End of month review – June

This has been something of a slow month for reviewing, mostly due to work and so there have only been 32 comedians reviewed. This month I have seen Edinburgh Previews, professional nights, open mic nights and also an improv night. Some of these have been extremely good nights, notably the previews and the professional nights. One regret I have is not having seen as many English Comedian of the year heats as I would have liked. Partly this was due to being on shift for those nights and also due to me honouring a previous commitment to a gig that I had put my name down for prior to discovering it clashed with a heat.

These are the comedians who have impressed me the most this month; as ever comedian’s that I have recommended recently, such as Tom Houghton, are time barred from this month.

Milo McCabe as Troy Hawke

This was a smashing set. McCabe did benefit from being able to hoover up material during the course of the night, as he was closing, but all the same he demonstrated a huge degree of creativity and being able to think upon the spot.

The review from the night:

Our closing act was Milo McCabe as Troy Hawke. Hawke strolled onto the stage, looking like Douglas Fairbanks relaxing on a film set, bedecked in a silk top, cravat, moustache and brylcreemed hair. His use of language and speech patterns were reminiscent of a PG Wodehouse character, but with more credibility. This was used to marvellous effect, as a set that was 50% based upon facts elicited by Jones’ compering and 50% material was delivered to the room. I was very impressed with how Hawke managed to work in so much improvised material and judging by the sounds of laughter, the rest of the audience were extremely enthusiastic, too. The pre-existing material, which discussed football and his interactions with various people were of a uniformly great quality, but pushed a lot further by a very strong delivery, that stayed in character throughout. The closing routine was simply magnificent. This involved Hawke working in a call back to everyone who had been spoken to during the course of the night. This earned him a series of applause breaks. I’ve never seen anyone manage to pull this off before. The closest I’ve seen to it was on television, when Bob Monkhouse improvised a series of links between audience members in one of his shows. It was at this stage that Hawke was delivered a googly in the form of a shout out/call back to his own material and was asked to sing a song. He dealt with this request with aplomb and some very quick thinking. This was a fantastic set.

Peter McCole

This was a very pleasurable and enjoyable performance. Light-hearted, good fun and very amiable.

The review from the night:

After the intermission we resumed with Peter McCole, who is the second Liverpool based comedian I’ve seen this week and indeed within the last couple of months. I have to confess, I wasn’t familiar with McCole until I saw his name on the bill, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew he’d be good, otherwise he wouldn’t have been booked, but this still added a little bit of excitement to the night. McCole came onto the stage and ad-libbed the first couple of minutes to good effect, generating laughs quickly. Within 3-4 minutes, he had the entire pub hanging on his every word, as he delivered his material with a great deal of charm. I was especially taken by his story of a séance, which built up nicely as he delivered it. The reveal was saved from being foreseeable by a lovely twist. His closing routine involved a sex tape, which is something that has been covered a couple of times by comics, but which gave the room real pleasure as McCole acted out the scene on the tape and the reaction from his parents. This was a well thought out set, with both good material and a well pitched delivery. I hope to see more of McCole.

Caimh McDonnell

This was a cracking Edinburgh Preview from a master raconteur.

The review from the night:

The next Edinburgh Preview was from Caimh McDonnell, whose show is entitled Gorilla in the Midst. McDonnell is an excellent comedian and made a big impression on me years before I began reviewing. This is the 5th time I’ve paid to see him and I’ve never had anything less than an excellent time. Tonight, he began with a story about a near death experience, which included a lovely ironic spoiler alert. This was followed by a collection of stories involving his encounters with other animals, such as a badger, a police horse, a dog and rats. These stories were delivered in such a way that they came to life before your eyes. The descriptions were so vivid, that one could easily see McDonnell sat on his sofa, with the rat waving to him. This story was one that struck a particular chord with me, as my wife is terrified of spiders and if one had swapped out rats for arachnids, then it could well have been describing her attitude to the critters. Interestingly, by the time that McDonnell was discussing his granddad’s reaction to political campaigners knocking on his door before tea, I was laughing heartily at just the set up, with no idea of what the reveal would be. The final tale concerned families and the sort of lively cousin that most people are glad that someone else has, if only because they get to hear all the antics, without having the personal discomfort of having to deal with the aftermath. The material of this show is first rate and is massively funny.

McDonnell is a natural raconteur. He is one of those chaps who could make a discussion about anything interesting. He delivers his material quickly and seems to get through 90 minutes of material in an hour. His references were wonderful, from the now dated figure of Ian Paisley to his line about a Christmas performance at the Fritzl’s. This was a fantastic show from a comedian who is on top form. Every time I see McDonnell I always drive home wondering how someone who is so gifted is not yet a household name.

Jonny Awsum

I’m not a fan of musical acts, but this was a very good set that brought the entire pub onboard and seemed to make the night about having fun as a community, rather than as individuals laughing on our own.

The review from the night:

The closing act was Jonny Awsum, the 4th musical act I’ve seen recently. Awsum gave the room 5-6short songs, which really got the crowd going. Awsum brings the entire audience into his act, having people sing, make noises and play instruments according to the song. This really got everyone involved and ensured that he gave the room a feel good ending to their night. He wasn’t helped by the pub’s telephone ringing in the background during a set up, but luckily this stopped before it became too distracting. Whilst musical acts aren’t my cup of tea, it’s obvious that everyone was really into Awsum and the pub definitely enjoyed his performance.

Finlay Taylor

This set was a lovely surprise. It came from a comic I wasn’t familiar with and had no huge expectations of. It was a real additional to the night.

