January – who has impressed me the most

End of month recommendations for January

This has been an unbalanced month for comedy, with three quiet weeks and a busy final week. I was lucky enough to see Panel Beaters, which is one of the few shows that can be described as must see. These are the acts who have impressed me the most this month:

Scott Bennett

Bennett was a panellist on Panel Beaters and was excellent

From the night:

Scott Bennett is very talented with the gift for making his material relatable. Out of the panel he made the strongest showing. His material struck a chord with the audience and he had a great work rate. Bennett came out with some wonderful ad-libs and he did a lot to keep Sam Gore’s running joke about dog milk in the show. I think everyone enjoyed his eczema suffering miners joke. Bennett’s What gets his Goat was delivered at a cracking pace and it came from the heart, drawing a vivid picture just as much as it drew the audience in and this was a brilliant piece, as was the Northern Books section, which he had invested a lot of thought into. This was a fantastic performance.

Rob Mulholland as Death

This was another Panel Beaters performance.

From the night:

Death, played by Rob Mulholland, was the stand out performer. Mulholland was clearly having the time of his life and has taken to this role with gusto. This is a man who clearly relishes having a license to say the most dreadful sounding things imaginable. He began by explaining the concept behind the show and then proceeded to make a series of magical interjections, each one being as dark as midnight in a coal hole and extremely funny. His comments about a previous performance in a city that had been unhappy about being teased were great. The glass ceiling was inspired, as was the comment about excellent rail links to a certain Dutch tourist attraction. Mulholland’s comment upon selecting Sam Gore was very much in keeping with his role and whilst sounding outside of decency was absolutely hilarious.

Stevie Gray

This is a comedian who has an eclectic approach, he has material, plays instruments and sings, but he is at his strongest when getting the audience involved in his show. Gray has the ability to bring an entire room into his set and he’s a real crowd pleaser.

From the night:

Stevie Gray closed the night with an engaging high energy set that involved the audience and sent everyone out on a high. Gray wasn’t the original closer and had been intending to do new material, but owing to illness he had moved up the bill to cover. Unfortunately this meant that he wasn’t able to test out his new material and also that he hadn’t brought his guitar with him. Instead, he opted to do a song without a guitar, improvising it. To pull this off took confidence and stage presence and Gray managed this easily. He selected two people from the audience, one to play a pirate and another to play the Kazoo and he soon had the audience clapping away whilst he sang with Dave playing pirate and myself totally failing to get that damn kazoo to play a note. A kazoo is a simple instrument, there are no moving parts, you blow in one end, a noise comes out the other, it’s that simple. It’s idiot proof. Could I heck as like get it to make a single note. Gray tried and it sang beautifully. He passed it back to me and no, not a thing. Until the end, when I got one note out of it and even now I’m totally in the dark as to how I managed to achieve that. No matter, Gray managed to get good laughs from his material and had some cracking ad-libs regarding my efforts. This was a very good set, with Gray showing himself to be a real audience pleaser.

Harry Stachini

Stachini has a lot of talent. His writing is good, is delivery is sound and it’s obvious that he’s got a future as a pro act.

From the night:

The opening act was the up and coming Harry Stachini, whom I have tipped as a comedian likely to have a good progressive year. He very quickly got the night off to a flying start. His material is very strong and he delivers it with great skill and timing – this is a man who will before long be earning his living through comedy. His description of his mum was very funny and had a belter of a twist to it. The only thing that I felt he missed from this all too short a set was when describing having an uncle in Nagasaki and this possible missing element is only down to his being under 35. Any comedian over 35 wouldn’t have been able to resist saying that they had an uncle called Kendo in Nagasaki. This is no reflection on Stachini’s set and it probably says more about my age. This was a very strong set.

