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.

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