End of month recommendations

This has been something of a slow month for me, as a lot of gigs have conflicted with shifts at work. Hence I have only seen 36 acts. However, the quality of the acts has been very good. These are the ones who have impressed me the most this month.

Carl Jones (MC)

I’ve seen Jones in the role of compere a few times and he is always impressive. This was at a gig that was very tricky to begin with and the eventual success of the night owed a lot to his hard work.

From the night:

Tonight Jones became the second hardest working MC I’ve ever seen. When he began the room whilst not hostile to comedy, was very guarded and seemed to almost resent the intrusion of what they had all actually paid money to see. Bizarre, I know, but that was the vibe I was getting. They were the sort of crowd to who didn’t want to interact or get involved. However, Jones bravely made a point of chatting to every table and without being a pest, actually getting them to open up and chat. This paid a very good dividend as he made the room seem a lot more welcoming. His explanation of what the Bake Off is to a Danish couple only highlighted just how odd a concept it must seem to our foreign friends. During his second session, Jones made some real connections with the various disparate groups of people sat about the room. He did well to remember names and whom was connected to whom and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Everyone had bought into the night thanks to Jones. This was determined compering that never became overbearing and he did very well to make this a gig.

Jay Handley

I’ve seen Handley a couple of times, but mostly doing short sets; so although I knew he was very good, I didn’t realise he was this good. This was a great set.

From the night:

Our headline act, Jay Handley was built up by Fran, as being a tour de force, a boost that with other acts, could have become a hostage to fortune. Instead Handley took it all in his stride. He made an immediate impact with his material about looking like Jesus and never really looked back. This was a very fast moving twenty five minutes, with laughter rolling throughout the room. Handley built up a lot of momentum and looked every inch a professional level act. His outgoing delivery seemed to bring everyone onboard and he was on the verge of an applause break throughout his entire set, before finally getting one for his cat. The material was strong, with my personal favourite being the bus ride. This was a magnificent set.

Ian Lane

This was a very well judged set that was pitched perfectly to the audience.

From the night:

In contrast, Ian Lane had a great night. He began by making some observations about the room which brought everyone into his act very quickly. His material about his top seemed very fresh and immediate, impressing the room with the fact that he wasn’t on autopilot. His chat with an audience member about 4 socket extension cables initially flummoxed her, but the pay off was nicely offbeat. I did wonder if he was dragging out one section a little bit too long, but it was worth it for the Morse related reveal, which featured as a splendid call back later. Lane delivered his set looking mildly exasperated by the audience, as if he were a teacher and they were a bright but unruly class and this, combined with some strong ad-libs produced a performance that was extremely good. I was very impressed by what I saw.

Radu Isac

Isac is an act who could erroneously be pigeon-holed as being one note, but to do so is to do him a gross injustice. His writing is very sharp and clever and there is a lot of depth to his set.

From the night:

After the intermission it was Radu Isac, whom I view as being very much an up and coming act. I regard him as being a good addition to any bill. A lot of his material comes from being Romanian, but instead of merely relying on this, Isac has some very good and intelligent material. Tonight he received his first (of three) applause breaks for a Meerkat joke, but I was pleased to see his other applause breaks being for the more technically excellent jokes in his set. Isac did have one chap play into his hands by shouting out Bucharest immediately prior to his routine about people who know capitals of the world and this added to the glee. This was a set where time seemed to pass very quickly.

Markus Birdman

This was a cracking performance, pure and simple.

From the night:

The closing act was Markus Birdman who began by explaining what we could expect from his act. This contained a clever knob gag, which was a definite step above the majority of knob gags. He then very slightly blotted his copybook by becoming the third person to ask Chris what his name was, but in fairness this is an occupational hazard of being an headliner who is doubling up with opening at another gig. Birdman swiftly built up a lot of momentum and the room was behind him to a person, enjoying his performance. This was an intelligent set that was delivered with flair and some great facial expressions. Even topics that were unfamiliar to many people in the room were rendered relatable and accessible by his delivery. Birdman has a splendiferous voice. His diction is sonorous and I could probably listen to his voice all day. The end result of his great material and wonderful delivery was a lot of laughs. This was a superb performance.