Honourable Mentions

Alan Hudson, Andy Gleeks, Dom Holland, Dan Triscott, Billy Lowther, David Smith, Anthony King, Sam Gore

Advertisements

Blessington Carriage – Panel Beaters, feat. Scott Bennett, Sam Gore, Laura Lexx, Dotty Winters, Gary Delaney and Rob Mulholland as Death

Last year I saw more than one hundred shows and the funniest one was Panel Beaters, so it was with great joy that I was able to attend tonight’s show at the Funhouse comedy night at the Blessington Carriage. I was equally pleased to take a party of six with me to see it, as live comedy is absolutely amazing, but it is extraordinarily difficult to tear people away from boxsets and wanting to be in bed by eleven, because they only have another forty or so years left to live. This was a sold out gig and we were lucky to arrive early enough to bag some decent seats. In contrast to a lot of Funhouse gigs, Spiky Mike didn’t do the warming up, which gave the show an unusual feel to me and if anything made it feel more like I was temporarily transported by to the Edinburgh festival. The format of the show is that the panel buzz in to answer questions on a number of rounds. Death gets to pick someone to answer the question of What gets their Goat, which gives each contestant a couple of minutes to showcase a bit of material. There is a break at the halfway mark, which is very sensible as the audience is in mortal danger of being laughed out. Also, the acts spend just as much time laughing as the audience, which makes this a wonderfully communal show. At the end Death selects one of the comedians to bump off. In a panel show the contestants can make or break it and tonight we were blessed by having some very strong comedians present. The comics all seemed to bounce off of each other, topping each other’s jokes and engaging in callbacks. The chemistry between Death (Rob Mulholland) and Gary Delaney is excellent. Going from left to right as they were arrayed upon the stage:

Scott Bennett is very talented with the gift for making his material relatable. Out of the panel he made the strongest showing. His material struck a chord with the audience and he had a great work rate. Bennett came out with some wonderful ad-libs and he did a lot to keep Sam Gore’s running joke about dog milk in the show. I think everyone enjoyed his eczema suffering miners joke. Bennett’s What gets his Goat was delivered at a cracking pace and it came from the heart, drawing a vivid picture just as much as it drew the audience in and this was a brilliant piece, as was the Northern Books section, which he had invested a lot of thought into. This was a fantastic performance.

Sam Gore, who I last saw in Edinburgh had a good night, making a lot of timely jokes and providing a lovely running gag in the form of ‘Dog Milk’, which became funnier the more often it was returned to. When decrying what got his goat, Gore gave the room a solid mini routine, which he had to pause due to Delaney laughing loudly at. His line about an uneventful Palestinian wedding was dark,edging towards bleak, but incredibly funny. I enjoyed seeing Gore and he was bumped off by death at the end of the show.

Laura Lexx had impressed me when I saw her compering at a FaF gig a year or so ago, but tonight her contributions met with a more mixed response. She suffered from a fair number of her reference points not really being got by the audience, such as her Ian Dury based excuse to get out of jury service, which only landed upon being repeated. In contrast, she received an applause break for her comments about Birmingham and her Valentines Day card message was excellent. Lexx’s what got her goat was worthy, rather than funny, which was a shame.

Dotty Winters is an act that I had not seen before and was interested in seeing. Unfortunately she largely stayed in the background of the show. This was unlucky, as I enjoyed what I saw of her. She gave a great answer to jury service excuses, had a clever line about transforming Birmingham into an Italian restaurant and what got her goat was sensible and entertaining. I’d have liked to have seen her take on a larger role in the show.

Gary Delaney is a comedian who will brighten up any show and this was no exception. Tonight he was playing host, asking the questions and trying to keep things on track. He got a big laugh from the off and added a lot to the feel of the show simply by enjoying what he was doing so much. His corpsing and snorting is infectious and he can get humour out of anything.

Death, played by Rob Mulholland, was the stand out performer. Mulholland was clearly having the time of his life and has taken to this role with gusto. This is a man who clearly relishes having a license to say the most dreadful sounding things imaginable. He began by explaining the concept behind the show and then proceeded to make a series of magical interjections, each one being as dark as midnight in a coal hole and extremely funny. His comments about a previous performance in a city that had been unhappy about being teased were great. The glass ceiling was inspired, as was the comment about excellent rail links to a certain Dutch tourist attraction. Mulholland’s comment upon selecting Sam Gore was very much in keeping with his role and whilst sounding outside of decency was absolutely hilarious.

This is a fantastic show and is one that everyone should go and see.