The review from the night:

The next act was Finlay Taylor who discussed his physical imperfections, gentrification and various non-problems in life. With this last category, he refrained from calling them first world problems, which demonstrated an impressive restraint on his part, as 90% of comedians would probably have worked that phrase into this set. Taylor’s material was tightly written and impressively strong, earning him an applause break for his contempt at the putative cure for being gluten-intolerant. He moved from one topic to another swiftly, but his set hung together in a way that made it feel seamless. Taylor’s delivery was fast and he hardly seemed to pause for breath as he swiftly built up a lot of momentum. It seemed like he managed to fit twenty minutes of first rate material into a fifteen minute slot and the world is a slightly better place for this achievement. I’d not heard of Taylor before tonight; he was a lovely surprise and a splendidly entertaining one.

Justin Moorhouse

One of those sets where the comedian pretty much takes the roof off of the venue. A magnificent set.

The review from the night:

The headlining act was Justin Moorhouse, who is someone whom I’ve been interested in as a comedian ever since I saw his cameo appearances in an old show I used to watch before going on nights called something Taxi Nights or something similar. I’ve travelled to places like Derby, Sheffield, Matlock and now Grantham to see him perform and every time I’ve seen him, he has been excellent. Moorhouse has produced some great material over the years, such as ‘asthmatic sith lord’ and a shout out for Manchesters when he was in a department store in Australia. However, he seems to have made a conscious decision to continue to write new material and not to rely upon a greatest hits catalogue approach, which is a real bonus. Tonight he began in a callback to Mike’s compering by chatting in French with a lady in the front row, with exaggerated facial expressions for added effect. He then started his set properly, by discussing three lies that comedian’s tell, managing to get three reveals from the oft used line about a comedian announcing his girlfriend had just left him. I particularly enjoyed his successive downgrading of something funny happening on the way to the venue. The theme of Moorhouse’s set was his current fears. This covered a lot of areas, but my personal favourite in this was his work on the Manchester pusher, which he chose to deliver with a strong Mancunian accent, making him the ‘Push-Shore’. This made the villain sound less like a menace and more like a roadie for a 90’s indie band and tickled me. Moorhouse had perfect timing and made great use of raising his voice partway through a sentence at the crucial moment to add the emphasis to what he was saying. The result of this was nigh on 40 minutes of massive laughs. The closing routine, involving a KO and an accident with a bucket was simply superb and the way it was described really brought it to life and actually had me in tears of laughter, which doesn’t happen often. This was a barnstormer of a show.

Advertisements

Blueys: Tom Houghton, Peter McCole, Thomas Rackham, Milo McCabe as Troy and Carl Jones (MC)

Tonight I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy night. This is a gig with bags of delight. Although the audience wasn’t huge, for a wet Tuesday night it was very respectable and most importantly of all, this was a crowd that were there for the comedy and wanted to laugh. I’ll take this over a big, but indifferent crowd any day of the week. Bluey’s is an Australian themed steak house, with a couple of wonderful little quirks. There is a lady with a loud and very infectious laugh, who sounds as if she is sat on a feather. This is very endearing. Also, Bluey himself is the only person who tends to heckle and he saves this for the MC, being funny when he does shout out. Not a combination that many hecklers manage to achieve. Tonight was one of those gigs where everyone had a very good night, both audience and comics. Our MC was Mr Carl Jones.

I’ve only seen Jones MC once before and that was when he was the compere of choice for the NCF comedian of the year awards. He’d had a good night then, so was a reassuring presence on the bill. Jones is a clever comedian, one of those chaps who could probably rise up the rungs of any profession he decides to have a go at. Tonight, this intelligence demonstrated itself in two ways. Firstly, he avoided politics like the plague, only making one passing reference to the new exchange rate, a mention that was very funny and non-contentious. Instead, he concentrated on England being bundled out of the European Football. This gave him ample scope to chat to people about how they watched the match, if indeed they had. This did lead to one blind alley, where he quickly cut his losses and moved on and this succeeded in creating a nice fun atmosphere and it also created a lot of material for acts to work with later in the night. Jones is a local lad and was able to use this to great effect, in making jokes comparing Alfreton to his home town, which is a distance of about 5 miles away. I especially enjoyed how Jones would provide a funny line and then almost as an after-thought, he would hit the room with a second reveal, which ramped up the mirth. Jones had a good night and it was a pleasure to see him again.

The opening act was Tom Houghton, who I last saw at a Funhouse night in Loughborough, where he had been excellent. That night, he had largely ad-libbed his way through a 20 spot in magnificent fashion. Tonight, his set was based more upon material, rather than crowd work. He made a big entry onto the stage, emphasising his campiness for the benefit of the room. This lead into an account of how he became the man he is today, where he managed to avoid the all too often used routine about not being a man’s man, followed by joke about putting up shelves. This was then followed by a spot concerning a posh girlfriend, where his use of a cockney accent on ‘Don’t want to talk abaht it’ really sold the line. His five stages of answerphone message provided a very good set piece to his show. This was a performance that had the room laughing hard, impressed everyone present and seemed to fly by all too quickly.

After the intermission we resumed with Peter McCole, who is the second Liverpool based comedian I’ve seen this week and indeed within the last couple of months. I have to confess, I wasn’t familiar with McCole until I saw his name on the bill, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew he’d be good, otherwise he wouldn’t have been booked, but this still added a little bit of excitement to the night. McCole came onto the stage and ad-libbed the first couple of minutes to good effect, generating laughs quickly. Within 3-4 minutes, he had the entire pub hanging on his every word, as he delivered his material with a great deal of charm. I was especially taken by his story of a séance, which built up nicely as he delivered it. The reveal was saved from being foreseeable by a lovely twist. His closing routine involved a sex tape, which is something that has been covered a couple of times by comics, but which gave the room real pleasure as McCole acted out the scene on the tape and the reaction from his parents. This was a well thought out set, with both good material and a well pitched delivery. I hope to see more of McCole.

