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.

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