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.

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