bit unbalanced as so much of it revolves around this one topic. He does do it very well, though. Carranza has a polished delivery and builds up momentum swiftly and this isn’t wholly down to him being fast talking. I’m not sure how long he has been performing for, but he has the kind of polish that one would expect from a circuit comic of long standing and he is noticeable for it. The audience enjoyed him and he seemed to build a good relationship with the room in next to no time.

We resumed after the first intermission with Ben Briggs, who was doing some new material. Briggs not only made my fantasy gig line up last year, but he is also one of two comedians who made me laugh that hard I ended up hurting myself. Naturally seeing his name on the bill was a huge plus. He had a great opening and from there he went from strength to strength. His section about Pistorious had me momentarily choking with laughter it was so powerful. His routine about sexual politics has come on in leaps and bounds since I first saw it trialled two months ago at the Roadhouse. The only bit that didn’t seem to get a big response was Ed209, which frankly deserved a lot more than he received for it. This was a fantastic set from a comedian who brings a lot of joy and energy with him.

Red Richardson had the tricky job of following the swift moving and high energy set of Briggs. He began with a slow low energy start, which made for a big change of pace. Richardson is from Devon and has a voice not too dissimilar to Don Corleone and this is definitely something of an asset with his low key delivery. Richardson has a wonderful turn of phrase, seeming to find just the right word to get the most out of his material. His writing is extremely good. There were no end of clever references and creativity in his set. Some of these did go a little above the audience’s head and that was a shame, but luckily his five aside/pedo ring landed beautifully. Richardson is an interesting act and is one whom I’m hoping to see again. I’m a huge fan of intelligent well written material and Richardson certainly ticks this box.

Sara Mason was next. It was touch and go as to whether or not she would arrive in time, as she had spent two hours driving around Derby trying to find the venue – I had a 30 minute problem of a similar nature the first time I came here. She literally arrived, took her coat off and was being announced as making her way onto the stage, without having checked herself in the mirror. As soon as she bounced onto the stage everyone’s eyes were immediately fixed on a fairly spectacular wardrobe malfunction. Mason is a rather attractive blonde lady built along the lines of Mae West and having one boob bulging out of a lowcut dress showing half a nipple was something that was very hard not to notice. Naturally she was totally oblivious to this and proceeded to launch into her set, possibly wondering why half the room were doing everything but look at her bust and the other half not being able to take their eyes off it. Her set could be split into general material, which wasn’t especially stand out – her line about what could have attracted Jerry Hall to the multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch was very similar to Mrs Merton enquiring of the lovely Debbie McGee what had attracted her to the multi-millionaire Paul Daniels. However, her blue material was far better. She was without a doubt the most sexually explicit act I’ve seen in a long time (and not just with a nipple on show – does the Blessington Carriage even have a licence for that?). She wasn’t using sexual material to shock or in a distasteful, salacious way, it was all done in the best possible taste and was entertaining. However, it was Mason’s joie de vivre that made her set. Seldom have I seen a comic with such verve and joy of life in them. Mason did split the room a bit, but I enjoyed her. I found her good fun for all of the right reasons.

It could be asked who do you get if you have beautifully delivered material, great ad-libbing and an endearing stage presence. The answer would be tonight’s headliner, Alfie Brown. It could have been difficult following Mason. Where does one go after the previous act has performed with a nipple poking out? The gig could have been derailed by this point, but Brown was neither flustered nor perturbed, he simply mined it for material. Last night I felt I had been rather spoilt by watching Tom Houghton spectacularly ad-libbing a large section of his set. Tonight I witnessed Brown more or less do the same. His set contained both material and improvisations intermixed together, and both were wonderfully well received. The material side was extremely good and Brown has a talent with accents that brings all of his characterisations to life, whether they be Barry White, a Crystal Palace fan or a Jamaican midwife. This really helps to sell the routines. On the improv side, Brown frequently went away from his material to explore various asides and conversations with audience members, including poking a bit of fun at myself. This was done brilliantly; he has a great talent for thinking on his feet and this was great to watch. It led to a splendid call back to Mason’s set. A lot of the topics that Brown used could have been extremely dark in other hands. I’m not going to give a list of them, as it would spoil some of the twists in his material, but they aren’t topics that one would usually expect to be handled in a bright and buoyant manner. The fact that Brown could make a feel good set out of these is very impressive and a real tribute to him. Alfie Brown had a tremendous gig tonight with a set that covered a lot of areas and ticked a lot of boxes.

