End of month review – April

This has been something of a quiet month for comedy, as my shift pattern has conflicted with my attendance at gigs. As a result of which I have only managed 23 individual reviews. These have ranged from Alun Cochrane to open mics and have covered everything in between.

These are the comedians who have impressed me the most this month:

John Robertson

This was a true tour de force.

Review from the night:

I’d seen Robertson a couple of years before I began reviewing, and so I knew something of what to expect. That had been at Calverton, just a few miles down the road and he had totally smashed the room, making it impossible for the next act to follow and I mean this literally, the next act died, having spent half of his time trying to explain that he wasn’t going to stand on a chair, or run around the room. That night, Robertson had a leather jacket on and with his Australian accent, gave me the sense of Mad Max let loose and doing comedy. Tonight he was in a red suit and had long flowing blonde hair. This made him look something like a late 1980’s Bond villain. I liked this look. It was also responsible for him being heckled as he made his way to the stage. Some comedians can be heckled – Robertson is not one of them. He returned the heckle with a cracking reference to Bad Manners that landed well considering that that band were probably never that big in Southwell. As soon as Robertson got on the stage, he just put the microphone to one side and announced it wasn’t as if he needed it and he was right. I’m not sure what his normal conversational level is, but tonight his voice seemed turned up to 11. The only other act I’ve seen pull that off is Ian Cognito and it worked equally well for Robertson. He ad-libbed his way through 25 minutes that seemed to pass very swiftly. There were no awkward pauses whilst he tried to think of something to say, he generated material from the most unlikely places and was evidently very fast on his feet, mentally. His set went extremely well. He is the only comedian I’ve seen take someone’s pint hostage, whilst he ribbed the audience. The room had a fantastic time and he was awesomely impressive.

Peter White

On the same night as Robertson was Peter White, which meant that we had begun the show with a master class in improvising a set and concluded with a wonderful tightly written set. This was a splendid set and one that made 20 minutes seem all too short a slot. Review from the night:

The headliner was Peter White, with his nicely distinctive Nova Scotian accent. White gave the audience a demonstration of what a well thought out, intelligent and tightly constructed set was. He began by discussing his experiences as a heterosexual chap drinking in a gay bar and being propositioned and in the process possibly enunciated the most logical argument against this element of homophobia that I have heard in a long time. This was also incredibly funny. He then moved on to discussing being brought up in a small town environment – this gained him a shout out from a well lubricated lady in the audience and he fielded it deftly. Five minutes later, she interrupted again and he silenced her effectively, but somewhat inelegantly, which he did apologise for twice during his set. White recovered well from this and completed his set with a tale about open toed sandals, which made a very true point about the pronunciational difficulties of flip flop and then a nice twist on the who would you take on a desert island question. White’s set flowed very nicely and he gained strong laughs. I especially enjoyed the craftsmanship evident in the set. A well written set is a joy to see.

Mike Bubbins

This was another great set and one where the performance really added to the material and helped to push it that bit further. Review from the night:

The closing act was Mike Bubbins who had impressed me when he performed in Southwell. If Taylor had given us what the well dressed man of 1975 was wearing, then Bubbins showed us what the well dressed man of 1975 would wear to the pub. I like it when an act has a distinctive look. It was also a good idea to have him close the show when a lot of the audience were well lubricated, as Bubbins seemed to have a natural authority that helped keep the room in check. He was however, the second comic to mention that he was married, but that his wife wasn’t present, but this didn’t slow him down at all. His section on shit town top trumps was a real winner and all the more so because he has the ability to do accents. Free cycle was given additional life by his facial expressions as he acted out his reactions to the tat that people in Barry try to palm off on folk. Perhaps the section that struck the greatest chord was about his wife giving birth (the line about his soldiering on after a minor injury, acted out, natch, was wonderful). The only dip in a strong performance was paradoxically the section I found the most interesting: his talk about 1970s telly, a long dead era to 90% of the audience. I’m a fan of The Professionals and his Lewis Collins facts were quite fascinating, however, they did rob him of momentum and the jokes were too spread out to really make up for this. Following this with a similar treatment for James Garner sadly only really exacerbated this, although he did recover well. Despite this slowing down, Bubbins had a very good night and I really enjoyed seeing him again. He is an act I’d like to see more of. His material is good and he really sells it.

Barry Dodds

This was just a short set at Spiky Mike’s birthday party and it was amazing what he could do within his allotted 5 minutes. Review from the night:

The next act was Barry Dodds, who had also been performing earlier. By special request he did his routine about the time he sent an email to Prince’s management, inviting him on a camping trip to the Lake District. This is a splendid routine, where the little additional details, such as the £10 behaviour bond make the difference and raise it from being merely very funny to totally splendiferous. Dodds delivered this swiftly, partly to keep within the five minute limit and partly to beat the noise from downstairs. He was talking about retiring this material now that Prince had died , but it is such a wonderful stand out piece, it would be a true shame to lose it.

