December – end of month recommendations

This has been a busy month, despite Christmas getting in the way of attending gigs. I’ve seen 55 acts this month, with some great acts mentioned below and other great acts time-barred, as I’ve mentioned them in recent monthly round ups.

These are the comedians who have impressed me the most this month:

Alistair Barrie

This was a performance that rolled along generating a lot of momentum and also one where Barrie seemed to be restraining himself from going full on with the political material.

From the night:

Our opening act was Alistair Barrie, whom I had last seen dismembering an heckler in Southwell. He began strongly, with local references and a beautiful callback to Mike’s compering when he asked the dildo lady if that present had been a stocking filler. Barrie gave the room a thoroughly enjoyable 25-30 minutes. He dipped his toes into political material, referencing Thatcher, Brexit and Trump – tying the latter in nicely to an American who was in the room, but wisely he didn’t go too deeply into this. Although he received laughs for his political side, Barrie got a far better response for his other material that was accessible to all and he concentrated on making the most out of that. The applause breaks rolled. There was a wonderfully surreal moment, when part way through delivering a highly visual routine about dog litter, the Guildhall clock started chiming and he incorporated it into his act. This was a very well written set, delivered with conviction, albeit with Barrie mostly stood facing the right hand side of the room from him. I got the impression that Barrie was restraining himself in front of this genteel audience and I’d love to see him go all out.

Ian Stone

A joyful and engaging performance.

From the night:

Closing was Ian Stone who was on a double with Alistair Barrie. Stone and Barrie had demonstrated professionalism in discussing with each other (presumably over the phone as one was opening and the other closing a nearby gig) what political material they had used and possibly a quick nod towards usable people and where they were sat. This was a good idea, as both Stone and Barrie had material about Brexit and politics and so it helped to avoid duplicating each other’s work. However, Stone was unlucky in his take on Spain and siestas being similar to what Barrie had said (you obviously can’t discuss everything one said when conferring over the phone), but when it came to dog mess, which Barrie had done a strong routine on, Stone’s material was both different and powerful enough to beat the laws of diminishing returns. There were some great bits of material: tickets was good, Baddiel was fantastic as was clerical work and football coach was very topical. The delivery was energetic, but also combined with a very dry wit, which made for an entrancing combination. This was a great performance, despite some crossover with the earlier set.

Roland Gent

This was a performance that was extremely funny and which tore the room to pieces.

From the night:

Roland Gent, whom I had last seen at Field Mill, closed the night and definitely ripped it. The audience warmed to him from the off and he proceeded to dominate the room, building a lot of impetus as his material hit home. He was smart enough to work in a lot of local references and these all went down a treat and his closing routine about names was a definite standout. I especially appreciated his delivery, which was fast and he hardly seemed to pause for breath. This was an extremely good performance.

Sully O’Sullivan (MC)

Great compering, with a deft touch.

From the night:

Our compere was the articulate Sully O’Sullivan, whom I last saw at a tough drunken bank holiday gig, where he had mixed compering and riot control. Tonight he was able to use his talents more widely. He began well by pointing out the irony in his being a New Zealander and a Vegan in an Australian steakhouse. This was followed by some very good room work, involving delving under the Christmas tree in search of toys and presents which he made full use of. O’Sullivan seemed to find the right balance in ribbing people – being funny and slightly cutting without crossing any lines. This was shown in him getting four people to the stage and having the audience vote for who looked most like they were homeless, a serial killer and a 70’s porn star, etc (I was voted serial killer by a roomful of people, which is a bit disconcerting). This was a wonderful piece of work and really brought the people sat in the room together as an audience. I was especially impressed by how after the first intermission he dealt with a drunk who was prone to shout out – O’Sullivan fished out a Where’s Wally book from under the tree and passed it to the drunk with the instruction to read it whenever he got the urge to talk. This was a night of good compering that melded wit, charm, energy and authority.

Scott Bennett

From a comic who is as good as any pro act on the circuit.

From the night:

The last act of the middle section was Scott Bennett, who was doing a ten trying some new material. This was intermixed with existing material to give it context. To begin with Bennett gave an uncharacteristically slightly political performance, with lots of references to Brexit and questionable views. However, as these were delivered through the medium of his legendary dad they were extremely relatable. The section on ear piercings has been expanded and is building into a very nice short routine. There was one slip, where Bennett said ‘supermarket’ instead of hospital, but his recovery was so fast and so aptly funny it was almost tempting to believe that this was a deliberate slip. I don’t think the new material is the full finished article quite yet, but it is already tremendously good. This was a set that seemed to be on the constant verge of an applause break all the way throughout.

Honourable mentions

Jack Campbell, Steff Todd, Dave Pollard, Alex Black, Carly Smallman, Simon Wozniak, Johnny Sorrow, Jon Pearson,

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Grantham – Alistair Barrie, Jack Campbell, Jay Hampson and Ian Stone

Last night I was in Grantham for the Funhouse Comedy night. I was quite relieved to get there in one piece after the driver of a juggernaut I was overtaking had decided to join me in the outside lane at a most inopportune moment. This gig wasn’t quite sold out, but the empty chairs were so few and far between as to be hard to spot. During his compering Spiky Mike was granted a wonderful gift. He enquired as to whom had had a shit Christmas present, to which one lady luckily sat at the front was pointed to by both of her ‘friends’, making her the natural centre of Mike’s attention. He asked what her shit present had been; answer: a dildo from her mum, which she had opened in front of her daughter. Mike quickly asked what her daughter had gotten her and as swift as a flash the answer came from a bloke sat in the middle of the room, ‘batteries!’. This is the only time I’ve seen an audience member get an applause break for a shout out.

