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.

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