Next was Thomas Rackham, an act that I am always pleased to see. Rackham is a prolific writer and if one sees him in May, then by June, you can pretty much guarantee that 60% of his set will be new. This isn’t new as in try it and see if it works, new. This is new as in new and very good, new. He began with a fantastic gambit. There was a chap on the front row who had arrived straight from work, sans tea. Rackham carried out a bowl of crisps, supplied by Bluey’s for the acts and offered this chap a crisp for every time he laughed. A simple idea in many ways, but one which struck a chord with the room and in a small way showed that this was a unique event and not just something he does every night, as if on autopilot. A lot of Rackham’s new material concerned football, which was very enjoyable. He then moved on to close with some established material: nights out and jazz, which all landed well, getting consistent laughs. Rackham has a natural delivery and I’ve never seen him have a bad night.

Our closing act was Milo McCabe as Troy Hawke. Hawke strolled onto the stage, looking like Douglas Fairbanks relaxing on a film set, bedecked in a silk top, cravat, moustache and brylcreemed hair. His use of language and speech patterns were reminiscent of a PG Wodehouse character, but with more credibility. This was used to marvellous effect, as a set that was 50% based upon facts elicited by Jones’ compering and 50% material was delivered to the room. I was very impressed with how Hawke managed to work in so much improvised material and judging by the sounds of laughter, the rest of the audience were extremely enthusiastic, too. The pre-existing material, which discussed football and his interactions with various people were of a uniformly great quality, but pushed a lot further by a very strong delivery, that stayed in character throughout. The closing routine was simply magnificent. This involved Hawke working in a call back to everyone who had been spoken to during the course of the night. This earned him a series of applause breaks. I’ve never seen anyone manage to pull this off before. The closest I’ve seen to it was on television, when Bob Monkhouse improvised a series of links between audience members in one of his shows. It was at this stage that Hawke was delivered a googly in the form of a shout out/call back to his own material and was asked to sing a song. He dealt with this request with aplomb and some very quick thinking. This was a fantastic set.

Lord Roberts – Shaun Turner, Gary Delaney, Caimh McDonnell, Ben Briggs and Tom King (MC)

Tonight I was back at the Lord Roberts for another night of comedy from NCF. This was to be a new material night, which can often throw up some real gems. There was one slight worry and that was that the night clashed with an England game, which may have hurt ticket sales. However, we had a fair sized crowd in, and most importantly, they were interested in the comedy, not just there for a night out. This created a very positive atmosphere, which our compere made the most of.

Our MC was Tom King, a comedian who has impressed me before with his dry delivery. This was his first time compering since he last did it a year ago. I was interested in seeing how he did, as being a good, reliable act doesn’t always translate into being a good compere. The answer was that, whilst a trifle rusty, King was good and certainly a beneficial element to the proceedings. He remembered to do the rules and explained how the night would work, something sadly missed out by a lot of MCs. King’s work could be split into three areas, current affairs (Brexit), asking people their names and what they did for a living and using (not overusing) existing material. I’m not a big fan of comperes talking to people about their jobs. This is no criticism of King, but is a general point – to me, this approach is overused, there are a thousand other questions that could be asked to elicit mirth and unlike tonight, at a regular gig, the same people seem to be asked every month or so. Tonight, though, this tactic worked very well, not only once, but twice, as two of the people he spoke to had occupations which King has great material on, from both a previous and a current occupation. In fact, it was so timely, he had to point out that the lady who worked for the NHS wasn’t a plant. King has a nice turn of phrase, which added value to his work and is an imposing presence with a lot of natural authority. This was enjoyable compering; the only possible negative was that during the first session he may have pushed talking to the audience, one conversation too far, as I felt the room was ready before he spoke to the couple on the second row, but this is a very minor point in what was a good show from someone I’m happy to see in this role.

The opening act was Shaun Turner, who I have previously seen at a Funhouse Gong show in Leicester. I didn’t recognise the name at first, but as soon as he began his set, a large gong sounded in the back of my mind as I recognised the material. Turner’s set was a bit of a curate’s egg, with good and not so good elements. On the positive side, he has a twinkle in his eye, which makes it look as if he is having fun and which encourages everyone else to enjoy his set. The material isn’t bad, some parts are pretty decent, such as his line about not having the force. It is a light-hearted set that doesn’t try to make big points, but is fun and he was rewarded with regular laughs. However, I wasn’t keen on him asking a couple what their names were literally 3 minutes after King had asked them. Anyone can forget a name, or be unsure if they are 100% spot on with what they think they heard, but I think it is better to talk to them without asking them again so soon, as it just makes it look as if paying attention is optional. This is a small point and I doubt if anyone else in the room was bothered in the slightest. The other issue is more serious, as it concerns the structure of his set. Turner has cerebral palsy and the vast majority of his material pertains to this and no matter how good each individual joke is, after a while, it did feel like a variation on what we’d already heard, as everything seemed to return to this. Turner has a decent enough delivery and was convincing enough as a comic and wasn’t out of place on this bill, but I’d like to see a broader based approach to his material.

