Tonight I was in Derby for NCF’s contribution to the comedy festival. Last year, this festival was something of a damp squib, with only Funhouse providing any comedy, the rest of the events seeming to be more variety than actual comedy. This year, with both Funhouse and NCF behind it, this festival has a lot more going for it. This evening, I was at NCF’s venue, the Bean Caffe, to see both Tom Wrigglesworth and Paul Tonkinson. This location seems to suffer from two things, one being next to a police station or something similar, as during the course of the night at least 5 sirens rent the air. The other issue is that I’m not totally convinced that the builders have finished with the place. What passes for a ceiling is all aluminium sheeting, with piping and cables on show and it is either a salutatory lesson of what happens when you upset the tradesmen, or if it is truly intentional, which I was reliably informed it was, then it is pretty ghastly. I think, all considered, NCF have done well to make it into a comedy venue. The room is a reasonable size, holding just north of 100 people, which was quite lucky considering the size of the audience. I did well to get a good seat before they were all gone.
Our host for the night, resplendent in a suit and looking rather dapper with it, was Elliott Bower. Whilst Helen organised the door and managed the event, Elliott was directing people into spare chairs and then getting people to move up make space, as room seemed to get short quickly. He has a nice level of authority as host and during his introduction he kept it short and sweet. He did the rules and then got a nice big round of applause for the acts. Tonight, he raised a lot of smiles by announcing that it was Tuesday and the start of the weekend. The lady sat adjacent to me commented afterwards how much he reminded her of Spiky Mike. The first act was Tom Wrigglesworth.
Wrigglesworth sold the venue out, with a crowd that had Radio 4 stamped across it (they even got the use of the word ‘effervescent’), a fact that he referenced with his opening line about how he didn’t look like this when he was on the radio. This was then followed with some laid back banter with the front row, a member of whom seemed to be having a picnic. He then mentioned how odd it was doing a gig in daylight, which led into a lovely short tale about his past experience of this phenomenon. Following this, he began the main body of his set, which was the tale of him being on a speed awareness course. This topic allowed Wrigglesworth ample room to take lots of side turnings into other areas, as he meandered his way through a splendid 50 minutes. This seemed a natural amount of time for his set and the time passed in what seemed more like 30 minutes – not something that could be said about his day on the speed awareness course. Wrigglesworth was totally relaxed on stage and this fed through into his delivery, which was also relaxed. His very vivid descriptions brought everything to life in such a way as to make the room feel present during such events as his meeting with Captain Cu-flaps, a joke that did go over some people’s heads first time, and also during the wonderful account of his battle for change in Leeds Domino’s. This material was so well written, that it can only be described as crafted. I thoroughly enjoyed his set, the strength of the material really appealed to me and this is a comedian who I hope to both see more of at festivals and also to hear on the wireless.
Paul Tonkinson offered a more earthy approach with his show. He began by bantering and ad-libbing for the first 10 minutes, which was very good and I enjoyed the mental agility he demonstrated here, especially his opening gambit, which was to send a thirsty chap on the front row to the bar to get himself a drink. This was nicely different. He then went on to reference the fact that he had forgotten his suit and was performing in a tracksuit, for which he apologised. He had no need to apologise, as this slip provided him with a very entertaining 3-4 minutes of material. From this he then began his set proper, which concerned personal anecdotes about his wife, children, younger days and his domestic environment. In some ways, the staple ingredients of many a 40 plus comedian’s set, albeit with a butter dish, which isn’t mentioned in sets that often. However, is material was far stronger than what an on paper description of his topics would suggest. It was full of lovely little touches, such as him miming hanging himself with the mic lead when asking how long people in the audience had been married and his acting out his son’s text messages concerning himself, although his impersonating a horny meerkat was perhaps the most surreal of these. It was fun listening to the laughs of recognition as he discussed the objection to housework raised by some men, of ‘but I’ve just sat down.’ I’m sure one chap sat in front of me blushed slightly at that. Tonkinson was quite sweary to being with. Not in an effort to make an impact or even ostentatiously, just in a natural way, yet as he got further into his set, the number of words beginning with an ‘F’ declined considerably. This wasn’t a show that dealt with big issues, tried to prove a point, or attempted to improve the audience in some way. Instead, it was 50 minutes of joy that was made relatable by Tonkinson, who delivered it with conviction.