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.

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