November – comedians who have impressed me the most this month

This has been a lovely month. I’ve seen 47 acts, encompassing gong shows and festival shows. There were a large number of acts who have thoroughly impressed me with their ability. These are the ones who have made the biggest impact upon me:

Tom Christian

Christian is a comedian that I don’t seem to see a lot and it was astonishing just how much he had improved since I last saw him. This performance was at an open mic night, but even so, Christian stood out for his professionalism and his sheer quality.

From the night:

The award winning Tom Christian was the closing act. He had impressed me before he had even entered the room. He had arrived whilst Sherwood was compering and rather than walk in and potentially detract from this work, he had stayed outside until the right moment came along to come in – a nicely professional touch. Getting the up and coming Christian for this gig was something of a coup and his quality soon became apparent to the audience. He opened with a short routine about Meatloaf, which is nicely visual and punchy enough to give him instant laughter. This then led into a wonderfully varied series of routines that were very well written and had lots of little touches. Some of these were a bit subtle and weren’t as appreciated as they might have been, such as Uncle Tom, which wasn’t got by everyone, but was appreciated by those who did. Christian was a confident presence in the room and it’s fair to say that he dominated it commanding attention, rather than this being optional – I don’t think that this was the result of a conscious decision that he made, but more a knack that comes with experience and knowing that he has a solid set to hold the room with. Even if there was a baby crying throughout bits of his set. There were a lot of good lines and I think the letters of complaint were perhaps the highlight of his set. These went down a treat. Christian received four applause breaks, gave the room a lot of laughter, was very influential in getting the venue owners to run a second comedy night and had a lot of well wishers shaking his hand and thanking him for being so funny. Not a bad nights’ work for him.

Pete Teckman

An act who doesn’t have the social media presence of many comics and possibly isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds as a result of this. However, Teckman gave a fantastic performance.

From the night:

Next was Pete Teckman, who fully lived up to his reputation as being a thoroughly nice guy. His dry delivery went down very well with the audience as he started pleasantly with a routine about identity theft and then continued with the nicely creative concept of head tattoos. This was followed by material that was formidable enough to earn his not one, not two, not three, not four, but five applause breaks over fifteen minutes. That was lovely to see and whilst it could perhaps be said that the audience were his type of people and his material was their type of humour, I don’t think that that is the real explanation for Teckman’s success. Instead, it was the result of a very well put together set that felt coherent and carried on building right up until the end. There were a lot of great routines delivered with good timing and in a great dry manner. My personal favourite was the aunt kicking, which was not only intrinsically funny, but all the more appreciated because one had to think about it to get the joke and it built upon the foundations laid by an earlier joke. I knew that Teckman was good, but he seems to have moved up a gear. This was very impressive.

Joby Mageean

Is one of the next generation of comics who will be making a living from comedy. He’s not fully there yet, but it is only a matter of time.

From the night:

We resumed after the intermission with Joby Mageean, of whom I had heard some very nice things said. He began by commenting on Spiky Mike’s compering and doing a quick demonstration of him not using his guitar to juggle with, in comparison to Royle, which was not only funny and harked back to Royle’s set, but it also demonstrated that Mageean was brave enough to think on his feet and alter his set. From here he did a splendiferous vocal version of Morricone’s ‘The ecstasy of the gold’, which I can’t speak highly enough of. However, he may perhaps benefit from building a more powerful joke around this, as whilst the vocals were fantastic, the joke paled by comparison. I enjoyed the Gay Card material and felt that it was both logical and funny, although the final pay off didn’t feel quite as robust as the rest of that routine. The jokes about his name were fine and the closing song was very good indeed (the callback was superb), building nicely as Mageean got ever more frantic in his exasperation with the comic getting his name wrong. Mageean’s delivery was very effective, combining a genuine enthusiasm for what he was doing and an awareness of the audience. It was great to see him following Royle by speaking to Angela and it’s always nice to see acts listening to comperes and knowing where people, such as the Irishman, are sat. This was an extraordinarily promising performance and it’s obvious that Mageean has a real future as a comedian.

Wayne Deakin

An amazing performance.

From the night:

Headlining was another Australian, Wayne Deakin. I see a lot of acts that have cracking nights, but it is not often that I would describe an act as smashing a gig, but Deakin managed that and seemed to make it look easy. Within minutes he was in that happy place where there were volleys of laughter following his every utterance. His style was domineering, standing on the stage looking like some kind of colossus, as he treated the room to a soapbox oration mixture of facts about the world, opinions and why gay airline stewards are great. Deakin would issue a statement regarding something such as the muddle of who likes whom in Britain and then pull the rug from under this by demonstrating how much of a nonsense it is. He is also the first comedian I’ve seen putting the boot into Corbyn, who regardless of my own political views, should not be enjoying immunity from the ridicule that is the politicians lot. It was truly heart warming to be sat looking at a lady who might have been either side of 70 totally pissing herself with laughter at Deakin – comedy and more especially a near the knuckle joke – is truly a great uniter of people. This was a tremendous performance and Deakin took the roof off of the building.

Simon Wozniak

Like Mageean, Wozniak is someone who is definitely on their way up the comedy ladder and he will be doing this on a professional basis sooner or later.

From the night:

We resumed after the intermission with Simon Wozniak occupying the sweet spot. Twice this week Wozniak has been a finalist in comedy competitions, but without taking top spot. I was wondering if he would pull it off tonight, as I felt that he was certainly in with a chance. He made a strong beginning and never really looked back. His material was relatable and drew the audience in and even when he was miming riding an elephant he still kept everyone with him. He delivered his material lent back, pushing his belly out and whenever he got excited his voice went up in pitch, which considering his Liverpudlian accent, seemed to just ratchet up the impact of what he was saying. There were a lot of big laughs during this set and Wozniak delivered a stellar performance. He was a worthy winner of the engraved trophy.