Honourable mentions:

Jules Oliver, Alan Hudson, Philip Simon, Hannah Silvester, Addy van der Borgh and The Discount Comedy Checkout

Grantham – Addy van der Borgh, Radu Isac, Discount Comedy Checkout and Vince Atta

Tonight I was in Grantham for the Funhouse comedy night there. This is a lovely room, that attracts a decent crowd. Spiky Mike had a good night, adding some fun current affairs elements to his compering, which went down well. He wasn’t even fazed by the comedy cul-de-sac of one chap having a career as a computer game animator. Mike had promised us a very diverse bill and he was spot on in this. We had a surrealist, an improv troupe, a musical act and only one traditional stand up. This made for a night that had something for everyone.

Our opening act was Addy van der Borgh, who with his beard and moustache would have looked looked slightly like The Master in Dr Who, if it wasn’t for Addy having interesting hair. He began well by using the oft quoted Neeson speech from Taken, but adding fresh life to it by putting a belter of a twist on it. This was then followed by a wonderfully surreal set, with some huge standout pieces, such as insurance and gas man. Both of these routines are solid bankers. However, where Van Der Borgh reaps a huge reward is through his performance skills. These are outstanding. He can impart emotions through his tone, his facial expressions and simply how he positions himself. He even managed to make a bottle of wine sound seductive to me and I’m a confirmed teetotaller. Throughout his set, he adds brass band trombone and trumpet sound effects to illustrate his points and these all add to the feel of his show. This was a very strong set.

After the intermission it was Radu Isac, whom I view as being very much an up and coming act. I regard him as being a good addition to any bill. A lot of his material comes from being Romanian, but instead of merely relying on this, Isac has some very good and intelligent material. Tonight he received his first (of three) applause breaks for a Meerkat joke, but I was pleased to see his other applause breaks being for the more technically excellent jokes in his set. Isac did have one chap play into his hands by shouting out Bucharest immediately prior to his routine about people who know capitals of the world and this added to the glee. This was a set where time seemed to pass very quickly.

Next was the Discount Comedy Checkout, an impressive improv troupe who have managed to pull off the difficult task of making improvisation look smooth and polished. Ideally speaking they could have done with more than 10 minutes or so, as by the time they’d explained the format of the games it didn’t leave a lot of time for comedy. However, they more than made the most of the time that they had. This was one of those performances that appealed to everyone in the room. The fact that they work with the audience’s suggestions (anally fixated tonight) really gels them to the crowd. Probably the highlight was Eddie’s take on Jeremy Clarkson. He got this pitch perfect and then really built on it by forcefully demanding his tea – that was sheer genius. The last game was a bit of a valiant damp squib, but this wasn’t DCC’s fault. Instead, it was due to an unfortunate combination of suggestions by the audience and not really having enough time to make the most of it. That little blip aside, this was a thoroughly entertaining performance.

Our headlining act was Vince Atta, a comedian I’d heard of, but hadn’t seen prior to tonight. He left me with happy, but mixed feelings. I’m a philistine when it comes to music; my taste is very much limited to ELO and the Ring Cycle, so hip hop is a bit beyond me. I’m also not that enamoured with musical comedians, preferring tight sets and so on. However, Atta’s charisma and sheer enthusiasm ensured that even if I was out of my zone, I still had a very good time. He presents a compelling visage as he creates a set from a beatbox and his imagination and on a technical level it is excellent. Atta is top notch at what he does and his sheer joy in doing it is highly infectious. His reggae 321 is superb and it was no surprise to hear everyone laughing along loudly. His routine involving the audience was also another crowd pleaser. There were a couple of misfires, such as his penultimate song, which the audience didn’t really buy into, but this was a rare miss in a performance that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Although it may not totally be my cup of tea, I still enjoyed this set and the audience certainly bought into it.

Faradays – Adam Riley, Stu Woodings, Alex Kealy, Ian Lane, Bambam Shaikh, Philip Simon and Carl Jones (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at Faradays, for the first ever gig at this location. Virgin gigs can be a bit tricky, as often enough the venue make schoolboy errors. However, as NCF were running the night I was confident that Helen would use her authority to ameliorate any of these. To being with, though, it looked as if it was going to be a tough night. The event wasn’t over advertised and when I walked in I had to ask at the bar where the comedy was taking place. On the plus side it was upstairs, nicely separated from the rest of the pub, but as it had a spiral staircase and was open plan, there was a lot of noise bleed. Also, numbers weren’t great and to exacerbate this, the audience were spread out over as large an area as possible. Although the bar was closed upstairs, nothing could be done about people who had ordered food, which fortunately mostly arrived whilst our compere was on. This was initially a tough night for the comedians, but one which by the end had turned out to be pretty nice. A lot of the credit for this goes to our MC, Mr Carl Jones.