Our opening act was Alistair Barrie, whom I had last seen dismembering an heckler in Southwell. He began strongly, with local references and a beautiful callback to Mike’s compering when he asked the dildo lady if that present had been a stocking filler. Barrie gave the room a thoroughly enjoyable 25-30 minutes. He dipped his toes into political material, referencing Thatcher, Brexit and Trump – tying the latter in nicely to an American who was in the room, but wisely he didn’t go too deeply into this. Although he received laughs for his political side, Barrie got a far better response for his other material that was accessible to all and he concentrated on making the most out of that. The applause breaks rolled. There was a wonderfully surreal moment, when part way through delivering a highly visual routine about dog litter, the Guildhall clock started chiming and he incorporated it into his act. This was a very well written set, delivered with conviction, albeit with Barrie mostly stood facing the right hand side of the room from him. I got the impression that Barrie was restraining himself in front of this genteel audience and I’d love to see him go all out.

We resumed after the intermission with Jack Campbell. He opened by comparing the room to a town hall meeting, which whilst accurate, has unfortunately been used by a number of other comedians in this venue. However, from here he went on to deliver a very good set that showed he had made a lot of progress since I last saw him. His material about living in a fenland village was good and the garage was a notable standout. I enjoyed his low energy delivery, as he managed to pitch his vocal tone in such a way as to perfectly match the nature of his material and he received some big laughs, especially for ‘rent’. As well as being a well delivered funny set, this was also a set that was very good from a technical point of view. Campbell had been listening to Mike’s compering and so he knew who was who and spoke to the correct members of the audience and tied his material into them, making it seem highly relevant and involving. His pacing was also spot on, giving people time to ingest what he was saying. There was a nice ad-lib following a girl sneezing, which he flawlessly incorporated into his set. This was a great performance.

Next was Jay Hampson who started by referencing his unusual voice. This got a good laugh, but from here his set seemed a touch flat. The material about free range happy food was logical, but a bit bleak when one thought about it. I was pleased to see a Manchester act talking about being working class without referencing Shameless, as that made a very nice change. The closing routine was pleasant, but it didn’t have the feel of being the closing routine as it didn’t really build up to anything, so I’m not sure if he misjudged the time, or decided not to end on a high, but it did give his set a palpable feeling of being something of an anti-climax. This was a shame, as he had a feel good factor to his delivery that he could have capitalised on.

Closing was Ian Stone who was on a double with Alistair Barrie. Stone and Barrie had demonstrated professionalism in discussing with each other (presumably over the phone as one was opening and the other closing a nearby gig) what political material they had used and possibly a quick nod towards usable people and where they were sat. This was a good idea, as both Stone and Barrie had material about Brexit and politics and so it helped to avoid duplicating each other’s work. However, Stone was unlucky in his take on Spain and siestas being similar to what Barrie had said (you obviously can’t discuss everything one said when conferring over the phone), but when it came to dog mess, which Barrie had done a strong routine on, Stone’s material was both different and powerful enough to beat the laws of diminishing returns. There were some great bits of material: tickets was good, Baddiel was fantastic as was clerical work and football coach was very topical. The delivery was energetic, but also combined with a very dry wit, which made for an entrancing combination. This was a great performance, despite some crossover with the earlier set.

Nott’s Comedy Review end of year round up and predictions for 2017

End of Year round up

This has been a lovely year. I’ve been to 117 shows. This includes those at the Edinburgh Festival as well as the monthly shows that are the true meat and gravy of the comedy world. I’m quite happy with that total, as I’m only free for approx 140 nights of the year, owing to work and other commitments and there aren’t always comedy nights within easy travelling on the nights I am available. I’m also pretty proud of buying tickets for the shows I’ve seen, because it’s nice to be able to support the financial side of comedy. I’ve seen a lot of acts this year, but roughly only 1 in 8 was a comedienne, which is a shocking statistic, but not as shocking as me only seeing 2 female comperes all year (Sally-Anne Hayward and Ishi Khan-Jackson).

I was very pleased with the Nott’s Comedy Review Awards (non-pro acts only):

Best up and coming MC – Jim Bayes (£25)

Most improved act – Moses Ali Khan (£25)

Written comedy – Phil Pagett (£25)

Funniest Act – Roger Swift (£50)

The best show I saw was Panel Beaters (line up: Caimh McDonnell, Gary Delaney, Andy White, Scott Bennett and Andy Robinson), with Kev’s Komedy Kitchen a close second (Kevin Dewsbury, Will Hutchby, Hannah Blakeley, Mike Newall and Chris Tavener). Both of these shows should be on television, one as a series and the other as a wonderful one off.

The best individual comedy night was the Ashby English Comedian of the year heat (16th of March) featuring Aaron Twitchen, Pete Teckman, Nick Page, Phil Pagett, Wizzy Janew, Hannah Silvester, Jon Pearson, Lou Chawner, Roger Swift and Bambam Shaikh all on top form and with the Canal House on the 28th of July as runner up, featuring Radu Isac, Stephanie Laing, Peter McCole, Thomas Green, Jack Shanik, Jim Bayes and Chris Norton-Walker as MC.

The worst show that I saw this year was in Edinburgh and it wasn’t especially bad – it was more a case of me not being their target demographic and missing all of the references – everyone else was laughing, I was the only person hoping that the hour would fly by. The other show that was notably poor gig was one where the venue had ignored all of the advice of the promoter and had pretty much bounced them into running a free bank holiday show in the main room of the pub in front of a crowd that had started drinking in 1986 – it was only the professionalism of the acts and the promoter doing a lot of damage control that made this remotely playable. I rather think that the promoter only carried on so as not to disappoint the acts who were on their way by the time the nature of the night had become apparent.

For the second year running, the act that I most wanted to see, but was never free when they were gigging near me was The Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue. I’ve heard nothing but good things about these people and have yet to see them myself. They are actually in Grantham on the 26th, but naturally I don’t come back from work until the 27th natch.