Honourable mentions

Hayley Ellis, Harv Hawkins, Dan Thomas, Pete Phillipson

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St George’s Community Centre – Houssem Rhaiem, Harry Sanders, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Peter de Biasio, Tom Christian and Chris Sherwood (MC)

If you have a fundraiser gig that combines music and comedy in a community centre that has never had a comedy night before, in front of a mixed audience of non-comedy goers that included pensioners and toddlers, one would expect a car crash of a night. However, as the organiser and MC of the night, Chris Sherwood, pointed out, if it became a car crash gig, he would want it to be a funny car crash of a show. I was curious as to which way it would go. From the beginning, things did not look great. The tables had been laid out in such a way that ¼ of the audience had their back to the stage, or at best were sat oblique to it and it was too late for Chris to adjust them. This was a bring your own booze night and it was odd to see each table piled up with various bottles and cans (a can doesn’t half make a racket when it is opened, mid set). There were also a few people whom I can only describe as ‘mood hoovers’ – the sort of person who has bought a ticket to a comedy night in their local club and seems determined to sit there po faced, not laughing at anything. To balance this there were quite a few people who were definitely there for a laugh, such as a lady in red sat to the right of the stage.

Stood in semi-darkness, Sherwood began compering the night. He is still learning this trade and so wasn’t as polished as some, nor has he yet got the natural feel for the audience that a good MC has, although this will come with more stage time. What Sherwood did well was the admin of the night. He explained the format, laid down the rules about heckling, the use of phones and explained about noise discipline and he also checked with the parents of young kids and toddlers that they were ok with bad language. This may sound very simple, but it is also overlooked and on a first night in front of comedy virgins, it was essential, so it was commendable that Sherwood did this. Also laudable was him reminding the audience that the comedians weren’t getting paid and to organise a collection for them, a very nice touch. Sherwood warmed the room up with a mixture of banter and material, with the room seeming to prefer material to banter. He did some blue material, but I’ve a feeling he was mostly testing the water for the other comedians on the bill. His story of a collapsed theatre goer held the room and with a bit of sharpening up and work on the final reveal this should become a solid routine. It wasn’t long before the room was warmed up enough to bring on the first act.

When perusing the list of acts prior to the night commencing I saw that Houssem Rhaiem was the logical opener. Apart from the closer, he was the most experienced of the acts, his material is easily accessible and he was probably the most ‘match fit’. Hence I was pleased to see him begin. He made a solid start with a selection of short gags, which gave him fast credibility as a comedian. These received some good laughs, but there were a few bemused looks from the people who seemed determined to remain miserable. He got a surprise applause break for ‘waiting list’, which I frankly didn’t think the audience was capable of, even in response to such a good joke as that. From here he gave a nice and capable delivery of his set, with a good callback to his Uncle Ahmed, getting sound laughs for Islamic porn. When Rhaiem concluded his set it seemed a few moments sooner than I was expecting, or would have liked, as I was enjoying it. He was doing well, the room were with him (apart from the mardy ones) and I don’t think anyone would have objected to a couple of minutes more.

Next was Harry Sanders, who was in the process of rising from his chair just as Sherwood was getting the applause to roll from the left hand side of the room to the right….. when a determined looking chap marched up to Sherwood in mid flow and announced that the cheeseboard was now ready. This isn’t something that you usually get at a comedy night. When he eventually got to make a start it was interesting to see how the room reacted to him. Sanders is a fine writer and despite his young looks, has a remarkably dark turn of mind. His material is smart, with a whiff of Radio 4 quality about it that I like. At first I wasn’t sure if the room were going for him, as his routines require a bit more investment in effort than Rhaiem’s shorter gags. However, he won them round, getting a good laugh for the smart use of Derby as a shit town. It was a tiny bit surreal to be watching Sanders whilst there was a baby crying in the background, but that’s showbiz (not as we know it). This was a good set and I’d like to see Sanders gig more, as his performance could only benefit from the increased stage time.

The quietly spoken Jeanette Bird-Bradley closed the first section. She started with a stylish Trump gag, becoming the 3rd person to reference him and perhaps suffering a bit for that. The mainstay of her set was some ‘found comedy’ – Amazon reviews of ‘bum shorts’. This was delivered with charm and she held the room very well indeed, despite a kid walking through the room with a toy playing a tune. JBB’s routine about £1 land struck a chord with the audience, who related to it nicely. Although her closing line was a bit low key, this was a very good performance. I like seeing JBB, she’s unflappable, quietly charming and never seems to have a problem holding a room.

Following the intermission, where the singer Sylvia Stewart had entertained the room, we resumed with Peter de Biasio. De Biasio made a low energy start, before spending what seemed an age to find a song he wanted off of a new phone. I was concerned that he was losing the room and the fact that he managed to regain it was no mean feat. That he then went on to have the best night I’ve seen him have was even more remarkable. The room liked him, he came over well, seeming to be vulnerable, flummoxed and imperious as fitted his material. Vulnerable when discussing hair loss, flummoxed when talking about apps for boiling an egg (possibly new material that is a keeper) and imperious as he went on a fast speaking, momentum building rant about reality TV, which the room was fully behind him with. De Biasio had a good night and went down well with the audience.

The award winning Tom Christian was the closing act. He had impressed me before he had even entered the room. He had arrived whilst Sherwood was compering and rather than walk in and potentially detract from this work, he had stayed outside until the right moment came along to come in – a nicely professional touch. Getting the up and coming Christian for this gig was something of a coup and his quality soon became apparent to the audience. He opened with a short routine about Meatloaf, which is nicely visual and punchy enough to give him instant laughter. This then led into a wonderfully varied series of routines that were very well written and had lots of little touches. Some of these were a bit subtle and weren’t as appreciated as they might have been, such as Uncle Tom, which wasn’t got by everyone, but was appreciated by those who did. Christian was a confident presence in the room and it’s fair to say that he dominated it commanding attention, rather than this being optional – I don’t think that this was the result of a conscious decision that he made, but more a knack that comes with experience and knowing that he has a solid set to hold the room with. Even if there was a baby crying throughout bits of his set. There were a lot of good lines and I think the letters of complaint were perhaps the highlight of his set. These went down a treat. Christian received four applause breaks, gave the room a lot of laughter, was very influential in getting the venue owners to run a second comedy night and had a lot of well wishers shaking his hand and thanking him for being so funny. Not a bad nights’ work for him.