Tonight Jones became the second hardest working MC I’ve ever seen. When he began the room whilst not hostile to comedy, was very guarded and seemed to almost resent the intrusion of what they had all actually paid money to see. Bizarre, I know, but that was the vibe I was getting. They were the sort of crowd to who didn’t want to interact or get involved. However, Jones bravely made a point of chatting to every table and without being a pest, actually getting them to open up and chat. This paid a very good dividend as he made the room seem a lot more welcoming. His explanation of what the Bake Off is to a Danish couple only highlighted just how odd a concept it must seem to our foreign friends. During his second session, Jones made some real connections with the various disparate groups of people sat about the room. He did well to remember names and whom was connected to whom and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Everyone had bought into the night thanks to Jones. This was determined compering that never became overbearing and he did very well to make this a gig.

The opening act was Adam Riley, whom I thought sported a faint resemblance to Keith Lemon. To begin with he was low energy, delivering short set ups and could have perhaps been described as competent rather than inspired. However, rather than just maintain this level, his jokes built up a nice level of momentum and before long Riley was doing very well. There were some very nice subtle lines in his set, such as lack of empathy, which deserved more than the room gave him. His joke about Cumberbatch as Bond was good and I felt that he could have perhaps expanded upon his concept of a Ginger Bond. His initial line about the big issue went over a few people’s heads, but the entire routine was a big hit and went down very well with the room. He had a slow start, which was in front of a tough crowd, but I’d very much like to see Riley in front of a bigger audience, doing a longer set as he did well. I felt that once he got going his performance rolled along nicely and he had some interesting and funny things to say.

Stu Woodings was next, mixing existing and new material. Woodings has stepped up a gear recently and his newer material is very pleasant, indeed. He opened well, received a good laugh for soccer and as ever, his songs did well. Despite it being a tough crowd, this was a good performance.

Resuming after the intermission, Alex Kealy didn’t have a great night and seemed to lose the room very quickly. His material was a mixture of intellectual comments (Copernicus, Fracking, Phosphates), the more interesting to him than the audience (his first kiss) and a concept that might have sounded good on paper (the news report and music). He finished his time by spending the last 90 seconds or so talking about counting down. Kealy’s style was beyond self-deprecating and into the depressing and I think this may well have alienated too many people from the off and he never really recovered from this. His set seemed to be out of step with what the audience wanted and in a different, more comedy literate venue, such as the Canal House, he may have done better. There the audience may have been willing to trust him to take them on a journey through his life and supply laughs on the way. Tonight wasn’t his best night and he never really seemed to get going.

In contrast, Ian Lane had a great night. He began by making some observations about the room which brought everyone into his act very quickly. His material about his top seemed very fresh and immediate, impressing the room with the fact that he wasn’t on autopilot. His chat with an audience member about 4 socket extension cables initially flummoxed her, but the pay off was nicely offbeat. I did wonder if he was dragging out one section a little bit too long, but it was worth it for the Morse related reveal, which featured as a splendid call back later. Lane delivered his set looking mildly exasperated by the audience, as if he were a teacher and they were a bright but unruly class and this, combined with some strong ad-libs produced a performance that was extremely good. I was very impressed by what I saw.

Closing the middle section was Jay Islaam as Bambam Shaikh, an act I’ve not seen in too long a time. This is a very clever character piece that works on many levels. I’ve seen this act a lot of times and always enjoy it. There is almost as much fun in watching the audience’s reactions to the jokes as there is in listening to them and I thoroughly enjoy the sense of knowing just where Jay is going with his set ups. There were some very loud laughs for this.

The headline act was Philip Simon who cleverly tailored his material to the various members of the audience. It was evident that he had been paying attention and knew who was Welsh and who was a Geordie and this went down a treat. His line about the memory foam mattress was solid, but then raised by the second reveal and then a tie in to an audience member, which ramped up the fun yet another notch. I was especially impressed by his nod to Bambam’s material, which was unique and very funny. Simon was totally in control of the room and it was a pleasure to watch him switching from material to room work and hoovering up laughs. His material was broad with something for pretty much everyone in it. His darker material was probably the most appreciated by the audience. This was a very good set that was intelligently delivered.

Adm Rodney (Southwell) – Alfie Moore, Ben Powell, Rahul Kohli and Markus Birdman

Tonight I was just down the road from home at the Funhouse gig in Southwell. This was a well attended gig, with scarcely an empty chair in the house. It was nice to see Ruby at her first ever gig, although she did sadly leave just before it began. Spiky Mike had a good night compering, showing great timing on Jones and getting two applause breaks in the first section. It didn’t take long for the room to be ready for our opening act.

