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.

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