Grantham – Steve Royle, Joby Mageean, Pete Teckman and Larry Dean

Tonight I was in Grantham for the Funhouse comedy night. There was a good sized crowd in, which included the solitary person who decided to clap along to Tony Christie singing ‘Is this he way to Amarillo’ before the show started. Spiky Mike did well compering, not only warming the crowd up, but discovering enough facts and names for all thee of the acts present (Larry Dean was in Oakham on a double) to make use of during their sets and this gave the night a wonderful feeling of continuity. I was also impressed by how Mike referenced everyone spoken to during his final spell of compering, as this continued the feel of inclusivity. Our first act was Steve Royle.

I’ve seen Royle before, where he closed a gig and I was curious to see how he’d fare opening here, before he journeyed off to Oakham to close there. He began nicely by building on Mike’s compering, talking to the same people and taking a few things said that little bit further, partly by climbing on a table and lunging suggestively in the direction of the lady who sold leather-wear whilst juggling. He continued to demonstrate that he wasn’t on auto-pilot by commenting on the number of windows in the room and getting a chap to stand up to mimic the emergency exit sign. The set was fast moving and contained, juggling, visual gags, some balancing work, a big closing number and some gags. Royle’s delivery was very similar to Kay and not just because of his accent. He has the same habit of repeating words and explaining the working behind gags. He also has a lot of stage craft and this was a very strong performance where he managed to get the audience right behind him. It was no wonder that he went down an absolute storm with the room and received a huge cheer for his efforts. However, whilst the rest of the room loved him and I enjoyed the skill he displayed in his performance, I found that I guessed the reveals on enough of his jokes that I spent the rest of the show playing at guess the punchline before he said it. This took a little bit of the shine off for me personally, but apart from that, this was a great show and also one of those that would have been unfollowable without an intermission.

We resumed after the intermission with Joby Mageean, of whom I had heard some very nice things said. He began by commenting on Spiky Mike’s compering and doing a quick demonstration of him not using his guitar to juggle with, in comparison to Royle, which was not only funny and harked back to Royle’s set, but it also demonstrated that Mageean was brave enough to think on his feet and alter his set. From here he did a splendiferous vocal version of Morricone’s ‘The ecstasy of the gold’, which I can’t speak highly enough of. However, he may perhaps benefit from building a more powerful joke around this, as whilst the vocals were fantastic, the joke paled by comparison. I enjoyed the Gay Card material and felt that it was both logical and funny, although the final pay off didn’t feel quite as robust as the rest of that routine. The jokes about his name were fine and the closing song was very good indeed (the callback was superb), building nicely as Mageean got ever more frantic in his exasperation with the comic getting his name wrong. Mageean’s delivery was very effective, combining a genuine enthusiasm for what he was doing and an awareness of the audience. It was great to see him following Royle by speaking to Angela and it’s always nice to see acts listening to comperes and knowing where people, such as the Irishman, are sat. This was an extraordinarily promising performance and it’s obvious that Mageean has a real future as a comedian.

Next was Pete Teckman, who fully lived up to his reputation as being a thoroughly nice guy. His dry delivery went down very well with the audience as he started pleasantly with a routine about identity theft and then continued with the nicely creative concept of head tattoos. This was followed by material that was formidable enough to earn him not one, not two, not three, not four, but five applause breaks over fifteen minutes. That was lovely to see and whilst it could perhaps be said that the audience were his type of people and his material was their type of humour, I don’t think that that is the real explanation for Teckman’s success. Instead, it was the result of a very well put together set that felt coherent and carried on building right up until the end. There were a lot of great routines delivered with good timing and in a great dry manner. My personal favourite was the aunt kicking, which was not only intrinsically funny, but all the more appreciated because one had to think about it to get the joke and it built upon the foundations laid by an earlier joke. I knew that Teckman was good, but he seems to have moved up a gear. This was very impressive.

On a side note, at the start of the night, Teckman told me probably the funniest story I’ve heard this year and I think I’ll still be laughing next week.

The closing act was the Glaswegian, Larry Dean. He has the looks of a young Lee Nelson and not being familiar with him prior to tonight, I expected a laddish style set, but he surprised me by going down a different route and by the intelligence behind his performance. Dean began by doing a London accent, that momentarily had me wondering which one was his real accent, the Jock or the Cockney. This was then proceeded by a nice routine concerning Irn Bru, although I was surprised that he didn’t use his London voice for the shopkeeper, as this was set down there. The main part of Dean’s set was largely autobiographical in nature and contained a splendid twist that I doubt anyone in the room would have guessed. Judging from body language, I think that parts of this may have made the odd person a bit uncomfortable, but I don’t see why this should be so. What is incontrovertible is the intelligence behind it all. Dean got the most out of his time on stage, adding little movements with his face and body to illustrate various parts of his material, which helped to push it further. There was a cracking running gag about people he’d been to school with and some magnificent callbacks. Dean was rewarded with consistent laughter and this was a very enjoyable show that had the feeling of having been crafted, rather than written.

The Maltings – Eleanor Tiernan, Pete Phillipson and Vince Atta

Last night I was at the Maltings in Gainsborough for the Funhouse comedy night. The venue was interesting, combining a pub, restaurant, snooker hall and function room all under one roof. The ceiling was fairly low, especially when one took the beams and stage into account and if any of the acts had been 6’4 or above, then I think there would have been a sore head. Spiky Mike had fun compering, identifying a Jeremy Corbyn lookalike who in response to a quip about it being cold, shouted back ‘Oh no it isn’t’, mistaking a comedy night for panto – the resulting shout from the rest of the room of ‘oh yes it is’ was thankfully cut off quickly by Spiky Mike before it got out of hand. The second compering session was a lot of fun, with a mix of material and room work. We were rather unfortunate in the function room above us being occupied by a very lively 16th birthday party and this made life more difficult than it should have been, especially for the opening act.