Alfie Moore opened this gig and he is a solid reassuring presence on any bill. He began by discussing names and this contained something of a faux pas, as he asked Mike if they had a name for their baby yet, momentarily forgetting that Ruby is six weeks old. However, this didn’t derail his set and if anything added to the feeling that this was definitely live comedy. Performing his trademark lunges, Moore delivered a very nice set, that contained some wonderful lines such as switching off the Christmas lights, a pun about Jonathan Ross, murder weekend, tasering and a clever section on dogs. However, the highlight was The Head, which fully deserves capital letters. This is a fantastic routine and it closed off a very enjoyable set.

Ben Powell, whom I had last seen going through to the next round in an English Comedian of the Year heat, opened the middle section. He received an early applause break for Cameron, although I felt he could have gained from rotating slightly so that the entire room could see his face. This could be said about a lot of his delivery; the stage is in the middle of a rectangular room and Powell stood facing a quarter right for most of his set, predominantly delivering to the 70% of the audience sat down there. His material about farting was well received, although it did earn him a friendly shout out of ‘sad bastard’ from one chap, which although he commented on it, Powell didn’t really ad lib anything to top it and this was a bit of a missed opportunity. There was a list of silly things said by Redknapp, which had an air of Private Eye’s Colemanballs about it. This was still funny and was a nice lead into his final routine. This was a fun set that would have perhaps benefited from a little bit of audience interaction.

Rahul Kohli followed, getting an applause break for his opening line. His material concerned Newcastle, race, religion and politics and covered a lot of ground very quickly. It included a tongue twister of a Chinese name and had impressive touches, such as Panama and Clinton. This is a man who not only reads a lot of newspapers, but who can take quite detailed issues and get to the comedy nub very quickly. His new material about Trump was a rare miss, but I’m quite happy to believe his assertion that he only thought of it on the way to the gig. Kohli’s delivery is fast and has an enthusiasm that is infectious. He has a strong accent, but even speaking quickly is generally easy to follow, apart from when he was talking about the Middle East, where it momentarily became a bit lost in the flow. This was a very good set and it’s obvious that Kohli is very much a rising star.

The closing act was Markus Birdman who began by explaining what we could expect from his act. This contained a clever knob gag, which was a definite step above the majority of knob gags. He then very slightly blotted his copybook by becoming the third person to ask Chris what his name was, but in fairness this is an occupational hazard of being an headliner who is doubling up with opening at another gig. Birdman swiftly built up a lot of momentum and the room was behind him to a person, enjoying his performance. This was an intelligent set that was delivered with flair and some great facial expressions. Even topics that were unfamiliar to many people in the room were rendered relatable and accessible by his delivery. Birdman has a splendiferous voice. His diction is sonorous and I could probably listen to his voice all day. The end result of his great material and wonderful delivery was a lot of laughs. This was a superb performance.

Canal House – Herman the German (Jurgen Strack), Stu Woodings, Ben MacPherson, Rosie Francis, Ben Shannon, Jon Pearson, Josh Pugh and Thomas Rackham (mc)

Tonight I was back at my favourite gig, the Canal House, organised by NCF. Despite the various permutations to the bill, this was pretty much packed out. The room was swelteringly hot at first, and then the aircon was switched on, but as this was set at Baltic freezing, I seemed to go from hot to cold. Our MC was Thomas Rackham.

Rackham had stepped in at short notice to compere the gig, following an unavoidable cancellation. At first Rackham didn’t have an easy time of it, as the audience seemed to be reluctant to respond to banter, but as soon as he used a few bits of material the room swiftly warmed to him. Rackham’s chat to Phil led nicely into his section on nightclubs and the recent news about the Bake Off gave him a great opening into his strong routine about flapjacks (my personal favourite of his material). It’s possible that Rackham was the only person in the room who hadn’t heard of Zorba’s dance, but this was soon rectified when he had Emily come up on stage to demonstrate it. The room was a little bit inclined towards the noisy end of the spectrum, but Rackham managed to keep this in check until the final section when the alcohol/attention mix of one table at the front reached a tipping point. It was pleasant to see Rackham at work.