New Barrack Tavern – Mark Richardson, Oscar Reed, Lewis Decker, Daniel Triscott, Spleeny Dobson, Lois Mills, Liam Elcoat, Luke Martin, Billy Lowther, Lauren Welsh, Brian Bell and David Smith

Last night I was at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse gong show. This is a venue that never disappoints; it has a great atmosphere and the landlord has a cracking sense of humour, as seen in his choice of T-shirt with its’ timely film based slogan: ‘Choose life, Choose NBT’. Spiky Mike explained the rules and the format, making it clear how the show was going to work and chatted to the audience, warming them up and finding out enough about the people in the room to allow the acts to try to tie their material into the audience. He was lucky in finding a couple of people who had jobs that he had material on and this landed well. The room was soon warmed up for our first contestant.

Mark Richardson had made a strong showing the last time I had seen him, but tonight, performing with a cold, he had a more mixed reception. His opening line referencing his cold and tying it into the two pharmacists sat in the front row did well, demonstrating just how big a dividend could be had for connecting material to the audience. From here, though, he seemed to be swimming up hill with his monologue about the differences between the sexes, which morphed into a conversation between sperm. Last time, his delivery had been buoyant, this time, not so much and I think that may have hurt his appeal. He didn’t do badly, but I think the judges were a tad generous in keeping him on until the final vote.

The next act was Oscar Reed who had a laboured opening routine about strangers that didn’t really add anything to his set. He was on firmer ground when drawing an analogy between gong shows and his sex life and the room enjoyed this. From here he went on to discuss online dating (funky was great), buzzfeed and it was quite confessional in tone. I was pleased that he managed to avoid using the hack phrase, ‘I’ll tell you a bit about myself’. This was quite a good performance and there was the feeling of an actual set here, with things building up nicely. Reed’s delivery was conversational and he engaged the audience well, feeling like he was on the verge of an applause break a few times. Ironically in contrast to his promising 5 minutes, when it came to the final, his 60 seconds was surprisingly mundane and robbed him of any chance of winning.

We had a change in style with Lewis Decker, who came over as more cocky and high status than any of the other acts. He delivered his material with swagger and fortunately enough charm to stay on the fun side, which helped to ensure that his comments about the audience being too old for some of his references did not alienate anyone. Although I wasn’t too sure about the comparison between realmice and computer mice making great material, I did like nectar points and the One Direction joke. The stunt involving the paper was nice. Whilst this wasn’t the best set of the night, it was fun and with more stage time Decker will have something. He made the final where he gave the room a groaner of a pun.

Daniel Triscott, who performed wearing a scarf that might have been on loan from Tom Baker, has improved a lot since I last saw him a couple of years ago. Back then he did routines which weren’t bad, but didn’t really stand out from any other comedian. This has changed for the better. Last night he began with puns before utilising short and snappy routines and these were very good indeed. Bag for life was great and sofas and Poundland extremely good, with the topper ramping up the humour. There was a lot of laughter throughout this impressive set and it was very enjoyable. During the final Triscott gave the room a clever pun. He was runner up on the night, but from what I saw he is definitely going up in the world.

The middle section was opened by Spleeny Dotson, who with beard and mostly bald head, looked like a slimmer version of Bob Slayer. He gave the room a short sketch, which on paper probably looked good. The concept was that he had an overactive self-conscious and he basically had a conversation with himself. This was unusual enough to interest the audience up to a point, but whilst there were giggles, there wasn’t really anything funny enough to land heavily and he was voted off. With tweeks to the material so there are a few bigger laughs earlier and stronger performance skills, he could probably make more of this concept.

Lois Mills of Frasco Fools was the most unusual act on the bill, largely doing am-dram to the audience, mixing small scenes with characters and visual jokes. The room went with this and she got consistent loud laughs and an applause break; they especially enjoyed the screams. Despite the set being well thought out, I was less enamoured than the rest of the audience, as to me, the set felt too much like it had originated in a university drama group. There is room for drama in comedy, Liam Webber does this extremely well, but he seems to find the funny first and then add the drama, whereas this felt like the drama had been first thought of and then a joke added after. Mills easily made it through to the final, where she acted out a small character monologue for her 60 seconds. Whilst not for me, the audience thoroughly enjoyed it.

The low energy Liam Elcoat made a nicely offbeat start with his Paul McCartney impression. I liked his fish years joke, as I thought the reveal was clever, but it probably deserves a better set up (I did wonder if he thought up the reveal first and then looked for a set up for it after). Elcoat came unstuck with his account of a Twitter conversation, which got more surreal with every message. Unfortunately this was strung out for too long without a big reveal and he was gonged off before we reached the climax. That material might work on a night where he has the time to get to the end, but it wasn’t punchy enough for a gong show.

