End of month review- July

This has been a very enjoyable month for comedy with 46 individual reviews. I have been to the usual mix of pro and open mic nights, plus a few seasonal Edinburgh Previews. Ironically, the best night had a ticket price of only £1 and featured 7 up and coming acts. If that was the best night, then the best actual performance was a panel show, which provided me with the funniest hour I’ve ever been lucky enough to see.

These are the acts who have impressed me the most this month:

Andy White

He has lots of natural charisma and provided the audience with a wonderfully varied set that had pretty much something for everyone.

From the night:

I have only seen White once before and that was in Derby, where he was a panellist on Panel Beaters. This proved to be the best show I have seen this year and so I was more than happy to see him on the bill. To begin with the room seemed a bit lukewarm towards him, but he won them round very quickly, probably within the first minute and a half. His line about resembling Dr Who was inspired and the added reveal with Chelsea fans was great and these firmly established his credentials with the audience. White’s set gave the room a lovely mix of gags, small routines, songs, dancing and visual jokes. I like it when a comedian mixes it up like this, as it seems to make the performance fresher. One technical facet that I and perhaps only I noticed, was the fact that White had been paying close attention during Mike’s compering. He knew people’s names and who was sat where and was able to work this into his set. It is ruddy jarring when a comic who hasn’t been listening asks the same person their name 2 minutes after the MC has and White easily avoided this, which I appreciated, as it gave the night a feeling of coherency. There were a lot excellent bits of material contained within this set, such as the reference to Japanese porn – it is always fun seeing who laughs at porn related jokes, as a fraction of a second after they’ve laughed they suddenly seem to realise that they’ve just outed the fact that they have cookies they need to delete. Germans in sheds was nicely self-explanatory and White wisely left it at that as it worked better with the audience not needing more in order to get the joke. I felt that the highlight of this set was a tie between Al Qaeda and the lullaby. Both worked extremely well and were easy to access. This was a splendid set that I thoroughly enjoyed, with no less than four applause breaks being given.

Big Howard and Little Howard

This was an Edinburgh Preview and was nicely different to the usual fare.

From the night:

Howard Read was performing in an unnamed show, featuring a double act with a difference – his partner is his cartoon friend, Little Howard. He began with an explanation of how the show would work, which was wise, as this is something a little bit unusual. He certainly hit the ground running, forming an immediate rapport with the audience, who bought into the concept in a big way. This is an incredibly well thought out and creative show, with the sort of attention to detail that one would usually associate with genius’ like Tom Binns. Read has obviously taken a lot of time and trouble with not only getting the basic ideas right, but then in refining them and adding those little additional touches that push the jokes even further. Examples of this include the panda stretching out its paw, the demise of the crab on the wire and the light bulb materialising slowly. There were other things that also impressed me, such as the final reveal on driving to Brum, cat bugler, which is a simple idea, but very funny and Little Mix, which I thought deserved more than it received. The reference to Steve Austin worked surprisingly well, given the age of the show.

This was a performance that never came close to getting stale, as Read would switch nicely from being upstaged by Little Howard into a solo routine, using good solid material from his club 20. Even when going solo, Read mixed it up a lot, combining audience work and songs. His safari into the audience as the Fart Whisperer went down very well and helped the audience to feel involved. Read’s inclusion of myself as a reviewer, as someone whose fart he read was made brilliantly relevant by the results of his divination and he was rewarded with an applause break, one of probably half a dozen that he earned. There were three songs, the wonderful bedtime lullaby, a chaotic (in the spirit of Tiswas) duet with Little Howard and a fantastic song about Haberdashers, that worked even better when Read got out of synch with the visuals. I did feel that the separate shops idea needs a little bit more, but considering the sheer quality of the rest of the show, I’m sure that is new material.

Reed is very dry in his delivery, his voice reminding me a touch of a sped up Norman Lovett. He is also totally convincing, playing it totally straight with Little Howard, which really brought him to life as something more than just a character. The audience thoroughly enjoyed this show, which had more than enough variety to keep everyone happy. I thought that it was superb and massively enjoyable.

Discount Comedy Checkout

Another act that stands out for being different, but in a way that is inclusive.

From the night:

The headline act was the Discount Comedy Checkout, an improv troupe, with a very good reputation. Last night it was just three of the four, owing to work getting in the way of art. We had Chris, Eddie and Natalie present, which given the size of the snug, was probably the optimum number. The set up was that a number of games would be played, with the audience making suggestions regarding style and location, with a bucketful of suggestions and comments utilised for mirth. The games consisted of a scene set in a mortuary, with a wonderfully quick witted use of Brian Clough’s body and a couple of comments from Eddie about Leeds, which worked extremely well for those old enough to remember his spell at Dirty Leeds, or those who have watched The Damned Utd. This was followed by a game based on film and theatre, with Chris and Eddie changing styles rapidly. It was highly impressive how they managed to sum up the essence of each genre not so much with what they said, or even how they said it, but just from body language. How they stood, or rocked on their heels or simply just a movement of the head added weight to the illusion that the cocktail bar was now in Tombstone or Dodge City. This was incredibly powerful to see and was a massive crowd pleaser. The newscast about a plumber doing a good job was really brought to life by each of the characters, especially Eddie who slipped into and out of each person with total conviction. Book chat, the final game was a more difficult proposition, as I found it very hard to concentrate on what Natalie and Chris were saying whilst Eddie was signing for the benefit of the hard of hearing. This was a fantastic set from a group who work extraordinarily well together. No one hogged the limelight, things were left open for other members to get a laugh. There was a lovely number of callbacks to Fran’s compering and it felt like this show was for the whole audience. This performance was a great closing act, probably impossible to follow if they had been on earlier.

The Panel Beaters

This is a wonderful panel show and one that if the various Telly bods had any guts could be bigger than Shooting Stars.

From the night:

The format of this panel show, devised by Caimh McDonnell and Gary Delaney, is for three contestants to attempt to be funny over a number of rounds and then at the end, Death, picks the funniest one to bump off, based upon the audience’s vote. On one level, the format is almost irrelevant, as naturally funny people will be funny doing almost anything, but on another level the inclusion of Death makes this delightfully quirky and provides a framework for the show.

Tonight our contestants were, Scott Bennett (RIP following Death picking him), Gary Delaney and Andy White; the host was Caimh McDonnell and Death was a splendiferously dressed up Andy Robinson.

The vibe of the show was established long before McDonnell had gotten half way through his introduction. This was to be a boisterous knockabout show with an element of organised anarchy from the contestants. All of the panel were in fine fettle and were bouncing off of each other like spinning tops and this infectiously added to the feel good factor of the show. McDonnell and Delaney have a great chemistry together and can cheerfully say the most appalling things to each other, making themselves and the audience laugh, or snort and laugh if your name is Delaney. Robinson played Death as a deadpan Brummie, possibly because he is a deadpan Brummie and the sight of him corpsing every so often was both surreal and a joy to see. Death occupied a role that was similar to George Dawes in Shooting Stars, being of the show, but not really fully involved and with the ability to interject with a killer line as and when he chose, almost like a comedy sniper. This worked fantastically, from the great visual stroking gag, through to escorting an elderly chap from the building and returning, wearing his hat (looking rather like Tom Baker whilst he sported the hat). Robinson timed his comments well, keeping them sparing enough to make the most of them.

There were a number of rounds, such as Elevated Pitch, What gets my Goat, Hashtwats, Heckles from History and Future News Round. These were introduced by McDonnell, who acted not only as the host, but also as the referee, making sure everyone got the chance to speak. He had the job of keeping the show on track and ensuring that it stayed within its’ slot. At times, he resembled a slightly harassed convener at the annual anarchists conference, but this was all part of the fun. In a quick moving show, not everything is guaranteed to land, but obviously with the calibre of acts involved the misses were very few indeed. Some of the highlights were a series of interlinked gags from White, which ended on a showstopper of a song, with an added reveal that really ramped up the mirth just when one thought he had finished. Scott Bennett, whom I primarily think of as a very talented ‘set’ comedian, who can build up a massive head of steam over twenty minutes, had an excellent night showing what he can do with one-liners and pithy comments. Him discussing lettuce and working in a splendid reference to James Bond intros was great. The Heckles from History was my favourite round. There were a number of very clever heckles, and I’d have loved to have seen more of that as it was simply superb.

