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.