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.