Spiky Mikes’ Birthday Party – hosted by Brian Damage and Krysstal with Andrew Bird, Pat Draper, Barry Dodds and Scott Bennett

The main event of the evening was Spiky Mike’s birthday party, held at the Navigation in Nottingham. I had cut short the NCF gig to get to this, with my plus one, on time for 2130. As it happened, the party began at 2215, but that wasn’t the end of the world. As Mike had invited friends from both the music and comedy industries, it was interesting playing guess who belonged to which world. I know that comedy is called the new rock n’ roll, but musical peeps don’t half stand out a lot more in how they dress than comics. For the first section, I was sat next to the buffet which was a bonus – I can’t remember the last time I had so many Cadbury’s fingers in one go. The cake itself was very nice to see. It had been baked by Jo and was in the shape of a guitar. The party was held in the Navigation’s function room, which was upstairs, whilst a band played below and there was what can only be described as ruddy HORRIBLE noise bleed from down there. The night was hosted by Brian Damage and Krysstal.

The format of the party was that it was a combined party and gig. Brian Damage and Krysstal acted as hosts and comperes, warming the room up, doing material between acts, who were all doing 5 minutes each. In this, they tried to time it so their sections coincided with the band playing below and the comedians would be able to do their sets whilst the band had a rest. They were pretty successful in this and it was a great help considering that the noise below was such that the band may as well have been playing in the room itself. They opened with a wonderfully timely reference to everyone famous dying, but Spiky Mike being alive still, which set the tone for the night. Their routines were musical in nature, but taken a lot further by Krysstal’s facial expressions and the asides between the songs. The songs were good and included one sung in an Argentinian accent and one in a Lancashire accent, which worked very well. I especially enjoyed the routine about the cat slippers; that had a lot of mirth in it.

The opening act was Andrew Bird, who opened by saying how nice it was to be playing a benefit night for Spiky Mike. This was followed by solid material on birthday cards, recycling and reduced price underwear. Photos and phones was a nice section, but the routine he ended on, video recorders, which was old material in honour of Mike, was very good indeed. Bird generated a lot of momentum very quickly, especially where his jokes had multiple reveals. He delivered his 5 minutes with vigour and was very enjoyable.

The second act was Pat Draper, who I had only seen performing an hour or so before at another gig. Previously, he had done well, but the audience had been undemonstrative, now he was with a crowd that weren’t so reticent about showing their appreciation and it made a huge difference. He began by giving Spiky Mike a shot glass full of something. He announced that according to the barman it was what all the young people were drinking, but that Mike could have it anyway. This was then followed by a short 5 minute set containing songs and nursery rhymes which went down extremely well. The new part about Prince working very well.

The next act was Barry Dodds, who had also been performing earlier. By special request he did his routine about the time he sent an email to Prince’s management, inviting him on a camping trip to the Lake District. This is a splendid routine, where the little additional details, such as the £10 behaviour bond make the difference and raise it from being merely very funny to totally splendiferous. Dodds delivered this swiftly, partly to keep within the five minute limit and partly to beat the noise from downstairs. He was talking about retiring this material now that Prince had died , but it is such a wonderful stand out piece, it would be a true shame to lose it.

The closing act was Scott Bennett, who had been gigging a fair distance away from Nottingham and so had arrived later than hoped for. He delivered a set that caught the mood of the night. He began by referencing Spiky Mike’s ability to get people to work for free, which landed very very well. This was followed by some very good stuff about a sportsman’s dinner where he had been the ‘turn’ and then some new material about a speed awareness course. I had seen that section two weeks ago and even over that short space of time it was evident that there had been improvement in how it was paced. This was a five minute set that went very quickly.

This was a lovely night, with a lot of people present and there was a lot of joy and good will in the room.

NCF, Sandiacre – Patrick Draper and Red Redmond (MC)

Tonight was going to be a busy night, as I was going to one gig, but cutting my attendance short to go to a birthday party and gig just down the road. The first gig of the night was the NCF comedy night in Sandiacre, a place I’d never been to before, but which wasn’t too far from home. This was one of those gigs that are massively under priced for the comedy on offer. The bill was Red Redmond (MC), Pat Draper, Jack Shanik, Ed Patrick and Barry Dodds. These are all talented people and the cost was just £2, which is a huge bargain for a nights’ entertainment. The venue was what may have started life as a church hall or mechanics institute, with a big room and high ceilings. The chandeliers and fairy lights gave it a bit of a surreal air. As is normal, the front row was empty and the second row sparsely populated. The 60 or so customers were actually adding extra chairs at the back of the room, themselves, rather than sit in what they thought was the firing line. The public definitely have a bizarre idea that they will be taken to pieces by the acts and this is a total fallacy. The only people I’ve ever seen get smashed by a comic are hecklers and then they are the sort who have spent the best part of an hour begging for it. Tonight’s MC was Red Redmond.