Luke Martin looked confident as he paced the stage, but his performance never really felt like it was a comedy set. Instead it came over as if he was introducing himself on a team training day and throwing in the odd anecdote to brighten it up. He referenced his unusual accent, but didn’t add anything funny to it beyond a brief explanation of how he had been in a few countries and this largely sums up his material – there were far too few jokes for it to really take off. His near death story started well, but I’ve heard a few variants on reversing around an island and so ultimately the reveal was disappointing.

Billy Lowther, one of my favourite acts, was there to showcase his set to Spiky Mike. He received an applause break for his opening line and never really looked back. Lowther has a wonderful slow and deliberate delivery, as he does one-liners and this is a real strength; although I was a tad concerned that his pacing would prove a disadvantage in a gong show, I was quickly proved wrong. Lowther cleverly tied his fries joke into the audience by using the pharmacists on the front row as the people in question and this landed extremely well, as did the entire set. In the final Lowther went with the memory foam mattress joke which was a wise choice. He was the winner and I look forwards to seeing him again.

Lauren Welsh, performing in front of her family and friends was next. This was a fast moving set, that began with Welsh impersonating Brooklyn mobsters before moving on to act out Trump and his wife’s reactions to farts. Welsh did well with getting an audience member to demonstrate his rain face and made it through to the final. For her 60 seconds in the final she acted out a method of deterring people from sitting next to oneself on the bus – what this lacked in originality, she made up for in charm. Welsh’s set was good and I’d like to see her continue to write material and improve on what she’s got.

Brian Bell didn’t begin very well and I thought he would be an early gonging. When discussing age and sex he was too far between reveals and really needed more that was immediately funny. Local serial killers and his age in respect to them was the stand out of his set. He did well when talking about middle class and making an analogy between this and drugs. He was helped no end when discussing humus by Spiky Mike noticing a lad sat on the front row asking what it was, which Mike pointed out to a big laugh. Bell rode this laugh through to the final, where he continued along the line he had begun earlier. Bell improved as he went on, but his delivery wasn’t strong, it was quite bland. There was no real sense of it actually being delivered to a live audience and he may as well have been reading it off a sheet in front of a mirror. If Bell can improve his performance skills he will be a stronger act.

The closing act of the night was David Smith who gave an impressive performance. Despite being from Hull he opened with a local reference that immediately gave him comic credibility. From here he delivered material that was relatable, funny and went beyond merely referencing something from our shared childhoods. Not decided yet was a cracking line. There was a strong visual element to this set which worked well. The stunt with the T-shirt was a nice touch and if he were to get something printed on the back to add as a topper or a callback then he would benefit strongly. Smith’s delivery was very strong. He is a bouncy energetic presence and seemed to engage with the audience better than most of the acts on the bill, which added no end to his performance. For his final 60 seconds he gave the room a fast momentum building routine. Although Smith didn’t win tonight, I feel he is an act to look for in the future.

Gate Inn – Anthony King, Lou Conran and Barry Dodds

Last night I was at the Gate Inn, just outside of Retford for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a lovely old pub, that looks to have invested a lot of money in the place. The room was sold out a month before the night and as it was a not too huge L shaped room, it was red hot inside. The stage was located at the corner of the L, giving everyone a full view of the stage. The bill itself was nicely varied, with a musical comedian, and both a female and male comic. The quality of the acts gave the night the feel of a triple headliner. The audience were enthusiastic and liked banter. There was a couple of people stood at the bar who were a bit too talkative and Spiky Mike had to shush them part way through a set. Mike received some big laughs for his work, especially for wall and his response to a lady named Ali.

The opening act was the very dry Anthony King, who mixes music and mirth getting a very nice balance between the two. I appreciated him interspersing the songs with some great material, as I’m not a huge fan of musical comedy. His routines are all very good and have a logical build to them, making perfect sense, with no bizarre twists. The speed bumps and being self employed stood out. The songs are dark, almost bleak in tone, but made uplifting by his skill with the guitar and by his remarkable voice. I liked how King’s facial expressions during the lodger went from normal to looking far from normal – very much in keeping with the material. This was a solid set that opened the night well.