This was a fantastic show and is probably the best show (as opposed to night) that I have seen. It was that funny I hurt myself laughing. I understand that Delaney and McDonnell are approaching Radio 4 with this concept. A bowdlerised version of this show will still be entertaining, but I think it will fail to capture the sheer joie de vivre. A late night slot on Dave or Channel 4, which would allow everyone free reign, would be magnificent. In the meantime, I hope this show continues, as it would do very well touring universities and comedy clubs. My advice, is that if you go to just one comedy show this year, go and see the Panel Beaters.

David Lloyd – Andy White, Wayne the Weird and Danny Mcloughlin

Last night I was at the David Lloyd in West Bridgeford for the Funhouse Comedy night. I can safely say that this is the poshest venue I have ever been to that hasn’t involved a family member getting married. It is a country club, like what one sees on American films. It had plenty of tennis courts, a big outdoor swimming pool and pretty much two of every sort of amenity, including a barrier on the car park that no one told me required a code for escaping. This wasn’t really what I was expecting. I had assumed that it was a pub gig and was wondering if it would be a rowdy night. Instead, the crowd was the epitome of respectability, although there was one lady who was a persistent joiner in. Our compere was Spiky Mike, who began very well by chatting to a chap on the front row who looked like a Norse God. This led to various chats with audience members and it was good to see Mike on top form. He very quickly reached that happy place where he’d ask a question, get a reply, make a comment based on the reply and everyone would laugh. The speak, pause, laugh rhythm is always wonderful to see. Having said that, his comments about James and their sit down song did fall on stony ground, perhaps being a bit niche for the audience, but this was the only comment that didn’t do well. The room was well prepared for our opening act, Andy White.

I have only seen White once before and that was in Derby, where he was a panellist on Panel Beaters. This proved to be the best show I have seen this year and so I was more than happy to see him on the bill. To begin with the room seemed a bit lukewarm towards him, but he won them round very quickly, probably within the first minute and a half. His line about resembling Dr Who was inspired and the added reveal with Chelsea fans was great and these firmly established his credentials with the audience. White’s set gave the room a lovely mix of gags, small routines, songs, dancing and visual jokes. I like it when a comedian mixes it up like this, as it seems to make the performance fresher. One technical facet that I and perhaps only I noticed, was the fact that White had been paying close attention during Mike’s compering. He knew people’s names and who was sat where and was able to work this into his set. It is ruddy jarring when a comic who hasn’t been listening asks the same person their name 2 minutes after the MC has and White easily avoided this, which I appreciated, as it gave the night a feeling of coherency. There were a lot excellent bits of material contained within this set, such as the reference to Japanese porn – it is always fun seeing who laughs at porn related jokes, as a fraction of a second after they’ve laughed they suddenly seem to realise that they’ve just outed the fact that they have cookies they need to delete. Germans in sheds was nicely self-explanatory and White wisely left it at that as it worked better with the audience not needing more in order to get the joke. I felt that the highlight of this set was a tie between Al Qaeda and the lullaby. Both worked extremely well and were easy to access. This was a splendid set that I thoroughly enjoyed, with no less than four applause breaks being given.

After the intermission it was Wayne the Weird, an act that I wasn’t familiar with, although with a moniker like his, it was obvious we were in for something different. Wayne is a comedy magician. I’ve seen a few of these and find it to be a good combination, only really failing at the lower end of the experience spectrum. He began with a few short puns and then brought on his first volunteer, or rather second; as the first person refused to budge from their seat and he was smart enough not to persist with them and just moved on. There is something about being invited onto a stage that transforms ordinary members of the public into wooden mannequins. On balance, I think this is probably better than someone who suddenly wants to become the star of the show and luckily all of the volunteers proved as wooden as usual, throughout all of the magic. There were a number of tricks performed, rope cutting, cards, knowing the words in a book, a newspaper full of something and a big escapologist finale. On one hand, these sound like the standard fare of any magician, but without a huge set up or investment in props there are natural limits to what a sole performer can achieve on a small stage. Perhaps the real magic lies in performing these tricks in a way that makes them novel and entertaining. Wayne managed to achieve this by adding lots of little touches, such as the gloves he put on, the soundtracks chosen and the mirror he used. These all added a lot of laughter. There was also a lot of comedic misdirection, too, where the audience thought that he had just given them the reveal, but instead the true reveal was yet to come. There was obviously a lot of thinking behind this set. The big finale was sound on the escapologist side of the ledger and also pretty unexpected on the comedy side, but the inclusion of the teddy bear was one of those small touches that just made it even more entertaining. This was a nicely different set that went down well.

The headline act was Danny Mcloughlin, who was stepping in to replace an act who unfortunately hadn’t been able to make it. Whilst I had been influenced in my choice of night by the presence of the original act on the bill, Mcloughlin has a sound reputation and I’d seen him do well before at another gig, so I was pleased to hear he had picked up the slot. His low energy delivery was rather endearing and definitely suited his material. It’s hard to imagine a frenetic high energy performance about being a fussy eater, bread and flintstones duvets working half as well. This was a set with some lovely lines, such as the almost throwaway line about Alton Towers, Gregg and also the one about the dictionary. I was interested to see Frost being the detective show referenced, though, as that was one that my family never watched when I was growing up. The material hung together nicely and Mcloughlin was able to move from topic to topic almost seamlessly. I say almost seamlessly, because his momentum was badly affected by a lady who persistently joined in well beyond the point when many people would have twigged on that they were just throwing a spanner in the works. It was like watching Mcloughlin perform with the director’s commentary being played over him. He dealt with this as well as anyone could, given the circumstances. She wasn’t being nasty or derogatory – she was pleasant and friendly if anything and the atmosphere in the venue was polite and restrained, so brutally putting her down was out of the question. Instead he made it clear to her that her input wasn’t necessary, threw her a couple of very funny mild insults and carried on. Naturally, after the show she was the first to congratulate him on being hilarious. This was an enjoyable set that even with the lady shouting out, was still very good.

Canal House – Radu Isac, Stephanie Laing, Peter McCole, Thomas Green, Jack Shanik, Jim Bayes and Chris Norton-Walker (MC)

Tonight I was at one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve been to this year, with a line up full of acts that wouldn’t have disgraced a pro bill. This is by far the strongest line up that have ever been under this roof on the same night. I hear you asking how much did the ticket cost for this comedy bonanza – the answer was just £1, which makes this possibly the bargain of the year. As you may have guessed, I was at the Canal House for the NCF comedy night, which I can confirm remains my favourite comedy night. This was a sold out gig, with local circuit figures Minder, Harry Sanders and Ben MacPherson present. MacPherson made quite an impression with his chair dancing to the NCF theme tunes and with his deep cultured voice, a ready made person of interest for our compere, Mr Chris Norton-Walker.

Looking smartly dressed in suit and tie, Norton-Walker was easily the biggest personality in the room. This is a man whose presence just adds to the ambience. He’s big, he’s loud and he just emanates atmosphere. I’d love to see him in the same room as Brian Blessed, although that may require earplugs, as it would be LOUD. Norton-Walker’s room work is extremely good, he’s so outgoing that it is hard for audiences not to respond well to him. As ever, his compering included elements of bantering with the audience and material, both of which went down very well, especially when he announced he had been on a date, where he played the pause for that beautifully. As ever, the interactions received got good laughs and the game of Ja and Nein was splendidly surreal. Norton-Walker did very well not only in creating the right atmosphere and getting laughs, but he also unearthed enough material from the audience to make life a lot easier for the rest of the comics.

Our opening act was Radu Isac, whom I last saw winning the Funhouse gong show champion of champions night. He began well by discussing his total lack of interest in people who can name capital cities of the world. This was all totally logical and plausible as well as funny. This was followed by a section on friends and the rules concerning when one can be swapped out and there was then a strong closing routine about his time working in America. Although this seemed to be a short set (I’ve a feeling it wasn’t that short, it was more a case of time flying whilst I enjoyed myself) it was a clever set that worked on more than one level. There was a lot of thought behind the material, which was delivered in a rather dry and straight forward manner, with a pleasant, knowing smile.