This was the first time I’ve seen Redmond, but I’d like to see more of him. From the off it was obvious that he wasn’t going to have a tough crowd to deal with. The audience were a very respectable sort, not given to causing trouble, but also one not that demonstrative, either. Red is a fairly local chap to Sandiacre, since moved to Manchester, but this was enough to give him a nice opening gambit. This was followed by a very good line about how the place scrubs up well, which landed nicely and then a bit of a stock description of Salford (which could have been any other rough area), which was no less funny for it. I enjoyed his well realised scene of a flat mate discussing drugs with him. In this, Redmond drew the scene out for a long time, but the length of the pauses are what really made it work so well; this was a small routine that built up the more he drew it out. Red did the rules, had a chat to a few audience members, gained a lot of laughs and pitched his compering at the right level for the crowd. He was low key and unthreatening, which I would say was spot on for this audience.

The opening act was Patrick Draper who possibly suffered from two things: going on first and the audience whilst obviously enjoying themselves, being undemonstrative of this fact. I’ve seen this a few times in rooms where the audience aren’t that used to comedy. It can be blatant that people are having a good time, but they get stiff upper lips and seem really reluctant to let themselves go. Odd, but true, lovely people who would give a very polite round of applause, but would then look askance at anyone making it obvious that they were loving the show. Draper began well and had some wonderful ad-libs that I liked. He did a spot of new material based on Prince’s death the day before, which had a bit of a stumble and he gained laughs for his comments on that. Following a swift recovery, he then moved on to the Humber Bridge routine, which always builds nicely, with the anticipation of the final reveal always being a joy for an audience. In this Draper gained good laughs for his breaking of the 4th wall. This was a fine performance.

After this an intermission was called and so I left to go to the party. A shame in a lot of ways, as this had the makings of a good night.

Nottingham Glee: Mickey Sharma, Paul F Taylor, Mike Bubbins and Alex Boardman (MC)

Tonight, on a horrible wet night, I was in the Nottingham Glee Club. Owing to the final admittance being at 1930, it was strangely a push to get there on time, especially as I wanted to watch the end of the Professionals before I did the washing up and got ready. I can understand the financial logic of having people in the club early, but I’m rather glad I took a book with me to help kill the 30 minutes before show time. The crowd were of mixed ages, but with the majority young enough to be going on elsewhere after the show. Initially the atmosphere was a bit like a school canteen on the last day of term, with lots of chatter and things being dropped on the floor. I’ve not been to the Glee Club for a while, due to a clash with my personal diary, but I often look at the bills and see much to admire. Tonight, our compere was Alex Boardman.

Boardman had a night of two halves. During his initial section, he was competent, but did tick a lot of boxes on the standard weekend club compere bingo list: he discovered the stag and hen parties, made the obligatory comments about how they could have gone somewhere exotic, but instead came here, he identified the trophy wife and so on. Although this was all pretty standard stuff, it went down well with the crowd and he received decent laughs for it. He did show more sharpness in how he dealt with a heckle he received within the first 20 seconds and to me, this hinted that he had a lot more to offer than he had really needed to use so far. During his second session, Boardman really showed his ability when he improvised and bantered with the room for a good 7-8 minutes, living off of his wits. Whilst his first session had been competent, this session was inspired. He dropped out some lovely lines and engaged in a lot of quick fire responses. I thoroughly enjoyed this and his rendering of the DWP as an enforcement agency was a real stand out. His final section was a bit more rowdy due to the amount of alcohol imbibed by the audience, but he kept the room in order and set things up well, although part of his 3some gag did share a passing similarity to Mickey Sharma’s early joke. I enjoyed Boardman and felt that his work during the second session showed that he has a lot of ability.

The opening act was Mickey Sharma who I last saw only 200yds from where I was sat tonight. This was his Edinburgh Preview in the Canal House. Tonight Sharma gave the room a well pitched performance that judged the mood and expectations of the audience well. He had some good physical additions to his set, where he demonstrated national sexual mores through dance and a club version of Twinkle twinkle little Star, which both went down very well. I personally preferred his jokes about assimilation, as these were more subtle, although whilst there was nothing subtle about his section on Taliban gigs, that was also incredibly funny and well fleshed out by his actions. I did feel that tonight, Sharma was doing a set that held a broad appeal, but I suspect that if he had so wished, he could have done a wonderfully nuanced political set that would make very entertaining listening.

The middle act was Paul F Taylor, a chap who came onto the stage wearing oven gloves and dressed like a man from the 1975 Grattan’s catalogue. Two weeks ago, I had been at a show in Grantham that had been evacuated due to a fire alarm and tonight we may have skated along the edge of a repeat of that. Luckily, when the alarm sounded tonight it was swiftly silenced and Taylor was able to continue, after getting a bit of ad-libbed material out of the event. His night consisted of the splendidly creative and the over-stretching of a concept. Taylor is a comedian who could probably look at something in a totally different way to 99 other people and this is a real bonus. His material about cloakrooms and whisks was strong. His section where he played multiple incarnations of himself was even better. This was then followed by an excellent section involving a tree house and a password, with a human playing the role of the computer. This is probably the most unique way I’ve seen material about passwords dealt with and it was great. However, this notion of a human acting like a machine then became over-stretched when he essentially did four versions of the same gag. In fairness, they were all different in the specifics, but the concept and construction was the same. This did build up to a nice finale, but I think he did split the room over that section.