Eleanor Tiernan began well, with some strong material about her hours and location of work and this sounded very naturalistic, almost as if it might actually have occurred on her way to the gig. This was followed by a fair bit of material that referenced her Irish roots, but this easily stayed out of being niche and retained a broad appeal, not requiring any knowledge of Ireland for it to work. I enjoyed the section about Chris Brown and felt that the final reveal, set 100 years ago, deserved more. The therapy routine was also enjoyable, although I wasn’t massively keen on the material concerning the wayward behaviour of her lady parts, but in fairness, I think that the impact that this part had and of Tiernan’s set as a whole, were badly hurt by the noise from the function room above. During her set the party upstairs seemed to have their volume set at 11 and whilst the music could be ignored, even if doing stand up with an overly loud Macarena in the background made for an odd juxtaposition, the stamping of feet was REALLY intrusive. As this never seemed to follow any predictable rhythm it did take attention away from Tiernan and this was a shame, as it largely stymied what was a good performance.

The last time I’d seen Pete Phillipson it had been in front of a drunken audience at a bank holiday Sunday gig, where he had been combining compering and riot control. In contrast to that night, he had a great time at this gig. He began by referencing being brought up just down the road in Lincoln, before branching off into talking about friends he’d left behind and his new life in Manchester. There was a lot of good strong material on display, friends of parents and girlfriend’s parents was a delight, especially the callback to the Manilow gig. Drunk Prime Minister, serial killer and dating were also very enjoyable, although I still think that the stand out, from a strong field, is Phillipson’s late for work routine – this is an especial joy, although the callback that he closed on was also excellent. Throughout his set, Phillipson acted out what he was doing and this added a lot of life to his performance. He also had a few voices in his armoury and the whine of the debtor really sold that part of his set. Although Phillipson was helped by the party upstairs calming down in time for him going on, he held the room well and gave everyone a very good night. I thoroughly enjoyed this set.

Vince Atta closed the night and whilst I’m not that keen on music or musical acts, his enthusiasm and joy in what he does is highly infectious. This was an act who brightened up the room as much with his presence as with his material and there is a definite feel good factor in what he does. Atta’s routine involves beatbox and he has plenty of leeway to make it relevant to wherever he is performing. He did a ghetto Gainsborough song and struck a chord with the audience with ‘resting bitch face’ (my favourite routine of his). However, the highlight of his set is when he gets three volunteers to join him. This was a definite crowd pleaser, as a lot of the audience were busy filming their friends being made to be careful of what they said. I felt that the closing routine involved a set up that was a bit overly long, but it certainly closed off the night on a big laugh. I have a feeling that the audience are going to remember seeing Atta for a long time to come.

The Rigger – Andrew Marsh, Nicholas Steinberg, Jennifer Banks, Jack Topher, Joe Bains, Rosie Francis, ‘Dougie’, Harry Sanders, Valerio Sara, Liam Webber, AJ Hill, Phil Yates and Tom Oliver

Last night I was in Stoke, at a rock pub called the Rigger for the Funhouse Gong Show. This is a nice pub, with plenty of space, a decent sized stage, a cracking sound system and a good atmosphere. There was a fair sized crowd (1 of whom made off with a pair of judging cards, the bounder) which verged towards the harsher side of the spectrum, gonging off 8 out of the 13 acts. Although there was a strong Notts/Leics contingent performing, it was impossible to spot the likely winner from the acts present. Spiky Mike began his compering with a bit more energy than usual and this was in keeping with the ambience of the room. He gave the audience a moment of joy when an innocent questioning of a couple led to the response from one of them to their partner of ‘Don’t tell him!’ Although I think the entire room wanted to know what we weren’t meant to know, Mike was smart enough not to push on this, as by the time he had dragged it out of them, any victory would have been pyrrhic. The format and the rules were explained and we were ready to begin.

The opening act was Andrew Marsh, who took to the stage, wine glass in hand. He was halted within the first 2 seconds by the sound technician (nice to have one at a gig), who had to adjust a level or titivate a filter or finish his tea or whatever these chaps do and then he was given the nod to begin. This could have upset a few acts, but Marsh seemed to take it in his stride. He began by asking for a cheer from the people who were drinking, which seemed to me just to be duplicating the work of a compere. From this he had a brief bit about his home town, Wakefield, which he ran down and then it was the main body of his set, which concerned being unemployed, porn and day time telly. He lost momentum when he got to Spongebob and was gonged off. Whilst his delivery was slow and deliberate, this set never really seemed to get going. The material was pretty uninspired and had an air of the basic about it – when Marsh was discussing the denizens of Wakefield, for instance, it just seemed very rudimentary. This was a set that would benefit from being stripped down and begun anew, although the guess who bit was nice.

The second act was Nicholas Steinberg whose material was largely based on old hack 1970’s style gags, apart from Scousers saying hey hey, which is vintage 1990’s hack. There was a Take That song gag (apt for Stoke), but the set up was too long for a gong show and combined with a few bad puns that Steinberg opened with, was enough to ensure an early gonging. There is room in comedy for acts doing retro style comedy, but the performance has to have an air of panache about it (Steve Royle does this very well) and by starting with dodgy gags it wasn’t clear at first whether Steinberg was being ironic (like Bernard Righton, but without the twists) or if it was to be taken at face value, perhaps if he had made a stronger start, we may have found out more.

Jennifer Banks made an interactive start, before becoming the 2nd act from Yorkshire to play shit town top trumps, as she ran down her home town of Bradford (by this point I was envisaging the Yorkshire tourist board gaffer doing his nut). There was then material about a hairy back, with a predictable reveal, but in fairness this did lead to good spot of material about separation, although I did think there was possibly room for a gag about static electricity. Banks had an A3 folder full of pics to illustrate her material about internet dating. I like A3 sized props, as the room can see them, which is in contrast to A4 print outs, which always have the air of having been done at work when no one is about. Unfortunately this routine was another one that was a tad predictable. When Banks was discussing a potential date who liked animals and singing I don’t think there were many people who didn’t expect to see a picture of Rolf Harris. This was a shame, because despite the material, which I think would stand a bit more work, Banks gave an engaging performance and I was glad to see her make the final. With stronger material she will be a lot better.

