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.