Next on was Stephanie Laing, whom I’ve seen doing a couple of spots for Funhouse, where she has been impressive. Her set was easily the most sexually explicit of the night and I was a bit concerned that a later slot might have suited her better. As it was, she had a good night. She received a big laugh for her timing when asking a member of the audience about tattoos he’s regretted. The small routine about accidentally cutting herself with a razor was lovely, although when she later commented about an I’m Spartacus moment, I felt that deserved more than what the audience gave her. She ended on a gloriously funny dark joke. Laing’s material is good, but what really impresses me with her, is how she delivers it. She has lots of little touches and interactions that she does, almost as after-thoughts that really sell what she is saying. Laing has bags of charm and looks very sweet and innocent, which like Millican, makes it all the more funny when she says something graphic or appalling. This was an enjoyable set from someone whom I’d like to see more of.

After the first intermission we resumed with Peter McCole, an act I last saw providing a great set at Blueys (FaF Promotions). This was the only set where a comedian had to deal with interruptions from the audience. These weren’t shout outs, or anything heinous, but just simple clumsiness. Within a minute of McCole beginning, a glass was dropped and this made a big noise as it smashed. Without missing a beat, McCole incorporated this into his performance and received laughs for being able to think on his feet. Approximately a minute later another clumsy ass broke a further glass, which could have been momentum sapping, but which was again dealt with nicely. The material used by McCole built up very well, I enjoyed satnav, Elvis was excellent and the final story about the holiday séance was a real joy. McCole has a very engaging delivery and this really brings you into his story, making one want more. This was a set that was appreciated by everyone.

Next was Thomas Green, an act I’ve strongly tipped to make it big. He began well, getting some fast laughs, although the make up to face ratio perhaps went over a few people’s heads. The new material about dicks was good, but does need a bigger ending, although the way he handled the non-ending brought Green a big laugh. What impressed me about his material was the lack of fat it contained. There were scarcely any words that didn’t add value to what he was saying. Another factor that I liked was Green mixing material with some good room work, which again added a lot to his show and helped further his connection with the audience. A third asset was the performance of Green himself, this brought his set to life in a big way and the faces, expressions and just how he stood fitted in with what he was saying perfectly. This was a superb set from someone who should definitely be a lot better known.

Jack Shanik had an interesting night and easily provided the edgiest material. Shanik is one of those rare comedians who actually look like they should be a comedian. By this I mean, if you put him in a line up of a dozen people and asked the average person which one was a comic, 9 out of 10 would pick him out. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the chaps who don’t have this vibe are bad comedians, or in the wrong trade, but it does give Shanik a head start when he steps onto the stage. Another facet is that his look and style of delivery is retro. If you were to splice Shanik into an old episode of The Comedians, he wouldn’t look out of place. This is ironic, because although his style of patter is 1st class 1970s, he has managed to combine this with bang up to date references and jokes, which makes him a very strong act. Tonight he was introduced by Chris Norton-Walker in a manner not unlike a heavyweight boxer, which was a great build up. His section was largely new material and I found his approach quite wonderful. He handed a lady on the front row a sheet of paper with perhaps 20-30 topics on. She was to read out a topic at random and then he would provide the gag that went with it. Some of these were a bit hit and miss, but the majority were good. However, where Shanik scored big and left me with an aching side was his reaction to discovering we had two Germans in the audience. In short succession, he gave the room three jokes about Nazis, of which the star was a massive standout. The tension when he was doing this was massive, as half of the room were unsure whether it was bad taste and I think a lot of people were wondering how our German friends would react (by laughing a lot, as it turned out). The effect of good joke, tension, another good joke, more tension and then a fantastic gag (star) was massive. It left me and probably everyone else in the room wondering just what he would say next, as anything seemed possible with any number of sacred cows ready to be slaughtered. I can honestly say that I felt as if I was on the edge of my seat over that. This was an incredibly funny set and demonstrated that Shanik has a great feel for just how far to push something and still keep the audience.

Our closing act was Jim Bayes, who was doing a short Edinburgh preview. He began by establishing himself with some existing material. This worked very well, as it is a good routine and his acting out of the movements bring it out to full advantage. The further gag about consoling his dad is daft but still solid gold. Within the first few minutes it was obvious that Bayes had formed a strong bond with the audience and that we were in for a good time. Of the new material, toastie wasn’t perhaps as strong as it could have been, but the cats trio was great. I really liked the throwaway line about having to explain himself the morning after. The inversion of begging was also very strong. Cows and sharks was interesting and funny. This was a good set from a reliable comedian and it was one that the room seemed to lap up.

Bar 1 – Edinburgh Previews – Big Howard and Little Howard and John Gordillo

Tonight I was in Derby at Bar 1 for the Funhouse Edinburgh Previews. It was fantastic to see almost a full house there at 1930, when I arrived ¾ of the way through the day. Comedy circuit figures present were Helen Stead, Elliott Bower, Brent Reid and Harry Sanders. The rumour that Pat Monahan had done a tight twenty was confirmed, as was the fact that aided by having a train to catch, he had also stuck to his time this afternoon. On a personal note, I received a text from my wife, alerting to me to the fact that we were expecting a new family member. However any optimistic hopes of buying myself a Sca Electrix for them at Christmas were soon dashed when she revealed that we were merely rehousing a refugee hamster. The first act I saw was Big Howard and Little Howard.

Howard Read was performing in an unnamed show, featuring a double act with a difference – his partner is his cartoon friend, Little Howard. He began with an explanation of how the show would work, which was wise, as this is something a little bit unusual. He certainly hit the ground running, forming an immediate rapport with the audience, who bought into the concept in a big way. This is an incredibly well thought out and creative show, with the sort of attention to detail that one would usually associate with genius’ like Tom Binns. Read has obviously taken a lot of time and trouble with not only getting the basic ideas right, but then in refining them and adding those little additional touches that push the jokes even further. Examples of this include the panda stretching out its paw, the demise of the crab on the wire and the light bulb materialising slowly. There were other things that also impressed me, such as the final reveal on driving to Brum, cat bugler, which is a simple idea, but very funny and Little Mix, which I thought deserved more than it received. The reference to Steve Austin worked surprisingly well, given the age of the show.

This was a performance that never came close to getting stale, as Read would switch nicely from being upstaged by Little Howard into a solo routine, using good solid material from his club 20. Even when going solo, Read mixed it up a lot, combining audience work and songs. His safari into the audience as the Fart Whisperer went down very well and helped the audience to feel involved. Read’s inclusion of myself as a reviewer, as someone whose fart he read was made brilliantly relevant by the results of his divination and he was rewarded with an applause break, one of probably half a dozen that he earned. There were three songs, the wonderful bedtime lullaby, a chaotic (in the spirit of Tiswas) duet with Little Howard and a fantastic song about Haberdashers, that worked even better when Read got out of synch with the visuals. I did feel that the separate shops idea needs a little bit more, but considering the sheer quality of the rest of the show, I’m sure that is new material.

Reed is very dry in his delivery, his voice reminding me a touch of a sped up Norman Lovett. He is also totally convincing, playing it totally straight with Little Howard, which really brought him to life as something more than just a character. The audience thoroughly enjoyed this show, which had more than enough variety to keep everyone happy. I thought that it was superb and massively enjoyable.

The next show was by John Gordillo. This was very much a work in progress, with him testing some ideas and working off of paper. This is fine by me, as it is a preview and naturally some comics will be more prepared than others. Unfortunately Gordillo has had an awful week and probably hadn’t had the time that he would have liked to prepare for the show. This was seen in him losing track of bits of paper and having to rearrange chunks of his show on the hoof, although in fairness he apologised profusely for this and his heckling of himself kept this entertaining. Putting these mishaps aside, Gordillo has the basis of a good show here and I’d like to see the finished article.

Gordillo began with contrasting the advert for Lothian buses with the reality, something that was a bit predictable, but still funny, made more so by him doing this in a Glaswegian accent. This led nicely into a routine that introduced the notion of advertising being about ‘the experience’, rather than just trying to do something useful. The lines about doing you a solid and buying a jumper were both standouts in this section. I also enjoyed the callback when he thanked us for choosing this show.

