Blessington Carriage – Stevie Gray, Matt Smith, Rahul Kohli, Sarah Keyworth, Nigel Ng, Ian Lane and Harriet Kemsley

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse Comedy show. I wouldn’t say I’m here often, but it does feel rather like a third home. I was a bit concerned by how empty the multi-story car park opposite was (£1.30 to park and 100 yards from the venue – bliss!) and when I arrived upstairs the room wasn’t totally full. There were enough people to make a good gig. This is a room where a respectable crowd can provide a big atmosphere, so this was fine. However, three minutes before the start of the show a party of people arrived and we went from respectably sized to a good sized audience. As ever, the compere was Spiky Mike, who tonight was dealt a rather good hand to work with. He found a cameraman who had filmed various bits and bobs with David Attenborough and a charming pair of non-identical twins who had the ability to unconsciously cheer in unison. There was a great moment, when Mike challenged a chap whose face was lit up by the screen of his phone. In response to the question of whom he was texting, his reply was that he wasn’t texting, but was just buying four tickets for the Funhouse show on Friday. If Carlsberg did audience members using their phones…. The opening act was Stevie Gray.

Gray is a comedian that I have a lot of time for. He has a unique look, with waistcoat and cap, which I find wonderfully endearing. As a Leicester fan, I think he did well to perform, as he must surely have had a section of his brain on the premiership title, which was being decided at the very moment he was on stage. None of this showed in his set, which was as good as ever. Gray is a very strong opener. He has lots of enthusiasm and joy of life and is the sort of cove that people warm to quickly. This makes him an ideal opening act. His set is very eclectic and this ensures that it stays fresh and makes him stand out from the stereotypical comedian stood with a microphone in his hand. Tonight he hit the room with some naff secret Santa gifts and then a section involving audience participation and paper aeroplanes. The audience participation section always gets a crowd going and involved an actual prize for the lady involved. Gray built up a lot of atmosphere and was a joy to see.

The next act was Matt Smith, who from his build and beard would remind older audience members of a young Giant Haystacks. His set was something of a mixed bag. He began by using a book about Afghan Hounds and gently ribbing the authors penchant for the word ‘long’. He received good laughs for this, but to me it felt a tiny bit pedestrian. I think most books are open to this kind of ribbing and I had a feeling that he was capable of something stronger. His delivery was enthusiastic and he had a very nice way of asking questions with obvious answers, which gained laughs each time he did it. The chips/dad section was better than the Afghan book and was well delivered. The room enjoyed him and my overall feeling was of a decent act that I’d like to see again, but with different material.

Rahul Kohli had an excellent night. He began by asking the audience to give a round of applause to the first two acts. This is not something I’m that keen on, as I find that it just takes time up that can be used more productively. Kohli then launched into what was easily the set of the night. He used the fact that Stevie Gray carries a bag onto the stage as a way of not only introducing a nice line, but also to make it feel very much of the now and in fairness, it is possible that the applause was just a roundabout way of setting this up. From here we received a set that combined bang up to date topical references to some very astute political observations in a routine that reminded me of John Scott for its’ political incisiveness. This set was very well crafted and extremely funny. The Nandos joke was great and although it was something of a pull back and reveal, it was a genuine surprise when considered in the context of the rest of the set. His use of a ‘volunteer’ to help explain consent was very good as was his explanation of the rise of Isis through premiership football. This was a set that was extraordinarily good. I am rather hoping he is doing Edinburgh this year, as I would like to see a lot more of this comedian.

Following the intermission, we resumed with Sarah Keyworth. She began with a small routine about the London underground and for a moment, I had a quick flashback to a comic who had done a very London-centric set in this room only a few months before. Luckily she quickly moved on to discussing her job, parents, schooldays and orientation. There was an odd shout out about milk, which she coped easily with. Keyworth confidently moved from topic to topic in a way that had a logical progression, delivering her set in a slightly deadpan and low key fashion. Keyworth has a very nice turn of phrase and it was very enjoyable listening to how she worded topics. There is a lot of strength in just how she phrases things. This set was very competent and funny, with well written material, but it could just do with a tiny bit of a spark to lift the delivery a touch.

Nigel Ng was next. He began by referencing his surname and the various attempts at pronouncing it that he has encountered. In this he received some good material for the future from Spiky Mike, who advised him that Ng is the postcode for Nottingham, which has a lot of potential for future sets. In fact, one could almost see Ng’s brain whirling around as he received this information. Ng followed this by his account of his first ever gig in Britain, which was in Southend. This contained a wonderful line about pool that was a real stand out in his set. He then went onto discuss burgers, the EU and German relatives. This was an interesting set that was delivered with a lot of charm and went down well with the audience.

The final act of the middle section was Ian Lane, who gave us a change in pace. His section on Braille calendars was good, but might have been stronger if he had left it at 6 other possible versions, rather than doing the second version. He wasn’t helped by a bag of crisps being nosily rattled whilst he was performing, but he swiftly carried on. He demonstrated a good memory for names when he chatted to a lady in the audience, Siobhan, who had been spoken to an hour before during Spiky Mike’s compering. This was followed by a good line about paninis. The finale concerned ATMs that are slow at returning cards and involved him in some tongue action. This was different, but also well performed, with his dragging it out for long enough to get a good laugh for it. I especially enjoyed Lane’s reference to Ng getting an entire postcode, whilst he just got a road. This was a good set.

The headliner was Harriet Kemsley, who was bubbling with the joys of a recent engagement. She delivered a self-deprecating set that combined autobiographical elements about her work with the NHS, her parents expectations and her sex life expressed through a Tarantino film. She was partially derailed by one of the more bizarre shout outs I’ve come across. At the beginning of her set, Kemsley mentioned, in passing, that she had a cat, before moving onto the more relevant stuff. 7-8 minutes after this, a chap shouted out, demanding to know the name of said cat. He was rather more insistent about discovering this than is perhaps usual for people. Kemsley announced the name and moved on, but this did throw her a bit, which is unsurprising as I don’t think anyone has ever made such a meal out of knowing a cat’s name before. The rest of the set was enjoyable. Kemsley’s material was decent and easy to relate to. I did find her delivery a bit loud and jarring for a small room, as she seemed to get louder to emphasise each reveal.

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