The closing act was Mike Bubbins who had impressed me when he performed in Southwell. If Taylor had given us what the well dressed man of 1975 was wearing, then Bubbins showed us what the well dressed man of 1975 would wear to the pub. I like it when an act has a distinctive look. It was also a good idea to have him close the show when a lot of the audience were well lubricated, as Bubbins seemed to have a natural authority that helped keep the room in check. He was however, the second comic to mention that he was married, but that his wife wasn’t present, but this didn’t slow him down at all. His section on shit town top trumps was a real winner and all the more so because he has the ability to do accents. Free cycle was given additional life by his facial expressions as he acted out his reactions to the tat that people in Barry try to palm off on folk. Perhaps the section that struck the greatest chord was about his wife giving birth (the line about his soldiering on after a minor injury, acted out, natch, was wonderful). The only dip in a strong performance was paradoxically the section I found the most interesting: his talk about 1970s telly, a long dead era to 90% of the audience. I’m a fan of The Professionals and his Lewis Collins facts were quite fascinating, however, they did rob him of momentum and the jokes were too spread out to really make up for this. Following this with a similar treatment for James Garner sadly only really exacerbated this, although he did recover well. Despite this slowing down, Bubbins had a very good night and I really enjoyed seeing him again. He is an act I’d like to see more of. His material is good and he really sells it.

Admiral Rodney – John Robertson, Tom Little, Kieran Lawless, Peter White

Tonight I was at the Admiral Rodney in Southwell (or as we pronounce it in Mansfield, Suvhull) for the Funhouse comedy show. I’ve had a mild cold since Tuesday that has knocked me about a bit, so I had to come off of the critical list to venture out and I’m rather glad that I did. This is a gig that attracts a regular audience and that makes for a very well disposed crowd. Whilst I was awaiting the start of the gig, the party sat behind me were discussing acts they had seen and acts that they would like to see and it was gratifying just how knowledgeable they were about the UK comedy scene. As ever, the compere was Spiky Mike, who had perhaps the most enjoyable night I’ve seen him have, or at least the best since the news came out about Cameron and the pig – that night he looked as if he had picked up a winning lottery ticket on his way back from having won Wimbledon. He demonstrated a fine nose for detecting bogus professions and extracted the true facts. This was followed by him getting big laughs out of a man being an IT legal accounts wallah than one would have thought likely given the profession and then an even bigger laugh for talking to a man wearing possibly a J-cloth instead of a shirt. Perhaps the funniest part, was Mike’s frank look of total disbelief at the number of people in the room claiming to be students. This was totally natural and not a prepared look and as such it went down very well. The room was well prepared for our opening act, John Robertson.

I’d seen Robertson a couple of years before I began reviewing, and so I knew something of what to expect. That had been at Calverton, just a few miles down the road and he had totally smashed the room, making it impossible for the next act to follow and I mean this literally, the next act died, having spent half of his time trying to explain that he wasn’t going to stand on a chair, or run around the room. That night, Robertson had a leather jacket on and with his Australian accent, gave me the sense of Mad Max let loose and doing comedy. Tonight he was in a red suit and had long flowing blonde hair. This made him look something like a late 1980’s Bond villain. I liked this look. It was also responsible for him being heckled as he made his way to the stage. Some comedians can be heckled – Robertson is not one of them. He returned the heckle with a cracking reference to Bad Manners that landed well considering that that band were probably never that big in Southwell. As soon as Robertson got on the stage, he just put the microphone to one side and announced it wasn’t as if he needed it and he was right. I’m not sure what his normal conversational level is, but tonight his voice seemed turned up to 11. The only other act I’ve seen pull that off is Ian Cognito and it worked equally well for Robertson. He ad-libbed his way through 25 minutes that seemed to pass very swiftly. There were no awkward pauses whilst he tried to think of something to say, he generated material from the most unlikely places and was evidently very fast on his feet, mentally. His set went extremely well. He is the only comedian I’ve seen take someone’s pint hostage, whilst he ribbed the audience. The room had a fantastic time and he was awesomely impressive.

Following a much needed intermission we resumed with Tom Little, who is making a nice name for himself on the circuit. It looks as if this awareness is spreading, as the party sat behind me were commenting about having heard of him winning the Leicester Comedian of the Year award and looking forwards to seeing him tonight. I must add that on a personal level, I really do enjoy it when I hear people saying nice things about acts, I find it very warming. I’ve seen Little before and this was last year at a nice gig in Halifax that sadly never became a regular fixture on the comedy calendar. That night he had opened and had been good. Tonight, I felt that he was very good. He began with a decent routine about Family Fortunes. This was followed by a section on Cockney rhyming slang, which worked all the better for being delivered in a strong Cumbrian accent. His routine about yoghurt was his stand out routine and he got a lot of mileage out it, earning a well deserved applause break for the final denouement. Little is definitely a talent with his own unique style and someone to watch.