Every so often, Gordillo would come off script and banter with the audience and this was always very strong, showing quick thinking. His knowledge of Nottingham being the local rivals to Derby, when it came to a disparaging comment evidenced either a good general knowledge of local rivalries, or a bit of research and I’m happy with either. It’s always a bit jarring when a comic gets it wrong when slagging off the wrong town in these bits.

The section on reviews left on Tripadviser was very entertaining and shows, as Jasper Carrot first proved with the insurance claims, that laughing at other people’s idiotic comments will never go out of fashion. The section on touch screens, Virgin trains and hotel door signs is perhaps a case of having three routines that all make similar points and this could be tightened up, which would improve a promising area. When it came to the closing routine that will go with the actual show we only received a précis of this, which was a shame, as his antics as Tripadviser sound as though they will be of very high value.

Gordillo’s delivery was enthusiastic and enlivening and he also has this endearing habit of dropping his right shoulder and raising his left (imagine a reverse Richard III doing the Winter of Discontent bit) whenever he is being earnest in his pointing a fuckwit piece of ad copy. Quite often he seemed to be on the edge of an applause break and despite the execution of the show being a bit chaotic, I enjoyed it. This is a work in progress and it looks like he will have a jolly good show once he has tightened it up.

Beer House – Martin Huburn, Paul Rogers, Saul Lester, Ashley Gibson, Suzanne Shepherd, Will Mars, Kahn Johnson, Rob Stevenson and Ishi Khan-Jackson MC)

Last night I was back in Market Harborough for Peter Thomas’ new act/material show, Beer Talk, held in the Beer House. I went there last year on what was unfortunately an atypical evening, so I was interested in seeing how things went on a more congenial night. To begin with, it didn’t look as if we were going to get there as early as I’d have liked, as my map proved to be more optimistically drawn than of actual use as a navigating tool, but thanks to Rob Stevenson’s phone, we managed, through dint of country lanes and back roads to get there in time to chat with Peter Thomas. Thomas is the promoter of this night and as such, he spent a lot of his time looking after the acts, making sure they had drinks, organising the bucket (baking tray) collection and setting an example by sitting in the audience. The punters seemed to be doing their best not to dispel any stereotypes of what one would expect to see in a real ale pub, with beards ranging from trendy hipster, here this season gone the next, to Sons of Anarchy don’t give a fuckery and a full on ZZ Top at the ultimate end of the scale. They were a crowd who, in the beginning, also seemed determined not to settle down. There was a lot of backchat and talking amongst themselves during the first spell of compering, but luckily the two chaps most responsible for this vanished during the first intermission and without their ostentatious behaviour the room settled down nicely and this turned into a nice little gig. Our guest host was Ishi Khan-Jackson.

Having a guest host can work two ways. On one level it keeps things fresh for the regulars, but on the other hand, it can take the locum (for want of a better word) host a while to establish their authority. Thanks to the two chaps at the bar who, until they left, seemed determined to upstage the comics, it took Khan-Jackson some time to bring the room to order. She began well enough by talking about the weather, but within the first 30 seconds it was apparent that only half of the audience were giving her their full attention. Rather than just concentrate on these people and let the chatters come round at their own speed, she deliberately started talking to them, which showed some determination. In this she was successful enough to bring them mostly onboard. Khan-Jackson used a light touch which was probably the right approach as the night wore on. Although I’m not convinced that laughter therapy will catch on as a compering tool, it did add a bit of energy in the later section. The rules were announced, including the safety ones, which is nice to see. Khan-Jackson had a pleasant evening and did well to get order during her opening session and to keep the breaks short.

Our opening act was Martin Huburn, who was an inspired choice for point man. He has a confident presence and the room took note of him after they had settled back down after some initial chatting. His delivery is enjoyable and it works well with the material, which gained consistent laughs. Huburn received a big response for his section about Gypsies, who obviously aren’t a popular group of people in Market Harborough. Whilst the rest of the room laughed, I did feel a tad uncomfortable, personally, as I felt it played on a stereotype. However, this bit did tie in to the number of rag and bone men in Tipton, which is not a topic anyone else on the circuit is using. Sacrifice was very good and whilst talking about his kids, Huburn was definitely on solid ground. There was a bit where being on a register was the reveal and this was surprisingly pedestrian in a good set, so I asked about this during an intermission and discovered that this was a set up for a later piece which wasn’t used and so this explains the inclusion. The material on wrestling was entertaining and there is certainly mileage in that, although I think the reveal for being asked about being on a telly programme was one that some of the room got to before Huburn did. This was a good solid set, delivered well and one that would have benefited from another 5 minutes or so of stage time, as I would have liked to have seen more of this act.

The next act was Paul Rogers, who was caught napping, as he believed he was on third. He swiftly made his way to the stage, carrying his guitar, which in the end wasn’t used, possibly because the microphone was too distant for it. He began well with an ad-lib about hairy chests, which fitted in well with the amount of extra audience hair on display and was an highlight to his set. This was then followed by a logical deconstruction of the phrase ‘one in, one out’, which whilst unimpeachable on logical grounds, just sounded like a drunken argument with a bouncer. This material is a bit raw at the moment and it could be enhanced, possibly with a change in pitch, making it sound less like a rant and adding a twist. The career inspired alphabetising involved a long set up for a low powered reveal, but in itself, it’s not bad material. The delivery was a little bit fast and Rogers would profit from slowing down a bit. This was only the third time he has performed and it wasn’t bad – with more stage time he is someone who will improve.

We resumed after the first intermission with Saul Lester, who was on his first ever gig. Lester has an intellectual look about him, which gave me confidence that we weren’t about to hear a stream of knob gags. In a lot of ways, he was perhaps the most interesting act of the night and whilst what he was trying to do didn’t quite come off, it was evident that he had put a lot of thought into his set. He began well with a bit about plagiarism, which gained good laughs. This was then followed by a bit about traffic lights and then a production line of jobs that he had been sacked from. The call back to traffic lights was excellent and gained the only applause break of the night, although the later two call backs to it were perhaps two too many. The circus job and big shoes to fill was predictable, but that’s not the end of the world and the repeat on critical mass fell into the category best described as being more clever than funny. However, it was in the last minute of Lester’s set that his structure became apparent. All of the threads that had been left hanging (which I had put down to inexperience) were returned to and wrapped up – the format was set up, something else and then give minutes later, reveal to set up from earlier. This made for a good set and one with a feeling of completeness. However, it didn’t totally succeed as planned. Lester could have done with a few more laughs at the 3 to 4 minute mark to sustain the momentum, as there was a bit of a lag there and a bigger ending would have been nice. However, this is just a matter of fine tuning. This was an excellent set on a technical level and for a first ever performance a remarkably good one.

Next was Ashley Gibson, sporting a velvet jacket that helped him stand out. He began with one-liners and then bantered with the audience. He built up quite a lot of momentum with the one-liners and this helped sustain him through the dead spells when he was checking his hand (two steps forwards and one back). The room work went down well, despite running out of microphone lead and a tactical error with talking politics. This mixture worked well and this is easily the best that I have seen Gibson do. However, many of the one-liners still had an air of google about them, such as puppets having sex, no strings attached.

Suzanne Lea Shepherd, hailing from Kansas was next. She began by apologising for being American, which makes her something like the third foreign act I’ve heard apologise for this. Her material about English villages and churches fell a bit flat, but when discussing her dad dating she did better, as this translated well. The short section about Donald Trump, which whilst similar to stuff that has been said often before, still received a decent laugh. I found the material on cheerleading disappointing, as it wasn’t exotic enough to really grab me, but at the same time it was foreign enough to be hard to relate to. Overeating went down well, as did fart wave, but Shepherd was an act that didn’t really do it for me and I think the reason for this was her delivery, which was a bit uninspired. The same material, delivered with a bit more energy and panache would have been a lot more engaging.

Next was Will Mars, who was also hurt by his delivery. This veered from what might have been considered almost deadpan, to merely flat. A lot of Mars’ material was good: third kid, minutes silence and tipping in New York – all good and Bowie was clever. However, despite this, I felt that he underperformed. Like Shepherd, if he had something to lift his delivery, then he would achieve more with the same material.

