Last night I was in Leek at the Foxlowe Arts Centre for another Funhouse organised heat of the English Comedian of the Year. It’s a rather grand looking venue, with a lot of different rooms, open fireplaces, Georgian fittings and so on at the front end of the premises. Unfortunately this ornateness hadn’t made it into the actual function room, which was, well, pretty functional, but considering the talent on the bill I doubt that anyone noticed. Twelve acts, with some very gifted up and coming ones, too, and only the one act who wasn’t that experienced. As with all of these heats, the voting was pretty one sided, with the audience giving a lot of votes for their favourite three, but very few for those comedians who whilst doing a great job, but didn’t make their favourites. It’s always odd to see an entire room heartily laughing at an act and then only giving them 3-4 votes at the end. Spiky Mike warmed the room up and as he doesn’t usually MC this venue, he was free to use more material than what he usually would. Pretty swiftly the audience were ready for the first act of the contest.
Jeavons was unlucky in picking the card that gave him last choice in picking his spot on the running order and so it was no surprise that he ended up opening the night. This is usually a terrible spot to be lumbered with and this was doubly so for Jeavons, who has only been gigging for three months and was easily the least experienced act present. However, despite this, he had a very good night. His high energy approach and very visual acting out of a routine (this reminded me a bit of Lee Hurst at his most lively) made a lot more out of his slot than what a lot of other acts would have been able to achieve. He began with a few short jokes about his Brummie accent which was instantly tangible to the audience before moving on to a story that cordially filled the rest of his time. Nothing in his set was esoteric and it was all the more easy for the audience to get on board with. The story was great and I think everyone was hoping he’d finish it before his time was up, as his crouching and fast speaking drew everyone in. Every so often Jeavons would break the 4th wall and this helped him to connect to the room. Although he didn’t make it through, this was a very promising set from such a new comedian.
Radu is a man who always has an amused look in his eyes, almost as if he can see the funny in everything that he sees and this is reflected in his strong writing and stagecraft. Last night he had a slower start than I was expecting, as the room seemed a little bit unsure of him for the first 40 seconds or so. However, he quickly won them round with some very good material, a lot of which I’d not heard before. I’ve seen Radu perform a few times and I was expecting to see a fair bit of the routines that won him the Funhouse Champion of Champions award last year, so it was much to his credit that he performed a largely different set to that. This was a performance that went down very well and Radu finished a very strong 3rd, going through to the semi finals.
I’d not seen Davies prior to last night, but he’d been tipped as one of the men to beat, so I was very interested in seeing how he made out. He began by working the room, pointing out the oddities of the night and effortlessly working in callbacks to Radu’s set and a shout out that had been received. This was very much of the moment and the audience really went with it. This was then followed by material which Davies delivered fast with a powerful voice. He built up bags of momentum, which combined with standout material and a strong presence saw Davies through to the next round as he narrowly took first place. This was a cracking set.
Following Davies would have been tricky for most acts, but Stachini is a talented up and coming act and he had a good chance of making the most of it. Where the previous act had been fast and loud, Stachini was more softly spoken and slower paced in his delivery and he let his material impress the audience. This was a set that comprised a couple of routines and they were very well received. The Netflix material had one chap sat on the front row laughing so long and loudly that it actually interfered with Stachini’s set, as he broke off to check that the man was ok. This was a very enjoyable moment in what was a strong performance.
Kealy occupied the sweet spot when we resumed after the first intermission, but failed to make the most of it in a patchy performance. He had some Oedipal material which wasn’t bad, but did make for an awkward beginning. He did win the room back with his next routine, but unfortunately the atmosphere went back to slightly awkward with his material about his first kiss. I got the impression that Kealy is an intelligent chap, but I didn’t feel that he made a big connect with the room. He performs as a low status comic, but was too aloof for the audience to really buy into it.
Revill’s set was interesting. He began well by talking about his home town and this was followed by material about caravans. Caravanning isn’t an obvious source of comedy gold, but Revill got far more out of it than you’d have thought possible. The denouement to this routine being well worth the build up. The weddings routine was also good and provided a good ending to a performance that built up the longer he was on. There was a lot to like about this set.
Clives had a very good night last night, with the audience going with him in a big way. He began well and never looked back as the room warmed to him and his material. The more low status he portrayed himself the more they took him to their hearts. There was some very clever material on display and although he didn’t make the next round, Clives was the only act to receive an applause break, which on a line up as strong as this is no mean feat. This was a strong performance.
Clarke gave a confident performance, as he delivered his material leaning forwards, pointing with his right index finger whenever he wanted to illustrate a point. He spoke quite slowly and very clearly so it was easy to pick up every nuance of what he was saying. However, I felt that his material wasn’t as strong as I’d have expected from an experienced performer like Clarke. The audience enjoyed him, but I was expecting more from him.
Swift is a performer who can famously split rooms. Last night he had a room that got what he was about very quickly and apart from one chap sat on the front row who never laughed once (why are they never sat at the back?), it’s likely that everyone laughed more during his set than anyone else’s. Swift had the room laughing before he had even done his first pun and it’s lovely when this happens. There was a tiny slip with one prop that was missing, but Roger was moving that quickly that he bounced over this very well. It was fortunate that he was the last act before the intermission, because he left the stage looking as if there had been an explosion in a charity shop. Although Swift didn’t make the next round I think the people of Leek will remember being Rogered.
I was very pleased to see Rowe on the bill. He’s got a career in comedy ahead of him, but as he’s from the other side of the country to me, I don’t tend to see much of him. Last night he treated the room to a polished set and a sharp delivery. His voice found the perfect pitch when commenting about his jacket and his material flowed very well indeed. Out of all of the contestants he felt the most like a pro act cutting down a longer set to fit the contests’ odd seven minute time slot. It was no surprise to see him go through and he was only one vote behind Davies.
King gave the room his most potent material and although the audience was initially slightly lukewarm he quickly won them over. It was noticeable that he stepped up a gear when discussing various unorthodox methods of providing samples and the audience bought into this material nicely. Whilst I doubt many people have had to worry about what container to deliver a sample in, I think everyone has dealt with members of the public who find amazingly novel ways of doing something straight forwards and this made it very relatable. Although he didn’t make the next round this was an enjoyable performance.
Norton-Walker is an act I’ve seen a few times and tonight he was perhaps the sharpest I’ve seen him. He was more focussed on his material and avoided going off on tangents, which was much to his benefit. He began with jokes about his build, which I thought was better than his material about heckles that he’s received – the heckles are fun, but too many acts are doing similar material for it to be as fresh as it should be. There were some very good jokes in this set, especially Bambi, which I thought was his standout line. Norton-Walker is a big man with a big presence and he generates a lot of atmosphere – if he can continue to work with his material and combine the two he will do very well. He was another act who was fun and enjoyable last night, but on such a strong line up didn’t get the votes to see him through to the semis.