The final act of the opening section was Jack Topher, an act who really should gig more if he wants to climb the comedy ladder. His material was well written and had a number of clever elements, such as when he played with the audience, letting them fill in the punchline when discussing his lightweight brother and there was a great pause on stoned to death as well as little, almost playful touches like being out drinking with Latoya. Interestingly, His set contained some pathos, but this had just the right tone to lift it and to make it funny, not easily done. Topher was the eventual runner up.

Following the intermission, we resumed with the confident looking Joe Bains. He began by talking to a chap on the front row, asking what he did, but as Spiky Mike had spoken to this chap twice already and his details were known, asking again didn’t go down that well. Bains had some nice touches in his set, such as the nods of his head when discussing his name, being happy to break the 4th wall and his material on virgins and terrorists was strong, gaining him the first applause break of the night. However, other elements were not so strong and when he was discussing a visit to the Taj Mahal I think a lot of people got to the punchline before he did, although in fairness, it still got a laugh. It perhaps would have been to Bains’ advantage to have referenced the call centre worker sat at the bar (only spoken to by Mike five minutes earlier) when he did material on call centres, as this would have made this section a lot more relatable to the audience. Bains made it through to the final, where his 60 second end piece involved an interesting concept, but which wasn’t really pacey enough to end with. This was a set with a lot of nice things about it and I look forwards to seeing Bains again.

Rosie Francis was next. I’ve found her to be a creative act, who can cover a lot of different approaches and styles without the disparate elements of her set feeling as if they have been glued together by blu tak. Instead, it feels quite natural as she moves from holding a sing-along to prop work and so on. Generally, I’d have said that getting the audience to have a singsong in a gong show is madness, but she managed to get the room singing back to her, which is no mean achievement, although if she’d gone on first, I think the challenge in this would have been trebled. I was enjoying her performance and there was a feeling of a set building nicely, but unfortunately she lost her connection with the audience when she began reading from a book at the moment a vote was called and off she went.

James Harkness performed as the only character act of the night: ‘Dougie’. He played Dougie as an oddball, who had been put up to performing by some less than well meaning ‘friends’. He was dressed very down at heel, with a baseball cap pulled low over his face and he was hesitant, with a delivery that was all over the place and he kept getting distracted from what he was saying. He gained a lot of laughter within the first two minutes, but it wasn’t obvious if the audience were laughing with him or at him, pegging him for a hopeless act. I think it was a little bit touch and go whether he was voted off at the first vote, as it was far from clear whether the room had twigged this was a character piece or were perversely voting to keep him on to watch what looked like a car crash of a show. During this middle bit, it became apparent to the audience that this was indeed a character piece and that there was a lot of creativity behind the facade and the audience were soon laughing with Dougie, giving him the 2nd applause break of the night. He deliberately ran out of steam in the last minute, but he had enough stage presence to make the most out of this awkwardness. Dougie was the eventual winner of the night and this was in a lot of ways a fun set. I’d be curious to see if it would work over ten minutes or so, though.

Harry Sanders was doing some new material tonight and he made a promising start by tying his opening lines into the rock n roll music that had been played during the intermission. His set was tightly written and he is a comedian whom I’ve never heard say erm, or ah, between words. However, his bit about Trump got nothing back, as did geography. Southern rail was a nice piece of satire, which I got as a regular reader of Private Eye, but which I think flummoxed the good people of Stoke. Sanders was an early, but not unfair gonging. I rather think he was primarily giving the new material a run out and if he’d have won the show, it would have been just a nice bonus to him.

Valerio Sara is a nicely different act. He is a man who knows the value of a long silence. He is also a man who is brave enough to risk long silences at a gong show. He began with a drawn out silence, as he stood staring at the audience, almost daring them to look away from him. He would then deliver a set up and following another pause, there would be an offbeat reveal. A lot of this verged on anti-comedy, with set up and reveal seemingly from different jokes and the result was a lot of laughter. It was a shame when he was gonged off, as I was enjoying his performance.

Liam Webber began well, remembering that Matt sat at the front, was a dog trainer and he started by chatting to him, asking a question that would have led into his sketch about dogs in space. Unfortunately when Matt bungled the answer (Laika the space dog), this threw Webber a touch off stride and considering that he was visually unwell, shaking as grasped the mic stand, looking dizzy it was little surprise that his set faltered from there and he soon left the stage, looking like he’d seen a ghost.

AJ ‘Hillbo’ Hill opened the final section, resplendent in sailor’s hat and water wings. He began with some knowingly bad puns that had a nautical bend and luckily he had enough presence to pull these off. This was followed by a bit of audience work and a sea shanty, but he failed to strike a chord with the audience and was gonged off. I think that Hill suffered a bit from the running order, as we’d already had acts doing bad puns and a bit of singing and whilst not a character piece like Dougie, Hill certainly seemed almost as unusual and I think all of this played a part in his gonging. Hill’s performance was tighter than when I had last seen him.

Phil Yates gave an impressive performance. He looked plausible from the beginning, with his dry delivery and wearing a suit made him stand out and led to a lovely and under appreciated throwaway line about him being on a bus. He began with a visual gag and then moved on to a prop based routine, with grammatically mangled words on A3 pieces of paper. During this section he looked like a man who would have benefited from a third hand, or perhaps a volunteer on the stage holding the cards for him. This set flowed very nicely and although there was a hiccup when he lost his place and had to fish his set list out of his pocket, he maintained his cool and in a new act this is eminently forgiveable. Yates made it through to the final, where in the 60 seconds he had to make his final push for victory when most acts pull out something short and snappy, he made the bizarre decision to perform World in Motion (I thought it was the Anfield Rap) – a song with zero comedy value.