Kahn Johnson, returning after six weeks without a gig, opened the final part of the show. He is a reassuring presence on stage and one feels in safe hands. His take on online dating was different and mercifully short considering just how prevalent material about this was last year. Although I might have got to the reveal on Princess Leia before he did, his comments about feet and lego were great and a real stand out to his set. Dogs and cats was enjoyable and the pull back and reveal to competitive illnesses gave a good solid ending to his set. Johnson’s real strength, especially in a small room is his captivating delivery. He leans forward, towards the audience and looks at people, almost making them feel this is being laid on for them alone. He also talks with his hands, which adds an extra layer to his set. This was a good performance and it’s a shame he has moved to Norwich, which must make it hard to get gigs.

The closing act was Rob Stevenson who probably had the most ups and downs of any act present. To begin with, he was only down to see the show, with the vague hope of benefiting from someone dropping out. He then picked up a place, following a drop out and was geared up for a 10 spot. However, owing to the passing of time he only ended up with five minutes, as I think the show had to close by 2300. To go mentally from not working, to expecting ten minutes to then having to provide five minutes is likely to throw most acts mental equilibrium out a bit. This probably explains why although he didn’t quite die, he didn’t perform as well as I’d have expected. Stevenson is good at room work and hoovering up material as he goes along and perhaps he would have been better to go with that, rather than to rejig a set at the same time he was trying to deliver it. Despite this not going as planned, this was only Stevenson’s 4th or 5th gig and he probably learnt more from this than he would have done from just having a normal gig.

Canal House – Jack Campbell, Jon Pearson, Dimitri Bakanov, Rob Mitchell, Harvey Hawkins, Dave Murphy, Dan Nicholas and Wayne Beese (MC)

Last night I was in Nottingham for the NCF Canal House gig. I was a trifle concerned about being a little bit late for this, due to having to drive around the remains of a car crash and also some bounder at Nottingham City Council closing off Canal St to traffic as a late surprise when I was almost within sight of the venue. As it was, I made it there in time and was able to bag a decent, well lit seat before the room filled up. Strangely, the room was empty at 2000, but by 2015 it was almost full. Local comedy circuit figures out supporting the night included Minder, Liam Webber and Brent Reid. Our compere was Wayne Beese.

The last time I saw Beese at the Canal House, he had brought a bag of pork scratchings with him to aid him in his compering. This time, he came armed with just his wits, a spot of material and the ability to chat with people. He began well by enquiring as to the precise relationship between a number of threesomes that were present, before moving on to chatting to a chap who had arrived with a flat cap and a natty coat (if Stevie Gray has a brother, this was he), pointing out that it made him look like a racing tipster. This made up profession proved far more interesting than his real job. During all of this, Beese emanated goodwill as he kept everything light-hearted. This was a very pleasant way to warm up the room. It was at this point when Beese struck comedy gold. He was chatting to two lads who have been chums for 25 years and he then asked that wonderfully loaded question of whether they had any embarrassing stories about the other. This led to the admission that one had unknowingly become involved with a ladyboy when on holiday in Thailand. When being questioned about this state of affairs, in particular, at what precise moment it had dawned and then what happened, the audience member gave a simple shrug and announced, in a way that excused anything and everything in life: ‘these things happen.’ The entire audience were following this story very closely and it went down a treat, so to speak. During his second spot, Beese aired some new material, which was very entertaining in a low key manner. It was in his final session that Beese demonstrated that he has a great nose for a story, when he discovered that a couple had met couch surfing. This was an excellent evening of compering.

Our opening act was Jack Campbell, who was treating the room to a short Edinburgh preview of his show Boy, Girl, Brain. Unfortunately he had left his notes in the car and so attempted to deliver this from memory. He opened with a rather convoluted description, which whilst it received laughs, did seem to puzzle a few folk. The theme of the show is his relationships with ladies, in particular an Estonian ex. This eventually led into a routine about Tortoise lifting which was novel and pretty decent. Campbell’s penchant for big noses was also something different, but the real stand out in this 20 spot was his account of an encounter with a lady at a party. This was a definite highlight of his set and included all of his best lines. As this was delivered without notes, perhaps before he is fully ready to perform like this, it is hard to reach any real conclusions about the show. At times, he seemed a bit stilted and unfocussed in his delivery and the material a touch sprawling but this is probably down to him trying to remember his material. Performing with one’s notes left in the car would readily explain this. I really enjoyed parts of his set and would like to see the completed article.

Next was Jon Pearson, who was doing another 5 spot in readiness for a short show. I like Pearson, he always makes for an immediate presence when he’s on stage and adds a shine to any bill. Tonight he did the same set as last night, in an attempt to squeeze 15 minutes of material into 5. Despite him having rehearsed this set a few times recently, he still delivered it with total conviction, as if it was the first showing of it and a special treat for the room. It’s nice not to see an act get jaded and it received good laughs.

We resumed after the intermission with Dimitri Bakanov, an act who has already impressed me with his intelligently written dark material. The last time I saw him, it was in a heat of the English Comedian of the Year and I was confident that he’d done enough to get through, although ultimately the vote didn’t go his way. Tonight, though, we were at the Canal House and this can be a bit hit and miss for edgy comedians, especially early on and so I was curious to see how he fared. The answer was that whilst he perhaps didn’t have the gig that he was hoping for, it was still very good and the same material later in the night, or in a different room would have gone down far more successfully. He opened with two nice lines in quick succession, referencing quotas and undercutting. These were a fine opening gambit. This was followed by the story of his commitment issues, with there being a pause at the two and a half years as half of the room got the joke and then the other half twigged on. I especially enjoyed his section about being a method comedian. This was very dark and he sold it beautifully, with a big warm smile. There was a bit of a stumble over Islamophobic, which I felt he could have ridden out, rather than backtracking, but in the heat of the moment, this is not always apparent to the man on stage. Although Bakanov’s darker material wasn’t perhaps to everyone’s taste, it was certainly to mine. It is nice to have to think a bit about what an act is saying and this man is a real talent for the future.

The next act was a relatively new comedian – Rob Mitchell. Mitchell has a George V style beard, that adds to his appearance, although it does give him a faint resemblance to a smaller version of Tony Law. He began with the story of a rough gig in Manchester, which made for an amiable opening, but it could have done with a bigger ending, as the reveal wasn’t proportionate to the set up. This was followed by a short set, with his profession forming the backbone of his material. There seem to be a lot of teachers on the circuit (D’Arcy, Quinne, Nightingale, etc), some of which use this as a basis for material. As another teacher talking about his interactions with pupils, it is going to be tricky for Mitchell to stand out. Some of his jokes were a bit obvious, such as assembly and Jimmy Saville, whom I think we’ve all heard featuring in a dozen routines. This is on the debit side of his set. On the credit side, bag for life was good – this was a new way of looking at it and all the more welcome for it. The week in the woods was a nice touch and the events that inspired the line are still recent enough for it to be timely. The call back that Mitchell closed on was a very nice way of closing his set. Mitchell looked plausible on stage, his delivery although a bit low energy, was always engaging and even with material that wasn’t first class, he still received consistent laughs. I’d say that this gives him a good base from which to build. It is probably harder to gain the confidence of a room and have a nice delivery than it is to write material, as one is a gift and the other is something that can be worked on with a bit of spare time with a pencil and paper. I am optimistic that Mitchell will be much stronger in the near future.

We closed the middle section with Harvey Hawkins, whom I last saw winning a gong show with some nicely offbeat material. Last night, he opened as he had previously, by standing there, leaning back slightly, with his shoulders hunched, looking as if the coat hanger had been left in his shirt. Whilst this could be considered a bit of a gimmick, I like it. This makes him nicely different and it makes an immediate impression, as people give him their attention. His delivery is knowingly awkward and stilted, which works splendidly with his material. The subject matter included a brilliantly unpredictable facebook status joke and a surprising reveal to a condiments based routine. There were no links between Hawkins’ jokes and I think his set works all the better for this, as he shoots out jokes almost at random. This was a very entertaining set from an act that was different in a good way.

