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.