The Rigger – Tim Cullen, Dominic Harasiwka, Claire Keegan, Mark Woodrow, Martin Huburn, Grace Green, Howard Anstock, Michael Hartless, Brian Bell, Josh McAuley, Mark Richardson and Ben Turner

Tonight I was at The Rigger in Stoke Newcastle Under Lyme, for the Funhouse gong show. This is a rock pub with an ambience similar to The Maze in Nottingham and it was pretty full. There were a lot of acts from the Northwest and I was hoping that they wouldn’t repeat what I once saw in Derby. There a group of Mancunians and a Liverpudlians were performing and half of them did material on how rough it was where they were from and after the third description of, ‘if you’ve ever seen Shameless…’ I despaired as probably did the Northwest Tourist board if they were watching. Fortunately tonight was very different. Mike, looking like a New Romantic in his black Guardsman’s tunic, started the night off with a faux pas when he said how nice it was to be in Stoke, which the denizens of Newcastle Under Lyme were quick to take issue with. This led him nicely into some good material about a wall. There was then a lovely moment when someone on the front row was silly enough not to have turned their phone off and Mike answered it. Upon mishearing the girl’s name, Ocean (not a name at the front of anyone’s mind, admittedly), as O2, Mike proceeded to try to sign the chap up to a more expensive package. This was a lot of fun and before long we were ready for our first act.

Tim Cullen opened, with a low energy delivery. He had some nice bits, such as where he referenced the audience and a few callbacks which added sparkle, but the pacing on the jacuzzi routine was out and it didn’t feel as if it was going anywhere. Cullen’s delivery contained a lot of ers and erms, which in a new act is fair enough. He was a late gonging and owing to it seeming to take an age for the 3rd red card to go up, it seemed almost cruel.

Next was Dominic Harasiwka, the owner of a name that is likely to be causing problems for comperes for a few years to come and also a remarkable resemblance to Tormund from Game of Thrones. I was surprised that he referenced neither of these, not that they were elephants in the room in any kind of way, but it did seem almost natural that they’d get a mention. Harasiwka gave the audience a very strong set with original material that had a nice fresh feel to it. The ounces section was decent and reverse euphemisms is a great premise that I was very impressed with. I did think he missed a chance for improving a line when talking about the mean streets of America, as this had an almost throwaway feel to it and just making it the mean streets of wherever he is on that night would tie it in to the audience and get a laugh – more so if it is somewhere incongruous. Harasiwka’s delivery was a touch on the hesitant in places, but not massively so. He was a well placed finalist and I feel that he is an act that has potential, especially so given the strength of his material.

Next was Claire Keegan who had an unwise choice of material. Cancer is a difficult topic to make funny. It is also something that pretty much everyone has lost someone to and there is always the risk that an audience member will have suffered recently so this makes it more trouble than it is probably worth as a comedy topic, especially for a non-pro act whom the room don’t know well enough to trust to lead them into somewhere funny with it. As a result Keegan’s set veered from being bleak to just being depressing and it definitely needed more in it that was funny to make it seem worth investing in listening to.

Mark Woodrow gave the performance of the night and was a worthy winner of the show. He came onto the stage sounding happy and was a breath of fresh air after Keegan. He began well with tying his opening into her set and then doing a small bit of room work – all of this showed that he was very much wide awake. He did continue the 100% record of Ulster acts having a joke about bombs, albeit his approach was from a different angle and didn’t involve using his accent as the mainspring of the routine. The lollipop man routine was stronger. I especially enjoyed Woodrow’s delivery, which fluctuated nicely in tune with his set, being dry almost deadpan one moment and then a smile or grin beaming out at just the right moment when he delivered the reveal. This was a cracking set.

Martin Huburn had a good night. He hit the room with 2 puns and never really looked back. He took a risk in poking a bit of fun at Newcastle under Lyme, but had enough charm to be able to carry on. He was unlucky in a shout out ruining one joke, but he turned it around with a quick retort. The gypsy material is a bit of a two edged sword. On the downside, it momentarily gives the wrong impression of Huburn’s character, but on the upside it leads into a nice little routine. This was a fun and upbeat set that saw him through into the final.

Grace Green was easily the liveliest and most bubbly act of the night, making the final easily. She delivered a lot of her material crouched forwards slightly and there was a very strong element of performance in her set. Green’s act was an odd one in that she managed to be very entertaining without her material being massively funny. She had some good word play, the dinosaur impression wasn’t without its’ charm and the dog tickling was fun, but the material definitely lagged behind her skills as a showman. I enjoyed what I saw and with material to match the delivery she will be a very strong act.

Howard Anstock was pleasant with decent material (potato waffle being the stand out), although he was probably wasting time by mentioning a couple of stories and then just writing them off with saying time constraints meant that he couldn’t tell them. Luckily this didn’t hurt him too badly and he made the final. I was very happy with his ability to think on his feet and ad lib when the speakers gave two knocks, or if he had engineered this, to make it look natural.

Michael Hartless made the final more on his smooth delivery than his material. His material consisted of him complaining about his job in a call centre and slagging off the one dimensional characters that inhabit it. This felt more like someone with a job they hate taking advantage of a captive audience to moan to than actual comedy. Simon Wozniak has a routine where he complains about his job in a call centre, but that is injected with originality and a lot more depth than this.

Brian Bell started well, but then came to a total grinding halt when he forgot the next bit. Bad luck on his part and a long 15 seconds of near silence for the rest of the room. He almost recovered with the Moors/Shipman material, which is good, but he went off at the first vote.

Josh McAuley opened his heart to the room with some very personal material which made it feel like he should have been on a couch, rather than on a stage. Personal material about misfortunes of life is fine, but it also needs to have some lightness and more importantly something that is immediately funny to buy the act enough time for this set up to get to the point where it generates a return. McAuley didn’t last that long, going off to a split decision.

Mark Richardson didn’t have a great night. I’ve seen him three times and each time he has had a different set. On one level this is highly laudable, but on the other hand, the first batch of material was very good and he may be better off working on improving that, as the last two outings have been poor in comparison. His delivery had a flamboyant physicality, but the room just didn’t go with him at all and off he went.

Ben Turner had the feel of an experienced act, but a couple of bits of his material felt a bit old hat. Remarking on what gives people the right to come up and look at babies in a pram and looking at photos of exs on facebook have been covered a lot of times and he didn’t really add anything not already said. Fingers was clever, but I think that only half of the room twigged on to it, which was a shame. Turner’s delivery was interesting. He stood leaning back and spoke in short sentences. With a full stop. Almost after every few words. Making it seem quite staccato.

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