My fantasy gig would probably be in the Blessington Carriage, or the New Barrack, or Bluey’s (all are lovely venues with something special) and would feature Wayne Beese as MC, Billy Lowther, Peter Brush, Roger Swift, Ben Briggs and Nick Page as headliner.

Predictions for 2017

I expect the following acts to have what could be considered a breakthrough year:

Adam Rowe and Josh Pugh (pretty much carrying on from 2016’s fantastic year)

I anticipate that these comedians will have an especially successful year and make visible progress: Alex Hylton, Hannah Silvester, Harry Stachini, Joby Mageean, Jon Pearson, Moses Ali Khan, Rahul Kohli, Simon Lomas, Simon Wozniak, Stephanie Laing and Tom Christian.

My two wild cards for a progressive year are Thomas Green and Liam Webber, who whilst they aren’t that well known should be.

New Barrack Tavern: Lewis King, Alex Black, Pip Mason, Grenville Glossop, Josh Barker, Mark Richardson and Liam Tully with Steff Todd and Roland Gent doing showcase 10s.

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse Gong Show. This was a night that had sold out and Kev, the landlord, had to play tetris with the audience to ensure that all of the parties were seated with no odd chairs left for the last in to be split between. Unusually, this was a crowd where a fair proportion hadn’t been before and so the customary buzz that this venue has, whilst present, was a little bit muted. Owing to illnesses a few of the entrants had dropped out, leaving space for a couple of established acts to do 10-15 minutes spots at the close of the night. Our Compere, Spiky Mike, hit the room with more material than usual, taking advantage of the fact that he hasn’t MC’d it for a while, and this did well, getting good laughs and setting the room up for the show.

The opening act, Lewis King, strode to the stage, drink in hand and began with a lookalike gag. Standard fare, but as is usual, it worked well and quickly established him. He then hit a slight rough spot where he tripped over a couple of words and had too long a gap between jokes when discussing television, but in a new act this isn’t the end of the world and he remained credible. At this point, he struck gold, with a routine about something that is a factor in most people’s lives, but which I haven’t heard a single comedian mine for comedy, despite the fact that in hindsight it is certainly a very good target for mirth. I was very interested in seeing where he was going with this, as I could anticipate something good coming, but unfortunately the judges voted him off, which seemed unfair and resulted in the judges themselves getting booed by the audience.

The next act was Alex Black, who had a lively and confident delivery that built momentum. He began with a timely routine about Christmas cards which resonated well with the audience, before moving onto a solid performance concerning childhood, which whilst personal to him remained accessible to all. In five minutes Black delivered a strong set that earned him an applause break and included a very nice callback. In the final he was unlucky in misjudging the 60 seconds and succeeded in delivering the set up, but not the punchline before his time was up. Black had the feel of a open 10 spot who was doing a gong show, rather than that of a gong show entrant.

Pip Mason closed the first section, delivering a brand new set since I saw him last. His mum and dad were sat in the front row, which gave him space for a wonderful joke about tricks on how to speak in front of an audience. This was followed by his disappointing Christmas, which had a very nice twist to it and then he lost momentum over two things. He had to refer to his hand a few times, which isn’t the end of the world, but it left a few breaks in his delivery, which whilst small did mount up and then he went up a blind alley when he talked about peeing with no obvious punchline. This was enough to ensure that he was a last minute gonging.

We resumed after the intermission with Grenville Glossop, resplendent in a Christmas Star Wars jumper. He opened with topical material about wrapping presents, which whilst not massively funny, was amiable enough, before moving on to talk about Mr Men and Trump. He was a surprise gonging at the first vote. Whilst he hadn’t really hit the ground running, I felt that his set was interesting enough to keep him on for longer.

Next was Josh Barker, whose delivery was a bit hesitant and understated and with a few erms, but who also definitely got stronger the longer he was on stage. Very much to his credit, Barker wasn’t worried about interacting with the audience and when at first they didn’t want to answer his question, he wasn’t fazed and when a chap responded to his second question and received a big laugh he rolled with it and carried on building his set. This was a good performance and whilst there being one knob head in a group of friends is a well established trope, he managed to put a new spin on the joke and I enjoyed seeing him.

Mark Richardson, on his third ever gig, began with material about Gogglebox, which I felt wasn’t the most original of subjects, but he quickly improved with some good material about what women want in a chap. He moved well from subject to subject, with the links flowing well and his set had a feeling of logical progression to it. His delivery was unusual, but in a very positive way. He has a strong Barnsley accent and sounds like he should be working down the pit, but his stage persona is flamboyant and overacts what he is saying. The juxtaposition between the two adds a lot of value to his set and not only helped him to stand out, but made him a crowd pleaser.

Liam Tully was an act who dealt with topics that have largely been done to death: online dating (including swiping faces in real life), taking pictures of meals and uploading them onto facebook and embarrassing bodies. These are all highly familiar subjects and last year I saw more comics than I want to remember talking about tinder and plenty of fish. However, despite this hurdle, Tully got a lot of laughter out of them, being funny, explicit and forming the mood of the room. To manage that is no small achievement. His rating a wank material was very good and he was the winner of the night. With less well covered topics he would be a lot stronger.

The first of the showcase 10s was Steff Todd. Ironically I had been chatting to Fran Jenking the night before and he had been singing her praises, so it was wonderfully timely to see her perform for the first time the very next night. Todd is a good act, who ticks a lot of boxes. She blends one-liners, short jokes and impressions well to create a mixed set where time passes quickly. The jokes are strong, admittedly with the odd miss, but these were very much the exception and there were instances where she deserved an even bigger laugh than what she received. Todd’s stage persona is endearing and her mannerisms all contribute to her performance. I enjoyed watching her and I can see her doing well – she is someone to watch for the future.