Next was Mr Gary Delaney, who was doing new material. He did this in two segments, which ensured that he didn’t monopolise the night and it also saved the room from getting laughed out, which can happen with someone as skilled and as fast as him. There are a fair few one-liner experts in Britain and I think it is safe to say that Delaney is probably the most consistently brilliant, although Phil Pagett is very much an up and coming man in this regard. It’s lovely watching Delaney do new material. He stands there, with a clipboard or two, snorting and giggling and looking as if he is having the time of his life and this is highly infectious. All he has to do is to announce that the next gag is a disgrace and the room are laughing already. This is wonderful to see and enjoy. The material is first class, with a mix of rock solid puns and some that are surprisingly dark. Some jokes get ticks, others crossed out, but even the ones that don’t make the cut are very good. This was an excellent performance from a man who is simply at the top of his game. To me, it really emphasised that for the cost (£4), live comedy is ridiculously under priced for the sheer joy it brings to people’s lives.

Caimh McDonnell did a small set of new material. Having seen him perform his Edinburgh show (Gorilla in the Midst) last night, seeing him so soon was a real bonus, as he is one of my favourite acts. He began with a passive/aggressive siri, which although it didn’t lead into anything, was a nice, fun beginning to his set. This was followed by him regaling the room with a story about his trip to New York, which was very enjoyable. McDonnell’s material is delivered extremely well, with vivid descriptions that ensure it is accessible to the entire room. I enjoyed this short set.

Ben Briggs, a man guaranteed to add a frisson excitement to any bill, was next with some new material. He had me smiling in anticipation, as he walked to the stage, which is a very nice feeling. Tonight he began by talking about the Queen and how she has turned 90. On one hand, this felt like he was tackling some low hanging fruit, but on the other hand, the way he approached it and the sarcastic tone he employed, raised it beyond what an on paper read through would suggest possible. This was followed by some political jokes, which made some good points, whilst also being funny, not an easy combination to achieve. When Briggs mentioned the word ‘terrorism’ and gave the room a knowing look, this was sufficient for him to receive a big laugh. In a short space of time the audience had been won over and were confident in whatever he would say on this topic being funny and not simply just shocking for the sake of it. Perhaps the biggest laugh came for his confession concerning the last time he discussed terrorism in Nottingham, which had ended with an audience member taking a punch at him, something I remember well. This was a promising set.

Lord Roberts – Edinburgh Previews – Adam Rowe and Caimh McDonnell

Tonight I was in Nottingham for an NCF show at the Lord Roberts, for two Edinburgh Previews. The performance area was in the pub’s cellar, a new venue to me. I ended up in the gents toilets first, before having to back track. This cellar reminded me a bit of Manhattan 34 in Leicester. It is a room that if given a dozen people, one has a viable gig. Anything more than twenty and it would have a huge atmosphere. I am pleased to hear that NCF intend to make more use of this room. The numbers tonight weren’t huge, but it was nice to see local circuit figures, Minder Kaur Athwal and Rob Stevenson present. Elliot Bower introduced the night, doing the rules and keeping it tight, before bringing both acts on to a nice round of applause.

The first Edinburgh Preview, was from English Comedian of the Year finalist, Adam Rowe, whose show is entitled Bittersweet little lies. Rowe is very much an up and coming comedian and is one who will be able to make a living out of comedy. Tonight he made a fast start, launching into his show without doing any room work, or banter to ease the audience in. This could have been risky, without a compere warming the room up, but such was his strength of character, Rowe easily pulled this off. After the first two or three minutes, he did pause his show, to break off and enquire of a table at the front, whether or not they were actually drinking tea and without milk at a comedy gig. This swift change of direction could have been jarring, but instead was all the funnier for the earnestness by which he asked.

The theme of Rowe’s show was lying, how not all lies are bad and how some have unintentional consequences. As themes go, this is nicely different to the usual stock in trade of relationship breakdowns, midlife crises and marriages. There was some great material about Rowe’s eye, with the expression he wears upon raising his left eyebrow adding lots of force to this. I enjoyed the truism concerning ostentatious expressions of grief on facebook, when someone is ‘taken too soon’. In contrast, his section about heaven being a nightclub has merit and I like the idea, but it felt like it just needs a bit more work. However, this show is a work in progress and that is par for the course. Rowe’s notion that people should have to sit an exam before being permitted to use social media is very timely considering the uneducated and ill thought out rubbish that has been on facebook during and after the referendum.

Rowe’s material on lies during relationships covered a topic that has often been dealt with by comedians. However, instead of sounding similar, there was a lot of entertainment to be had from his own individual circumstances and the upset that a bacon sarnie can cause. Rowe’s description of an argument occasioned by returning late from a friends 21st birthday generated lots of momentum. Whilst discussing what ladies want from a partner and how some of this is mutually exclusive and then applying it to his own financial stability, I felt that Rowe may have missed out on a chance for a call back to Peter at no 43, but then I’m a big fan of call backs and love seeing them included within sets. The show ended with the telling of how a white lie had had deep ramifications for Rowe’s family and this was a real roller coaster of an ending, combining pathos and honesty.

This show was very enjoyable. I like seeing Rowe; he is always entertaining and is a man to watch rise through the ranks of comedy.

