Canal House: Matthew McAloone, Chris Fay, Morgan Rees, Rik Carranza, Jay Scott, Phil Yates, Peter de Biasio, Scott Bennett and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, a show that I’ve missed recently due to work. This is a cracking show, with a great mix of new, up and coming and established acts and one never quite knows what you’ll see of a given night. The one common denominator, though, is that it will be great. This was another sold out event and it doesn’t half create a big atmosphere when the room is full – especially for the newer acts who probably haven’t performed in front of 100 plus people before.

Tonight’s MC was Steff Todd, an up and coming act from Sheffield who was in the role of compere for the first time. I was curious as how she would work out in this slot and the answer was pretty good. She got everyone’s names right, did the rules and wasn’t afraid to tell people off for talking nor did she make the night all about her, so this was all as it should be. She even avoided asking people what they did for a living and where they are from, which is something that 99% of MC’s do and which grates on me, as often enough the same people are asked or a non-local compere mangles the place names or confuses the ritzy and shit areas. Todd was also very funny – the Murdoch tweet reveal was brilliant. The only thing I felt that she didn’t quite nail was the balance between material and room work. She used a lot of material, which in fairness she did tie some of this in to conversations with the audience, but a bit more room work would have improved the mix. Apart from that small point, she was a strong MC and I doubt anyone would have realised that she hadn’t done it more often. Todd is an act worth keeping an eye on as she’s got a future in comedy.

The opening act was Ulsterman Matthew McAloone who began well by using one of Todd’s jokes about facebook as a springboard into his first routine. However, from this he continued the almost 100% pattern of Belfast born comedians doing material about their accent being associated with bomb threats – this always gets a laugh, but it does feel like something you can tick off in a game of regional accent comedy bingo. I found McAloone’s material about his haircut to be more original and far stronger. His line about beautiful black man was great, as was the time lapse as it sank in and people got it at their own pace. The routine about emojis was also good and something that I’ve not heard many people do material on. This was a well put together and capable set by a confident performer who earned a lot of laughter and set the bar for the rest of the comedians high. However, it was also a performance that curiously didn’t have much warmth in it – McAloone felt a little bit aloof from the room.

Next was Bristol based Chris Fay, who made a bizarre start to his set by encouraging the audience to tell him to fuck off and then taking this no further, not building anything out of it, or using it as any kind of set up. With nothing else to it, this felt a bit pointless and devoid of any real comedy value. He was unlucky in when announcing where he was from he started a chain of 2-3 audience members declaiming where they were from, but he managed to save himself from getting bogged down. He then went on to deliver material that was pretty bleak and it would have benefited from more to lift it up. This was also a sweary set, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case I don’t think it added anything in the way of emphasis to what he was saying. Fay did well to turn this set around, as at mid point he seemed in danger of losing the room, mostly due to it being bleak with little lightness, and the Yankee Candle routine rescued his set. The line about setting fire to was very good and the stand out of his performance.

The final act of the first section was Morgan Rees, whom I regard as being a good act. I enjoyed the joke about asking someone their favourite animal as the reveal was wonderfully offbeat and caught everyone by surprise. The first three jokes weren’t related, which did give his opening a bit of a disjointed feel, but I was probably the only person who noticed that. This was the first time I’ve heard people guess the Welsh for microwave, which didn’t throw Rees off in the slightest. This was a good performance with material nicely different to what other people are doing.

We resumed after the intermission with Rik Carranza, who mixed a well timed delivery with a set that was partly clever and also in need of improvement. In fairness some of this was new material, but asking people over 30 and under 30 to cheer and announcing that that was the sound of hope is pretty hack and I think he can do better than that. Arguably material on Trump having small hands, whilst not in the same street, is still fairly well travelled. Sci-fi sexual was a great premise and Carranza could have gone further with this by throwing out a bizarre example – this seemed to me like a missed opportunity. Mummy Jacking was great, but the George Takei gag seemed to take more time to set up, albeit with laughs along the way, than what the final reveal was worth and this needed a little bit more. This was a good set and whilst Carranza isn’t the finished article, it’s always nice to see his name on a bill.

Next was Jay Scott, who was performing for his first ever time and thanks to NCF’s policy of encouraging new talent, this was to be in front of over 100 people. No pressure there, obviously. In truth, Scott was a very confident presence and I initially doubted that this was his first time. He was given a big build up by Todd, which helped him launch into his set. For a new act, Scott was very eager to banter with the audience and this could have backfired, but he never looked in danger of that, as he seemed to be mentally that bit in front of everyone he spoke to. He reminded me a lot of Fran Jenking as they both sound similar and perform in the same way. His actual material can be divided into two: superstition, which was decent enough and some bizarre news headlines from around the world which he has found on the internet and read off of his phone. I’m not keen on that kind of material, as I think it’s basically lazy writing, but as a new act Scott gets a free pass on that. Scott was stronger bantering with the room than he was with his material and this is usually the reverse in new acts. Once he has found his feet in comedy I can imagine him making a good MC. This was a creditable and likeable first gig.

Phil Yates was next. This is a comic who has funny bones. He has a slow and dry delivery that adds an extra level of humour to everything he says. Yates had an early applause break and there was a lot of laughter during his performance. He has improved since I last saw him and if he carries on as he is I can imagine him doing a few open 10 spots instead of gongs sooner rather than later. Not everything was plain sailing, he would have been better organising someone to hold the cards up prior to getting on stage, but that’s the sort of thing that you only need to learn once and there were also a fair few erms in his set that slightly hurt his momentum. Neither of these are particularly big criticisms and Yates is definitely a comedian with potential.

Peter de Biasio began the final section, suffering from a delay with getting a song to play on his phone. He made something out of this with a self-deprecating quick ad-lib, but I felt that the Ed Sheeran routine was the weakest part of his material. The head routine was good, especially the parts about work and I also enjoyed his stuff about his sister’s difficulty in navigating. Both of these were very good and the room found them easy to relate to. De Biasio has improved since I last saw him and this was a set with applause and a lot of laughter.

Headlining was Scott Bennett, who was superb. This was new material being honed and since Bennett is a perfectionist it was extremely good, the sort of stuff that a fair number of pro comedians would already be satisfied with. Take me out was great, but Sea Life was fantastic. Bennett was supporting Rob Brydon last week, but I know which one of the two I’d recommend to someone wanting to see cracking comedy and that is Bennett.

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