The final act was Tom Oliver, who began with a few long and convoluted set ups. These were overly wordy and he hardly paused for breath. Unfortunately he then lost his place in his set, his mind went blank and unlike Yates, he wasn’t wearing a suit with an inside pocket containing his set list. Oliver then floundered until the first vote sent him off. Oliver’s set was a disaster, it was one that he handled with a lot of charm.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre do Shakespeare

Last night I was at The Lord Roberts to see the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre do Shakespeare – a show title that I constantly had to check just to make sure I’d got all of the words in the right order. It is also an accurate title, as the performer was definitely Scottish, spoke in a falsetto, had sock puppets, his own little theatre and Shakespeare was indeed done.

This was a technically pleasing performance. The man behind the puppets (Sutherland), easily managed to synchronise the actions of both hands, even whilst they were doing different things (probably far harder to do in practice than one would think). It was also a creative show, with songs, puns, cross-talk conversations and some nicely accessible Shakespeare based gags. The audience loved it, but whilst I could admire the intelligence behind it and the elan with which it was pulled off, I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as I perhaps should have done.

I think the reason for me not having as much fun as everyone else is that I’ve seen something not too dissimilar before. Having a duo on stage, with one wanting to do a highbrow, intellectual show and the other constantly subverting the process is straight up Morecambe and Wise and all it needed was to close by singing Bring me Sunshine to tick that last box. This is a music hall show, albeit one performed by sock puppets. I would argue that this format gives Sutherland a lot more artistic freedom than any flesh and blood double act would have, plus something of a licence to do puns that no one would want to perform looking an audience in the eye.

This is a daft hour, but also a fun hour and whilst not for me, the rest of the room thoroughly enjoyed it.

Admiral Rodney – Simon Bligh, Hayley Ellis, Thomas Green and Wayne Deakin

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse comedy night at the Admiral Rodney. This is probably the gig closest to my home and is all the more welcome for being a nice easy drive to get to. I also enjoy this gig because the line up is consistently good and there is something of a community spirit within the audience. Our MC was Spiky Mike who began with some local material, but improved on this when he was chatting to a financial consultant when he came out with the clever line of Slumberland, which managed to combine quick thinking and entertainment.

The opening act was the Retford based Simon Bligh, who has been in the area for long enough to know that people living in Southwell really don’t like it being pronounced Suvvel, which made for it being a knowingly controversial opening line. Bligh’s material didn’t deal with politics, race or any big issues. It was based upon reading to his daughter and the differences between teenage lads and lasses, first snogs, touching boobs and taking pictures of his knob the old fashioned way. In some ways, a simple list of topics like this makes it sound an unsophisticated set, but the real joy was in how Bligh delivered it. Bligh is a chap who still manages to appear like a mischievous schoolboy. He was able to ask a sedate looking lady how many pictures of willies she had on her phone with a dead pan voice and one heck of a mischievous glint in his eye. Bligh is also an extraordinarily animated act. He will be either pulling a face or stood with his eyes wide and arms outstretched. He was never just still and this gave a lot of impetus to his performance. Whilst his material won’t change anyone’s world view, he gave a feel good show that brightened up the room.

Hayley Ellis opened the middle section. She seemed to have a lot of energy and spoke quickly, as if she was doing fifteen minutes of material in ten. It was nice to see her combine routines and a bit of room work. The material was easily accessible and whether she was talking about her boyfriend, or her experiences with a pain in the neck pupil, Ellis held the room easily. Her material flowed smoothly and there were no jarring leaps from one train of thought to the next. One unusual aspect was her mic style, in contrast to a lot of comedians, she held it close to her mouth, almost resting on her chin, not that this made any difference to how she was received by the audience – they thoroughly enjoyed her. This was a good set that was delivered with verve.

Next was the crowd pleaser Thomas Green, who was a late addition to the bill and who was also a late arrival, as he had understandably gone to the Admiral Rodney in Wollaton, where he has previously performed for Funhouse, rather than the Admiral Rodney in Southwell, 40 minutes away. An easy mistake to make for a chap who has only recently moved here from Australia. The last time I saw Green was up in Edinburgh, where he delivered a fine hour of fun in a red hot blazing furnace of a room, so it made for a change to be sat in jersey, tshirt and string vest, wishing that I’d not took my coat off. Green is an act that audiences warm to quickly and want to like. He also has strong performance skills and is very lively on stage. Tonight I felt that he was slightly hurt by being the second comedian to discuss touching boobs, as Bligh had done a routine about that 30 minutes or so earlier and that slightly diluted the impact of Green’s work, but nevertheless this was a set that went down well and it was nice to see improvements such as the line about the attractive blonde. Green has a lot of potential and with consistent gigging I’m confident that he’ll be a presence on the comedy circuit.

Headlining was another Australian, Wayne Deakin. I see a lot of acts that have cracking nights, but it is not often that I would describe an act as smashing a gig, but Deakin managed that and seemed to make it look easy. Within minutes he was in that happy place where there were volleys of laughter following his every utterance. His style was domineering, standing on the stage looking like some kind of colossus, as he treated the room to a soapbox oration mixture of facts about the world, opinions and why gay airline stewards are great. Deakin would issue a statement regarding something such as the muddle of who likes whom in Britain and then pull the rug from under this by demonstrating how much of a nonsense it is. He is also the first comedian I’ve seen putting the boot into Corbyn, who regardless of my own political views, should not be enjoying immunity from the ridicule that is the politicians lot. It was truly heart warming to be sat looking at a lady who might have been either side of 70 totally pissing herself with laughter at Deakin – comedy and more especially a near the knuckle joke – is truly a great uniter of people. This was a tremendous performance and Deakin took the roof off of the building.

Anna Morris – it’s got to be perfect

Last night I was in the Canal House to see Anna Morris playing Georgina Francis in her one woman show, It’s got to be perfect. This is a rehearsal for her super wedding, with Morris in character, wearing a wedding dress and walking around with champagne glass in hand. This is a rather nifty character based show, with Morris playing Francis as a super posh stuck up brat, who has only the most tenuous relationship with the everyday life of the population. Usually I find upper class high status acts grating – they raise every Northern working class heckle I possess and I sometimes find it hard to get past that and to just sit back and enjoy the show. However, in this case, the character was so well realised, yet so OTT that it was impossible not to warm to the performance.

