Canal House – Gina Overton, Jon Pearson, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Byron Montrose, Paul Savage, Ben Shannon, Hannah Silvester, Dan Nicholas and Paul Mutagejja (MC)

Last night I was in the Canal House in Nottingham for my favourite comedy night – the NCF £1 night. This was something of a showcase event, with all of the acts, apart from Overton, showing previews of their shows in the forthcoming Nottingham Comedy Festival (4/11 – 12/11). This was a wonderfully varied bill, with new material being performed, surrealism, straight stand up, a character act and a healthy gender split. Audience numbers were buoyant with local comedy scene figures Rob Stevenson and Minder being present. Our compere was Paul Mutagejja.

Mutagejja is probably the best thing to come out of Lincoln since someone invented the Lincolnshire Sausage and I’ve seen him perform a few times, but this was the first time I’ve seen him MC. Last night I think he was heavily handicapped by not being able to see much of the audience beyond the first row, due to the lights and so he defaulted to alternating between asking the audience to clap for various things, which by the 7th time was perhaps a bit much, and performing material. The material was decent, with Tunbridge Wells being the stand out, although in a different routine he may get a bigger laugh when discussing Thatcher by replacing Cameron with Theresa May and keeping everything else the same. Doing a truncated version of his 20 worked well enough, but I would have liked to see him tie it into the audience a little bit more so that it didn’t feel so much like an extra set on the bill. This wouldn’t have been that difficult for him to have done, either. By asking who had travelled the furthest from home for their holiday Mutagejja would have had a nice lead in to his material on Skegness and something similar could have been done by talking about posh areas of Nottingham, before going into Tunbridge Wells. I enjoyed seeing Mutagejja and he had a decent night, but I don’t think he did as well as what he may have done.

Gina Overton opened and whilst there were some interesting touches (queue, labia, kids reactions), this set unfortunately felt a bit lightweight. Overton’s material was heavily skewed towards sexual content, but a lot of the value in this approach came from the novelty of it being a middle aged lady talking about vibrators, labia, lingerie and Ann Summers and beyond this there didn’t seem to be a lot of substance. Her delivery was low energy and this made going on first a disadvantage – if she had gone on 2nd or 4th, then Overton would have had a better night. In fairness, she held the room and there were laughs, but she may do better to inject a little bit more energy into her delivery. It may also be beneficial if she were to have some more audience interaction, such as getting someone unlikely up onto the stage to model the lingerie and to serve as a foil, whilst she delivers part of her set.

Jon Pearson had an odd night. The audience seemed to have reset themselves and so he had to begin anew to build atmosphere. Rather than going for material, his banter played better with the room at first, but as a hugely confident presence he rolled with this, alternating between room work and material until he had everyone back onboard. I liked the expanded Karma Sutra routine and the new line about paper mache.

Jeanette Bird-Bradley gave the room a pleasant time that rolled along nicely. It would improve her set if she had something immediately funny to open with and a knockout closing routine, but despite this, she was quietly enjoyable and hoovered up consistent, if not big, laughs. JBB’s delivery is low key, almost like a teacher explaining a concept to a class and this is quite endearing.

Next was Ben MacPherson, resplendent in jazzy outfit, performing as a new character – Byron Montrose. I like MacPherson, he has presence and the sort of voice that Barry White would envy. His show was a monologue and I’m generally not a fan of these, as I find a lot of audiences disengage after a while and it is hard to sustain the momentum without some audience interaction. However, I’m happy to say that Montrose did not suffer at all from this; indeed from beginning to end he remained thoroughly entertaining. The material was extremely good. Every line had been scrutinised until it contained something that added comedic value. There were no loose adjectives, instead, it was like a Spike Milligan book, with nods to surrealism and everything provoking a giggle. Whilst there was no one killer line that brought the house down, the cumulative effect of one small pun after another was remarkable and I think there is a real risk that in the full show the room may be giggled out after 25 minutes. This was a smashing performance that was delightfully different.

Paul Savage closed the middle section with some new material. Whilst some of this was still raw, there was a lot that had promise. I was especially impressed with his line about subs clapping. Savage was a confident presence and sold the material very well, with some great moments when he broke from a routine and just chatted with the audience. I’m looking forwards to attending his panel show, Hell to Play, at the Lord Roberts on the 11th.

Ben Shannon, with his welcoming grin, was a joyous addition to the bill. His delivery has the sort of rhythm that makes me wonder why he isn’t better known than he is. His material was good, although I did think he missed a chance for a call back to his material about his girlfriend when discussing ham on a cat’s back, but this may have been omitted for this preview of his full show. Like 90% of comedians, Shannon felt the need to confirm that his girlfriend was real. I’m not keen on this, as it is overdone. Although Shannon got a laugh for saying it, I can’t help but feel that this laugh could be achieved in a more novel way.

Hannah Silvester had a splendid night. This makes it three out of three gigs where I’ve seen her do well. Her material is relatable, it hangs together well and she moves smoothly from routine to routine. Silvester’s delivery was perfectly in key with what she was saying, with the right tone and lilt being used to make her point without overdoing it and this was a joy to watch.

Headlining was Dan Nicholas, who should perhaps come with the warning – ‘expect the unexpected’. Nicholas could be described as surreal, unorthodox, off the wall, nuts and also compelling. Whether he is organising a Mexican wave of animal noises, shouting down a flight of stairs for Enrique (with Elliott having to manhandle the lights to follow him) or leading a huge conga through the room, Nicholas is never anything less than compulsive viewing. John Robertson once declared that he decides where the front row is and Nicholas could easily say the same, as he worked not just the front row, but the entire audience. This was magnificently unexpected, but also good fun and he is the comedian that the audience will be telling their friends about today.

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