Last night I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for another Funhouse organised episode of Panelbeaters. It was very nice to see Brent and Spiky Mike putting out extra chairs for this show, although the extra people didn’t help keep the place any cooler. This was a room that seemed to heat up very quickly and I really did feel for the contestants sat under the lights. It was great to see Harry Sanders there to watch and I was surprised that there weren’t more comedians watching the performance, as this really is something special. The last time I saw the show, they had recently had an interesting time in Liverpool and the same was true of this one and their comments about the Liverpudlian audience were hilarious and provided a wonderful, if inadvertent touch of continuity. This was a show where it was useful that the audience had a good general knowledge and grasp of current affairs, as there was a lot of satire and references that may have been missed by the odd person.
The host tonight was Caimh McDonnell, the owner of an infectious giggle. He began by explaining the format and how it was all going to work, in the process warming up the audience. This didn’t take long and we were soon into the show. Caimh kept everything to a tight schedule whilst simultaneously checking that everyone had nothing else to add in any of the rounds. This was impressive, as it is natural for people to want to get in one last line and this never ever came close to degenerating into comics trying to shout over each other. McDonnell and Death (Rob Mulholland) bounce off of each other very well and it’s fun just watching them take the piss out of each other. A lot of the joy of this show came simply from watching top notch comedians just bantering away with each other and in the case of McDonnell telling a funny anecdote about a bit of audience interaction that went awry in Coventry.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Rob Mulholland playing Death. Mulholland has a creative mind that naturally pushes the envelope as far as it will go. However, this is allied to an intelligence and self-awareness that ensures that he isn’t dark or edgy for the sake of it. Instead, he manages to skate along the edges, but retains the audience whilst being very funny. I’m particularly happy about how Mulholland plays death as an overworked tradesman, almost slightly miffed about getting jobs outside of his normal workload. Last night Death got a lot of applause for his endorsement of the Tory party, which was a great touch.
The panellists were Scott Bennett, who spent the first part sat mostly behind a speaker, Karen Bayley with Bertie the dog, Phil Pagett and Peter Brush. All of these brought something different to the mix.
Bennett might have been the most regular guest on the roster and I could see why he’s often invited to take part. He had loads of material for each category. This is a comic who had put a lot of work into getting material for the questions that may come up and this was evident in both the volume and quality of his output. Bennett paints a vivid picture and it was very easy for the audience to get on board with him when he launched into what were almost miniature routines, such as the ‘Turd Card’, which I’m hoping he develops further, as it is a cracking premise. Bennett was also incredibly fast on the buzzer and at times seemed to be restraining himself from jumping in too often. In addition to this, it was obvious that Scott was fully with the idea behind the show and was being deliberately dark and provocative with his jokes. He did this so well that on the way home I had to explain to my cousin that this was actually very far removed Bennett’s normal stock in trade, which is family friendly.
Karen Bayley made a slow start in the show, not really establishing her presence until the second half. She did well with the jokes about her gran, but in contrast to the other contestants she wasn’t very dark or edgy and this may not have helped her to stand out.
Phil Pagett had a good night, with the ‘I wouldn’t say….’ round almost being tailor made for this one-liner expert. There were some rather splendid ad-libs present, such as Barkalepsy and the rolling series of gags about Hungary were spot on. Whilst Bennett scored with mini routines, Pagett gained his laughter from some very sharply observed comments and this all added to the variety of the panel.
Peter Brush is a very intelligent comedian who writes clever routines which he delivers from a low status perspective. In some ways, this made him almost the odd one out, as he would pause and then give his line at his own pace and this was not only a nice contrast, but it also proved that good things came to those who waited. Brush’s notion about people having one vote was a genius idea and following recent elections and plebiscites one that a lot of people were in sympathy with. It was clear that Brush had done his research on Derby and was able to slide in a provocative comment about Clough doing his best work in local rivals, Nottingham. A few of his references were missed by some of the audience, such as the Fake Sheikh, but for those who did get them they were extremely impressive. Bush’s line about the pussy was so incongruous to be splendiferously hilarious.