Lou Conran is an act that I’ve heard nice things about, but hadn’t seen before. She’s one of those nice and warm people who brightens up a room just by being there (see also Chris Norton-Walker). She has an excellent memory for who is who in an audience and was able to address a lot of her banter/material to specific personages within the audience. This forged an instant connection with the room and she got off to a great start, making her room work look effortless in a way that only someone very talented can. Addressing asides to Simone, sat on the front row furthered this work in drawing the entire audience into her set. The material was easily accessible, concerning body parts and functions and some interesting friends of hers whom she could describe in two words, which was enough to be able to instantly grasp what she was saying. I do think that Conran may have benefited from changing tack away from body parts and functions as she had covered this area well, but in fairness that is a minor point. It was great to see one lady in the audience giggling so hard at what she was saying that Conran had to pause and check up on her. Lou’s delivery is fast and she repeats what she is saying 2-3 times, similar to Tim FitzHigham, and it is very charming and helps to build up a lot of momentum. This was a lively and very enjoyable set.

Barry Dodds closed the night. Barry is probably one of the most well liked people on the circuit and seeing his name on a bill is enough to ensure it will be a good night. As the room seemed to be enjoying banter he split his time between material and room work, making a lot of good connections. Considering the remote venue and his interests in the paranormal he gained no end of laughs out of riffing along the line of the pub not existing and him being at a gig in a pub like the Slaughtered Lamb out of An American Werewolf in London. When discussing people who shouldn’t be driving, he made a wonderfully obvious change to this routine so as not to alienate the elderly room demographic and got a big laugh for making it so obvious. When discussing middle lane drivers he received a cheer for dropping the C-bomb, which is the first time I’ve seen that get a cheer. Dodd’s hoovered up massive laughs with this fast moving set. His timing was great and he charmed the audience, leaving the stage to cries of more.

MissImp Character Jam

Tonight I have been at the MissImp Character Jam, located in the cellar of the Malt Cross in Nottingham. This was something of an unlikely night, as I’m not a huge fan of improv and there were other nights on, albeit this was easily the closest and most convenient to get to. What interested me in this night was the quality of the performers. Within that room there was probably the next generation of the Nottingham comedy scene and it’s obviously going to be fascinating to watch the development of people such as Webber, MacPherson and Mitchell. There was also something of a clerical error involved in going there. Although the night was clearly advertised as a workshop, I saw that there was a £5 cost involved and so assumed it was still some kind of show, with a ticket price, without realising that this was the subs for the group and it was definitely a workshop designed to add to the skills of the performers. There were perhaps 25 people present of all ages but mostly young.

The tutor for the night was Liam Webber, a comedian whom I’ve got high expectations of. He spent the night working without notes and giving explanations as to the rationale behind the various manoeuvrers of the first half of the session. Webber began the night by getting the group to do some stretches and exercises, which loosened everyone’s muscles and added a lot of energy into the room. This was followed by an exercise in characterisation, with Webber shouting out a random made up name and everyone had to move how they expected someone with that name would move. This was fun to watch and of the 3-4 names called out, it was enthralling watching those who could invest each person’s movement with genuine differences and those who just made a small change. Whilst everyone was doing their own thing, taken as a mass, it did look rather like a scene from the living dead, with everyone being somehow reduced to a shuffle, no matter what they were doing individually.

After this, it was time for a game of 5 line scenes where people were paired up at random and with 5 lines they had to establish who their characters were by talking and acting out a scene with each other. The aim of this was to show quick character development so that when on stage people would be in the know as to who their character was and everyone would be able to work with, rather than against type. Webber wasn’t afraid to make people go again if they hadn’t managed to put across who they thought they were playing and had some insightful comments on what people did well with. This made me wonder if he had studied drama at Uni.

Most of the night featured Open Scene, where again, people were paired at random and they would act out a scene, showing characterisation, rather than story, with a random word shouted out from the audience forming the theme for their scene. A surprising amount of these shouted out themes were ignored. There were some extremely good performances during this section. I wouldn’t say that anyone was bad, as this was just a no-pressure workshop, but some really stood out for their skill. There was one elderly chap, whose name I didn’t get, who played a Russian president and a ship’s captain, who was very quick witted and seemed to be very much ahead of the curve in not only thinking of great lines, but in also letting his opposite number get into the show. Another notable performer was a girl called Marilyn, who was able to inject mirth into all of her roles. Probably the highlight of the night was Betty Sioux Costello-Singleton and an elderly lady who transformed the theme of quoits into a short sketch involving a drunken senile Miss Quoit and her servant. This was a splendid piece of character work, with both of them adding a lot of funny into a very short five minutes. I was especially impressed by Betty being brave enough to drop her opposite number in the deep end by telling her that she usually did Swedish nursery rhymes and then by her friend jumping in with a reasonable pastiche of these. This sketch, which was made up on the spot, was pretty much stage ready.