Our opening act was ‘Herman the German’ (Jurgen Strack), who demonstrated that not only was the war a long time ago, but also what a set would be like if based upon tired stereotypes, with weak reveals. He began by humming the Dam Buster’s March, had a joke about Coventry being bombed, his granddad being a sniper and how a relative had flew to Britain (during the war – natch), plus a few lines about Messerschmitts and German’s asking ze questions. In fairness, the gag about Coventry was funny, even if you immediately knew where he was going as soon as he mentioned the city. However, the rest of the gags about the events of 70 years ago just seemed to be very old hat, almost something that a bad comic from the 1970s might have used on an off night. The fact that he is German, rather than British, himself was perhaps the only saving grace to it. Following this, there was a big build up on a routine about vaping, but the reveal on this was such that it left you wondering if that was actually it, or if he had just abandoned the routine without the punchline. There was some chanting (Jawohl/German) that went on long after I’d personally lost interest in where he was taking us and was just hoping we would get there quickly.

The next act was Stu Woodings, who was giving the room some new material. As with new material this was a little bit of a mixed bag, but the overall feeling was that there was a lot of good stuff. Cheat day and lying on the floor were all good. Time travel has promise, but I think it took the room a second to twig on to the chord line and the Cher ending may need a bit of work. The full life was very interesting, but the reveal may benefit from another look. None of this is criticism, it was new material and Woodings was funny with it. He has taken a forwards step with it.

We resumed after the intermission with Ben MacPherson, who was a nice late addition to the bill. Tonight he was doing improv, which he gave a rather nice explanation for at the top of his set. The theme of his improv was names and in this he welded room work to some material about his own name. Not everything worked perfectly, but he gave a creditable performance and he has definitely got something here. With a few more set pieces that he could steer the audience comments towards and a few callbacks I’d say he would have a strong set. I could see a few places where he could make improvements to this set and I’ll be very interested to see how he develops it. The audience enjoyed it and he received good laughs, especially when he discussed his looks.

Rosie Francis began with three good lines, one after the other, and this established her credentials very swiftly. She gave the room a poem, where I thought there was room for a visual gag with the poem sheet and then a collection of new words. These new words were excellent and added an extra level of interest to her set. Francis’ material didn’t deal with politics, or big issues, instead it was down to earth, with a bit of whimsy thrown in and it worked very well. She delivered it confidently at a conversational level and it proved to be a very pleasant ten minutes.

Concluding the middle section was Ben Shannon who mixed high energy, surrealism and subtlety with the impression of a man who is easily distracted. He would begin a routine, get distracted by the mic stand, audience, or aircon, riff with that for a bit and then return to his routine, where he would then give an offbeat reveal. Sometimes these, which were often delivered as an aside, were pretty subtle and all the more enjoyable for it. Shannon was fast speaking and in twelve minutes he probably used ten minutes worth of material and spent six minutes working the room. However, this all meandered very nicely and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

The final section was opened by Jon Pearson who was doing new material. He began, though, by fending off a shout out asking where his surfboard was, which probably wasn’t how he planned to open his set. This was from a well lubricated table in response to his wearing a lively shirt that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Roger Swift’s wardrobe. This was only a short set and could be divided into three areas. I enjoyed the touch it joke and the later callback to it was great. The lollipop has promise, but the standout was the toaster. Although the build on that would benefit from a line that hits home hard, the routine builds up very nicely and this will be an excellent addition to his set.

Josh Pugh closed and it is obvious that despite having been on his holidays he is still very much a man at the top of his game. Tonight was new material. Pugh has the ability to make almost anything funny; he has a very individual way of looking at the world and the surreal twists he adds to what should be the mundane make him a stand out. The bowling joke was the only one that was foreseeable. His set was robbed of some momentum by a table that was friendly but well oiled and who shouted out things at the worst of moments. It’s always a pleasure to see Pugh and I’d like to see his talents used more widely, such as on panel shows in Edinburgh and the like.

Adm Rodney, Wollaton – Tom Short, Jules Oliver, Danny Clives, Tony Wright, Hannah Silvester, Jay Handley and Fran Jenking (mc)

Tonight I was at the Admiral Rodney in Wollaton for the Funhouse comedy night. For once I was actually able to park in the car park, which made a nice change. This was partly because the numbers were slightly down on last time, although it was still nicely busy.

Our MC Fran Jenking had a good night, demonstrating the benefit of having a popular resident compere. He has built up a very nice rapport with the audience and this makes it feel a very friendly gig. There was a lot of laughter during his work and without really seeming to have to work very hard to achieve this, he warmed the room up pretty quickly. He could probably have introduced acts sooner, due to his warming everyone up so quickly. Jenking set a friendly and convivial tone for the whole evening.

