Last night I was at the Kayal in Leicester for the Funhouse gong show. This started and finished earlier than usual, which is a positive move on a Sunday night, especially so given that some of the acts had travelled up from Brighton. There was a nice sized crowd, comprising a few estate agents, a group of students and a chap from New Jersey who was looking to get into teaching in Blighty. There was an odd moment where Mike caught a person checking his phone and the man claimed there had been a family death or something along those lines. Mike rightly doubted this, but was smart enough not to press the bloke, as that is not somewhere you want to go when warming up the audience.
Joe Foster opened by asking everyone how they were doing and generally saying hello. Whilst this may have eased him into his set I felt that it added little of comedy value. The bulk of his material concerned a works health and safety course, before he moved on to other topics. The material was pretty good and despite the fact that he had no links between different topics he was speaking fast enough for this jumping from area to area not to feel too jarring. I enjoyed his ad lib, as did the audience, judging from the applause break. Foster’s delivery was forceful, and he seemed to over emphasise what he was saying, as if he were addressing a rally and wanted his points to be crystal clear. Over five minutes this manner of speaking worked quite well, but over ten minutes or longer I’m not sure it wouldn’t outstay its’ welcome. There was a moment where Foster lost track of his material, but he’d done well and the audience forgave him this short lapse and he made it through to the final.
The Australian Brodi Snook was up next. Her set was very good on more than one level. It was funny, but it was also one that I could enjoy on a technical level, too. This was a well constructed set, with toppers and added reveals. The material was largely autobiographical, but it didn’t have the self-indulgent feel of some sets that are personal, nor did it skate along the edge of telling us more about her than what we really wanted to know. Snook’s delivery was calm and perhaps if I was being very picky, more competent and capable than inspired. The only part of her set that I thought fell below a very enjoyable standard was the inclusion of the line ‘so that’s going well’ which is very much overused on the circuit, even though as ever, it received a big laugh when she used it. Snook made it through to the final and is certainly a highly credible act.
Aaron Levene followed. He began with a few lookalikes. This kind of material is a bit of a staple opening and whilst it isn’t that creative, it can be relied upon to get an easy laugh and tonight it helped to establish Levene with the audience. Levene’s night could be divided into two halves, pre and post Holocaust. The material prior to the Holocaust was decent enough and the audience were going with it, despite the S&M reveal whlst not being exactly predictable, the actual type of reveal was. When it came to his material on the Holocaust Levene lost the room. Not massively, but enough to make all the difference needed to go off at a gong show. Although I liked the Eva Braun line, I’m not convinced that even a Jewish act has a lot to gain by attempting to mine the Holocaust for material. I think that Levene would do better to rethink that section as comedically it seems more of a liability than an asset.
Martin Huburn began with clever line about New Jersey, which owing to the presence of the New Jersey native in the room had a feel of immediacy to it, especially so when he tied it in to Leicester. This was an early audience pleaser. From here Huburn gave a largely different set to what I had seen on Thursday night in Stoke and one that felt fresher and lighter in tone. I was especially happy with his ‘down with the kids’ line, which like many a good gag worked in more than one way and it took me a few seconds to get the full impact of the joke. Despite Huburn’s habit last night of saying ‘right’ a lot, this was a set that generated a lot of momentum as he delivered it with passion. After having received all green cards, Huburn just managed to lose the room over a new bit of material and was a surprising late gonging.
After the intermission we resumed with Robert Callaghan occupying the sweet spot, which as he was doing his first ever gig was pretty fair. Mike gave him a supportive build up and he came to the stage with the audience feeling well disposed towards him. Unfortunately Callaghan didn’t repay this trust with a lot of laughs. Even for a virgin act in front of a crowd willing him to do well he struggled. He began with an anecdote that concerned an unremarkable conversation on a night out and then talked about Theresa May and bikes, where he lost the room.
Alex Black rebuilt the atmosphere with an enjoyable set that with a bit of luck ended on a natural high at the five minute cut off. It was nice to see Black being happy to banter with the audience and move away from his set before returning to it. This helped to keep the gig feeling fresh. Black’s final minute was absolutely spot on with the timing and a joy to see.
Belle Busby was disappointing. She opened with lookalikes, where she was unlucky with Levene having done his version of this prior to her. Following this, she commented on her unusual accent before a brief foray into her job and then a large section about her luck in relationships. The accent material and occupation were both very brief and didn’t seem to have much depth beyond a few comments and I’d liked to have seen either given enough attention to make them feel less than throwaway comments. When it came to discussing relationships Busby was on a sticky wicket. Being rubbish with the opposite sex is a topic that has been covered so many times it is extremely difficult to make it fresh or for it to stand out and Busby’s material on it just didn’t feel like anything we’d not heard a version of before. With different material she would be much improved. Busby was confident and her delivery was fine so I’d like to see her again. On a personal level I was impressed by her taking her gonging in very good heart and thanking the audience for listening – she was a good sport.
Although Dave Fensome didn’t win, he was the act that impressed me the most. He had the look of an experienced act and had a plausibility about him that few other entrants had. I enjoyed his material, there were a lot of well thought out lines – the house rabbit reveal was a lovely surprise. His delivery was that of a man angry with the world and his ageing position in it. However, he had the level of bitterness right. He wasn’t that angry to alienate the room, but he still had enough to carry conviction and give weight to his material. This was a very good set.
Mark Row had a good night, winning the contest. Row had some good material and a fast engaging delivery. There were a couple of areas where I guessed the reveal before he said it (hospice collection and shag list), which was a bit disappointing, but this was more than balanced out by some very good stuff. Pot Noodle was great and Trumped was an example of an actual witty Trump gag. Row is quite a wordsmith and it was enjoyable just listening to his command of the English language. Row won the vote off in the final by a large margin.
Houssem Rhaiem usually makes a strong showing in gong shows, but last night went out late into his set. On the plus side there was evidence of improvement with the substitute gag being reworked so that it is now pacier. On the other hand the two Trump gags felt a bit superficial. I was very surprised when Rhaiem lost his place in his set, as this is very unusual for him.
Ben Bridgeman opened with a local reference about Kasabian which fell flat. His set made a slow recovery from this and he looked likely to be an early gonging until he was saved by a reference to an American. His set came to life at this, but not enough to save him from being gonged off at the last hurdle. I wasn’t very happy to see him come off the stage, grab his jumper and then leave the room not saying cheerio to anyone with perhaps a ten second gap between these actions. I’ve seen people move more slowly when there has been a fire in a room. This seemed to be a bit bad tempered and unsporting.
Stephen Catling didn’t have a great night. He took to the stage wearing a big coat and if my Gran had seen him wearing it indoors the first thing she’d have asked him was is he staying or leaving soon. The answer was leaving soon. Catling isn’t visually funny or imposing and he needed to say something within the first twenty seconds to give the audience a reason to listen to him and want to hear more. Instead he gave the room some whimsy, which no one seemed to want to engage with. If he had used more that was immediately funny he might have been given a chance to take the audience with him, but it was not to be.
Shaun Turner was the final act. He does well at gong shows, regularly winning or making the final. He has a confident delivery, holds the room well and tonight he seemed a bit sharper. However, apart from cock or balls all of his material is based upon him having cerebral palsy and I find it gets repetitive very quickly. I’d very much like to see him broaden his approach. Last night he was runner up.