The next Edinburgh Preview was from Caimh McDonnell, whose show is entitled Gorilla in the Midst. McDonnell is an excellent comedian and made a big impression on me years before I began reviewing. This is the 5th time I’ve paid to see him and I’ve never had anything less than an excellent time. Tonight, he began with a story about a near death experience, which included a lovely ironic spoiler alert. This was followed by a collection of stories involving his encounters with other animals, such as a badger, a police horse, a dog and rats. These stories were delivered in such a way that they came to life before your eyes. The descriptions were so vivid, that one could easily see McDonnell sat on his sofa, with the rat waving to him. This story was one that struck a particular chord with me, as my wife is terrified of spiders and if one had swapped out rats for arachnids, then it could well have been describing her attitude to the critters. Interestingly, by the time that McDonnell was discussing his granddad’s reaction to political campaigners knocking on his door before tea, I was laughing heartily at just the set up, with no idea of what the reveal would be. The final tale concerned families and the sort of lively cousin that most people are glad that someone else has, if only because they get to hear all the antics, without having the personal discomfort of having to deal with the aftermath. The material of this show is first rate and is massively funny.

McDonnell is a natural raconteur. He is one of those chaps who could make a discussion about anything interesting. He delivers his material quickly and seems to get through 90 minutes of material in an hour. His references were wonderful, from the now dated figure of Ian Paisley to his line about a Christmas performance at the Fritzl’s. This was a fantastic show from a comedian who is on top form. Every time I see McDonnell I always drive home wondering how someone who is so gifted is not yet a household name.

The Playhouse – Rhymes against Humanity and MissImp (Millions of Voices)

Tonight I was at the Nottingham Playhouse to see Rhymes against Humanity (a musical comedy grouping, not a punk/poetry ensemble) and MissImp, an improv comedy group. There is a lot of crossover in membership between both groups, with the total number of performers being twelve. The big show tonight was MissImp doing ‘Millions of Voices’, an improvised show set on Alderaan, just before the Death Star depressed house prices there.

My favourite type of comedy features tightly written, intelligent material and is very polished (think Peter Brush). My least favourite type is probably a toss up between improv and musical comedy. So it was no wonder, that to borrow a phrase from the film, I had had a bad feeling about this all day. So obviously this begs the question, of what was I doing buying a ticket to a show that I knew wouldn’t be my cup of tea? I could have gone to Glee, Jongleurs, or if I’d fancied a trip into the wilds of Derbyshire, the Funhouse night in Matlock. The answer lies in two areas. A, I’ve not seen a lot of improv, so may actually enjoy it if I see more. However, it was mostly reason B that attracted me to this show. Three of the performers are figures on the local comedy circuit who have all made an impact on me for differing reasons. Ben MacPherson, with his cultured voice has a definite presence, Jeanette Bird-Bradley has the ability to keep calm when things are not going as planned and above all, Liam Webber has made a big impression as an actor and quick thinker of ability.

The show began with Rhymes against Humanity, following a brief warm up, which encouraged the audience to talk by asking for name, date of birth and national insurance number (personally, I think asking for the last 3 off the back, would have worked better than NI number). This was then followed by Lloyd asking who in the audience was in a relationship and selecting a couple from this pool to volunteer a few facts for RaH to work with. This elicited the information that they had met at teaching college, she was a teacher, he was a librarian, she liked programmes with murders in and he liked programmes with Chinese people in. This certainly had the potential to turn the gig into something very different, but luckily the ensemble were wise enough to avoid any cheap jokes involving eyes when singing a song weaved from these facts. After this, it was the same modus operandi with another teacher and the other members of RaH getting to craft a scene and then a song based on the data provided. The response to both of these skits was enthusiastic, with the audience enjoying it and laughing regularly. Personally, I wasn’t that keen, but I was probably in a minority of one on this. I found the ad-libs stronger than the set pieces, which I felt were a bit light on laughs for me. What was announced as a twenty minute slot overran, lasting thirty-five minutes or so, which was a far larger overrun than I would have liked, but in fairness, everyone, barring me was really involved with it.

After the intermission it was time for the main event: Millions of Voices. The subtitle for this episode, suggested by an audience member, was ‘The Green eyed Hamster Strikes Back’. This began with an impressive pastiche of the introductions to the films, featuring two cast members unfurling a black scroll with yellow writing on it (chalked in: Green eyed hamster strikes back). Another member read it out, shouting Death Star in a way not unlike Eddie Izzard’s own take on the Death Star (we’re a STAR that does DEATH, etc). Having seen Discount Comedy Checkout, I was half expecting the action to be stopped every now and again, and for the show to continue in a different genre, such as Carry On, or slapstick. Instead, the show featured 7-8 separate sketches set in various locations on Alderaan and the Death Star itself, with differing members of MissImp playing the characters. Some of these sketches were better than others. The scenes involving the Jedi Master and his school of Padawans and the Frogmellions were consistently the most entertaining. Both could be described as the bright centre of the universe. There were some good lines, such as internship, the padawan with a note from his mum and the call backs to rebellion with a lower case r. These were all good value, as was the fun to be had in spotting the direct quotes from Star Wars. Possibly the laugh of the night came from a mix up, which may not have been an accident, involving the wrong person playing an existing character, leaving the original performer to shout, ‘he’s the wrong disgraced dad!’. If this wasn’t a pre-prepared stunt, then it was wonderfully of the now and is the sort of thing to remember to include in future performances.

I can’t say that I had a great night, because improv and musical comedy are still definitely not my cup of tea. However, I can say that I enjoyed myself. If I had a decent evening, then I can confidently state that the rest of the audience had a wonderful time. Whilst this isn’t my thing, I would certainly recommend people to go and see both MissImp and Rhymes against Humanity, as they are undoubtedly talented. In particular, I was impressed by, Nick Tyler, who provided a lot of the mirth and Liam Webber (who didn’t perform in Millions of Voices, but instead played under RaH), who whatever his day job is, should be acting for a living.