The opening act was Tom Short, who literally went on stage two minutes after arriving at the venue. Whilst he isn’t the most charismatic presence, Short soon had everyone listening intently to what he was saying. His delivery is very conversational, with lots of additional words that build up what he is saying. Whilst I felt that his comments about Blackpool Illuminations were very much in the style of Peter Kay, I enjoyed the Bane reference. His closing routine about the Yorkshire Ripper was very good, but probably the standout on his set was a great ad-lib about a hearth next to the stage that he stumbled on – his Dickensian comment was as lovely as it was unexpected.

Jules Oliver had a very good night. She demonstrated some very nice touches during her set. She had a visual aid that could be seen (always a bonus) and had been listening to Fran chatting to the audience and so knew which couple had been on a cruise (if the acts are obviously listening to each other then it sets a good example). These were both minor points, but still good. From the off, though, Oliver made a big impact on the audience. Her actual set was very cleverly written, with some great jokes, such as dog grooming and falconry, both of which were excellent. Her style was very pleasing, as one could never be sure where the reveal would come from. The only section in this impressive set that I wasn’t massively keen on was the reading out of emails from her father. This was still funny, but I’ve seen a few comedians do something similar and this robbed it of the impact it would otherwise have had with me. This was a very good performance that went down very well with the audience.

We resumed after the intermission with the softly spoken Danny Clives. His set was spoilt a bit by the intrusive noise bleed from the best side of the pub and from the sounds of pints being pulled. He began nicely, getting laughs for standing there, looking awkward. His material slightly split the room, with some people not really getting what he was doing. However, there were some very good lines in it that landed well. I especially appreciated the wonderful line, ‘can’t prove it’ and that really deserved a far bigger response than he received for it. This was a well constructed set with a lot of art in it.

The very smartly dressed Tony Wright followed. He began by discussing his name and appearance, getting a nice laugh, which was followed by an even bigger laugh for the advice his father gave him. His joke about a seasoned veteran was perhaps the highlight of his set, but after this it was rather hit and miss. There were some deliberately bad puns, that elicited a groan, but would perhaps have worked better if delivered with more elan. In fairness, he wasn’t helped on his penultimate joke by a couple of police cars racing past the window, sirens blaring. However, despite having the look of a well polished act, I found him a curiously unmemorable act and I suspect that most of the audience will struggle to remember much about him, too and this is a shame. There is nothing wrong with his delivery, he can certainly put across whatever he is discussing and I would suggest that with stronger material he will do well.

Hannah Silvester had a very nice night, gaining a lot of laughter. She had some very timely references, such as French beachwear and her routine about watching films whilst doing housework was lovely. Her delivery was engaging and flowed nicely; her asides were especially enjoyable. This was a very good set.

Our headline act, Jay Handley was built up by Fran, as being a tour de force, a boost that with other acts, could have become a hostage to fortune. Instead Handley took it all in his stride. He made an immediate impact with his material about looking like Jesus and never really looked back. This was a very fast moving twenty five minutes, with laughter rolling throughout the room. Handley built up a lot of momentum and looked every inch a professional level act. His outgoing delivery seemed to bring everyone onboard and he was on the verge of an applause break throughout his entire set, before finally getting one for his cat. The material was strong, with my personal favourite being the bus ride. This was a magnificent set.

Eastwood – Rob Rouse, Steve Goodall, Stevie Gray, Alan Hudson and Fran Jenking (MC)

Last night I was in Eastwood, for the annual DH Lawrence Festival’s comedy night, organised by Funhouse. The night didn’t begin well, as I fell foul of a diversion that started 100 yds from the venue and which then took me 3 miles round and about before it finally deposited me where I wanted to be. Although the crowd wasn’t huge, there was enough people there to make up a reasonable audience. However, despite the presence of travelling comedy fans, Sarah and her husband, who go to a lot of Funhouse gigs, it was evident that most people weren’t familiar with gig etiquette. This is to be expected in once a year shows, but it was still irritating to see people getting up to go to the bar/toilet whilst acts were in mid flow and our MC, Fran Jenking, had to have a word with people talking at the bar a couple of times. Not the end of the world and everything was good natured, but still a bit frustrating.

