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.

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