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.

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