Jenking demonstrated the advantages of having a compere who is local to the venue. He knew which areas looked down on others and also how to pronounce each place. This is an improvement on a compere who mangles place names, which does tend to jar with locals. Fran did the rules, got people cheering and as ever was strongest when just chatting to people. His disarming manner encouraged people to open up, although everyone present seemed quite willing to spill the beans on their friends if they were slow with an answer. At first, I did think that he perhaps spent a little bit too long chatting to one extended family group to the detriment of the rest of the crowd, but as this big group was sat at the front and made up 40% of the audience, he would have been doing well to find someone else within easy range. This was relaxed and pleasant compering.

The opening act was Rob Rouse, who made a big first impression as he commented upon the peculiarities of the room. From here he went into a nice routine about house mates and this led naturally into his second routine. The centrepiece of his set concerned him having a prostrate exam. This is a topic that a lot of male comics of his age seem to have material on and I think I’ve seen four routines based on it. However, I can confidently state that this is the best one that I’ve seen. Rouse sets the scene and then builds upon the scenario, adding lots of laughs along the way. There was scarcely an aside that didn’t result in a big laugh. Every word was perfect for giving this added value. Such was his descriptive powers that his dragging a table to the stage and acting everything out was really just the icing on the cake. Just as he was reaching the climax of the scene one chap got up to go to the loo, which didn’t help Rouse, but which did give him a splendid chance for an ad-libbed comment, which went down very well. Rouse’s material is very strong and it hangs together well, flowing very naturally. Considering his material, the way he speaks and his tone of voice, Rouse would have a strong resemblance to Tom Wrigglesworth if he spoke a little bit more slowly. This was a very strong set that I enjoyed.

Steve Goodall, with his warm and welcoming grin opened the middle section. He’s an interesting act whose style seems to be the result of several influences. Although I can’t quite put my finger on why I got this impression, his style of delivery is reminiscent of some of the stronger acts who appeared on The Comedians and I quite like that. Goodall has the natural patter of a storyteller, but he mixes this up by using this as a short set up and then throwing in one-liners, which again I like. These jokes were good, but the rhythm was unusual and I think that explains why the first two went over the heads of some of the people in the room. I may be wrong, but I think that the audience weren’t expecting the reveal so soon and were busy following the story. This was a shame, as Goodall seemed to have to work to get the room engaged with him. Although Goodall didn’t have his best night, he certainly has potential and I’d like to see him again.

Stevie Gray was next, giving some new material an airing. He hit the room with a fair bit of energy and established himself quickly. His new section about cricket bats has a lot of promise and could be developed in a number of different ways, especially given that there was a shout out that may actually come in useful as material in a future show. Legal Eagle was a crowd pleaser and this was an interactive set that seemed to shake the room up a bit. It’s nice to see Gray on a bill, as he adds energy, laughter and has a definite feel good factor.

The closing act was the comedy magician, Alan Hudson. I like to see comedy magicians on bills, as I feel they add something a little bit different to the standard fare of someone stood with a microphone. He began well with a fun opening gambit about angles and then proceeded to demonstrate a number of tricks. These were all performed flawlessly and amazed the audience. The strongest of these involved a ring, with multiple pieces of misdirection, all mined for comedy and great acting on the part of Hudson. This was a real stand out and if it wasn’t for the energy in the thimble show, would have made a great closing routine. Hudson delivers the comedy in tandem to the magic. This is through his asides. He delivers these in a somewhat downbeat and dry manner, which struck a definite chord with the audience. This was a very strong set that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

The Boy with Tape on his Face

Tonight I’ve been to the Guildhall in Grantham to see the Boy with Tape on his Face. This is a venue that I usually associate with Funhouse gigs and so it felt a little bit strange not to be in the ball room and to be sent into the rather splendid little theatre. However, considering that all of Tape Face’s show is visual, it does make perfect sense. The stage was set out as if for a 1920’s Broadway show and I did wonder if this had been inherited from a show that was taking a night off, rather than bespoke to Tape Face. It turned out to be the latter, as he made good use of some of the various attributes of it.

To anyone who hasn’t seen The Boy with Tape on his Face, something getting increasingly unlikely, given his success on America’s got Talent, his act isn’t easy to describe. It combines mime, props, audience interaction and incredible performance skills. However, this doesn’t do the sheer creative genius justice. Tape Face is a chap who looks at the world differently to other people. One could leave 100 people on a desert island for 10 years with his props and no one would see the possibilities that he does. This has two drawbacks, one is that sections of his act have been ripped off by many imitators and the other is that it takes time to create these masterpieces of physical comedy. Hence the inclusion of elements first seen by me in Jason Manford’s Comedy rocks in 2011 (Ghost and Dirty Dancing).