The final section was opened by Dave Murphy, who whilst looking like a young Harry Potter, showed that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover. He made a lively and confident start, although I did think at first he was wasting time by asking people to give a cheer if they are drinking, but instead this was simply a lead into his material about nightclubs and dancing. This was acted out with his red man/green man moves. This was followed by a nice bit of audience interaction and a good story concerning girlfriends. I could have done without him announcing that he isn’t a man’s man, as he is probably the 1000th comic to go down that route, but this is a minor quibble and probably says more about the amount of comedians I see than it does about his particular use of this trope. This was an enjoyable set and at five minutes, too short. I’d have liked to have seen more.

Dan Nicholas closed with his Edinburgh Preview. I find Nicholas to be an intriguing act. I’m not a huge fan of alternative comedy and he delivers surrealism in large doses. However, I am a fan of his delivery, it is a step above that of many comics. Whatever his antics on stage, no matter how unconventional and eccentric they would appear to someone who had just walked into the room, he always remains in full control and there is something irresistible about him in full flow. Last night’s shenanigans contained noises for the audience to repeat, which he drew out for a surprisingly long time, building it up nicely. I enjoyed the reverse allergy section, which was a lot of fun, especially the facial expressions pulled by Nicholas. The finale of the show was a big set piece stage number, featuring lots of audience members with a very nice callback to the opening routine. This had the feel of a good show and it was done very well. Nicholas excels with his delivery. He is amazingly expressive and would make a superb mime artist as he is able to communicate so much with just how wide he has his eyes open, or the shape of his mouth. In this he is up there with the likes of Webber and the Discount Comedy Checkout. For fans of the alternative this is a definite show to see.

Admiral Rodney (Wollaton) -Paul Mutagejja, Dave Pollard, Jon Pearson, Wayne Beese, Pete Otway, Ben Briggs, The Discount Comedy Checkout and Fran Jenking (MC)

Last night I was at the Admiral Rodney in Wollaton for the Funhouse Comedy night. This pub isn’t to be confused with the Admiral Rodney in Southwell, where Funhouse also run a comedy night. Although I’ve not gone to the wrong one yet, I think that this is only because I turn left at the end of my street for Wollaton and right for Southwell, if they were on the same road, then it would be inevitable that I would arrive at the wrong pub at some point. Both of these venues are lovely old pubs with a lot of atmosphere. Parking in Wollaton is always a problem, as the car park is fairly small and I always end up tucking my car away on a side street, where the houses seem to have names, rather than numbers. One of the reasons the small car park is packed to overflowing is that this gig enjoys healthy numbers. I’ll grant, it is in the snug of the pub, which is smaller than most living rooms, but this is still a gig that people come out for, including Pat Draper who was out supporting the night. The audience are regular, too, which makes our resident compere, Fran Jenking’s life both easy and tricky. It’s easy, because he manages to remember people’s names and what he said to them the last time he was there, which builds up a lot of rapport. However, this can be double-edged sword, in that if he ever forgets someone’s name or occupation, then it would be most awkward if he’s chatted to them 3-4 times. Last night he managed to navigate this issue without any problems. Fran found a few people that he could use as a running reference point (Nina), discussed jobs with a couple of folk and discovered who was from an exotic location. This served two purposes. It created a good environment, relaxing the audience and just as importantly, it provided information that some of the acts could and did mine for material later in the night. Jenking is a relaxed compere, he doesn’t get in people’s faces, aggressively chasing down what they do for a living even when that person is sat, arms folded, looking as if they wish Scotty would beam them up. Instead, he has mastered the art of just talking to strangers and semi-strangers in a way that puts them at ease. The compering after the 1st intermission was a trifle elongated and he may have been better tapping out sooner, but this would have meant killing a conversation with a fitness fanatic before it had reached its’ logical conclusion, which would have been tricky to achieve gracefully. Jenking had a good night and I was pleased to see him help make the night a success.

Our opening act was the smartly dressed Paul Mutagejja, who began by discussing his background and famous Lincolnshire personages. The description of the Sausage and Thatcher was knowingly predictable and generated a few easy laughs, but I felt he might have been able to do something a little bit better with that, as it felt a trifle pedestrian. However, the Newtonian jokes were superb. All 3 were groaners, the sort of bad puns that Roger Swift would use and heckle himself as he did so, and all worked fantastically because they were so groan-worthy. Mutagejja really established himself with this trio of gags and the audience bought into him and them in a big way. I liked his description of a marriage sabbatical. The section on holidays was pleasant enough and entertaining, but not a huge stand out. This is in contrast to Mutagejja’s description of playing a gig down south, where a few members of the EDL were present. What had been a light-hearted set, not dealing with anything that could be considered an issue, took on a slightly different turn with this and it was wonderful material, with unexpected reveals. This was delivered well and showed Mutagejja at his best. I like Mutagejja, he’s a good act, who has developed some improved material since I last saw him. His delivery would stand a little bit more work, though, as he tends to deliver his lines in one particular tone and this doesn’t seem to sell his work as much as it should. I also feel that he is disadvantaged by living in Lincoln, which must make it hard for him to get established with promoters as someone who is at the front of their minds when booking acts, or even just needing a late replacement. On a side note, it was very decent of him to go on first and to then stay until the end of the night, showing support for the acts that were on after, especially when he had a fair drive home ahead of him.

The next act was the versatile Dave Pollard, who had gigged there fairly recently. Generally, I associate Pollard most with his angry man routine, which is unique. However, as good a set as that is, I felt that what he did tonight was more accessible, more entertaining and simply better. Pollard’s material covered a lot of ground, incorporating visual effects, audio effects, newspaper cuttings and some very nice observations. This had something for everyone and never came close to getting old. In fact, his set seemed to be over very quickly and it was a shame that it didn’t last longer – always a sign of a good set. A particular highlight was when he was talking about pain relief during operations and I felt sure the punchline was going to be blow job, which would have received a laugh, but instead, his reveal was unexpected and far superior to that. During the visual section, I did wonder if the 3rd pair was stretching the concept a little bit, but the audience lapped it up. If the pain relief reveal was unexpected, the punchline for sounds played at funerals wasn’t, but this didn’t affect how well it went down, although I’d like to see a twist added to it, as I think this would improve it (possibly editing in the sounds of someone entering the room and the person having to make hasty excuses?). Pollard teetered on the edge of an applause break for Donna and the final email exchange was very simple, but also very effective. This was a wonderful set that I very much enjoyed.

The third act of the opening section was Jon Pearson who was doing a short five spot to hone an existing routine – gym and weight loss. Pearson seemed to fill the snug on his own, which definitely added emphasis to what he was saying. This routine is a reliable banker that builds very nicely. It has lots of little laughs that come regularly. However, even speaking quickly, it comes in at over five. I enjoyed seeing some tweeks to it, such as short video and the erection in the face line. It’s always nice to see an act who could be satisfied with a routine continuing to work on it.

We resumed after the intermission with Wayne Beese, who last year won a cash award as the upcoming MC of the year. Like Jenking, Beese is a natural at simply chatting to people and his ability to banter and discover comedically useful revelations from audience members is uncanny. Tonight, though, it was material, with a very downbeat low energy opening which seemed to grab everyone’s attention from the off. Beese spoke very quietly and if it hadn’t dropped silent, with people leaning in to listen, it would have been hard to hear him in the tap room, outside the snug. This was a remarkably good set, where Beese got laughs for not obviously seeming to do a lot – they came from knowing just how long to draw out a silence for, with only a slowly developing facial expression enlivening it. Most comics avoid silence like the plague, but Beese used the pauses and silent spells to great effect. Getting a big laugh for this is a rare skill. This was a set with a coherent series of stories and a pleasant number of callbacks, including some that referenced Fran’s compering. This demonstrated that he has his wits about him. The closing routine is excellent and brought a proper conclusion to a splendid set.

