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.