Roland Gent, whom I had last seen at Field Mill, closed the night and definitely ripped it. The audience warmed to him from the off and he proceeded to dominate the room, building a lot of impetus as his material hit home. He was smart enough to work in a lot of local references and these all went down a treat and his closing routine about names was a definite standout. I especially appreciated his delivery, which was fast and he hardly seemed to pause for breath. This was an extremely good performance.

Bluey’s – Carly Smallman, Paul Grundle, Gavin Webster and Sully O’Sullivan (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s Steakhouse for the FaF Promotions Boxing Day gig. This is a little gem of a night. I arrived there way too early, but what I lost in seeing another episode of a Christmas box set, I gained in chatting to Fran Jenking and I count myself up on that. Bizarrely some of the people who had bought tickets didn’t show up, rendering what should have been a packed out room, less busy than usual. However, this was nothing that our MC couldn’t cope with.

Our compere was the articulate Sully O’Sullivan, whom I last saw at a tough drunken bank holiday gig, where he had mixed compering and riot control. Tonight he was able to use his talents more widely. He began well by pointing out the irony in his being a New Zealander and a Vegan in an Australian steakhouse. This was followed by some very good room work, involving delving under the Christmas tree in search of toys and presents which he made full use of. O’Sullivan seemed to find the right balance in ribbing people – being funny and slightly cutting without crossing any lines. This was shown in him getting four people to the stage and having the audience vote for who looked most like they were homeless, a serial killer and a 70’s porn star, etc (I was voted serial killer by a roomful of people, which is a bit disconcerting). This was a wonderful piece of work and really brought the people sat in the room together as an audience. I was especially impressed by how after the first intermission he dealt with a drunk who was prone to shout out – O’Sullivan fished out a Where’s Wally book from under the tree and passed it to the drunk with the instruction to read it whenever he got the urge to talk. This was a night of good compering that melded wit, charm, energy and authority.

The opening act was Carly Smallman, someone whose name I’ve seen online, but whom I’d never seen in person. Smallman has a warm smile and looked happy to be there to perform and this in no small way half won over the room before she had even started. Her set could be split into four parts, room work, song, room work, song and this worked very nicely. In speaking to the audience, she did suffer a bit from not being in tune with the local accent, but she made this into a strength by being honest enough to admit it and making a joke out of it. This worked very well when dealing with a drunk who thought that her set was more interactive than what it was. Smallman was astute enough to feel where the sympathies of the room lay and made the most of this when dealing with him. I especially enjoyed her quick wit in ad-libbing a callback to O’Sullivan’s compering when she spoke to a chap about his impending homelessness. I have said this before, but I will say it again – it’s great when an act has been listening to the MC and knows who is who. The songs were both good, being well written and sung well, with the one about a brother probably being the standout. In fact I would say that both were as strong as anything I’ve heard on the wireless, if perhaps not quite as broadcastable. This was a very enjoyable performance that injected a lot of fun into the room and I don’t think anyone would have objected to her having had more stage time.

Following the intermission there was a magician who had been booked directly by the venue in order to make the night that little bit more special. I’ve very little knowledge concerning magicians, although I have seen some very talented comedy magicians such as Doug Segal, Alan Hudson and Wayne the Weird. This chap, Paul Grundle, was much more of a magician than a comedian, which became apparent when he opened his slot with a couple of old jokes, but from here he wisely stuck to magic. He certainly looked the part in suit and bright waistcoat and the magic was of an high order. The tricks all came off well, apart from where an audience member forgot his card and there were some spectacular moments. Possibly the funniest moment came from a lady he picked in the audience whom he asked to think of a word and the word she picked had Stoney almost falling out of his chair with laughter. Grundle’s delivery was very down to earth and I felt that it might have benefited from something lifting it a bit. He went down well with the room, but owing to the nature of his show, it did take the energy levels down, but these were rescued by O’Sullivan in time for the headliner.

Gavin Webster was the headlining act. I’ve seen him before, when he played Field Mill and he’d had a good night then. Webster is a solid presence who efficiently closed down the drunken heckler with a great return volley concerning kids and football and handled a polite and fun shout out from Mrs Bluey well. Webster did 30 minutes or so and it went quickly with the room thoroughly enjoying it. Although I thought the ghost routine was smashing, he didn’t really do it for me. I could admire his timing and his technical expertise in crafting his set, but I found his running commentary a little bit distracting and to me, it got in the way of the routines. The rest of the room found his asides to be very good, so it’s horses for courses and whilst Webster isn’t really my cup of tea, he was 30 or so other peoples choice of brew and he had a good gig.

Ashby – Gary Delaney, Simon Wozniak, Phil Chapman and Jo Caulfield

Last night I was in Ashby for the first of two Funhouse Christmas Comedy shows. This was a 160 seat venue that was completely sold out (including Nick Mellors, supporting live comedy) and the atmosphere was there even before the show had started. Our compere was Spiky Mike, whose outfit had to be seen to be believed. It comprised a Christmas shirt and matching trousers and jacket with star motifs. The end result was a kind of Harry Potter’s pyjamas meets Christmas and he certainly stood out in it. Mike’s MC work involved recognising a highly successful Countdown contestant on the front row, which included some great comments about the audience for that show, discovering a group of bankers and an health and safety wallah. However, it was his conversation with a Glaswegian lady and her friend from the Bahamas that gave most of the acts something to work with, when it came to chatting with the audience. Rather than getting people cheering, Mike had one half of the room shouting jingle, the other half shouting bells and the balcony shouting all the way, which with great sweeps of his arm he soon had a chant going. This nicely got everything organised in time for our opening act.

