Blessington Carriage – Jack Barry, Damien Ryan, Fiona Ridgewell, Dave Chawner, Saskia Preston and Mark Smith

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse comedy night at the Blessington Carriage; a night that I’ve always enjoyed, but which it seems an age since I last attended. One of the best things about this gig is the audience. There are a large number of regulars who are instantly recognisable and who are keen fans of comedy. Having these aficionado’s in the room is a big bonus, as not only are they up for the show, but they also give the acts time to develop their set. The dress code tonight went from a chap in his trademark shorts and lively shirt, to a poorly lass who was dressed as if she had missed the boat when Scott had gone on his last expedition to the Antarctic. Also present was industry figure, Elliott Bower and as ever, our compere was Spiky Mike, who had a lot of fun with some new faces in the crowd.

Our opening act was Jack Barry, who had a good night. His delivery was lively and enthusiastic, which made him a good choice as opener, although I think he would have had a good gig in any of the slots. There were a few too many errs between sentences for this to be a smooth delivery, but as he was so appealing, I don’t think it made much of a difference to the end product. Although I wasn’t personally keen on the mock surprise when he announced he had a girlfriend, as this has been done to death, as always this line received a laugh. The rest of his material was far more creative than this. Name during sex, bus trip and the call back in Chinese were all good, solid bits. Barry’s closing routine about Santa in China was very good and could easily be built upon. This was a very nice set and I enjoyed it.

The next act was Damien Ryan. His set consisted of a couple of short songs and numerous short set ups and a reveal and seemed very old fashioned in execution. A lot of the gags were the sort where one could guess the reveal before he announced it, such as him having a shadow on his lung – if the punchline had been anything other than Hank Marvin then it would have been a real surprise. There was also no sense of a set being built out of all of these gags. The running order of them could have been randomly shuffled and it wouldn’t have made any real difference to the final result. This was a shame, as Ryan’s delivery was confident and when it came to sarcastic responses to lost items, he really stepped up a gear with this routine, which was all too short. I can’t say I especially enjoyed this performance, but perhaps with a different approach then Ryan would be a stronger act with a wider appeal.

We resumed after the intermission with Fiona Ridgewell, who had a warming presence. Her delivery was good, although she did have the subconscious habit of thrusting her chin out, almost like someone doing an impression of a chicken, and sat to the side of the stage, once you noticed this, it was incredibly distracting. This aside, her set was good, with some strong bits of material, such as prince and woods, which were early stand outs. The reveal on coke was surprisingly pedestrian and was in contrast to the rest of her material. Nicely Ridgewell wasn’t afraid of chatting to the audience and this gave her set a feeling of versatility. This was a good performance.

Dave Chawner followed and his set was something of an oddity. He had a smooth delivery, his material wasn’t bad and it all flowed well, giving it the feel of a set that was building, yet for the first five minutes nothing was really that memorable or stood out. He received laughs, but nothing seemed to land heavily. However, during the second half of his performance Chawner gave the room some good laughs using stronger material. This set was unbalanced with perhaps 70% of the big laughs being in the last 50% of the performance. Not a bad set, but certainly a bit of an odd one and it had a lot of positives going for it.

Saskia Preston demonstrated the combination of powerful writing and an unfortunate delivery. Her material was laudable, with some especially well thought out jokes. Fantasist was excellent (perhaps the line of the night) and sponsored run, twin and regret were also first rate. However, the response to the intelligence of this material was badly hurt by her delivery. This was almost a monotone, with no energy behind it and rather than draw one in, it almost encouraged people to switch off. This was highly detrimental to her set, but if Preston can find a different way to proffer her excellent material, then she could be a very impressive act.

The headliner was Mark Smith, who looked plausible from the moment he stepped onto the stage. He began by working the room, building up some energy and then he launched into a fast delivered set that kept the momentum up. As a native of Derby, he had some local material that went down a treat. Smith’s routines featured reveals that one could not easily guess and I especially enjoyed this. The execution of the set was great, with a very well realised increasingly downcast element to ‘people do’ that added no end of depth to that routine. This was a good performance from a quality act.

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