Whilst tonight wasn’t the night I was expecting, it was still very enjoyable and I’d heartily encourage anyone (apart from me) to pop down and have a go at it. I’d certainly go again and watch.

Canal House – Harry Stachini, Matt Hoss, Jack Topher, Rob Coleman, Jane Hill, Joe Jacobs, Elliot Wengler, Stevie Gray and Andy Gleeks (MC)

How difficult can it be to play a kazoo? Tonight I was at my first NCF Canal House gig of the year. This is my favourite comedy night and once again it justified the joy that this night brings me. The room was full, bar a couple of empty seats, with a meet up group block booking the first few rows. With so many new audience members it will be wonderful if they come back and tell their friends what a fun night they had. Our MC was Andy Gleeks.

Gleeks had created a good impression on me before he had even started compering the night. I had seen him talking to the acts and checking how to pronounce uncommon names. This is perhaps basic sense, but it is often overlooked and it was encouraging to see it done. In speaking to a cold room, Gleeks opened by chatting to a posh sounding chap sat on the front row, using both him, a lady from Galway and an unsmiling chap (placed on laughter watch) as his foils for the night. This was all entertaining, but he may have benefited a bit more from involving the back of the room, too, as this seemed a bit isolated, but in fairness, that is far easier to say than to achieve, as the lighting ensures that only the first few rows are visible. Gleeks did mix in some material with the room work and spa day was a lovely line. I was extremely pleased with the claim to fame game, as this is not only such a welcome change to asking people for name, location and occupation, but it gave Gleeks the chance to bounce off of the audience and it also involved the whole room, even if it did perhaps momentarily skate along the edge of people talking to each other about their own claims to fame. There were some cracking ad-libs, such as walk on part, which deserved far more than the audience gave him. This was good compering that kept the night on track and was funny without dominating proceedings to the detriment of the night.

The opening act was the up and coming Harry Stachini, whom I have tipped as a comedian likely to have a good progressive year. He very quickly got the night off to a flying start. His material is very strong and he delivers it with great skill and timing – this is a man who will before long be earning his living through comedy. His description of his mum was very funny and had a belter of a twist to it. The only thing that I felt he missed from this all too short a set was when describing having an uncle in Nagasaki and this possible missing element is only down to his being under 35. Any comedian over 35 wouldn’t have been able to resist saying that they had an uncle called Kendo in Nagasaki. This is no reflection on Stachini’s set and it probably says more about my age. This was a very strong set.

Next was Matt Hoss whose set was plagued by bad luck, some of it created by him, but a lot just plain misfortune. He began with a bit of anti-comedy poetry, which if it were performed in front of an audience not so full of comedy virgins would have gone down better, but instead it just seemed to confuse most of the room. Bad luck or bad judgement starting with that in front of this audience, take your pick. The originator of an obnoxious tweet was predictable, which robbed what could have been a good joke of impact. Following this, Hoss mangled the words to a joke, but that can happen to any act. He was definitely unlucky in high-fiving a chap on the front row and misjudging the distance, falling into the table and breaking it. Although this didn’t derail his set and he bounced back, he did lose sufficient traction that it ensured that he ran out of time before he finished his set, leaving it feeling anti-climatic. This sounds like a litany of disasters and it was a bit like watching a set slowly unravel. However, on a different night, I think we would have seen a far better show from Hoss. Intrinsically the framework to his performance is sound. He delivered his material well, he was skilled at manipulating audience reactions and his closing routine was nicely different and had a lot of potential. I’d like to see Hoss again, as I didn’t think that what we saw tonight was really indicative of what he has to offer and a lot of that was down to just bad luck.