This show was advertised as a double headliner, and it most certainly was, with the opening act being Gary Delaney (on a double with Lichfield). Delaney is well known for his television appearances, but what people miss sat at home is 3 things. 1, he’s far more near the knuckle on stage, 2 he’s also far far funnier in person and 3 is his sheer infectious joy at what he does. This is a gold plated act who is at the top of his game. He began well by making a disparaging comment about local shit town Coalville and then elicited a bigger laugh for deconstructing the joke. This was a finely honed set with a lot of laughter breaks. It was also a little bit less risqué than what he normally delivers, but this was tailored to the audience and probably not a bad tactical decision. The jokes were cleverly written and it was fun watching people get them at their own speed. My personal favourite being ‘Samaritans’. I did wonder if there would be a bit of a lull at the 15 minute mark, as I find audiences can be laughed out by then, but no, the energy levels remained buoyant all the way throughout. This was a great set from a master.

We resumed after the intermission with Simon Wozniak, who was rightly introduced as a rising star. From the minute he reached the stage, standing there with a big grin on his face, he looked plausible. Wozniak delivered a great set that just continued to build. He gave a wonderful rant about meal deals and discussed how well his life wasn’t going, with his voice rising as he gets delightfully animated. Despite his persona being that of someone who isn’t having the rosiest of life’s, Wozniak manages to sidestep being low status yet still maintains the approval of the audience, which is a neat trick to be able to pull off. Equally impressive was the open mouthed pause on Asda, which brought the roof down. Wozniak was perhaps more sweary than he needed to be, but it certainly added emphasis to what he was saying and he struck a chord with the audience. Wozniak probably won’t turn pro in 2017, but I think it is only going to be a few years before he does.

Next was Phil Chapman whose well paced delivery earned him quite a few applause breaks. This was an enjoyable set with a lot of positives. I was impressed with him having paid attention during the compering as he knew where the Glaswegian lady was sat and so was able to talk to her without having to ask where she was. His material was strong – the closing routine concerning self-service tills was a real standout on a night where all 4 acts had good nights and also his logical deconstruction of the Amazon Christmas advert was as funny as it was timely. A lot of his material was relatable to the room, with people prodding their partners in recognition of having similar hoovering styles. This was a good performance.

Closing was Jo Caulfield, an act that I’d heard a lot about, but never actually seen in person until last night. This was another strong performance on a night full of them. She got her first applause break within 30 seconds and never really looked back. Her material was very well written and she moved from routine to routine seamlessly. Although the bar ‘date’ routine was my personal highlight, fuck off face perhaps got the biggest laugh. Caulfield demonstrated some quick thinking when chatting to a man whose parents were from Northern Ireland and he was confused as to which religion they were; her line in response to this was clever and witty. Caulfield’s delivery was dry and slightly sardonic, which suited her material admirably.

Teknicolour Smoof – Stu Woodings, Jon Pearson, Moses Ali Khan, Masai Graham, Dave Pollard, Laura Monmoth, Theresa Farlow, Roger Swift, Trevor Never, Matt Richards, Colin Harris, Billy McGuire and the Nightingale Bros. (Comperes)

Last night I was back in Shropshire for the Teknicolour Smoof Christmas extravaganza. This was held in the Crown Inn, Telford, as welcoming a venue as any I’ve been to. This is a splendid old coaching Inn type pub and if the size of the audience was anything to go by, it is a pub that will need to extend its best side to accommodate more chairs, as this was very much a standing room only gig. The format was 12 acts doing 8 minutes or so each. John, the landlord who had a good rapport with the crowd, moonlighted as announcer, getting the room settled for our comperes, the Nightingale Brothers.

Having two people compere a gig at the same time is generally regarded as the height of madness, yet with Andy and Paul Nightingale, it works a lot better than the concept would suggest it should. Instead of talking over each other, leaving awkward pauses and set ups hanging, these two have a natural chemistry and trust. They allowed each other to talk to an audience member, go down a certain path and then they would either build on this, or change direction with hardly a false step. It was nice to see them both being confident enough to leave space for each other to work. There was a lot of fun to be had in their room work. Rubbish presents (we’re still none the wiser as to what constitutes an ‘average pair of socks’) was a wonderful idea and also a welcome change to people being asked what they do for a living. Upon discovering an American in the audience there was the obligatory reference to the prospect of Trump as president persuading them to move, in this case to Telford. The mental health/Elf gag had a Christmas cracker feel to it, but was no less funny for this. They perhaps spent a little bit too long on stage during the middle section, as the room was ready before they had finished, but the performance of ‘Israeli Men’ kept the energy levels up. This was good MC work, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Our opening act was Stu Woodings. He began well with some audience participation, which included a nice gag and earned some decent laughs. However, he lost a bit of momentum when fishing an article out of his bag and then he had a false start when singing a new song – I enjoyed this song, as did everyone else, as it was nicely surreal. He wasn’t helped when 3 elderly chaps managed to walk in through the side door and slowly thread their way through the rows of seats and tables, obscuring the view and distracting people and all the time probably wondering why they were being glared at. Woodings went down well and the audience had nice things to say about him, but I felt that he wasn’t as sharp as he usually is.

Next was Jon Pearson, who received a big laugh within the first 15 seconds for announcing that he had stolen Roger’s ‘Time up’ sign and was about to do his full show. Pearson went with his gym routine, which matched the time limit nicely. This is a splendid routine that builds up well and had a large number of punchlines. I especially enjoyed the new material about Jacamo. The performance was slightly marred for me by a fair bit of noise bleed from the tap room and green room (frankly I’d have expected better from the acts), but it is always a pleasure to see Pearson at work. This is a comic who will be turning pro probably sooner rather than later.

Moses Ali Khan had a good night. He has a dry style that suits his dark material and I’m especially impressed by his technical expertise. The way he can deliver the reveal to a joke and then top it with a second reveal is just wonderful. It also ensures that the laughter carries on flowing throughout his set – the only downside is that sometimes the laughter breaks get in the way of the flow of his delivery, but as ‘problems’ go this is one that I think most comedians would like to have. It was very agreeable to see the audience congratulating him on his work after he had finished his performance. During the intermission, Moses received the Most improved act of the year award (£25) from myself and it was highly gratifying to hear the cheer when his name was announced. I’m very much looking forwards to seeing what Moses brings to the circuit in the new year. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be excellent.