The final act of the middle section was Kieran Lawless, a jovial Irishman with an engaging delivery. His set was a bit of a curates egg. On one side, a lot of his material did seem transient and not so memorable, although in fairness, some of it was new. I think that what made it seem so transient was that he touched on a fair number of topics, but none of them to any depth, apart from perhaps the new section on texting sex, which whilst it didn’t get a big response, I’m still glad he was willing to try out. Paradoxically, the stand out material came at the end, not so much as a highlight that he had built up to, but almost more as an after thought, which was strange considering how I and the room really liked it. This section was about people’s last 24 hours left on earth and it’s a wonderful topic that he made a lot out of in only a minute or so. It gave him scope to chat to the audience, weave in material (make a wish foundation was a wonderful line) and it is something that he could easily expand and and work into a big strong closing routine. Lawless has an engaging personality and lots of enthusiasm and this is a real attribute that will assist him a lot. He is also quite physical onstage and this is another bonus. I don’t know if Lawless has ever done any compering, but I suspect that he would have a lot of ability in that. Sometimes, there was just as much joy in how he was delivering his material as in the actual material itself and if he can marry this wonderful delivery to equally strong material then he will do very well indeed.

The headliner was Peter White, with his nicely distinctive Nova Scotian accent. White gave the audience a demonstration of what a well thought out, intelligent and tightly constructed set was. He began by discussing his experiences as a heterosexual chap drinking in a gay bar and being propositioned and in the process possibly enunciated the most logical argument against this element of homophobia that I have heard in a long time. This was also incredibly funny. He then moved on to discussing being brought up in a small town environment – this gained him a shout out from a well lubricated lady in the audience and he fielded it deftly. Five minutes later, she interrupted again and he silenced her effectively, but somewhat inelegantly, which he did apologise for twice during his set. White recovered well from this and completed his set with a tale about open toed sandals, which made a very true point about the pronunciational difficulties of flip flop and then a nice twist on the who would you take on a desert island question. White’s set flowed very nicely and he gained strong laughs. I especially enjoyed the craftsmanship evident in the set. A well written set is a joy to see.

Alun Cochrane, Mike Newall (support)

Tonight I was at the Derby Guildhall to see Alun Cochrane’s new show – A show with a man in it. Although Nottingham is closer, I almost prefer gigs in Derby. When it only costs £1.30 to park all night, it is as if they are actually encouraging people to go there and have a good time. This is in stark contrast to Nottingham, itself, where parking charges seem to be set by the Kray family. The Guildhall was as you’d expect with a venue of this name, rather grand with lots of little decorative flourishes. It seats 240 people in a very small area. The seats were tiny and really packed close together. Whilst I wasn’t claustrophobic at the start of the night, I’d have taken evens on me feeling it by the close. The seats also spring back up with the sort of force that could be used to launch things into a low earth orbit, as did indeed happen with my hat and notebook when I unwisely expected the seat to stay down whilst I took my coat off. The support was Mike Newall.

I saw Newall at Nottingham Just the Tonic last Autumn and remarked at the time about how he reminded me of Cochrane in his style, so it was somewhat ironic that he was now supporting him. He opened with the time honoured staple truism of all supporting acts, ‘Hello, I’m not the man you’ve come to see.’ From this he went on to have a brief chat about his home town, Stockport, turning its’ meagre claims to fame into a positive. He was brought up short in this by what seemed like an omnibus of late comers all arriving at once and trying to find their seats. He resumed with talking about exercise, relationship breakdowns and attending festivals at a certain age. Surprisingly he left out what I had thought was his stand out routine: the unexpected bonus of lending money to a friend you don’t really like. Newall’s delivery is low energy and relaxed, which suited his material. Throughout this Newall received good laughs. Nothing huge, but they were consistent and set the room up nicely in a quietly efficient way.

After a brief intermission we resumed with Alun Cochrane himself. He began with a spot of room work, just to regain a bit of atmosphere following the break and then he launched into his set. Launched is probably too strong a word for such a relaxed performer. Meandered is more suitable. He began with the story of his best ever gig, which involved pizza and being paid on the night. This set the scene for the next hour or so, as it contained a mixture of flights of thought and personal observations. A lot of his actual material is hard to remember five minutes after he has delivered it. The topics were fairly pedestrian and inconsequential, but strangely no less enjoyable for this. It is very well written, possibly verging on over-written, but in a way that is not actually detrimental. For a well structured set, Cochrane was very happy to throw in ad-libs, especially about the rival show taking place in the square, outside. These ad-libs and the odd new bit seemed to keep the format fresh, which was nice. Every so often, he would deliver a small routine and then comment on how well it had been received. Sometimes this can really burst the bubble and strip the magic away, but as there were 240 people who had paid to see him, Cochrane was on safe ground. His delivery was a lot louder and energetic than I was expecting and I wouldn’t have objected to a tiny bit less shouting, but the audience were extremely happy with everything. Bizarrely in the last minute of the show one chap on the front row jumped up and sprinted out of the door in the sort of way that you’d associate with people leaving when the discovery of something ticking has been announced. This didn’t interrupt the flow and the show reached it’s highly satisfactory conclusion. Cochrane may not be a comic whose routines will make you question deep held beliefs, but he is a comedian who will improve the week of everyone who sees his show.

