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.