Closing the opening section was Jack Topher, who I’m used to seeing at gong shows (invariably he is either winner or runner up) and I was interested in seeing him without there being a clock ticking down. Topher was probably the most inexperienced act on the bill, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from watching him. He was a trifle unlucky in being the 3rd act in a row to reference having a shit degree, but as a new act with limited material he couldn’t really chop that bit out, instead wisely changing his degree subject so it was a different one to act no 2. Topher managed to combine good original material with a powerful delivery. There were a lot of little touches, such as the genuflection when he quotes, the pauses and the look to the audience on brother as if he was unaware there was a gag in what he had just said and these all added up to make this a great set. Topher gained the first laughter break of the night and is an act with a lot of potential.

We resumed after the first intermission with Rob Coleman, one of the few acts who can receive laughs merely for standing in view of the audience. His conclusion regarding the work of his barber works wonderfully well delivered deadpan. Whilst Pearl Harbour was foreseeable, the rest of the puns that Coleman gave the room were of a high order, with some being extremely good. Unfortunately the audience didn’t seem to buy into Coleman’s set and he received a more patchy response than he deserved.

Next was Jane Hill who received a laughter break for her opening joke. This was a well written set that developed logically without jarring changes of pace and Hill has an eye for an elegant turn of phrase. The lines about green triangles and close work were both gems. 18 and a half seemed to end without a concluding line to it, but this was no big deal and only I probably noticed. There were some surprisingly dark elements to this set, but it remained buoyant throughout. Hill’s delivery was low key and conversational and although there was a bit of a dip in the energy levels of the audience towards the last minute or so, she managed to bring the entire room onboard. This was a set that was a like a good episode of the Detectorists – not ribticklingly funny, but charming, endearing, entertaining and it undoubtedly made the world a little bit of a better place for that ten minutes.

Joe Jacobs made a confident start with his best asset being his ability to do accents and voices. His vocal talents enabled him to get a lot more out of his material than what any other comic would be able to. A lot of his material was competent, rather than standout, apart from hypothetical arguments, which was a great line. The room enjoyed his set, but this was more for his verbal dexterity than the material itself. Whilst everyone will remember his skill with voices, I think 90% of the audience will be hard pressed to remember any of his actual jokes.

The final session was opened by Elliot Wengler. There are some comedians who command attention, such as Ian Cognito, or Doug Segal and then there are others who don’t have the kind of presence that makes people stop and listen. Unfortunately Wengler is young looking and very softly spoken without any hard edges, which doesn’t scream funny and this is a shame, as it means that he starts at something of a disadvantage. Wearing a suit and looking smart is a sensible way of limiting this damage, but it still means that he has to work harder than anyone else on the bill. Tonight Wengler didn’t have a great night. His material was pleasant and his props were nicely visible from the back, but the audience didn’t seem to take him to their hearts. Partly this may be because High Wycombe sounds lovely and the idea of it having a wood that’s a bit stabby seems very much a first world problem in the North. However, what I think caused the disconnect was that Wengler was quite verbose in his delivery and the funny got lost in the flowery descriptions and weight of words. If this set were stripped down to the essentials then it would generate a lot more momentum.

Stevie Gray closed the night with an engaging high energy set that involved the audience and sent everyone out on a high. Gray wasn’t the original closer and had been intending to do new material, but owing to illness he had moved up the bill to cover. Unfortunately this meant that he wasn’t able to test out his new material and also that he hadn’t brought his guitar with him. Instead, he opted to do a song without a guitar, improvising it. To pull this off took confidence and stage presence and Gray managed this easily. He selected two people from the audience, one to play a pirate and another to play the Kazoo and he soon had the audience clapping away whilst he sang with Dave playing pirate and myself totally failing to get that damn kazoo to play a note. A kazoo is a simple instrument, there are no moving parts, you blow in one end, a noise comes out the other, it’s that simple. It’s idiot proof. Could I heck as like get it to make a single note. Gray tried and it sang beautifully. He passed it back to me and no, not a thing. Until the end, when I got one note out of it and even now I’m totally in the dark as to how I managed to achieve that. No matter, Gray managed to get good laughs from his material and had some cracking ad-libs regarding my efforts. This was a very good set, with Gray showing himself to be a real audience pleaser.