Cross Keys – Liam Webber, Thom Hodkinson, Jon Pearson, Scott Bennett, Ben Briggs, Andy Fowler (MC)

Tonight I was at The Cross Keys in Nottingham for Fowl Humour’s comedy night. The last time I was here it hadn’t been that busy. Tonight it was a sell out gig. There were probably 40 people packed into this room and it was a marvelous sight. It’s always very nice to see a room run out of seats due to the sheer number of customers. It makes for a great atmosphere when there is a large crowd in a small room. Tonight, we were in for five acts, with Andy Fowler as MC.

Generally Fowler takes a fairly light touch approach to compering, which can be a bit of a shame, as I always feel he could go in several directions with it. Tonight he had a good night, especially with the ready made story of how one of the acts had had to drop out. This true story was a rather nice way to start the night and it generated a lot of laughs, providing a pleasant ambience. Fowler did the rules, explained the format and very kindly plugged Jon Pearson’s upcoming Derby show.

Our opening act was Liam Webber, an act that I like. He’s a little bit different and puts a lot of emphasis on the performance side of things. I felt that he wouldn’t be helped by there being no raised stage. Webber is a very visual comedian, who acts out a lot of his routines. He has bags of talent for acting, but as only the first three rows would be able to see him I did think that this could hurt how he went down. As it happened, he did split the room a bit, although most of the audience were with him. This is often the price of doing something different – at first it takes a bit of getting used to. By the end he had won over most of the room. I especially enjoyed Banquo and Nixon. Webber’s characterisations are as perfect as I’ve ever seen. There was a brief stumble when a chap left the room to return later, but whilst it did ruin the timing on a good joke, Webber coped with it well. I enjoyed his performance.

Thom Hodkinson left me with more mixed feelings. On the positive side his set did contain some nice touches: ‘Tom Facts’, the Dynamo routine and the conversation overheard at work were all interesting. However, self-service tills and intelligence has been covered a few times by comics and whilst the section about his height and build had promise, it did feel like a shallow and an obvious use of this, rather than anything deeper or unexpected. His delivery was confident, but there were little things that I wasn’t keen on, such as his opening line, ‘How the fuck are we doing?’ This felt a bit forced, rather than natural, as if he was trying that bit too hard to make an immediate impact. It did get a laugh, which is a point in favour of it, but it did still feel a bit like an act and much the same could be said about a lot of his delivery. I felt that this was a work in progress. Hodkinson has talent and I want to see him again. As it stands, I don’t think he has found his natural rhythm yet, but when he does he will be a decent comedian.

Jon Pearson closed the opening section. He began with some good ad-libbing with a lady who was escaping to the loo and received good laughs as he returned to this topic later in his set, musing on just what can be achieved in a loo in the time that had passed. This was a set that contained new material being worked on and existing material being honed. It’s rather wonderful to see a line get a laugh one week, then a reworked version get an even bigger laugh the week after. Can’t eat when wet and almond milk were both very good and there is certainly something in the limmerick. As ever, Pearson looked totally at home performing and seemed to relax the more he was up there.

We resumed in the final section with Scott Bennett, who was trying out new material. Bennett has a great rapport with audience’s and it took him approximately 5 seconds to build an amicable relationship with the room. He opened with sage, which seemed to immediately strike a chord with everyone. Bennett has a lot of skill in making his material relatable. He manages to phrase things in such a way that they seem perfectly rational and of the norm. This is a comedian who could make a trip to the Moon seem as down to earth as a trip round B&Q and his material lands all the better for this as the audience can picture what he is talking about. He gave us his take on speed awareness courses, which was refreshing and very funny. His section on terrapins was interesting, but would benefit from a bigger payoff. Bennett received big laughs all the way through his set, especially for Postman Pat and a train journey where he was the centre of people’s looks. This was an extremely enjoyable set and for a work in progress an incredibly strong one.

The closer was Ben Briggs. Briggs is one of my favourite comedians. I really enjoy his dark style, especially so because he has a genuine intelligence behind it and isn’t just going for the cheap laughs. He has some great lines, especially: facebook for old people, hymens and no brainer. I did think that his description of a burglar was a touch elongated, but the reveal made it worthwhile. The new section on terrorism needs a bit of work, but the section on virgins, was wonderful. His routine on payday loan calls was really building up the momentum, with people leaning in, fully involved. It was at this point he had a bit of a stumble over his material and this unfortunately monkeyed up his night. He did recover with the story about him accidentally starting a fracas the last time he did terrorism related material in Nottingham. This was a good set, even with the stumble and I’m hoping that Briggs is performing in Edinburgh this year.

