Kayal Gong – Neal Sullivan, Timothy Montague de Flerie, Valerio Sara, Sean Sellers, Ross Smith, Michelle Harrison, Trisha Timpson, Sarah Johnson, Jack Topher, Ben Warrington, Pat Robinson, Bennett Kavanagh, Marvin Alan and Shaun Turner

Last night I was at the Kayal in Leicester for the Funhouse gong show. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a gong show and so I was looking forwards to seeing what was on offer. Gong shows have a reputation amongst the general population of being filled with the mad, bad and delusional, but this is far from the reality. My experience is that one is more likely to find semi-pro acts trying new material, hoping to catch the eye of the promoter, than you are to witness a car crash of an act. Last night we had 14 acts performing, most of whom were unknown to me, on an international bill that was extremely varied, covering music, magic, character acts and stand up.

Our opening act was Neal Sullivan, whose high energy walk to the stage contrasted sharply with his slow start. Sullivan, who looked happy just to be present (and this was very warming to see) had some nice reveals, especially the apt murder a nan/naan, but the set ups weren’t really punchy enough for him to survive long. With shorter set ups he would have done better.

Next was a character act, Timothy Montague de Flerie, who played it as a high status toff. Wearing a wig and physically resembling a cross between Richard Branson, Noel Edmonds and Hans Gruber, this was someone who definitely stood out. On the positive side he was a convincing caricature, the performance hung together well and ‘Timothy’ had no problem projecting his voice, which was a bonus. However, this was light on laughs and the best line, ethical sweatshop, seemed to be missed by many in the audience. The root problem was that the character was one that it was easy for the audience to feel deeply unsympathetic about and that the humour needed to be especially strong to win people around. There was enough in it though, for him to get through to the final.

The Neapolitan, Valerio Sara, followed. His enunciation was interesting, sounding a touch like Bela Lugosi and this added a lot to his delivery. He began by dragging out the silence before talking about an alternative evolutionary path. I enjoyed his line about an omelette, as this was a nice clever line, but it was perhaps a little bit too subtle for the audience. His singing in Italian ate up a lot of time, but the reveal was decent, although it did rely more on his stage persona than being intrinsically funny in itself.

Sean Sellers began with room work, which led into a short routine about his style of fashion. He received his first (of two) applause breaks for this. The routine about Trump was good. Sellers was one of the more polished acts of the night and gave the impression of having a decent amount of stage time under his belt. I found him to be enjoyable and wasn’t surprised when he became a finalist.

Following the intermission we resumed with the act that made the biggest impression of the night on me: Ross Smith. To begin with he presented a strange sight. His mustard coloured t-shirt matched both the colour of the Funhouse banner and the curtains behind the stage and this made it look as if there was a head floating on the stage. Immediately after Smith had made a clever start, this floating head business ensured that he earned the first shout out of the night. However, this interjection didn’t derail his set, on the contrary, he returned the comment with interest and gained a nice applause break for his quick wits. From here Smith went on to borrow a pair of glasses from a chap in the front row and used it as a prop to illustrate his various looks. This physicality added another layer to what was the outstanding set of the night. This was a very varied and enjoyable performance and I was surprised to see him as runner up, rather than winning the night.

Michelle Harrison was on her second gig, fresh from winning a gong show on her opening foray into comedy. Her tone was pleasant and conversational and she gave a very engaging monologue. She was totally disarming in her delivery and I think everyone wanted to hear more from her. I felt that the material was a bit lightweight, but I can picture her becoming a good act with more stage time. She easily made it through to the final.

Trisha Timpson is a character act with potential. She is played as a dim-witted barmaid who is able to get the wrong end of any stick. This was a well delivered set and the look was in synch with the character. The material was good, but suffered from two factors. One was that it was hard to make out the minge reveal and so last night this didn’t land as well as it could have done. The other issue was that over the short time we had with Trisha, the character, although fleshed out with a backstory, didn’t show any depth beyond being dim-witted. This is a facet that would probably be addressed over a longer set, but over 4 minutes or so it did make her feel a little bit one note. If she was more nuanced with some misdirection over her being dim-witted then she would be stronger.

Sarah Johnson was a confident presence and her observational style went down well with the audience. Although the set held up nicely and the links were pretty smooth I felt the material was a little bit pedestrian. She made it through to the final easily.

Jack Topher, who has impressed me when I’ve seen him, had a good night. He was a little bit unlucky in the running order, as the judges had been quite lenient, letting a lot of acts through, and I felt that they had woken up to the fact that they had to vote someone off sooner rather than later. However, instead of being the fall guy, Topher sailed through to the final. He received a big laugh for idiot and then an applause break. This was a well constructed set that was delivered with a nice line of patter. To progress further, though, Topher will need to get more stage time.

The smartly dressed Ben Warrington was a little bit low on laughs and was voted off long before he had the chance to make an impression on the room. I would have liked to have seen more of him, as it was hard to get much of a feel for his set from the brief bit I saw.

Pat Robinson benefited from the fact that a lot of the material she used was that old that it was now new to many people in the audience. Jokes such as how do you make an Essex girl laugh on a Sunday were done to death in the mid 1990’s and I’d rather see unique material, rather than someone remembering jokes from the Sun. I was also less than impressed with the material about facebook/twitter and uploading photos of meals as sets about social media fads were ubiquitous a few years ago and I don’t feel that she is saying anything not already said by 30 other people. However, the audience enjoyed Robinson’s performance and in fairness she built up momentum. With different material she would be a far better act.

Bennett Kavanagh was an interesting act. He began by riffing with variations on his first name, which was fun, although the ultimate reveal was a bit of a let down, as I was expecting something far more original than just a standard ‘teachers’ gag. Like Smith earlier, Kavanagh was the victim of a shout out, but like Smith, he handled it well. This was a very good set, with a lot to like about it. The material was strong, the piano added something a little bit different and the jokes were pretty smart.

Marvin Alan added to the bill by being a magician. However, he had a nightmare 3 minutes and died by a thousand cuts, as everything he said or did went wrong. He lost time at the start by asking for volunteers and then he dropped a vital prop before seeming to struggle with the physical set up of his first trick. By this point he had lost the room and was promptly voted off before he had chance to recover with a quick ‘Just like that’.

Shaun Turner, the winner of the night, was last on the bill. Turner has some nice lines, such as parking and swimming, but the mainstay of his set is him having cerebral palsy and it quickly became easy to predict the type of punchline, if not always the exact wording of it. Apart from a routine about WKD, everything came back to CP. Over 5 minutes this didn’t seem to matter so much, but over a longer set he would need to introduce more variety. As it was, the rest of the audience enjoyed him and he emerged as a clear winner.

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