Masai Graham closed the opening section and it was obvious from the moment he walked to the stage that this was a crowd that knew and liked him. Some of his darker gags split the room a little, but that is a risk that goes with being edgy and it’s a risk well worth taking if you have strong jokes, which Graham most certainly has. I’m not sure what I enjoyed the most about his tale of finding a missing cat – the gag itself or the sight of a lady in her 70’s laughing like a drain at it. Masai gave the room a choice of clean or naughty jokes and predictably they went for the naughty gags. This was followed by him telling the audience of his no1 joke of the fringe triumph, which he doesn’t normally like to mention…. to big cheers from everyone. This was a very well received performance.

We resumed after the intermission with the performance of the night – that of Dave Pollard. This was an exceptionally well thought out set that was tailor made for the night. Making good use of a projector Pollard began well by using a snippet from a previous review and then he did a few parts from his standard set, which despite the feedback from the speakers, built up very nicely – there was a great anticipatory laugh on lemons. The set then moved up a gear when Pollard alternated between ribbing the Crown’s local rivals and making fun of his fellow acts. This was all very much of the now and emphasised that this was very much live comedy. This went down very well, but was topped by his impression of Roger Swift. This was excellent, as was the entire set.

Laura Monmoth gave the room a preview of her new show, LGBTQZX, which is being performed at the Roadhouse in Birmingham on Thursday. She delivered this speaking quickly to make the time limit, but with her head facing down and away from the audience, which may have been because she was dazzled by the projector. This was an enjoyable set, with some great local references, which were accessible to an outsider like myself. The visuals were especially good and a welcome addition to what she was saying, but she will have to be careful how she stands vis-a-vis the projector, as the shadow her elbow didn’t half resemble a resting willy. This preview had a good feel to it and I think that this is a show that will grow and develop the more she does it. During the intermission Monmoth won the ‘Never won an award award’ from Teknicolour Smoof.

Theresa Farlow was an act I was interested in seeing. The last time I’d seen her, she’d had a good night and had made definite progress. In the meantime I’ve heard quite a few people saying nice things about her, so I was looking forwards to seeing how she was progressing. Unfortunately Farlow didn’t have her best night. I’m not sure if she had a bit of a cold coming, or was holding the mic just a touch too far away for it to pick up clearly everything she was saying, but the end result was that I and presumably a lot of other people had to strain to hear everything she said. This perhaps explained why 3-4 people sat at the back took this moment to nip outside and between struggling to hear her and this disruption, it took Farlow longer to get going than I’d have liked. This was a shame, as she had some good material – the sections about her husband were particular standouts.

However, Theresa was responsible for the biggest laugh of the night. Teknicolour Smoof had a special award for her – performer of the year. This was awarded on the grounds that she is always reliable, never misses a gig, one can set their watch by her, etc, unluckily when it came to present it to her, it quickly became apparent that the ever dependable Farlow had left the building and was nowhere to be seen, leaving everyone looking around in confusion as what to do next. The inherent comedy in this situation was ramped up two minutes later when Theresa nonchalantly wandered back into the pub with a pizza in her hand, wondering why she was greeted by a big cheer.

Roger Swift closed the middle section. Swift is a wonderful act who can split a room, as his style isn’t to everyone’s taste. As always, the audience were a mixture of puzzled faces, people looking as if they were hating themselves for laughing and a majority who were in hysterics over his set. This was a great performance. Swift made full use of the projector, but may have had a small tactical error with not closing with dead ant, as I’m fully confident he could have led a pub wide sing-along with that. During the intermission Swift received an award (£50) from myself for being the funniest act of the year.

The final section was opened by Johnny Sorrow, performing as his character act, Trevor Never. Never is a Northern OAP who is animated to the nth degree about a particularly parochial concern – the lack of provision for indoor crown green bowling in his locale. The set concerns Never’s travails with the local council and it ambles along very pleasantly. A few more big jokes wouldn’t go amiss, but this is a nicely enjoyable show and the audience bought into it. The writing and phrasing to this set are top notch, with Never being a very real character. However, this is where I struggle. I’m from the North and I grew up knowing quite a few old codgers who had topics that you couldn’t mention without setting them off on a long rant (mostly pit closures and the NUM/UDM split) and this set felt too close to my childhood for me to enjoy as much as everyone else. This was a shame, as it’s a technically excellent set with great characterisation and it’s obvious that Sorrow has a lot of ability.

Matt Richards gave the most sexually explicit performance of the night, mining Star Wars for quotes that can sound as if they belong in a XXX film once they’ve been given a different context. This was quite a clever concept and using such a popular series of films made the references instantly recognisable. This was funny and the room liked it a lot, but Star Wars is a trope that has been used in probably every way possible by comedians and this took the shine off of a set that I really should have enjoyed more than what I did.

Colin Harris gave a low energy performance that might have been better suited earlier in the evening. A lot of his set concerned the film Independence Day and various problems with that film. Harris suffered from three things, the lack of energy in the room, the high ratio of exposition to jokes in his set and the fact that a lot of his jokes were largely things that someone’s dad would have said about the film 20 years ago. I think that Harris has a far better set in him than this.

The dapper dressed Billy McGuire closed the night. He had read the room well and went in with more energy than I was expecting and lifted the atmosphere. He did well to remember that the pub was in Oakengate, rather than Telford, a fact that the audience appreciated. His material on JFK built up a nice head of steam and he was rewarded with one of the nights’ applause breaks. His poem was short and to the point and although I wasn’t too sure about his local weather material, he got a good laugh for it. This was an enjoyable performance that seemed to tick a lot of boxes.