Badger Laughs – Graham Milton, AJ Hillbo, Chad Bentley, Sean Morley, Danny Beet and Ian Seaburn

Tonight I was in Chesterfield for the Badger Laughs comedy night. This was my first visit to this gig and on the way I was wondering how badly it would be hurt by the football playing simultaneously. As it was, the match was on in the taproom and the comedy was next door in the lounge. The venue is quite pleasant and is basically a local pub that twenty years ago was probably packed every night, but now struggles for numbers. The only evidence that I’d found a pub running a comedy night was a small sign on a board just inside the doorway, announcing that it was a comedy night. If the venue had pushed the event more aggressively, then it would have been useful, as acts almost outnumbered the audience. The audience were made up of three tables; one that had come to see the comedy, one that left at half time and another that had come out for a quiet drink and suddenly discovered that a comedy club had been built around them, spoiling their efforts at chatting amongst themselves. The line up was a little bit unusual in so far that out of the six acts, three could be described as alternative in some way. Usually the ratio is not so close as that. The opening act was Mr Graham Milton.

Milton, even going on first in a fairly cold room, is a solid reliable act. He did much to make this gig playable, as I did have some doubts about it being viable. Playing to 6-7 people, whilst one other table talk amongst themselves cannot be easy, but Milton put in a strong performance. The fact that he has some good powerful material helped, but he still did very well to establish himself so swiftly. His colourful descriptions are a joy to hear, as he describes his views about life. I appreciated him referencing the town he was performing in, a little touch, to be sure, but one that just helped to make the gig feel that bit special and not just an any town gig. I’ve seen Milton a few times now and I’ve enjoyed his performance every time.

AJ Hillbo was next. He is an act I’ll be interested in seeing in a year or so’s time. He has the potential to be very good with an eclectic approach that may result in him having a set that contains many different elements that all come together at the end in a big final pay off. The sort of thing meanders along in many different ways and then ends with a call back that brings it all to a climax. However, at the moment, he is a work in progress and his set seemed to be going off in all sorts of different directions. His performance features, a song (audience joining in), props (including a gift for an audience member), some deliberately awful puns, a short lived American accent, some straight comedy (modern day Jesus was very good) and a dash of surrealism. This is quite a list for a 10-12 minute set and he would have definitely benefited from a theme or something to tie it all together. Instead, it was like watching someone who had had 7-8 different ideas and had decided to showcase all of them. If he can build all of these disparate elements into one overarching routine then Hillbo will have something special.

Chad Heathcliff Bentley closed the first half of the show, with a 15 minute set. Bentley mixes poetry with comedy in a performance that at times reminded me of Josh Pugh and Danny Clives. Some of his set ups were lengthy enough to almost be considered monologues in their delivery, with perhaps not enough laughs to sustain them. In these cases, the reveal was certainly good, but a shorter set up, with the time saved being used to add in more punchy material may produce a better result. His joke about George Osborne landed well and his use of performing a play with a member of the audience for his closing routine was novel. Although I wasn’t especially keen on his act, the room enjoyed him and he received some good laughs.

We resumed after the intermission with Sean Morley, an act with a unique style of comedy. He began by pretending to be a member of the audience and caused quite an hullabaloo in demanding that Sean Morley show himself. This was followed by him rearranging the seating so that he wasn’t having to swivel round, then he had everyone standing, before playing jenga with a couple of audience members. This was very entertaining and went down a treat. Possibly the high spot of his set was when a man with an eyepatch strolled into the room. This was a gift from the God’s of comedy, as he mined it for material, ad-libbing some wonderful lines from it. Morley’s finale was pretty spectacular. He had the entire audience stood up and then turned around and he promptly popped the mic back in it’s stand and vanished out of the door. Unexpected, very effective and definitely on the funny side of off beat.

The smartly dressed Danny Beet was next, making his comedy debut outside of the West Midlands. His delivery was low key, which considering that his material concerned getting old, was appropriate. A high energy approach would have been a bit jarring. There were some very nice lines in this set, including a very timely and original gag about Ali, one on a lady acting her age, laxatives and taking the shallow end. When he broke the 4th wall to talk to the audience more directly, that was also rather splendid and his set much improved for this. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more room work, but one can’t have everything. Beet received consistent laughs and has definitely made progress as a comedian. I’m looking forwards to seeing where he is in six months time.

The closing act was Ian Seaburn who began by giving the room a nice dummy about marmite. His delivery was good, although he was almost whispering into the microphone at first, before talking into it more normally part way through his set. Seaburn’s material was anecdotal and concerned music, crossing roads and taxis. I felt that his material lagged a bit behind his delivery and would have been improved by a couple of big reveals. It was a pleasant set, but not one that especially stood out.

Admiral Rodney – Ian D Montfort, Mike Osborne, Stephanie Laing and Jonny Awsum

Tonight I was just down the road from home, at the Funhouse Comedy gig in Southwell. This was a warm pleasant night when outside, but inside the venue it was very hot. It was also the first time I’ve worn my new Panama hat, so I was feeling pretty chuffed about that. This is a nice gig that like so many other Funhouse nights, attracts a loyal crowd who know how comedy works. It wasn’t as packed out as it usually is, which may be due to a folk festival taking place nearby, or possibly due to people just enjoying being out in the evening sun. As it was, there were not many empty chairs and Spiky Mike had a fun time chatting to the audience, mixing some seasonal material with banter. The room was soon ready for our first act.

