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.