End of Month Review – March

End of Month Review

I can safely say that this has been a fantastic month for comedy, with 55 individual reviews. I have seen a heat for English Comedian of the Year, pro bills, a champions gong final, open mic nights with a lot of acts standing out for their quality and Bobby Mair performing from a park bench during an evacuation from a venue.

These are the acts who have impressed me the most:

Nick Page

I saw Page at the English Comedian of the Year heat. He totally blew the room away and put in an incredible performance during the 7 minute time limit.

From the night:

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.

Tom Houghton

Houghton was playing to a smallish crowd and managed to make it a fantastic gig.

From the night:

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.

Bobby Mair

Mair held the room easily and when we had to move outside due to the fire alarm sounding, he continued to dominate proceedings.

From the night:

The headliner was Bobby Mair, an act who managed to get a big laugh for a joke about beastiality within the first minute. Despite his delivery being slower than Mor and Dickinson, he managed to use this to build momentum, as no one would have been able to predict where he was going with any of his material. At one point he was part way through a routine and a motorbike rode by, making quite a racket. Without pausing for breath, he simply worked that external interruption into said routine. There was a couple sat on the front row who were off to get married in the morning, so Mair had a chat with them about the realities of marriage, which whilst it may have made them wonder if they were able to call it off and get the deposit back, it provided great entertainment for the rest of the room. This was followed by him singing with his face about 2” away from that of a lady. By this stage, everything was going well. The room were laughing, Mair was on top form managing to deliver dark material in an upbeat manner. It was then that the fire alarm sounded. Mair was up for continuing, the audience weren’t wildly enthusiastic about having to leave, especially as no one was visibly on fire, but evacuate we did.

2 minutes later, the best part of 200 people were stood on The Green, outside of Grantham Guildhall. The scene was: Bobby Mair, stood perched on a bench, smoking a cigarette, no microphone, continuing his set. Audience arranged in a crescent around Mair, half with phones in hand filming and taking pics, alarm still sounding and sirens in the distance, the odd passerby looking at the crowd and the chap on the bench and probably wondering if we had all escaped from somewhere that had upholstered wallpaper. Mair didn’t bat an eyelid to any of this, he simply picked up from where he left off and then ad-libbed about the statue that was next to his bench and provided a fantastic time for the crowd. The fire engine turned up, siren on, to which he shouted that he was being heckled by a fire engine. Some of the crowd turned to look at the appliance, but he swiftly regained their attention with the line of the night – ‘Ignore that! You can see that anytime! This is the only show you’ll ever see on this bench, apart from some homeless guy jerking off!’ This would have brought the house down if we had had a house. 5 minutes later, we were back inside for Mair to complete what had been an incredible night, that had mixed an element of farce with high comedy.

Steve Shanyaski

Shanyaski gave a very warm performance and brought a surprising level of intimacy to this gig.

From the night:

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 mischivious 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.

Marvyn Dickinson

This was a barnstormer of a middle ten spot.

From the night:

Marvyn Dickinson gave the room a wonderful time. He made a lively start, which injected a bit of energy into the room and got everyone fired up. His material was very relatable. It dealt with the confusion caused by his name, being from Preston and his wife having a baby. There was a lovely line about Waddle that like his penalty kick, sailed above the heads of some of the younger members of the audience, but which to me was nearly the line of the night. Dickinson is aided by a flamboyant, forceful delivery that massively adds to his set. He has the habit of suddenly raising his voice, stamping his foot and pointing to the audience on a big reveal. This seemed to have a faint echo of Peter Kay about it, although some of this may have been suggested to me from Dickinson’s strong Lancashire accent. His set was the stronger for this delivery and the audience really liked him. His ten spot was one of those that seem to fly by all too soon. He is a real find and I hope to see him gigging in this area a lot more often.

Simon Wozniak

Wozniak is an up and coming comedian who I think is going to have a very good year and will have progressed a lot further come the end of it. He delivers his material well and definitely has ‘it’. I saw him at a champions’ gong show. Although he didn’t win, it was a close run thing.

From the night:

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.

Grantham Guildhall – Martin Mor, Rob Coleman, Marvyn Dickinson and Bobby Mair

The headline for tonight’s gig is – Venue evacuated due to fire – Bobby Mair continues set outside perched on park bench.

That was how things stood at about 2225; it was very different at 2000. Funhouse hold their gigs in The Guildhall at Grantham. This is sort of a cross between a municipal building and a small stately home. The room hosting the comedy has huge high ceilings, decorative plaster work and is probably haunted by the cast of Downton Abbey. It wasn’t quite sold out tonight, but there were only about 5 empty seats out of 200, so numbers were still excellent. The crowd itself is well heeled and heading towards a touch beyond middle aged, but they are also very enthusiastic about this show. The loyalty of the crowd to Spiky Mike made his compering more than a pleasure to watch. He was playing in front of a regular audience who obviously like him a lot and he was able to bounce off them in a way that was thoroughly enjoyable and not easily achievable by visiting comperes. His chats with the audience seemed to have a more intimate feel than what one would expect for such a large audience and he chose well with the people he talked to, even gaining an applause break. He set the room up nicely for the opening act Martin Mor.

