Ashby – Dan Thomas, Pete Dobbing, Kate Smurthwaite, Mike Gunn

Last night I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. In contrast to some gigs, this is held in a huge room that has the dimensions of a barn and it was lovely to see it that full people were hunting around for chairs. Unusually, there were some first time attenders who had chosen to sit on the front row and these provided some fresh blood for Spiky Mike’s compering. Unfortunately a couple of them tried to be mysterious and funny when they were spoken to. I’m not keen on audience members trying to ‘help’ comperes like this, as it is seldom actually funny and all it does is to just slow things down. Mike dealt with this admirably, gained some big laughs and discovered more than enough about the audience to provide the comics with a lot of callbacks later in the night.

Our opening act was Dan Thomas, who hit the ground running. He came onto the stage and picked up from where Mike had left off with the compering, delving a little bit deeper into some of the facts that had been unearthed. This was nicely blended into some material, before Thomas did a logical and funny demolition of sheep shagging. This was followed by a lovely mixture of material and room work, which brought everyone onboard and gave the performance a feeling of inclusivity and spontaneity. The delivery was energetic and I enjoyed the facial expression on as happy as Larry and it is always nice to see an act get the local shit town right. The only thing that I wasn’t keen on was his closing joke, which seemed a tiny bit anti-climatic given the strength of the rest of his show. Nevertheless, I was left wondering how a comedian of his talent isn’t better known. Thomas had a great balance between banter and material and this was a hugely enjoyable performance.

The first of the middle 10s was Pete Dobbing, an act whom I saw MC’ing last week. He began by efficiently dealing with a chap who was rash enough to shout out at him as he was climbing onto the stage. The material that followed was of a good standard with Casio watches and fortune cookies being standouts. I particularly enjoyed the regeneration gag and felt that it deserved far more than the audience gave him. I also enjoyed the references to Ashby and the occult, as this was nicely different. The tone that Dobbing used when calling people dicks certainly added something to the lines, too. Despite there being a lot to like in this set, there is some room for improvement. I think that when saying that there are people in the room who have been on a cruise, there is scope to tie that line into the audience – this was a room where the demographic was mostly 50+ and comfortably off and this would have helped make it feel more inclusive. Also there were a few routines, such as Jonathan Creek, where not everything added to the mirth and which may benefit from a tighter edit. These are minor points and it was a good set. I look forwards to seeing Dobbing again.

Kate Smurthwaite gave a charismatic performance. She began well with a clever opening joke (applause break) and then followed with three things that I wasn’t keen on (took the afternoon off after writing that, self service checkouts and ‘tell you a bit about myself’). Having this combination of well used lines/topics momentarily gave me the jitters and I was hoping that the next part didn’t involve internet dating or not being a manly man/woman. It didn’t and I’m very pleased to say that Smurthwaite gave a strong show with unique and novel material. Her account of going on a protest was good, telling us about shows she’s been involved with was funny and captivating, but it was the retelling of her receiving a death threat was the highlight. She made this tremendously funny. I thought that the homeopathy line a total delight. This was all delivered with charm and panache and the audience were totally engaged in her show. This was a smashing set.

The headliner was Mike Gunn, whom I’d last seen in that very room 14 months ago. As he had delivered a bumper sized set, I was a trifle concerned that some of the audience would be able to remember some of the material. However, this wasn’t a problem, as he delivers so much material that is top notch that even if the odd line is fresh in your mind, it is still immensely enjoyable. Gunn would start along a line of thought and then give the room 6-7 punchlines from that, before changing the subject and carrying on as before. He built up a lot of momentum and there wasn’t a line that didn’t hit home. This was a good ending to what was a fun night.

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