Ashby – Mark Nelson, Jim Grant, Chris Stokes and Jonny Awsum

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. As ever, the room was full and the mood was eager for comedy. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, discovering who was whom in the audience and setting up the room for the acts. The first person he spoke to, Ray (not his friend Fake Ray), claimed to have been a professional badminton player, which Mike was highly sceptical of and in questioning who watches that sport he got a lot of comedy value from it. Mike struck gold with the people he chatted to next. It was a couple eight weeks into a relationship and the lady worked for a company that allowed her to take costumes home this led to some very funny queries. The room was soon ready for our first act.

Mark Nelson had a set that was balanced nicely between material and him chatting to the audience to set up his material and he had received his first big laugh within a minute of climbing onto the stage. His set covered accents, gender, sexual orientation, Islamic State birthday parties, things floating in baths and marriage and it flowed along very nicely. He put the young couple sat on the front row that Mike had been chatting to on the spot in a way that I’ve never seen an act do before and received a big laugh for it. When discussing Islamic State birthday parties Nelson used a joke about pass the parcel that I liked and also disliked. I liked it because it was very funny and it fitted like a glove, but I wasn’t too keen on it, because I’ve heard it used for almost every terrorist organisation going. This is a minor quibble on what was an excellent and highly engaging performance that was very well received.

We resumed after the intermission with Jim Grant, who delivered a fast speaking set. Grant has potential, but his set was marred by three things. He began with asking the audience to raise their right hand and then lower it into the lap of the person sat next to them, which is a bit of an old chestnut. He told a gag about being pulled over by the police, with a papers/scissors reveal, which is all over the net and I think he misjudged the mood of the room in delivering a very politically polemical set. I like political comedy (John Scott and Rahul Kohli are stand outs at this) and am on the old left when it comes to my politics, but this felt like Grant was playing to the Socialist Worker’s Party during some routines. Whilst there is an audience for this, middle class Tory voting Ashby isn’t it and I think he was going very much against the mood of the room with it. The stunt with the fork was a nice touch, although he would have benefited by rotating a touch so that all of the room could see it and get the full value from the prop. I was also puzzled about why he chose Leeds for the dodgy city in one joke. I could understand this if he was playing in Lancashire or Sheffield, but it seemed a strange choice for Ashby and his joke, which was a good one, would have had more impact if he had chosen somewhere local like Coalville. This all sounds highly damning, but in truth there was also a lot to like in Grant’s set. Condom party and IS flag were both funny and clever and I really appreciated the callbacks that he used. The areas that I wasn’t keen on are all easily adjusted and Grant has potential. He’s certainly an act I’d like to see again.

Chris Stokes had a fantastic night. He started by referencing how young he looked before going on to chat about his life. He made a quiet start chatting away, but this was a set that built up all the way throughout. Stokes demonstrated that he had been listening closely to everything that had been said before and I love it when a comedian can reference people and gags as it makes the night feel bigger than the sum of its parts. He received an applause break for a callback to Nelson’s set and even managed to chat to a couple who knew the small village where he had grown up without losing momentum, although by rights the surprise probably would have wrong footed many other acts. In contrast, Stokes didn’t put a foot wrong throughout his set. There was a lot of good quality writing in evidence and his delivery was perfectly pitched to what he was saying. With his soft West Midlands accent and his pattern and rhythm of speech, Stokes reminded me a lot of Thomas Rackham, as they both sound identical. This was a performance that never came close to outstaying its welcome and Stokes was tremendous.

Jonny Awsum closed the night and he’s ideal for sending an audience out on a high. There is a huge feel good factor to his work and it is very upbeat. There is also a lot of stagecraft involved, too and Awsum showed how quick on the uptake he was when he was chatting to the couple on the front row. Despite being on a double, he realised straight away that they had probably already been spoken to and the likely questions they had been asked and backed away, moving on to talk to other people. Awsum sings, which he does with verve and he involves the entire room in the songs, which gives his set a great feeling of inclusivity. The highlight of his set was when he got Fake Ray on stage to play the harmonica. Getting people on stage must be like minesweeping, as there is always the chance that you’ll pick someone uncomfortably uncooperative, or even worse someone who disrupts the show. Fake Ray turned out to be brilliantly up for the idea. In a way that wasn’t overpowering, or especially disruptive, for 5 minutes he managed to steal the show from Awsum, as he joined in mimicking the chord that Jonny was playing. This ended wonderfully with a version of duelling banjos and this was a truly great moment. It was nice to see Awsum do a very welcome encore.

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