Mor is one of those larger than life figures who would command attention in any setting. As soon as he strode onto the stage the room was his to take in any direction he wished. His set contained a large amount of room work and this was excellent stuff. He has the knack of finding material out of the most unpromising discussions, without it seeming to feel forced or artificial. A read through of his actual material wouldn’t do it justice. It would read as being sweary and on the vulgar side, but in context it worked a treat. I’ve already mentioned the audience being upper middle class and of a certain age and a tattooed 6′ plus chap saying f*** a lot and discussing various sexual oddities may not sound like their cup of tea (Earl Grey, obviously). However, such was his skill, they lapped it up. I was sat next to a very pleasant and rather refined lady, who was just short of 80 years vintage and she really enjoyed his set. Mor’s delivery is very fast, almost without any pauses for breath and he really got the audience engaged. This was a very good performance that was not only very funny (including 3 applause breaks), but which also felt very refreshing.

After the first intermission we resumed with Rob Coleman. He began by standing on the stage and letting the audience drink in his appearance, especially his hair. For the few of you who haven’t seen Coleman, he has the sort of hair that looks as if it is having a party, regardless of what the rest of him is up to. Following this pause, he then began his set, proper, by discussing his hair. Whilst he received laughs for this, and decent laughs too, I didn’t feel that the room was totally on board yet. This all changed when he started talking to a couple on the front row. This led to a lovely bit of banter and an applause break and it was obvious that all of the room were now with him. Coleman then continued his set, weaving in material and banter nicely, getting laughs and groans in pretty much equal measure. His material hung together well, with no jarring leaps when he changed topic. I felt that some of the room may have gotten to the Pearl Harbour reveal before him, but this didn’t affect what was a nicely delivered and enjoyable set.

Marvyn Dickinson gave the room a wonderful time. He made a lively start, which injected a bit of energy into the room and got everyone fired up. His material was very relatable. It dealt with the confusion caused by his name, being from Preston and his wife having a baby. There was a lovely line about Waddle that like his penalty kick, sailed above the heads of some of the younger members of the audience, but which to me was nearly the line of the night. Dickinson is aided by a flamboyant, forceful delivery that massively adds to his set. He has the habit of suddenly raising his voice, stamping his foot and pointing to the audience on a big reveal. This seemed to have a faint echo of Peter Kay about it, although some of this may have been suggested to me from Dickinson’s strong Lancashire accent. His set was the stronger for this delivery and the audience really liked him. His ten spot was one of those that seem to fly by all too soon. He is a real find and I hope to see him gigging in this area a lot more often.

The headliner was Bobby Mair, an act who managed to get a big laugh for a joke about bestiality within the first minute. Despite his delivery being slower than Mor and Dickinson, he managed to use this to build momentum, as no one would have been able to predict where he was going with any of his material. At one point he was part way through a routine and a motorbike rode by, making quite a racket. Without pausing for breath, he simply worked that external interruption into said routine. There was a couple sat on the front row who were off to get married in the morning, so Mair had a chat with them about the realities of marriage, which whilst it may have made them wonder if they were able to call it off and get the deposit back, it provided great entertainment for the rest of the room. This was followed by him singing with his face about 2” away from that of a lady. By this stage, everything was going well. The room were laughing, Mair was on top form managing to deliver dark material in an upbeat manner. It was then that the fire alarm sounded. Mair was up for continuing, the audience weren’t wildly enthusiastic about having to leave, especially as no one was visibly on fire, but evacuate we did.

2 minutes later, the best part of 200 people were stood on The Green, outside of Grantham Guildhall. The scene was: Bobby Mair, stood perched on a bench, smoking a cigarette, no microphone, continuing his set. Audience arranged in a crescent around Mair, half with phones in hand filming and taking pics, alarm still sounding and sirens in the distance, the odd passerby looking at the crowd and the chap on the bench and probably wondering if we had all escaped from somewhere that had upholstered wallpaper. Mair didn’t bat an eyelid to any of this, he simply picked up from where he left off and then ad-libbed about the statue that was next to his bench and provided a fantastic time for the crowd. The fire engine turned up, siren on, to which he shouted that he was being heckled by a fire engine. Some of the crowd turned to look at the appliance, but he swiftly regained their attention with the line of the night – ‘Ignore that! You can see that anytime! This is the only show you’ll ever see on this bench, apart from some homeless guy jerking off!’ This would have brought the house down if we had had a house. 5 minutes later, we were back inside for Mair to complete what had been an incredible night, that had mixed an element of farce with high comedy.