Ashby, Alan Hudson, Sunil Patel, Tom Price and Dom Holland

Tonight on a cold and dark night I was out to see my first gig of the year. This was the Funhouse gig at Ashby, where I was especially looking forwards to seeing Alan Hudson. I was sorry to see that Robyn Perkins couldn’t make it due to her breaking her ankle, whilst skiing. I counted myself lucky to be able to bag one of the two seats in the house that were empty. On the one hand, I had a lousy view of the stage (it was empty for a reason), which doesn’t really matter for 90% of acts, but on the other hand, I did have a radiator to rest my back on. Mike had a good night compering, keeping the pacing right and managing to be funny, without making the show all about him, which not every MC can manage. The room was warmed up nicely for our opening act.

The last time I saw Alan Hudson it had been at a small intimate gig in Eastwood where he had impressed me with both his magical ability and his comedic skill. The only possible question I had about tonight was how he would translate from an intimate and personal setting to a room six or seven times the size. Unavoidably, the layout of the room wasn’t perhaps the best for a magician, with Hudson having the audience sat in a 180 degree arc, leaving him nowhere to hide (not that he needed it, performing with his sleeves rolled up). However, this didn’t daunt him and he opened by referring to this and doing a quick trick to prove his point. From here he launched into a set that matched magic and mirth in equal measures. The tricks were all delivered with perfection, yet Hudson, demonstrated good acting ability by commenting upon how often they didn’t always go totally as planned. This was funnily self-deprecating and built up some tension. Last week I saw a magician who had been put on a bill by the venue, rather than the promoter and whilst he was a fine magician, he lacked comedy value. I had name-checked Hudson as someone who would have been better for that night, because he has mastered the correct balance between magic and comedy. A lot of the laughs come from his asides and some lovely little incidental touches, such as his choice of beautiful assistant, the blindfolds and his references to Brown. In addition to this, Hudson looks as if he’s enjoying himself and the audience feeds off of this. I really enjoyed hearing his voice – it’s very hard not to like a magician with a Yorkshire accent, which stands in contrast to the silky southern tones used by many and instead of opening things, he ‘urpens’ things. This was, with the odd bit of innuendo aside, a very clean set, which one hardly ever sees outside of special events. Hudson held the room, received great laughs and gasps, depending on what he was doing and I’d like to see more of him.

We resumed after the intermission with Sunil Patel who had a well paced delivery that made up for what it lacked in energy with a wonderful dryness. Patel was only doing a ten spot and ideally I’d have liked to have seen more of him. His material was well thought out and engaging, with the routine about his name being the stand out and his off the cuff comment about 3 chairs being perhaps the best individual line. In introducing new sections he had the endearing habit of saying, ‘good question’ and then continuing as if in answer to an unheard question that he had been asked. He did this three times, getting a bigger laugh each time and I liked it. Patel hoovered up a lot of small and medium laughs almost constantly throughout his set, but seemed to be missing that one knockout reveal that would have brought his set to a climax.

The next act was Tom Price, whose set seemed to promise more than it ultimately delivered. I found it hard to buy into Price’s set, partly because it would have benefited from more to link the disparate routines, as it felt like a group of individuals pieces. In addition to this I found his upper class persona and (perhaps paradoxically) his routine involving inner city patois hard to relate to. However, I did enjoy his room work; this was good and he showed a lot of quick wit in getting the most out of what appeared to be a Pembrokeshire shaped cul-de-sac of a conversation. OCD and the line about moving away from Wales were both very good. The flinch that accompanied the line about shower and sink was great and added a lot. Whilst he wasn’t my cup of tea, the rest of the room enjoyed him and he received a lot of laughs from the audience.

The closing act was Dom Holland, who received a comedically useful introduction from Mike, which he made full use of. This was a set that I perhaps should have felt less enthusiasm about than what I did. Holland was the second act that night to use an inner city patois and became the third act in eight days to have material about picking up dog mess (Barrie and Stone being the other two) and so I should have felt the laws of diminishing returns coming into play. However, I didn’t. This set started well and remained splendidly entertaining throughout. The writing was extremely strong, with no wasted words or gestures. Everything said or done added to the performance and there was a tangible sense of completeness about the set, with everything feeling part of it. Holland made every topic feel relatable, even the surprising end result of his closing routine. The delivery was conversational, even gentle, but it was also very engaging – the room wanted to hear what Holland was going to say next and gave him their total attention (Nick Page also fascinates audiences in a similar way). I felt that the inflection on ‘yes I do’ was fantastic. This was a cracking set.