NCF Canal House – Steve Bugeja, Pete Allen, Will Collishaw, Katie Mitchell, Danny Clives, Houssem Rhaiem, Josh Pugh and Thomas Rackham (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night. As I’ve said often enough, this is my favourite gig. There is always a good variety in the style of the acts and the level varies from people perhaps on their first or second gig to established comedians doing Edinburgh previews. The numbers weren’t great tonight, but it did fill up a bit as we went along. There was also some free biscuits, which was rather nice. Our MC was Mr Thomas Rackham.

It’s always pleasant to see Rackham, although it has been a while since I’ve seen him filling the compere slot. Tonight he did well, being affable, remembering people’s names, pronouncing Bugeja and Rhaiem correctly and building some enthusiasm in a room that does have a tendency to be reserved. Rackham wandered into the audience with a plate of biscuits in hand, offering them out. One chap announced that he preferred oat based biscuits and knowing that Tom has some very good oat based material I did wonder whether he would use the reference as a segue into it. As it was a bit early in the night, he was probably right to resist this temptation. His room work was good and he picked well in the people he chose to speak to, gaining laughs. The layout of the room made it easy for him to get a cheering contest going between the two halves, although I couldn’t help but think that Sam and the Gobshites sounded a lot like a student punk band. Rackham kept his compering subtle and laid back and in no small way helped form the crowd into an audience.

Our opening act was Steve Bugeja, who I last saw in this very room doing his Edinburgh Preview. Tonight he was trying new material and it says a lot about this night that NCF are able to attract people of his standing, especially when he isn’t local. He began with a call back to Rackham’s compering, which posed Sam, an audience member, with a question he may have been able to handle sober, but which tonight seemed a bit much. From this he went into his recent work in an advert, delivering the less than flattering role description with some relish and embarrassment. This was then followed with the incredible truth of the Russian version of the same advert. Hen do’s and stripping were good and contained a lovely name for a club. His section on having a lazy eye and passport control was very good, but his section on adrenalin was perhaps the stand out, even including a slip of the tongue that he wisely went with. Bugeja’s delivery is understated and this reflects his geeky persona and together with his material, this helps make him something rather delightful. This was new material being polished and it is already very good.

Pete Allen followed. He began by referencing his less than youthful appearance, which was ok, but slightly conventional. He then went into a short set that could be split into two halves, one being based around an Office of National Statistics report and the other on the likely Boris/Trump match up. This latter section contained a nice line about the Presidential bar being set low. I felt that some of his references may not have been fully appreciated by the audience, but would have appealed to anyone who listens to Radio 4, or reads Private Eye. Allen did have a brief stumble over his lines at one point, but calmly reset and carried on. My overall feeling was that he has the skeleton of a decent set here, but it will require a little bit more work, which for a new material night isn’t a detriment.

Will Collishaw opened after the first intermission. I last saw him a year ago, on what was the hottest day of 2015. In the space of a year he has improved and his delivery is now sharper than what it was. Tonight he opened with a very nice ad-libbed call back to a conversation our MC, Rackham, had had with an audience member prior. This ensured that he began with a laugh. Collishaw, who was dressed rather smartly, had brought a small collection of props with him: soppy hat, easel and paper, plus an empty pizza box. The easel and paper were for a laughter graph, which was a nice way of getting the audience involved with his set. The hat was used to set up a small section on his various lookalikes, making him the second comedian in two nights to list the names he’s been called. As happened last night, this resulted in laughs. Personally, I think it is an overused idea, but audiences like it. His material about his dad would benefit from a bigger ending, but his stand out routine, is the mugging. This again brings the audience into it and the interaction helped bring his set to life. Collishaw had a good night tonight. His partner, Betty, was present, but unfortunately not also gigging, which was a shame.

Katie Mitchell was next. Mitchell is a pretty new act who had a bit of a mixed night. At the moment, she is going through exam season and the trouble of having three exams this week had affected her preparation; the result being that she stumbled over her words three times. In all credit, she kept calm and this passed off well. The same could be said for Elliott inadvertently interrupting her set by skipping. She began with her strongest material, which was about giving blood and contained a great line about the colour of her blood and her Gothness. I enjoyed her section on drag queens and felt that with a bit more work that could be even better. The story at the end was ok, but perhaps takes up more time than the return warrants. Mitchell has a decent presence and amount of charm and could perhaps improve her set by saving the blood section for closing with.

Danny Clives closed the middle section, beginning with some established material and then trialling some new stuff. I’ve seen Clives 3-4 times, mostly at gong shows, which is a format that doesn’t really suit his anti-comedy act. Tonight the ambiance was more suited to this and Clives had a nice night. He began with a good opening line about a football dream. I especially enjoyed his shy people question and this received two laughs. One from the people who got the joke straight away and then a second one from people who took a little bit longer to get the joke. His poem was good and when he announced the name of it, he received an even bigger laugh. The new material was a little bit more mixed, but that is par for the course with new material. His line about nectar points was the best of his new material. Clives had a good night.

The final section began with Houssem Rhaiem, an act I’ve only ever seen at gong shows. Tonight he made me wonder how come I’ve not seen him win a gong show, as he gave the room a very good time. The PC casino was good, his joke about a nurse also good, with the second reveal being particularly fun. I did think his diabetic section needed more; however, Muslim porn was a definite winner in his set and it is the first time I’ve heard anyone do anything with this topic. He would benefit from a strong closing routine, though. Rhaiem’s delivery was quiet and conversational and he held the room well.

The closing act was Josh Pugh, who was doing new material. Pugh is very much a rising star and his facebook feed is always fun to read. Tonight he tried some new ideas. The chip pan was good, the Rocky joke was also entertaining and with a bit of a tweek would be even better. I really liked his disco section and how he brings it to life. However, his celeb event material is really good and with the right development will become an excellent routine. The sort of routine that an entire set or show could be built around. He is most definitely onto something very good with this. I enjoyed his set and Pugh closed off what had been a lovely night.

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