The opening act was the genius Tom Binns, as Ian D Montfort. The last time I had seen Montfort, it had been at a rough gig (as opposed to a tough gig) in Ironville, where he had had to deal with a crowd that were disruptive. This evening, it was the polar opposite, as he had everyone’s attention from the off. Montfort combines stand out material, a delivery that is timed to perfection and loads of extra touches that make this a stellar act. I especially enjoyed the time lag between the vet reveal and the audience getting it and the same can be said of the way the laughter built over the Death card being chosen. Playing Montfort as sexually ambiguous adds to the set, as it gives Binns the chance to work in wonderful extra details, such as salaciously sticking his tongue out whilst talking to chaps. The set contained some new elements, such as magazines in place of 50 Shades of Grey, a new trick involving dominoes which kept it fresh and a new joke that Montfort appeared to stumble over, which led to a huge laugh when he broke the fourth wall. Binns is such a polished performer that I’m not convinced the stumble wasn’t part of the set. This was, as ever, an excellent performance.

The original first act of the middle section was unavailable due to a breakdown, but luckily Mike Osborne, who had driven Stephanie Laing, was at the venue and able to step in at short notice. Although Osborne began with a sound lookalike joke, he was unfortunate in the following two jokes not being well received (one of which, the Goonies, was very much against the demographic of the audience) and he seemed to spend the rest of his set trying to recapture the room. This isn’t to suggest that he lost the audience, because he didn’t, it was more a case of being back at square one. I liked Osborne’s set. His material was intelligently written with some very nice jokes, such as the Rice joke, which I felt built with each reveal. The flat earth material was sound and whilst the first Big Issue reveal was foreseeable, the two that chased it definitely justified it. The line about how not being a smackhead should be mandatory went down well with the audience. His delivery was fairly fast paced and suited his style, although he did lose some momentum explaining what a selfie stick was to some of the more senior members of the crowd. This was a set that I enjoyed and I’d like to see Osborne again.

Stephanie Laing closed the middle section. I like Laing, she is one of those acts that audiences seem to warm to instinctively, possibly because she has a big wide smile and looks like she is enjoying life. Within the first couple of minutes someone in the audience had made a quiet comment for the benefit of the person sat next to her, in response to Laing’s line about a pony. I hardly heard it from 10′ away, yet Laing, stood on stage a good way distant had sharp enough ears to have picked it up. She was also sharp witted enough to go with the comment and ad-libbed some very nice lines from it and then used it in a small series of callbacks. This was a wonderful example of an act thinking on their feet and making the right decision. Laing’s material was good and I enjoyed the story of the tattoo, but felt that it could have benefited from something to link it into the rest of the set. The delivery was great, with lots of little actions, expressions and noises that just seemed to add to everything she did (not too dissimilar to Cokey Falkow in this respect). It was no wonder that Laing received consistent laughs.

The closing act was Jonny Awsum, the 4th musical act I’ve seen recently. Awsum gave the room 5-6short songs, which really got the crowd going. Awsum brings the entire audience into his act, having people sing, make noises and play instruments according to the song. This really got everyone involved and ensured that he gave the room a feel good ending to their night. He wasn’t helped by the pub’s telephone ringing in the background during a set up, but luckily this stopped before it became too distracting. Whilst musical acts aren’t my cup of tea, it’s obvious that everyone was really into Awsum and the pub definitely enjoyed his performance.

Ashby – Howard Reed, George Rigden, Finlay Taylor and Justin Moorhouse

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse Comedy night. This is a cracking night that attracts a big crowd and some wonderful acts. As it happened, I had only seen one of the acts before, so that was something a little bit different for me. Spiky Mike’s compering had a nice feel good factor to it; in particular, his interaction with the skater boys was fun, with a cracking ad-lib based on one of their names and a nice applause break for his chat to a couple who both worked in selling building materials. This set the room up nicely for our first act, Howard Reed.

Howard Reed, who sports a passing resemblance to Boris Becker, came to the stage with a ukulele case over his shoulder, which for a moment, took me back to various pastiches of gangster films. He began by discussing long term relationships, which contained a great line about being outbid on kinky sex. This was then followed by a story about a pulled muscle, which he delivered with total conviction. Reed finished his set with two songs, one of which was good and another which was great. These were sung in a manner not unlike some of the songs in Mary Poppins and were wonderfully creative, especially the bedtime lullaby, which was cracking and much appreciated by parents with young kids. Reed’s delivery was at a conversational level and contained some great asides, such as smallest kebab shop and toilet roll, both of which I really enjoyed. This was a good set.

We resumed after the intermission with George Rigden, a musical act. I’m not a fan of musical acts, but on the positive side, he had a good voice and his set contained some nice touches and was well thought out. It was impressive how he managed to dominate the room, especially when he evicted one chap from his seat, so that he could stand on it to sing a song to a lady. On occasion Rigden veered towards being high status, before being more self-deprecating and after a while this did grate a bit with me. The room enjoyed him and he achieved consistent laughs with good material delivered in an offbeat way.

The next act was Finlay Taylor who discussed his physical imperfections, gentrification and various non-problems in life. With this last category, he refrained from calling them first world problems, which demonstrated an impressive restraint on his part, as 90% of comedians would probably have worked that phrase into this set. Taylor’s material was tightly written and impressively strong, earning him an applause break for his contempt at the putative cure for being gluten-intolerant. He moved from one topic to another swiftly, but his set hung together in a way that made it feel seamless. Taylor’s delivery was fast and he hardly seemed to pause for breath as he swiftly built up a lot of momentum. It seemed like he managed to fit twenty minutes of first rate material into a fifteen minute slot and the world is a slightly better place for this achievement. I’d not heard of Taylor before tonight; he was a lovely surprise and a splendidly entertaining one.