This was a very interactive show and Morris spent a good third of the time chatting with the audience, subtly finding things out about them, which were later used for callbacks, before picking people to play roles such as chief bridesmaid, stand in groom, father of the bride and her madly jealous ex. A show like this can rise and fall upon the willingness of the audience to not only get involved, but also to buy into the concept and Morris sells it in such a way that only the most churlish could not be swept up by it all.

Whist the show is based around the wedding rehearsal, it is also very musical, which adds an extra element and also gives Morris a chance to rap and sing, which she does remarkably well. Any show that can feature the Imperial March, the John Williams theme from Superman and Meatloaf’s I would do anything for love, gets a thumbs up from me. Francis asked the loaded question of what won’t she do for love, which elicited the answer of ‘oral’ from a respectable looking lady on the front row, who upon being scolded by Francis for her temerity, protested that she was originally going to say anal, whereupon, Francis made her stand facing the wall in punishment. Whilst I suspect that this was the hoped for outcome of the question, it was splendidly done.

There were a lot of nice touches to this show, such as the props distributed around the audience, which were disdainfully confiscated, the use of marigolds to deal with a letter from the public and a powerfully delivered monologue. I enjoyed the contemporaneous touch of the ad-libbed lines about the Trump victory.

It was nice to see Elliott Bower being used as soundman and recipient of Francis’ scorn on short notice. He performed this role admirably, correcting her when she consistently insisted on calling him Eric, putting his fingers in his ears whilst she sang, making paper aeroplanes and miming into the off stage mic during songs. His choice of song for her to go up the aisle to was well chosen and raised a nice laugh from the room.

The last 5-10 minutes of this show contained a lot of twists and surprises and the ending was very satisfying. This is a lovely quirky show and is cracking fun for everyone. It’s a little gem.

NCF New Comedian of the Year Final – Adele Cliff, Houssem Rhaiem, Rosie Francis, Simon Wozniak, Liam Webber, Harv Hawkins and Harry Sanders with Jon Pearson (headliner) and Carl Jones (MC)

Tonight I was back in the Canal House for the NCF new act of the year final. Just a cursory glance of the contestants showed that this had the makings of a massively fun night. I’d seen every act before and I knew that this would be a hard one to call. What made this night all the more remarkable was the sheer diversity of talent present – seven contestants and five distinctly different approaches to comedy. Whichever way the result went, this would be a cracking night. A sold out night, too, as the Canal House was packed to the rafters. The format was 5 minutes each with 3 acts, intermission, 4 acts, intermission and then a short headline set whilst the votes were counted, before the winner was announced. The judges, of which I’m proud to have been one, where to vote for their favourite and 2nd place, with no audience vote, which given the geographical spread of the entrants was probably fairest in ensuring no one had a home advantage. Our MC was Carl Jones, who was the first ever winner of this prize.

Jones is arguably an underused Compere, whom I’d expect to see more on the circuit. Tonight he did the rules, explained the voting system, which included a timely reference to the perils of pure democracy and then chatted to a few people. Jones was unlucky in the first person he spoke to, who seemed to take a long time to answer the question of what he did with his time and ultimately there wasn’t much comedy to be had in that, a point that Jones acknowledged and received a good laugh for. The second people he chatted with were at the other end of the scale and he could probably have got a good twenty minutes out of their tale of three engagement rings, ebay, a knuckleduster and proposing under duress. To fully explore this story would have taken far longer than he had and after getting laughs, he wisely extricated himself and moved the night on. Although I think that Jones was unfortunate in the people he chatted to, I enjoyed watching him work. Jones is a sure footed and smooth act with a likeable presence and him being booked was a shrewd move.

Opening the night was Adele Cliff, who was unlucky with the running order. Having said that, she probably had the best chance of any of the acts of making the most out of going first. Cliff is a one-liner expert with a warm winning grin. Her puns are very good and elicit a mixture of groans and laughs and the 5 minutes seemed to pass all too quickly. The last time I saw Cliff, it was up in Edinburgh and it’s nice to see that she has improved further since then. Although Cliff didn’t win tonight, her time is certain to come.

Next was Houssem Rhaiem, who was a relaxed and confident presence on stage. The room warmed to him quickly and he gave the audience a largely smooth flowing set, where the big laughs came from the jokes about his background, although I thought the nurse routine was the standout. There were a couple of elements to this set that I wasn’t too sure about and that was the line about Prince Harry, which seemed to be something of an afterthought, largely divorced from the topic he was discussing and also the line about porn and pizza deliveries, which was a version of porn giving unrealistic expectations of plumbers arriving quickly. These two elements aside, which I’m probably being a little bit picky about, this was a sharp set and also an enjoyable one. Rhaiem finished 3rd, which was nice to see.

Closing the first section was Rosie Francis, whom I had down as a dark horse, probably not experienced enough yet to win, but a genuine contender all the same. Francis took a mixed approach to her set and included an audience sing-along, visual aids, a poem and some straightforward comedy. This could have been high risk, especially having a singsong with the audience, but she pulled it off with aplomb. Francis wasn’t helped by some unpleasant noise bleed from some keen chap working outside at 9pm, but fortunately this didn’t hurt her too badly. Instead, she hoovered up a lot of laughter and her performance remained fresh and fast moving. This was a well thought out five minutes, with a lot of creativity in evidence. Francis was a well deserved 2nd place.

We resumed after the intermission with Simon Wozniak occupying the sweet spot. Twice this week Wozniak has been a finalist in comedy competitions, but without taking top spot. I was wondering if he would pull it off tonight, as I felt that he was certainly in with a chance. He made a strong beginning and never really looked back. His material was relatable and drew the audience in and even when he was miming riding an elephant he still kept everyone with him. He delivered his material lent back, pushing his belly out and whenever he got excited his voice went up in pitch, which considering his Liverpudlian accent, seemed to just ratchet up the impact of what he was saying. There were a lot of big laughs during this set and Wozniak delivered a stellar performance. He was a worthy winner of the engraved trophy.