Pete Otway was next with some new material. This was a run through of some sections of his Edinburgh Show, which in a 10 spot doesn’t really give one a feel for the show as a whole. This was very new material, with him working off of notes, which isn’t a problem as far as I’m concerned, but with Edinburgh a month away may reflect a late start in preparation. The theme of the show is Otway’s mother, who it is rather unusual. However, shows about parents are pretty common in Edinburgh and the complete article will have to be very good to stand out in such a crowded field (Scott Bennett managed this through superb accessibility and Jim Smallman through a massive feel good factor). The material itself covered 5 areas. Sharing a room at home with a lodger, which showed promise, 3 options for drawing on a car window (including a few nice audience references) which was workmanlike, sellotape and Morrisons, which was ok, a car crash that was an anecdote, but not much more and putting three kisses at the end of text messages, which was a real highlight to his set. This routine demonstrated a highly accessible concept, contained some well thought out lines, including some surrealism and was very very enjoyable. As stated, it was hard to get a feel for what the full show will be like in just 10 minutes and this is very much a work in progress, with some ideas naturally being better than others.

Closing the middle section was Ben Briggs, who was also doing new material. The morning of the show, I’d been involved in a facebook discussion with some chap who claimed that modern comics are all the same. I’d refuted this by adducing the line up of this gig as evidence of the differing styles and takes on comedy, to which he had claimed that they all have the same political views. My response to this was that none of the acts tonight are political, they all find their material elsewhere. Ironically, Briggs proved me wrong, by doing a political set. Briggs is very well known for being dark and edgy, so it is wonderful to see him branching out in a new direction and not being pigeon-holed. The topics were Brexit, not voting, the Queen and a fantastic line about from his looks as a kid, feeling robbed by the results of the last war. Some of this set worked well, but some of it didn’t. It’s hard to do edgy material well without giving it a lot of stage time to discover which turn of phrase works best, being both funny and keeping the audience. This isn’t something that can be done at home in front of a mirror, or crowbarred into a conversation at a checkout. Last night there were a few silences, but this is a learning curve. On the plus side, the material is full of personality and has a lot of authenticity – this isn’t someone seeking audience approval for his beliefs, this is a genuine, this is me and what I believe set. The tracksuit clad Briggs had a good line about being middle class in Northampton, but obviously working class in Wollaton, which got a big laugh, only to be topped when an unseen audience member shouted out, ‘Scum in Wollaton’. This turned out to be Spiky Mike, who had assisted with this, a line that Briggs could add in when doing this routine elsewhere, as I think it will bring a guaranteed laugh.

The headline act was the Discount Comedy Checkout, an improv troupe, with a very good reputation. Last night it was just three of the four, owing to work getting in the way of art. We had Chris, Eddie and Natalie present, which given the size of the snug, was probably the optimum number. The set up was that a number of games would be played, with the audience making suggestions regarding style and location, with a bucketful of suggestions and comments utilised for mirth. The games consisted of a scene set in a mortuary, with a wonderfully quick witted use of Brian Clough’s body and a couple of comments from Eddie about Leeds, which worked extremely well for those old enough to remember his spell at Dirty Leeds, or those who have watched The Damned Utd. This was followed by a game based on film and theatre, with Chris and Eddie changing styles rapidly. It was highly impressive how they managed to sum up the essence of each genre not so much with what they said, or even how they said it, but just from body language. How they stood, or rocked on their heels or simply just a movement of the head added weight to the illusion that the cocktail bar was now in Tombstone or Dodge City. This was incredibly powerful to see and was a massive crowd pleaser. The newscast about a plumber doing a good job was really brought to life by each of the characters, especially Eddie who slipped into and out of each person with total conviction. Book chat, the final game was a more difficult proposition, as I found it very hard to concentrate on what Natalie and Chris were saying whilst Eddie was signing for the benefit of the hard of hearing. This was a fantastic set from a group who work extraordinarily well together. No one hogged the limelight, things were left open for other members to get a laugh. There was a lovely number of callbacks to Fran’s compering and it felt like this show was for the whole audience. This performance was a great closing act, probably impossible to follow if they had been on earlier.

The Cross Keys – Callum Oakley, Sean Sellers, Tom King, Fran Jenking, Scott Bennett and Pat Draper

Last night I was in Nottingham at the Cross Keys for the Fowl Humour comedy night. This is a nice little gig. The room, although under lit, has a unique lay out that is conducive to good humour – the backdrop looks like a 19th century parlour. Numbers for this gig vary wildly. In fact, I’ve never known a gig like it for variation in the size of audience. I’ve been there on nights when it has been standing room only and then there have been nights where acts almost outnumber the audience. Unfortunately last night’s gig clashed with the Wales – Portugal game and had lost out. However, the audience did include local comedy figures Jeanette Bird-Bradley and Elliot Bower, who had replaced a poorly Andy Hughes (a suspiciously Welsh sounding surname for anyone phoning in on a night when Wales are playing their biggest ever match) on sound and electrics. Our compere was Andy Fowler, who made a high energy start as he tried to breathe some atmosphere into the room. Although Fowler didn’t realise it, he was stood under one of the few lights, with his face in complete shadow, broad shoulders outlined against the mantle piece behind him. Unintentionally, he managed to resemble a villain from a slasher film. He caught me on the hop when talking about the venue holding a beer festival by asking me if I was drinking. As a rule, I’m generally the last person comedians interact with and I ended up looking like a nincompoop as I looked behind me to see if he was addressing some other chap in a hat. Andy pushed the raffle, got the room in readiness and introduced the first act.

The opening act was Callum Oakley, whom I wasn’t familiar with. In looks he resembled a young Michael Praed, although it is hard to imagine Robin of Sherwood with a strong Scouse accent. Oakley was a confidence presence as he began a set that comprised a fair amount of new material. His opening gambit concerned English and foreign languages. This is an area a few comics have tackled and I was most grateful that he didn’t mention anything about shouting and assuming foreigners are deaf. This led nicely into a section about indigenous ales, settling on the very limited appeal of Newcastle Brown Ale (something that may not go down well if he plays on Tyneside). I liked this bit and felt it showed promise – the line about the caravan dweller could be developed into a very nice routine and be taken in 3-4 different directions. His idea about people from Lanzarote coming here and making comments about our water didn’t really seem to go anywhere, but discovering this is what new material nights are for. The tale of a gig attended with Simon Wozniak was entertaining, although Oakley’s timing could perhaps have been better as he left a fairly long pause after saying Brown and that made it sound as if that should have been the reveal. There was a very amiable story about Oakley accidentally robbing a homeless chap of his tea that was building nicely until two late comers arrived and spoilt this. He dealt with this well and then moved onto his final story, that of joining in a game of wrestling with his mum and dad. This was a nicely worded routine that was well described. I enjoyed Oakley’s set and feel that he has a lot of promise. There weren’t a lot of huge laughs, but there were still a lot of laughs and it has a nice feel good factor to it.

Next was the American Sean Sellers, who was possibly the most overdressed man in the room. He began by referencing the unusual décor, which was a sound start before going on to discuss Snoop Dog and then singing and deconstructing one of his songs. This hit two snags, one, the song he chose was one that only a few people had heard of and were willing to invest time in, and two, pointing out lyrical absurdities has been done to death. It’s hard to make this work as so many other comedians have torn songs to pieces, especially with a song that few people care about. This was followed by that immortal phrase, ‘ I’ll tell you a bit about myself’. This could have been interesting, with him being an American living in Britain there would naturally be a backstory, but instead he skipped along to riffing with Trump/Clarkson similarities, which was ok, but seemed to be going for low hanging fruit. Sellers was better with his material about Crow and roses; this was more unique and had a good final reveal to it. At times it seemed that he was heading into a political set, talking about Trump and Mexico and mentioning, but not discussing the Daily Mail. However, he didn’t really make the most of this, sort of settling on making some points but not really developing them for comic effect. This was a shame, as I have a feeling that he may have some good political points to make and could be funny whilst doing so. Two minutes before the end of his spot, Sellers ran out of steam and probably should have tapped out, but instead doggedly saw his time out. This sounds a very negative review, but Sellers isn’t an intrinsically bad comedian. This material wasn’t great, but then it was a new material night and not everything is going to work. On the plus side, Sellers has a polished delivery and with different material would be stronger.