At first glance Tape Face appears to be something of a hostage to fortune with the people he selects from the audience. One would imagine that the more inept they are in following his silent instructions, the more likely his show is to be derailed. However, when a chap struggled for a good couple of minutes to realise that he was supposed to be using his left arm instead of his right arm, the cheers and applause when he twigged on was raucous to say the least, encouraged, naturally by Tape Face miming his frustration. Some of the more astute ‘volunteers’ really added value to the show by getting into the spirit of things and this was a bonus. Like the Australian John Robertson, Tape Face decides where the front row is and there is a palpable sense of trepidation when he goes on safari, seeking a person. Being in the middle of a row towards the back is no defence.

Every element of his show, including the apparent throwaway stunts, end up being utilised and this gives a feeling of completeness to the show. It manages to be tightly scripted, but simultaneously flexible enough to allow him plenty of room to ad lib reactions and what reactions they are, too. A raised eyebrow from the Boy is worth an entire paragraph of exposition regarding how he is feeling. Owing to the amount of time it takes to craft new material for a show such as this, it isn’t one to watch every year, but this is one to keep going back to, as it will never fail to impress.

Nott’s Comedy Review – end of month recommendations – August

This has been a big month for comedy, with the Edinburgh festival. Rather than just say which shows I enjoyed the most, this months’ list of the people who have impressed me the most will concentrate on those whom I only saw doing short sets in compilation shows. This means that Norcott, Segal, Green, Swift and Perkins are all excluded as I saw them in full shows.

Moses Ali Khan

I’d not seen Moses for six months and it is impossible to understate just how much he has improved in that time. His material is clever and dark and he has found a way to deliver it that is nicely disarming.

From the gig:

Moses Ali Khan was next and he had an exceptionally good gig. His character act is a beautiful construct that allows him to say the most appalling things with enough of a breathing space for the audience to laugh before worrying about how dark his material is. The material involves a lot of misdirection before the surprise punchline emerges and it isn’t what the audience ever expects it to be. This was a very very funny set and although he benefited somewhat from following Adele, the gusts of laughter were down to his talent.

Harry Stachini

Very impressive, very funny and every time I see him he is better than the last time.

From the gig:

Harry Stachini, who is very much an up and coming comedian, followed. His delivery was very matter of fact, he described the events surrounding odd people on buses in a plain workmanlike way, almost as if he had just got in from work and was telling his partner about the journey home. Yet despite this being a bit of a no thrills approach, it perfectly suits his persona and material and worked far better than any other approach he could have taken. It gave the events he described great credibility. Stachini chose his words well, with there being hardly a single word that was superfluous to what he was saying and every phrase he used seemed perfect for the context. Although bus passengers is a well travelled topic for comics, Stachini made it seem fresh, which is no mean feat.

Mark Grimshaw

This chap has the ability to take a sideways view of most topics. Although the areas he spoke about are pretty well travelled his take on them was fresh.

From the gig:

The first act was Mark Grimshaw who in his 8 minutes interestingly combined some popular topics that a few comedians are working with, but with him saying some very funny and definitely above average things about them. He began by explaining that he is autistic and compared his delivery to that of Yodel – this was an area that I appreciated, as I felt it to be very timely and it certainly resonated with the audience. However, he then went on to talk about the headlines in OK magazine, which I thought was going for a bit of an easy target and one that has been covered a few times. However, I really enjoyed what he had to say about it. The same can be said for his discussion about unusual reviews left on Trip Adviser. He is the second comedian I’ve seen mining this site for comedy recently and although both were different in the specifics of what they had to say, the format was exactly the same, with both having independently gone with something along the lines of ‘well what did they expect to see there?’ Grimshaw’s take on it contained some great lines, such as ‘new management’ and ‘mod cons’ which were very good indeed. Grimshaw is obviously a very talented wordsmith, but I’d like to see him going for less well travelled topics.

Tony Cowards (MC)

I saw Tony compering a gig following his stint in Edinburgh. His general knowledge enabled him to make the most of replies from the audience and his ability to tie existing material into this, without any huge leaps of logic is uncanny. He has the knack of making a well thought out stream of puns seem like an off the cuff comment. Audiences love the apparent spontaneity of this and it ensures that he not only wins rooms over quickly, but also makes it feel a bit special for everyone.

Honourable mentions:

Simon Lomas, Pete Selwood, Jay Handley, Adele Swift and Tom Mayhew