The Midlands Comedy Awards nominee, Liam Webber is an interesting act. He was easily the most avant-garde of the performers, yet rather than split the room he was compelling viewing. He began by acting out dogs in space (which in concept very slightly reminded me a bit of the old Muppet Show sketch of Pigs in Space) and developed the storyline from there. Despite this being surreal, everyone stayed with him all the way through to the final ending. I was impressed by Webber for a few reasons. One, is his performance skills – these are top notch and he should be on a stage in the West End. Two, he didn’t underestimate the intelligence of the audience and he wasn’t afraid of risking impersonating Nixon’s I am not a crook line. The entire set was delivered in a highly credible American accent and although it might be a bit of a cheap laugh, it’s possible there is mileage in Webber capping off future shows by saying his ‘that’s my time up, I’ve been Liam Webber’ in a strong Brummie or Lancashire accent.

Harv Hawkins began by using a prop card which included a wonderfully timely punchline. From there he went on to talk about pastille gits, his mother and viewing houses. I was especially happy with his inversion of the old ‘tell you a bit about me’ line and judging from the laughs, the rest of the room appreciated it, too. Hawkins’ delivery was quiet, letting the material do the heavy work for him. He was also stood slightly differently to what I was expecting. In the past Hawkins has delivered his material stood with his shoulders hunched, giving the impression of a man with who forgotten to take the coat hanger out of his shirt, but tonight this wasn’t present and that’s a shame, as I feel that that stance is a splendid gimmick. This was a good set and Hawkins was unlucky not to secure a top three spot.

The final contestant was Harry Sanders, who easily had the darkest material of the night. He began well, but his first minute or two wasn’t as strong as it could have been, however this changed very quickly when he began with the dark material. This hit home very well indeed and he was rewarded with some very audible reactions from the audience. This material was very good and he has an eye for writing a line that is morally questionable, yet undoubtedly very funny. Sanders’ delivery was occasionally a little bit dry, sometimes saying things as a matter of fact and if he were to deliver the same lines with a twinkle or a knowing grin then he would reap a big dividend. I enjoyed Sanders’ performance and it’s always interesting to see him on a bill.

Whilst the votes were counted, Jon Pearson, who was standing in for last years winner, Josh Pugh, did a short set. There were some nice incremental improvements here, such as yoga teacher, raping R2D2 and car wash. These all added extra value to the material. As always, it was well delivered and enjoyable to see.

Nottingham Comedy Festival – Pat Monahan and Tom Wrigglesworth

Tonight I was at the Canal House to see part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival. This evening was something of a double headliner for me, as I had tickets for Pat Monahan and Tom Wrigglesworth, who was performing in the same room after Pat. It was going to be interesting to watch two masters of their own genres at work. A dapper dressed Elliott Bower was on MC duties for both gigs. He did the rules and in the case of the Monahan gig, he had an absolutely charming method for ensuring that mobiles phones were turned off. Bower kept it light as MC and he and Helen did well to keep things mostly on time.

Monahan is a born entertainer. If he were in a lift with two other people, then I can well imagine that would be enough people to constitute an audience for him. I’m equally sure that if Monahan were to talk in his sleep, then he would probably be bantering with the people he was dreaming about. Should Monahan ever try to do a tightly written 20 then it would feel claustrophobic. His forte is free-wheeling audience interaction and Pat does this magnificently. He began by leaving the stage to personally greet some latecomers, before starting a big song and dance number with a few members of the audience up on stage. The show had a 80’s theme, but the format was loose enough to allow Monahan to pop off in any direction he chose, depending upon what he got back from the audience. In talking to people it is tempting to say that he was lucky in the people he spoke to, from the Rochdale supporter to the couple allegedly on a Tinder date, but that is to underestimate the talents of this performer. I believe that Monahan is skilful and experienced enough to make his own luck. Even when he was chatting to someone not so quick on the uptake, he had a selection of lines to use to make the most this and no matter what responses he received there was a quip for them. It requires a lot of ability to be able to ad lib callbacks into such an interactive set as this and so these were an especial joy. This was a high energy show, where the set piece bits of material probably comprised 10% of the whole and it retained a fresh feeling throughout.

In a stylistic contrast to Pat Monahan, the next show was by Tom Wrigglesworth and this was totally sold out, with seat monitors prowling around, showing people to the odd spare seat. Wrigglesworth is well known for his series, Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang-ups, which is broadcast on the Home Service. This is a cleverly written show, where the everyday is made farcical and the farcical is given an everyday twist. This approach to material was in evidence tonight, as recalcitrant printers, pretentious names, Dubai and that staple topic of comedians, the speed awareness course, were all mined for their preposterous elements. Wrigglesworth has the ability to make anything offbeat sound logical and normal, with his take on the name Cockburn sounding like a most reasonable interpretation. The main thread of the show was a story about a speed awareness course, but in a manner not unlike Frankie Howerd, Wrigglesworth allowed himself to digress several times, always ultimately returning back to this original topic. The effect of this was enchanting and naturalistic.

To me, though, as good as Wrigglesworth’s material is, it is his phrasing that I find a sheer delight. This is a man who has an unparalleled grasp of the English language. Whilst he may be accused of being verbose, I would refute this allegation, by pointing out that every word he uses is perfect for what he is describing or imparting and it is nice to see a comedian not afraid to use long, or uncommon words.

There were a couple of times where Wrigglesworth’s momentum was checked by a chap sat at the front, who seemed to have misguidedly continued the expected and encouraged audience interaction of Pat Monahan’s show into that of Wrigglesworth. Whilst Tom easily maintained his authority and came out on top of every exchange, I felt that whilst these episodes were entertaining they were inferior to the actual show proper and I was always glad to see him resume from where he had left off. It was nice to see a comedian of this stature acquiesce to the calls of an encore and this was a great show. It was a pleasure to see the Canal House sold out; these shows were a great tonic for a cold and miserable November day.