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.

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