Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for another English Comedian of the Year heat. These are great shows and I really wish they could be scheduled around my shift pattern. As before, this was a Funhouse gig, but unfortunately due to 240,000 people being in Leicester to celebrate their premiership triumph, numbers were lower than I expected for this room. We were left with a smaller, but still very well disposed crowd, including a few who had travelled from Derby to see the gig. In a replay of the last heat I saw, the actual number of votes some acts didn’t receive was totally out of proportion to the fun and laughter that they had given the room. 7 minutes to perform in still seems a bit neither one nor t’other, though. Spiky Mike had a nice night, finding three bus drivers present and then pointing out that you do a load of gigs without a bus driver and then…. however, the real joy was from where he said that a bloke looked more hard than soft, then to the laughter at this double-entendre, he pointed out that in the lighting all he could see was the head. He got a bonus laugh for his next comment, to a joiner, about his favourite type of wood. This nicely prepared the room for our first act.
Joe Bromehead, possibly the most experienced of the acts, opened. I think he took a definite bullet in going on first. The last time I’d seen Bromehead perform was at Jongleurs were he had fun with two stag parties. Tonight was a very different crowd to that. He opened well with a fun line about his physique and a ladies response in a nightclub and his comeback. The room teetered on an applause break for this, which was great. He followed with an endearing story about his daughter doing her best to evade bed time and then a wonderful routine about watching porn. All of these went down well and it was a strong performance.
Jim Bayes, who I’d only ever seen MC until tonight was next up. He made a lively and enthusiastic entrant. His compering skills shone out in his set, as he made a number of call backs to Spiky Mike’s compering and engaged in a bit of room work with the audience. I think some members of the audience got to the reveal about the ambulance before him, but this didn’t affect the number of people laughing at it. Some of his puns were of the kind that are so bad that they become brilliant, especially the console gag. These got big laughs. I thought that a couple of his jokes were a bit dark for the audience and his spot in the running order. He was definitely an act who would have benefited from having gone on later. As it was, he was one of those acts for whom the votes didn’t reflect the amount of fun they had given. Bayes also writes a very entertaining blog that can be found here: http://jimbayes.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1
The impressive Josh Pugh closed the first section. He’s an act that I’ve seen a lot of recently and the more I see of him the more I like him. On past experience I had him down as a favourite to go through. He received an applause break for To Lets, which was an ideal start. The multiple reveals on his jogging routine each received a bigger laugh than the previous one, which meant that he really built a lot of momentum. One of the things I enjoy about Pugh is that no one in the room will guess any of his punchlines. This is an artist whose mind doesn’t so much as think around corners, but thinks in something way more complex and with crowd pleasing results. It could be said that going on third is a good slot and this is true, but it was all down to Pugh’s outstanding performance that he got voted through in first place by a landslide.
Adam Rowe, who looks a good ten years younger than in his pictures, opened the second session. He’s an act who I’ve not seen in almost a year, but who has a good vibe about him, so it was going to be interesting to see how he did. The answer in short, was very well. I’ve seen him three times and he has been better every time and it is no surprise that he’s on his way up in the world. His material was strong, containing some lovely phrases and his closing routine was a real belter, although my personal favourite was the dieting routine. Rowe is very good with accents and this gave his delivery added strength. It wasn’t a big surprise to see him voted through to the next round.
Mike Dryburgh was next and he had a bit of a strange night. Unusually, the audience didn’t seem to warm to him straight away. This is a bit odd, as he’s a pleasant chap and most rooms seem to pick up on this. Tonight it seemed that he had to work harder than anyone else to convince the audience of his credentials. Definitely unexpected. His opening line about his ex girlfriend, which is a great line, definitely deserved more. His material was well written, with some very nice improvements and some lovely lines, such as four modes and adopted. I enjoyed his performance, although his delivery did seem a touch more hesitant than usual. After the first few minutes, he did win the room around and received some good laughs for his set.
Jo D’Arcy, who had possibly the coolest nickname at school, followed. She gave the room a charming and inclusive performance that really seemed to make the audience feel part of the night. It’s wonderful when an act does this. She made some great references to the youngest people in the room and then discussed boob bookmarks, which struck a chord with a few of the ladies present. She closed with a standout routine in Spanish, that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was surprised when she didn’t make it through to the next round. D’Arcy is certainly someone who has a bright future in comedy.
Thomas Rackham closed the middle section. He hit the ground running and generated laughs quickly and consistently. His delivery was nice and low energy, which was a contrast to some of the previous acts and at times he seemed to echo Alun Cochrane in having a light but engaging manner – this is no mean feat in itself. He was an act that the room warmed to swiftly and he went down very well. This made it all the more surprising when, as with other acts, the number of votes cast did not reflect the entertainment received.
The final section was opened by Dimitri Bakanov, who gave us possibly the most intelligently written set of the night. He is of mixed Russo-Ukrainian heritage and his material reflected his international outlook. However, this was far removed from the outsider looking in type of material that a few acts favour. Instead it was tightly written, a little bit dark in places and contained some excellent lines. This was delivered well and with a big knowing grin. This is an act whom I would like to see more of.
Ben Powell had a very good night. He opened with a lookalike reference and whilst he is the third comedian to do so in 6 days, his carried more weight through the added element of being a squashed down lookalike. His school reunion joke was a trifle obvious, but the looked real reveal more than made up for that. His section about farts was well received and he ended on a very nice call back. This was a good set and he made it through to the next round.
The closing act was Eddie Fortune, who began with a tuneful hello. Most of his set consisted of a monologue: An Ode to Women. This was delivered with some verve and hit home with a lot of the ladies of the room, some of whom were sat fanning themselves. I thought that his line about Russian Dolls had a touch of genius about it. However, some of the ode was a bit more creative than funny and the laughter quotient wasn’t perhaps high enough for it to carry a seven minute set. That said, he received good laughs and gave the room an enjoyable time.