Nott’s Comedy Review – Awards for 2016

Last year Nott’s Comedy Review did awards in 3 categories, but this year I am expanding it slightly to encompass 4 categories:

The funniest act (£50 prize)

Up and coming MC (£25)

Most improved act (£25)

Written comedy (£25)

The money will either be handed over in cash when I see the comedian, or I can pop a postal order in the post to them, or through paypal.

I have excluded pro acts from the awards, as I’d like this to be a nice bonus to those acts who don’t (yet) earn their living from performing.

Written comedy is an award that recognises the splendid new material that some comedians try out on facebook. Not all of this makes its way into a set, but just reading it brightens up the day and just makes the world a slightly better place.

This was a three horse race between Masai Graham, Tony Cowards and Phil Pagett. All three have shared some brilliant jokes on facebook. Pagett edged this through matching the quality of Cowards and Graham, but surpassing them in quantity of puns. Pagett will receive £25.

The most improved act was an easy choice. This had to go to Moses Ali Khan. I thought he was good when I saw him last year and he has done nothing but improve ever since then. He works hard at comedy and it shows. He will receive £25.

Regarding comperes, Wayne Beese remains the best non professional that I have seen, but as he won last year, he is not in the running this year. Jim Bayes gets this award for a splendid performance he put in at a FaF Promotions gig (Bluey’s March 29th). During this gig he not only demonstrated a marked improvement from when I had seen him MC a year before, but he also didn’t put a foot wrong and it was nice to see a compere who was original in his thinking and didn’t take a census of occupations and locations. Bayes receives £25

The funniest act was a tricky one to pick, as I originally considered all sorts of factors, such as material, stage presence, delivery and charisma, etc. In the end, I decided to give it to Roger Swift. He may look like a man who is having a nervous breakdown on stage and he can split a room, but his set is splendiferously hilarious and he is someone whom I can watch repeatedly and enjoy just as much every time. Swift receives £50.

Blessington Carriage – Nick Mellors, Adam Jaremko, Rob Cucan, Ben Hamer, Phil Yates, Winter Foenander, DJ Mitchell, Sandra Hale and Neal Sullivan – feat. Jay Islaam and Scott Bennett (new material)

Last night I was in Derby for the Funhouse gong show at the Blessington Carriage. One of the best things about this gig is the crowd. There are a lot of regulars and it has a powerful feeling of inclusivity. There is one regular who wears shorts all year round and I was curious if he’d still be doing this on the coldest day of the year – he was – a fact that got a round of applause when Spikey Mike got him to show his legs off whilst he was compering. It didn’t take long for Mike to have the room warmed up before he brought on the first act.

The opening act was Nick Mellors, of whom I was beginning to wonder if he was a figment of my imagination as we’d been at a few shows and events in Nottingham at the same time, but never actually met until tonight. He began with a playfully controversial opening and developed his set from there. Mellors partly improvised his material, working elements of Mike’s compering from 2 minutes before into his performance as he alternated between talking to the audience and doing material. His ability to think on his feet was highly impressive and there were some very nice segments, such as Bosch and Kinder, which it was probably too early on in the night for. Goats milk was clever, perhaps a bit too clever, as he had to explain his workings to the audience and unfortunately this was too close to a vote to enable him to recover. This was an intelligent and fleet footed set.

Next was Adam Jaremko, doing his first ever gig. He looked confident and had a nice habit of talking to himself, giving a running commentary of how he was doing. This held his set together, which was a collection of stand alone jokes and short strings of gags. His material was very good and well it might be, as buying a very cheap door (there must be a catch) and vajazzle/diamond in the muff are well known jokes. The rest of his material had a whiff of google about it, with nothing being personal to him, it sounding like a random collection of gags and all being just that bit familiar, even if one couldn’t say exactly from where. He made it through to the final.

Rob Cucan, a man brimming with a sense of humour, gave a brave performance, ad libbing with the room, which he usually does well with. However, his reference to a new film about a plane crash went over the heads of most of the audience and his explaining of it just ate up time without ever seeming to get off of the ground. It was nice to see something different, but this was a performance that failed to fly with the audience.

Next was Jay Islaam, who was performing a ten spot of some new material as himself, rather than as a character. This was quite novel, as the only time I’ve seen Jay as himself on stage was in Edinburgh. This routine concerns the true story of Jay being booked to do a Muslim comedy night. It had a bit of a slow start, but built up very nicely. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the references, even the niche ones. He has definitely got something with this routine and if he gets booked for a few more gigs from hell, then that will be his Edinburgh sorted.

We resumed after the intermission with Ben Hamer, another first timer, who gave the room a monologue about his quest to determine how many different kinds of breasts there are. It was an interesting concept albeit a bit light on humour, with the occasional bit sagging a bit. He did well to stay on until the final vote. This was material that needed an uplift to make it more perky.

Next was Phil Yates on his 3rd ever performance. This was a solid set with well thought out material. The pole reference was very timely and showed that he wasn’t on auto-pilot and ‘lickle’ was very relatable to the room. I enjoyed his shoulder shrug on sat-nav, as I felt that little bit added a lot to what he was saying. I wasn’t too sure about the pelvic lunging, though. During the final I was very happy at the callbacks to his earlier material. This was a very good set and he was a worthy winner, making his stats, 3 gong shows, 3 finals, 2 wins. Pretty impressive, whichever way you look at it.

Winter Foenander gave a charismatic performance,speaking fast and building a lot of momentum. His first joke had quite a long set up, but he held everyone’s attention with the build. I liked the section about the fire service and this shows promise. He received an applause break for a splendid pun about being Caucasian. However, despite a promising start, he misjudged his pacing in the final and never got to the reveal on a routine he began. I had him as a close second.

