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.