Tonight I was in Sandiacre at the NCF comedy night. This takes place within a converted church that still contains the lancet arches over the doors and plenty of ornamental woodwork, making it an odd, but also strangely welcoming venue. There was a gratifyingly large audience, which included the comedian Sarah Johnson and the former comedian, who should really get back into it, Chris Richmond, who were kindly supporting the night as spectators. The audience had that annoying habit of avoiding the front two rows like the plague, although my personal bugbear was the lady sat in front of me, who kept nodding her head from side to side, and making me have to move my own head as if I’d got water in my ears, just so I could regain a view of the stage.
Our MC was Paul Savage, who used a mixture of room work and material throughout the night to warm the room up. He opened with a few give me a cheers and followed this with an accessible chemistry gag. I thought that his self-depreciating line was a little gem. Savage did the rules and explained the format of the night, which is something oft overlooked by a compere. I was pleased that he deliberately ignored the front two rows that had been slow to fill and instead, concentrated on talking to the 3rd row – hopefully a case of pour les encourager les autres for the next gig there. When he was bantering with the audience, Savage had a good sense of knowing when it was time to move on and this was nice. Every so often his voice would speed up and so people would miss the odd word here and there and I think that this robbed a few of his comments of the impact they might otherwise have had and this was a shame. During the middle section Savage used a couple of long pieces of material and this was probably not the best material for him to have gone with, as I know he’s got shorter and snappier pieces (gig at a sex club is a big standout) and whilst both stories were definitely entertaining, they did lower the energy levels when I’d have expected him to raise them. However, in fairness, in the final section he kept it very tight and demonstrated remarkably good judgement in bringing Tom Houghton back on stage for an encore. Savage had definitely read the mood of the room like a book here. This was skilled compering, with just a couple of things that could have been changed to improve it further.
The opening act was Jason Neale, whom I’ve not seen perform for over a year and that is unfortunate as I think he’s got a fair bit of potential. In the meantime, he has become a father and as is traditional for perhaps 90% of comics in this position, it has become a rich source of material for him. Herein lies the problem – how do you deliver a routine where the basic mechanics (trying for a baby, the birth and then sleepless nights) will contain similar building blocks to every other comic’s material on this subject? The answer is by choosing your phrasing carefully and working with what is singular to yourself. ‘Daddy’s Sauce’ was a cracking line and the rationale for the number of people in the operating room was also extremely good – both got big laughs, as did hoovering. I was also very pleased that the more painful birth/kick in the bollocks question only got a passing mention, as that has been covered too many times to be resurrected. When talking about his partner being a social worker and never being asked to perform a work based favour, Neale has some unique material and if this section could be expanded, then I can see it becoming a real stand out. This was an enjoyable performance that was well received by the audience.
Dave Pollard was next, giving the room a nicely varied approach that managed to stay fresh throughout his set. His performance contained visual jokes, an old style gag, emails that he read out and some well written material. I did think he might have split the room a bit with dog wanking, but he almost received an applause break for the email. Personally, my favourite is probably the Frankenstein’s hand gag, as that is very simple in concept and also incredibly funny. However, the use of a bald cap is the real highlight. I can’t see that getting old any time soon and I’m really pleased to see that he has managed to build upon this and take it further.
After the intermission we resumed with The Monks, a Christian sketch act pairing. There are a few Christian acts on the circuit, but not many announce themselves as being Christian at the top of their set. I feel that this creates an expectation that they will either be proselytizing at worst, or at best it will be a set with message and this may initially get in the way of the audience taking them as they are. The Monks began with a line about being booed out of a gig – if the terribly predictable reveal about the venue had turned out to be anything other than it being a Mosque then I would have been amazed. In fairness, whilst I was gnashing my teeth in frustration at having seen it coming so easily, the rest of the room were laughing. This was followed by getting the audience to name Commandments, with £10 prizes and then in obedience to the rule of three, a different prize for the person who named a third. The Monks’ performance of Thou shalt not kill was darker than I was expecting and it was also good fun. The pair work well together and it was nice to see them receive good laughs for their set, my personal highlight was the ad lib about someone being off carbs. The collection at the end enabled them to work in a good callback to their earlier material and provided a logical closing to the set.
Next was Lauren Pattison who is regarded as an up and coming comedian. Pattison has recently moved from Newcastle to London and I was grateful that her set was not London-centric, because it doesn’t always translate well outside of the metropolis. Instead a lot of it concerned her being criticised for swearing too much. I found this hard to get engaged with, because one, I’m not fussed about someone swearing – lad or lass, and two, I’ve seen a few sets about people swearing. The same could be said about her comments regarding Newcastle girls; these could apply to Manchester, Essex, Liverpool or anywhere working class. Although I wasn’t that enthused by some of the material, I can see why Pattison has a reputation as someone going up the comedy ladder. There are a lot of very nice touches in her set. Yorkie Bar got a well deserved applause break, Prince Charming was a good line, as was the section about Bob the Builder. There was a lot that was good in this set. Also the delivery was spot on; Pattison held the room easily. This is an act with a lot of potential.
The headliner was Tom Houghton, who gave a splendiferous performance. The charmingly camp Houghton opened with a song, which he delivered with a wonderfully knowing sniper’s stare into the audience as he selected a victim to get close to. This was then followed by a show that encompassed song, jokes, dancing about and lots of audience interaction. Houghton really drew the room in and was a compelling figure as he gave a show that seemed to pass in no time at all. This was a set that contained some bang up to date references, such as the new shaped toblerone, which he delivered with great sound effects that ramped up the comedy. As Houghton finished his set I was making a note about being surprised that the audience hadn’t asked for an encore. Our MC, Paul Savage, accurately gauged the mood of the room and encored Houghton, where he did some overtime, consisting of a well acted out routine about answerphone messages and a lovely post-Brexit song. This was a very strong set.