Tonight I was in Ironville for the FaF comedy night. This place is only about 10 miles from my house, so it’s more or less in my backyard, however, it had been a while since I’d seen Stoney, so I left 45 minutes early to get there in time for a chat before the gig. I don’t use a satnav, instead I draw maps of where I need to be and it works well enough, although my wife seems to think I’m either a muppet for doing this, or some kind of throwback to the 1920s. Tonight is where I came unstuck. It took a mind boggling and incredibly frustrating 75 minutes to find the place. I somehow managed to draw my map in such a way as to show everything apart from the correct route. I ended up going on a tour of old pit villages on the Nott’s/Derbyshire border, using roads that Colin McRae would have considered hard work. I’d list the number of villages I went through and even without including those I saw more than once, it would be a lot of typing. As I eventually found the right place (very bloody eventually), my MP3 player started playing the theme to Where Eagles Dare, which just seemed to be taking the piss after my last hour.
The venue is an old miner’s welfare, that with a bit of bunting and a few posters of Lord Kitchener would easily double for a 1915 recruiting hall. I’m ashamed to say that I arrived half an hour late and was a bit concerned about walking in mid routine. As it was, the place was what could euphemistically be described as, ‘lively’. Or rather from where I was stood, it looked like an ants nest that had had a brick lobbed at it. Every 30 seconds, someone would get up and go to the bar, or pop outside for a cigarette, or just start a conversation. This wasn’t limited to just the people at the back, but it was also the people sat at the front, which must have been very distracting for the acts. All of this was in-between the bar’s telephone ringing. As this was a bank holiday Sunday, it seemed that a lot of people had been on an all dayer and it wasn’t hard to guess who. A fair amount of people wanted to see and hear the acts, but this was definitely made tricky by the well lubricated crowd. The MC, Sully O’Sullivan, certainly had his work cut out.
I missed O’Sullivan’s first session and if what I saw is anything to go by, then I missed a very entertaining time. I did, however, see his work after the first and second intermissions. His approach was forceful, but without being abrasive, mixing the odd bit of pre-prepared material that he made relevant and some good improv. O’Sullivan managed to name check people and get the names right, which night after night, in noisy rooms is more difficult to do than it sounds. He produced some timely material about drinking and sleeping with ugly people that deserved a lot more than he received. He did struggle a bit to get the room to settle down, but this wasn’t due to any lack of skill or effort on his part – far from it. This was simply one of those gigs where if the MC had had the ability to call in an airstrike, it would have been a real bonus. There was one noisy drunk in particular, who seemed intent on joining in and as seems to go hand in fist, she had no self awareness of just how much of a pain she was being. At one point, O’Sullivan was getting laughs from talking to a girl who was miming shagging, only to hear this drunken lady shout from the back, ‘Oi! That’s my daughter you’re talking to!’ He neutralised her, somewhat, by getting the entire room, on a count of three, to tell her to shut the fuck up. I enjoyed what I saw of O’Sullivan and I really wish I had been able to find the venue in time to see all of his work. As it was, I arrived 2/3 of the way through the opening act, Ian D Montfort.
Ian D Montfort is one of four acts that have made me laugh that hard I’ve hurt myself. Tonight he was as good as ever. His timing was perfect, the number of double-entendres incredible, his characterisation absolutely believable and the triple reveal on the closing joke massively impressive. Despite the room being hard to work with, he went down very well, getting excellent laughs and providing great entertainment.
Following the intermission it was Jamie Hutchinson, who I’ve seen twice before and like a lot. He may not be as familiar to people as Tom Binns, but he is an act with a good future and was a shrewd booking on the part of Stoney. Considering how disruptive the room was, when he strode onto the stage, he must have felt like he was entering a bear pit. As it was, the room magically shut up and settled down. For all of two minutes. Then people started going to the bar, popping outside and so on. Unbelievable. People have paid to see comedy, they have a night full of talent and instead they decide it’s time for a cigarette. Hutchinson referenced the fact that it was a noisy room and got laughs for it, which I felt was brave, because a lot of people would have simply just got their heads down and hurried through and then had a stiff drink. Some of his jokes seemed to go over the heads of the audience, which he had in common with Binns. This was a crowd that would be classed as mixed ability, with people getting the jokes at very different speeds and perhaps a few having to have them explained on the walk home. Hutchinson’s material was very good and his facial expressions were funny in themselves – a case there of the material being almost, but not quite, just the cherry on top. What pleased me the most about this set was the very visible improvements he has made since I last saw him about 5-6 weeks ago. He had tightened up some of his wording, he had introduced new bits and his routine about Ikea is now a strong closer to what is a good solid set.
Next up was Tom Binns, who is a comedian with a lot of fame and recognition amongst the comedy literate. When I get to gigs, I like to chat to other people in the audience as it’s interesting to ask who they’ve seen, who they like, who they would like to see and so on. It’s amazing how often they don’t mention names of people who do arenas. Instead, the one man who people from 20 to 80 consistently talk about as being excellent is Tom Binns. Tonight he began by telling a persistently disruptive drunken lady to shut up. This went down very well, as it was obvious he had the room totally with him. Amazingly, just after he announced that he was about to do some ventriloquism, this same lady then shouted, ‘Yes!’ in a way that completely missed the irony involved. The rest of the room got this and all Binns had to do was to look at the audience, for the laughter to roll. The ventriloquism set is extremely good and contains the sort of levels of creativity and planning that makes you think that if Binns ever wants to change direction, he should consider becoming Keyser Soze. There is a lovely running gag about the dolls having various impediments that seems to just build with each different play on it. The delivery is flawless and the number of different dolls he uses ensures that the whole set stays fresh. A lot of acts would be pleased to have just one fantastic set that brings them work. Binns has three and I shouldn’t be surprised if he has more that he has thought of. With Binns, you are definitely in the presence of genius.
The headlining act was Ivan Brackenbury, the hospital radio DJ. In his recent television show, this was Binns’ character who was perhaps the easiest to transplant onto that medium, as he doesn’t require the set up of D Montfort and the jokes are perhaps that bit less subtle and so more suitable for the medium. Tonight began with a microphone issue, much to Stoney’s embarrassment, as he was expecting the headset to be used and had switched off the stand microphone. It’s always interesting to watch the audience’s reaction when Brackenbury is on. You can almost guarantee that there will be two separate laughs to each reveal, as some of the room will get the joke from the intro of a song, whereas others, unfamiliar with the tune, have to wait until it is performed before they get the joke. As with D Montfort, the characterisation is absolutely compelling. The impression of a big fish in a small pond who is completely out of his depth in a paddling pool is incredibly strong. The room lapped it all up and had a wonderful time. What had been a very difficult gig, somehow became totally different during this set, with the audience being much more attentive and appreciative. Brackenbury left the stage to cries of more, after giving a superb performance.
Despite taking 75 minutes to get there and issues with the room, this turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable gig and I am very glad that I found the place. It only took 20 minutes to get home, once I knew the way.