The headlining act was Justin Moorhouse, who is someone whom I’ve been interested in as a comedian ever since I saw his cameo appearances in an old show I used to watch before going on nights called something Taxi Nights or something similar. I’ve travelled to places like Derby, Sheffield, Matlock and now Grantham to see him perform and every time I’ve seen him, he has been excellent. Moorhouse has produced some great material over the years, such as ‘asthmatic sith lord’ and a shout out for Manchesters when he was in a department store in Australia. However, he seems to have made a conscious decision to continue to write new material and not to rely upon a greatest hits catalogue approach, which is a real bonus. Tonight he began in a callback to Mike’s compering by chatting in French with a lady in the front row, with exaggerated facial expressions for added effect. He then started his set properly, by discussing three lies that comedian’s tell, managing to get three reveals from the oft used line about a comedian announcing his girlfriend had just left him. I particularly enjoyed his successive downgrading of something funny happening on the way to the venue. The theme of Moorhouse’s set was his current fears. This covered a lot of areas, but my personal favourite in this was his work on the Manchester pusher, which he chose to deliver with a strong Mancunian accent, making him the ‘Push-Shore’. This made the villain sound less like a menace and more like a roadie for a 90’s indie band and tickled me. Moorhouse had perfect timing and made great use of raising his voice partway through a sentence at the crucial moment to add the emphasis to what he was saying. The result of this was nigh on 40 minutes of massive laughs. The closing routine, involving a KO and an accident with a bucket was simply superb and the way it was described really brought it to life and actually had me in tears of laughter, which doesn’t happen often. This was a barnstormer of a show.

This was one of those nights where you come away thinking that there are people sat at home, who don’t realise what they are missing.

Cross Keys – Steve Wright, Alex Hudson, Stu Woodings and Jon Pearson

Tonight I was back at the Cross Keys in Nottingham for the Fowl Humour comedy night. This is a very congenial open mic night that not only allows newer acts a chance for stage time, but it also gives established acts a chance to air new material, or as was the case tonight, a whole hour in which to showcase their Edinburgh show. The last time I was here it was two months ago and the place had been packed out, with people having to stand, as all of the seats were taken. Tonight, though, the numbers were regrettably a lot fewer. There were enough people to make something of an audience, but more would certainly have been nicer. Sat on what became the front row was a couple who were lovely, but prone to join in, which whilst it suited some acts, it did throw a few a bit off course. The compere was Andy Hughes, who had the tricky job of compering a small room, with a small crowd, most of whom he knew by name. He did this by riffing on the Referendum meeting Britain’s got Talent, which helped to get the night rolling. The first act was Steve Wright.

I’ve seen Wright before, at a gong show, where whilst I had been impressed with his material, I had felt his delivery a little bit low key, despite him making it through to the final that night. Wright is a one-liner merchant and whilst a few jokes didn’t land that heavily tonight, a lot of his jokes are good, with some that are very good indeed. The driving test failure gag was excellent. He is an act that would benefit from two things. More consistent gigging, as I feel that with this his delivery will improve. Wright’s delivery just needs a little bit more of something to help push his good material that little bit further. The other thing that I think may help him is to have more of a unique look. Tonight he was dressed in smart casual, which is fair enough for a midweek gig, but it didn’t scream comedy and I believe that a more unique style of dress would help establish his presence more swiftly. I can see Wright doing well with comedy and I look forwards to seeing how he develops over the next year or so.

The next act was Alex Hudson, who didn’t have the best of nights and perhaps demonstrated that he is a work in progress at the moment. He began by talking about year 6 of school, at which point the couple sat at the front joined in with a couple of anecdotes. As a newer act, he perhaps didn’t have the experience or possibly the confidence to close them down, or alternatively to banter with them and maintain his authority, but instead ended up with them telling their stories and him losing his momentum. This was unfortunate, but for a fairly new act, understandable. He then followed with a spot of material about barbers and how that was a metaphor for success in life, which gave him a chance for a callback at the end of his set, after he had talked about Lego Land, a topic that sadly died. As performances go, this wasn’t great, but then everyone has nights like this early in their careers and they learn from them. The material was a bit weak, but that is nothing that Hudson can’t improve. His delivery wasn’t bad, but he would have profited from looking at the audience a little bit more and making more of a connection with them. He has something of a confident presence and given half a dozen or so more gigs he will improve nicely.

The last act of the first session was Stu Woodings, who dealt with the talkative couple by getting his head down and cracking on with his set. His Paint it Matt song is a real highlight of his set and something I really enjoy. This went down very well, as did zorbing, with the family sized plot a nice touch. I especially liked his new material about VR and think that this is something that he could develop an entire set out of, with the help of some props. Tonight it was obvious that Woodings had improved since I last saw him, he seemed sharper, his material better defined and in general, just better all round.

The headline act was Jon Pearson, recently returned from his honeymoon. Tonight he was treating the audience to a work in progress – his Edinburgh show. Pearson began with a bit of room work, bantering with the couple at the front, forming laughter and material out of thin air, with callbacks for later. The set itself showed some nice additional touches, such as the pause on strong… like bull, that just pushed it further. There was a bit of a stumble over some of the newer sections, but this is a night for new material, so no harm in that. The talkative couple had quite a lot to say to the (rhetorical) questions asked by Pearson, which was always on the pleasant and nice side of things, but it did mess up the flow of his set a bit. Naturally Pearson made the most of this and achieved a lot of mirth from these exchanges. The show is coming along very nicely, but what impressed me most, was his ability to switch from material to banter and back without batting an eyelid.