Swan in the Rushes – Ed Patrick, Jim Daly, Richard Quarmby, Wizzy Janew, Bambam Shaikh and Tom Houghton

Tonight I was in Loughborough for the Funhouse Comedy gig at the Swan in the Rushes. This was a local-ish gig with a nice steady drive to it and some free parking just across the road from the pub, which was all to the good. The actual performance area was upstairs, so we were nicely separate from the rest of the patrons and didn’t have to worry about noise bleed or unwelcome intrusions. The compere was Spiky Mike. Also present, but not performing were Harry Sanders and Ishi Khan-Jackson and it’s nice to see local talent supporting a night, even if they aren’t gigging. Dave Bryon was due to perform, but had to leave due to unforeseen circumstances. This was unfortunate as he seems to have the ability to build a rapport with a crowd swiftly and his presence was a definite addition to the bill. The opening act was Ed Patrick.

Patrick made a promising start by discussing bad heckles he had anticipated receiving due to his career as a doctor. He then made a reference to the room being cold and requiring a push start, although given his job, a defibrillator may have been more apt. This was an undemonstrative room, which didn’t seem to warm to anyone that quickly with perhaps a few exceptions. His material was well written and although he may have benefited from more audience interaction to help bring them on-board there was nothing intrinsically poor about his set. He just suffered from going on first to a cautious audience and as a result his set felt a bit flat. This wasn’t his fault, a different running order would have possibly produced a different response. He did miss a chance for a possible call back to ‘syphilis’ when he mentioned discovering a barnacle.

Jim Daly closed the first section. He began in a lively and energetic manner, and although his Countdown joke had a foreseeable reveal this didn’t stop it landing well. His fraping material covered an area that is surprisingly neglected amongst the circuit. This again was well received. I wasn’t overly enamoured with his song at the close, but I’m not keen on songs in comedy in general and so this is no reflection on him. The room enjoyed it. This was a nice set with a lot to like.

The smartly dressed Richard Quarmby opened after the first intermission. His set seemed a little bit patchy in some ways. His material about Dr Dre was a bit niche for a middle aged and middle class audience, but those who got the references went for it in a big big way. Quarmby had a convincing delivery and lots of nice touches in his material, but not a lot seemed to land heavily, despite it being decent stuff. I have a suspicion that there is a good set here and also a fine comedian, but I don’t think we saw him at his best tonight or his material get the results it should have done. I’d like to see him again, as I think he has promise.

Wizzy Janew was next. He received an applause break for his opening ad lib, which was a great start. This was partially undermined by a joke about him being black, which harked back to an old 80’s joke about Stevie Wonder. Janew’s set can be split into two unequal parts. One being standard jokes and routines, which are competent enough and get laughs. This is probably 30% – 40% of his set. The remainder revolves around him being blind and generally go with set up and then the punchline being an error caused by him being blind. Of the two parts, this is more unique and gets bigger laughs. However, although each jokes works very well on its’ own, the cumulative result of so many is that the law of diminishing returns sets in. One doesn’t tend to notice this so much in a ten spot and his performance remains solid, but in a longer set it may count against him. Janew had a good night and received consistent laughs.

The ever entertaining Bambam Shaikh followed. He is a master at building up tension and making things feel a tad awkward before he breaks it to a huge laugh. Tonight he split the room a bit, albeit with the majority going with him. Those that liked him, liked him a lot. Those who didn’t weren’t so sure. There was a lot of fun when he broke the fourth wall and his audience work was great. He chose well when he decided to speak to the lady from Prague. It’s always a joy to see this act, even though tonight, it was the lighter version of Bambam, as the more provocative side would have perhaps been out of step with the feeling of the room. I’d still love to see a political set from Jay, the man behind the missing beard.

The headliner was Tom Houghton, who may be more familiar as part of The Noise Next Door. Houghton gave the performance of the evening and was simply superb. He spent the first 10 minutes or so ad-libbing and bantering. This was wonderfully of the now and present and was almost a textbook guide as to how a room can be worked. Some of this was deeply surreal, such as his shoe and the shoe of a reticent member of the audience having a conversation. This was an artist living off of his wits and quick thinking and making it look easy. This part was followed by a short song, which was short enough to remain fresh and not to get in the way of the momentum he had built. Following this, Houghton moved towards material, which whilst not as strong as the banter, was still good and received laughs, although the best line of the night was his quick shout out about one chap looking like a Bond villain who had lost his cat. He finished on a song and provided bags of fun along the way. This was a splendid performance and he is definitely an act that we should see more of. The audience work was worth the ticket price alone.