Next was Tom King who made a big rock star like entrance to the stage. This was the perfect set up for his first gag. Following hard upon this were two fast gags that were callbacks to Fowler’s compering and the ‘Out’ voter sat on the front row. King’s set was fast moving, with pretty much something for everyone in it. Songs, silly things said, surrealism and a subtle joke about ‘meating’ one’s heroes. The cannibal restaurant is material that will never get old due to his ability to work in the latest dead celeb. This was also a set that never came close to outstaying its’ welcome. King was the best I’ve ever seen him. He seemed to capture the mood of the room within the first 30 seconds of opening his mouth and never looked back. Everything he said worked and he was on such a roll that he probably could have done anything he liked. A very strong performance from a reliable act.

After the intermission we resumed with Fran Jenking, whom I consider to be a natural compere. He’s one of those chaps who is very much a people person; the sort of cove who would probably start a sing song in a lift if he got half the chance. I’ve noticed that during most gigs he slips into MC mode very easily. Tonight he was trying some new material, but immediately he defaulted to bantering with the audience – his opening line being ‘give me a cheer if you’ve been drinking’. I like this, as it feels more natural to see Fran taking this approach. However, it must make it harder for him to concentrate on material. In this he reminded me of that old and under-appreciated programme, Show me the Funny. Johnny Vegas, who was mentoring Pat Monahan, had noticed that Monahan couldn’t help but banter with the audience and he set him a task to just do material without reacting in any way to the people in front of him. I’m not sure if such an approach would help or hinder Jenking, as I consider him far stronger bantering than using material. Tonight his new material was rather raw and perhaps requires a rethink, although I did enjoy the section about Punk rock.

Our next act was the Spectrum Tshirt wearing Scott Bennett, who was also honing some new material. Bennett is a quality act who gigs regularly and this can be seen in his delivery, which has a natural rhythm and sharpness to it. He also has a wonderful turn of phrase that makes his relatable material even more accessible. As ever, he received not only consistent laughs, but big laughs, too. It was lovely to see an improved line in Postman Pat (sampling the merchandise). However, it was during Bennett’s set that the room reached a perverse tipping point regarding attention spans. This wasn’t the usual problem with attention spans, people yawning, checking their phones and looking out of the window, but instead they began to get TOO involved in the mechanics of his material. Bennett’s rhetorical questions about kids telly provoked a lively debate about Windy Miller and whether Pat should be working for Amazon now. This then evolved into a competition between a group of lads as to whom could chime in with the best interjection (none of them could). Bennett finished his set, which included some very nice ad-libs that he threw in without missing a beat.

The closing act was Pat Draper, who gave us the sight of a good act performing a good gig with good material to a bad crowd. Whilst Bennett’s performance had been marred by the audience joining in, Draper’s was all but crucified by it. He did very well to keep control, deliver his set and to achieve laughs. Although I’m sure he felt he had a bad gig, paradoxically, Draper may have actually benefited from having to perform so well under what were less than ideal circumstances. The heckling was more in the nature of shout outs than anything unpleasant and it was more boozily good natured than derogatory, but it didn’t half make life more difficult than it should have been. As if this wasn’t enough, when it came to do a couple of songs, owing to an error by the gig’s sound dept, his guitar came through the amps at volume 11, which necessitated a momentum zapping restart. On the plus side, Draper demonstrated a lot of patience in controlling the audience and his withering comments were extremely funny. He also managed to get out some new material concerning a yawn, which is a definite keeper. This was a strong performance under unfortunate circumstances and a highly enjoyable one at that.

All Bar One – Edinburgh Previews – Panel Beaters and Diane Spencer

Tonight I was at All bar One in Derby for the Funhouse All Day Edinburgh Preview show. This is a nice spacious outdoor venue and the sun always seems to be shining on the drive out there. It does, however, drop awfully cold in there once it gets dark. This is a shame, as I’d feel odd walking in wearing a Summer shirt and Panama hat with a greatcoat tucked under my arm for when it gets chilly. There were some very good numbers in for the shows, which was wonderful to see. Our compere, Spiky Mike kept it tight and swiftly introduced the Panel Beaters, describing it as the possible highlight of the night.

The format of this panel show, devised by Caimh McDonnell and Gary Delaney, is for three contestants to attempt to be funny over a number of rounds and then at the end, Death, picks the funniest one to bump off, based upon the audience’s vote. On one level, the format is almost irrelevant, as naturally funny people will be funny doing almost anything, but on another level the inclusion of Death makes this delightfully quirky and provides a framework for the show.

Tonight our contestants were, Scott Bennett (RIP following Death picking him), Gary Delaney and Andy White; the host was Caimh McDonnell and Death was a splendiferously dressed up Andy Robinson.

The vibe of the show was established long before McDonnell had gotten half way through his introduction. This was to be a boisterous knockabout show with an element of organised anarchy from the contestants. All of the panel were in fine fettle and were bouncing off of each other like spinning tops and this infectiously added to the feel good factor of the show. McDonnell and Delaney have a great chemistry together and can cheerfully say the most appalling things to each other, making themselves and the audience laugh, or snort and laugh if your name is Delaney. Robinson played Death as a deadpan Brummie, possibly because he is a deadpan Brummie and the sight of him corpsing every so often was both surreal and a joy to see. Death occupied a role that was similar to George Dawes in Shooting Stars, being of the show, but not really fully involved and with the ability to interject with a killer line as and when he chose, almost like a comedy sniper. This worked fantastically, from the great visual stroking gag, through to escorting an elderly chap from the building and returning, wearing his hat (looking rather like Tom Baker whilst he sported the hat). Robinson timed his comments well, keeping them sparing enough to make the most of them.

There were a number of rounds, such as Elevated Pitch, What gets my Goat, Hashtwats, Heckles from History and Future News Round. These were introduced by McDonnell, who acted not only as the host, but also as the referee, making sure everyone got the chance to speak. He had the job of keeping the show on track and ensuring that it stayed within its’ slot. At times, he resembled a slightly harassed convener at the annual anarchists conference, but this was all part of the fun. In a quick moving show, not everything is guaranteed to land, but obviously with the calibre of acts involved the misses were very few indeed. Some of the highlights were a series of interlinked gags from White, which ended on a showstopper of a song, with an added reveal that really ramped up the mirth just when one thought he had finished. Scott Bennett, whom I primarily think of as a very talented ‘set’ comedian, who can build up a massive head of steam over twenty minutes, had an excellent night showing what he can do with one-liners and pithy comments. Him discussing lettuce and working in a splendid reference to James Bond intros was great. The Heckles from History was my favourite round. There were a number of very clever heckles, and I’d have loved to have seen more of that as it was simply superb.

This was a fantastic show and is probably the best show (as opposed to night) that I have seen. It was that funny I hurt myself laughing. I understand that Delaney and McDonnell are approaching Radio 4 with this concept. A bowdlerised version of this show will still be entertaining, but I think it will fail to capture the sheer joie de vivre. A late night slot on Dave or Channel 4, which would allow everyone free reign, would be magnificent. In the meantime, I hope this show continues, as it would do very well touring universities and comedy clubs. My advice, is that if you go to just one comedy show this year, go and see the Panel Beaters.

After the Panel Beaters, it was Diane Spencer who was giving her new show some stage time. This show was a work in progress, rather than the finished article and at present is something of a mixed bag. Spencer has a light and pleasant demeanour, with a warm smile, which makes her darker material work all the better, as it is unexpected. She also has a skill with accents, which is a definite advantage. However, I felt it was the material that made this show a curate’s egg.

The topics that she speaks about are: being a stepmum, kids, marriage, dieting, her mother and sewing. Some of these are very well travelled areas and it is hard to stand out when building a show around them. In particular, when talking about kids, even with Spencer using original material, it felt as if I’d heard something similar already. There were some very nice touches, such as product failure, Desmond/Hairdressers, ruined with personality, acropolis and Superman – these were all funny and entertaining.

However, there were some other things, such as half a house and well that’s my name for her, which I think the audience got to the reveal before she did. The dietary advice from her Russian friend was good, but the side effects were possibly stretched out a tad too long to keep the momentum. I found the section on sewing to be very original and accessible, especially the section on washing instructions, but felt that it could have done with a little bit more. The same could be said of the show itself – it was accessible and pleasant, but not a lot stood out. In fairness, Spencer did receive some good laughs from the audience and this is nice to see on a show that is a work in progress.