The last act of the middle section was Scott Bennett, who was doing a ten trying some new material. This was intermixed with existing material to give it context. To begin with Bennett gave an uncharacteristically slightly political performance, with lots of references to Brexit and questionable views. However, as these were delivered through the medium of his legendary dad they were extremely relatable. The section on ear piercings has been expanded and is building into a very nice short routine. There was one slip, where Bennett said ‘supermarket’ instead of hospital, but his recovery was so fast and so aptly funny it was almost tempting to believe that this was a deliberate slip. I don’t think the new material is the full finished article quite yet, but it is already tremendously good. This was a set that seemed to be on the constant verge of an applause break all the way throughout.

We began the final section with DJ Mitchell, who was performing under painkillers to nurse his broken arm. Under the circumstances his delivery wasn’t bad, perhaps being just a little bit too matter of fact to draw people in – I did enjoy him breaking the 4th wall about the bus trip, though. His material concerned him having epilepsy and whilst parts of it showed promise, there was perhaps just too much on the one subject to hold the room.

Sandra Hale gave a lively and enthusiastic performance as she delivered a set that focussed on her age. This went down well with the room and she was an easy finalist. There were some nice touches, such as crotchless knickers and the topper to it. However, despite the charm with which it was delivered, she didn’t seem to be saying anything that any other act who has used their advancing age as material hasn’t said already.

The final act was Neal Sullivan, who was unlucky in the running order, as his opening line about being epileptic lost impact due to Mitchell doing a set about being epileptic earlier. The line about Shipman was a definite standout in this set, although Fort landed nicely, too.

New Barrack Tavern – Morgan Rees, Freddie Farrell, Anthony King and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I had an appalling time getting to the Funhouse gig at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield. I seemed to repeatedly get stuck behind people content to tootle along at 35mph in a 50 zone, with no chance of overtaking them. This was followed by the sort of mistake that only a nincompoop could make and that is somehow missing an entire ruddy motorway junction – yes, seriously. I wanted to come off at J33, but somehow convinced myself it was further up north than what it was and so went back to watching the cars around me and it came as quite a shock when I saw a sign for J34. The fact that this same thing happened the first time I went to the New Barrack Tavern didn’t make me feel any better, although it does help me understand why my wife thinks I shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised. The end result of all of this was that I arrived late for the gig. Many comedy nights have a start time that is less a mission statement and more like a snooze button. However, tonight Stevie Gray and the landlord had started the night promptly on time, highly admirable, if only slightly inconvenient personally. As the door to the performance area was closed, I was unwilling to go in and interrupt the opening act (Harriet Dyer), as I find it unfair on the acts, something borne out 5 minutes later by 3 people who did bimble in, spoiling the set up of a joke. I was pretty gutted to miss Dyer’s set, because from the huge amount of laughter I could hear it was obvious that she was taking the place to pieces. These were laughs on the scale of someone headlining a gig where everyone had done well, rather than of an opener. Luckily after the first intermission I was able to enter, apologise and watch the rest of the show. Our compere was Stevie Gray.

I was especially interested in seeing Gray compere. I’ve found him to be a very personable comedian, whose crowd pleasing eclectic approach draws audiences in. Naturally, I wanted to see how this translated to the duties of an MC. Gray looked as if he was feeling the Christmas spirit, resplendent in a Santa Claus hoodie and trademark flat cap (for which he was heckled by the landlord, who has a great turn of phrase), he pulled Christmas crackers with the audience and had them put the hat on and tell a joke. As a way of getting people involved in the night, this was seasonal and also a nice touch. Considering that there looks to be a loyal crowd in this pub, it is probably far better than asking people what they do for a living, as the odds are it won’t be the first or even second time they’ve been asked. The cracker stunt was followed by a short piece of material that kept the energy levels up and then there was a version of the 12 days of Christmas, which shows promise and also helped everyone buy into the fun spirit of the night. I enjoyed watch Gray compere and I’ve a feeling that the more he does of it, the better he’ll get. He was also very good at the admin side of the night, doing the email list, asking the acts if they wanted introducing in a particular way and all of the little things that just helped it run smoothly.

Morgan Rees opened the middle section, speaking slowly and clearly during his low energy set. He utilised quite a few fairly short routines and was rewarded with a lot of small consistent laughs throughout. The closest he came to a knock out joke was with a rapper, for which he received an applause break. I personally preferred the ‘stepped on’ reveal, as I felt that that built more. This was an enjoyable performance, but he may have benefited from having a bigger closing routine, as the ending felt a bit abbreviated.

Next was the relaxed looking Freddie Farrell, whom I’d not seen since the Teknicolor Smoof Christmas gig last year. I’d been looking forwards to seeing Farrell, as when one doesn’t see an act for a year or so, you get quite curious about what new material they have been working on. Farrell began with established material and continued with more of his regular set for a while, getting strong laughs. It’s cracking material and went down a treat, but I was pleased when he began with newer stuff, so that I could see how he was progressing. I thoroughly enjoyed the more recent material, it is very good and what made it more so was Farrell’s delivery. He was totally at ease on stage and looked as if he was having fun along with everyone else in the room. This was a very congenial performance.

Closing was Anthony King, who reminded me of an older version of Stu Woodings. His format was to do a few jokes/short stories and to then sing a short love song and this made for a change of pace. I’m not a fan of musical comedians, but short songs I do like and King has a very good singing voice, which helps. There were a lot of very nice elements to this set, speed bumps was a wonderful short routine and Lady Jane Grey was a splendidly clever gag and ‘Loves me not’ which received an applause break. Having the audience join in on the death song was a lovely touch and this song was a definite stand out. I did feel, though, that favourite kid and Christmas parties for the self-employed, are both fairly well travelled tropes, although I did enjoy how much further King took his routine about working alone and this was a nicely novel twist. This was a skilfully delivered set, that was possibly a touch understated in tone, but no less entertaining for it.