New Barrack Tavern – Pat Draper, Tom Rackham, Josh Pugh, Sean Percival and Dave Bryon (MC)

Tonight I was at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield for the Funhouse comedy night. This involves a trip that is the best part of two hours there and back, but one which is eminently worth it. The pub isn’t a trendy town centre bar, but a proper boozer and as such it has character and this manifests itself in an audience that enjoy comedy. Numbers weren’t as great as they were the last time I was there, but for a Mothering Sunday they were still respectable. The actual performance room is fairly small, so a moderate audience still leads to a decent atmosphere, which was all to the good. This was my first Funhouse gig, where Spiky Mike has been absent. In his place, Dave Bryon was compering.

Bryon began well by asking people what they had bought their mums for mother’s day. This was highly welcome for two reasons. One, it led to the discovery of a chap who had sent an E-card at midday, whom Bryon then ribbed to the delight of the audience and provided some lovely call backs later. Two, it was something different to an MC going around the room and asking people what their names are and what they do for a living. In a room where all but six people have been before, the chances are fair that a lot of the crowd have already been asked this before and some perhaps more than once. However, after the fun with mother’s day, Bryon then went on to ask people what they did for a living, which despite what I’ve said above, still worked well. I like to see other questions asked, as I feel taking a census has become a convention that is ripe for being tinkered with. Bryon had some enjoyable exchanges and as he’s an outgoing person who doesn’t alienate audiences, people were happy to chat to him. I did feel as he may have done a little bit longer than was necessary, as he raised the atmosphere, but then it had dropped a notch when the first act came on. His compering after the first interval was the stronger of the two, as he seemed to come on with a lot more energy and gained good laughs for his chat with a late arrival. On the admin side, Bryon kept things tight with the breaks and kept the night moving nicely.

The opening act was Pat Draper, who had several new bits of material in his set. I really enjoyed these and it is always a joy to watch him on stage. The audience were a bit muted at first, which was odd. The feeling in the room seemed to be one of good will, but it wasn’t a particularly showy good will. He got laughs, but things that on any other night would have got a huge response, just didn’t seem to get the same result, although he did still get 2 applause breaks. By the end of his set the audience were more demonstrative and this was a good performance with a lot of positives.

Resuming after the intermission, we began with Tom Rackham, who made a nice start by referencing the photos of famous comedians on the walls. He then did a short ten set with a mixture of established material and some new sections. I wasn’t too surprised at seeing him do new material as he has a reputation for writing a lot of new stuff. The joke about the jacuzzi received a great reaction, but I did feel his line about owning a hoover deserved more than he received for it. I have seen Rackham gain stronger responses from audiences, but this was still a good performance from a talented up and coming act.

Josh Pugh was next. Rackham and Pugh make a nice pairing as their different styles compliment each other nicely. On the face of it, Pugh’s style would be perfect for a student or arty venue and so it was going to be interesting to see him perform in a northern pub. I was very confident that he would have a good night, because Pugh has mastered the tricky art of doing off beat material with reveals that are totally out of the left field, but which still remains funny and accessible. This proved to be the case, as the room really went for him. Pugh had a splendid night and it is no surprise that both him and Rackham are on Funhouse’s radar.

The closing act was Sean Percival whom I’d seen 3-4 times before I began reviewing. Every time I’ve seen him, Percival has smashed the room. His material is sound, he delivers it with perfect timing, laying nuance in exactly the right spot to gain the best return and he builds up no end of momentum. It was no surprise to see him closing the night and sending everyone off on a high. However, this is a set that is now quite mature and one that I could tick off most of the routines of as he went along – mostly it must be said because a lot are memorably good. It’s fun to watch a room reacting to Percival, but I’d love to see what else he has to offer. The set he has is extremely strong and I’m hoping that his well of creativity can help him to craft more material of the same standard. As closer, he gave the audience a bumper 45 minutes of stand out entertainment and I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve seen him. Rather unfortunately I was sat in his eye line and him asking me about why I was writing could have derailed his set, which to be fair was my bad for not sitting off centre. As it happened, he used me as a foil for setting up some routines which landed all the better for it.