Kamikaze Club – Rob Kemp as Stang, Liam Webber, Adele Cliff, Ashley Frieze, Josh Pugh and Thom Hodkinson and Michael Bell (hosts)

Tonight I was in Brum at the Blue Orange Theatre, which is where the Kamikaze Club variety night is held. This is a venue with a lot of potential. It has a proper stage, tiered seating, a sound desk and a green room with probably everything you could ever need (it was nice to see the acts looked after with drinks, snacks and fruit) all laid on. One thing it doesn’t have is an inbuilt audience, as it isn’t attached to a pub or anything similar and I think that the organisers, Michael Bell and Thom Hodkinson must have worked pretty hard to get people in. However, if they can keep people coming and build upon this, then they will have a lovely little gig on their hands. Whilst Thom and Michael host the night, they have Dean on sounds and Colin as announcer. Dean was useful in doing everyone’s walk on music and although he mistimed a gunshot sound effect during a sketch, this wasn’t without comedy value. Colin only had one job and that was to announce the acts, which I think is a nice touch.

Thom Hodkinson and Michael Bell – Hosts

Hodkinson and Bell hosted the evening as a double act and as this was only the third show, they’ve not quite clicked yet. The banter between them didn’t feel especially natural, although I’m sure that this will come in time. They added to this by doing some sketches and playing a game with an audience member. There were some fun elements in their work, such as the guide to comedy (dead pan deserved more) and a running joke in the rules, but I think that they may benefit from keeping it tighter at the top and certainly between the acts. They probably did the best part of thirty minutes throughout the night and this was too much to keep the energy levels up in the room. They both have ability, but I think that this is a case of less will be more. If they were to just do 7-8 to warm up and then a bit more after the intermission I think their work will have a lot more impact.

Rob Kemp as Stang

Tonight I saw Rob Kemp trying some new material where he plays Stang, a Bono like rock star figure, complete with a remarkably good Irish accent. Kemp is a smashing guy, well liked by everyone on the circuit and one of the reasons for this is that he is open and honest with his emotions and he spent his entire set trying not to end up corpsing with laughter at what he was doing. He looked as if he was going to crack up at any moment and the joy of this was infectious. Whilst the material isn’t quite there yet (new material, so that’s more than fair enough) it was still a joy to watch him. Hypocrite received a big laugh and the tsunami line was nice, although it did start tidal wave of suggestions about other countries he may have used instead. This was a work in progress, but an enjoyable one at that.

Liam Webber

Although this is a fair sized room, it is also rather intimate and Webber had no need for a microphone. He made the most of this when he went climbing on some boxes that formed a feature on the stage, climbing from one to the other whilst he writhed in a manner not unlike the opening to Tales of the Unexpected. All the time he was doing this, Webber was delivering a joke about star signs. This was followed by goose and fox based jokes, which worked well, although I did get to one reveal before him. As you’d expect in a comedian with such a strong improv background there were some nice ad libs, such as his friend and I enjoyed the feeling that Webber could have gone off in any direction he chose with his performance. The closing routine was dogs in space, where his acting skills came to the fore. A good set and nicely different.

Adele Cliff

We resumed after the intermission with Cliff, a talented one-liner comedian who was doing some new material, formed on her recent holiday in America. The quality of this was pretty good, with the superiority complex gag being the stand out, although it was the angle joke that got the applause. Cliff wasn’t as sharp as what I’ve seen her in the past and I’m not sure she did the full ten, but I enjoyed what I saw.

Ashley Frieze

It’s possible that Frieze was asked to do a longer set than the previous acts as he gave the room a lengthier performance than any of the acts so far. Frieze is a musical comedian and he arrived on stage with a guitar. He opened with a relevant lookalike joke based upon the hosts and this worked very well. From here he hit the ground running with a series of jokes based around the song That’s Amore. Rather than labour the point, once the format was established, he let the audience suggest alternative lines, which ended up going off at a nice tangent when he received a very middle class suggestion. This was fun and helped the room to become engaged with his set. This was then followed by a medley of songs and comedy which the room enjoyed, the standout being Rainbow, which was a definite crowd pleaser.

Josh Pugh

Pugh was the headliner and he is a quality act. He has splendid material, unexpected reveals and a smooth delivery. I’ve not seen him that much recently and it was easy to spot the improvements to his set. This was a very good performance.

Southwell – John Scott, Jack Campbell, Jenny Collier and Paul Sinha

Last night I was at the Admiral Rodney in Southwell for the Funhouse Comedy gig. It’s great to see a venue sold out like this; partly due to the presence of Paul Sinha on the bill, but mostly simply because it’s a well supported gig. Spiky Mike had a very good night compering, he had a real bounce in his step and loads of energy. He discovered a lady who worked for a local village hall and had some fun with her until he spoke to a gynaecologist, which led to a superb line about a ventriloquist act that he’d like to see. Very soon, the room was ready for the opening act.

John Scott

I’d persuaded my mum and dad to come to this gig mostly because Sinha was on the bill, but I had more than a sneaking suspicion that they’d enjoy Scott’s political comedy more. There are some very good political comedians in this country, but for my money, Scott, with his acute observations is one of the best. However, despite or probably because of there being so much politics in the news recently, Scott didn’t deliver a political set. He made a few probes in that direction, with comments about the DUP, but the room didn’t seem up for it and so he stayed more general in topic. As much as I was looking forwards to hearing his thoughts on the election, I think Scott made the correct decision and had read the room well. This was especially clear when he asked how Southwell had gone with Brexit and momentarily sparked a mini debate. The topics that Scott went with were getting old, his partner, health and Scotland and the result was a thoroughly enjoyable set. The backhanded insult stood out as a fantastic line. This was a set that built up a fair amount of impetus.

Jack Campbell

Campbell’s not an act that I see much of, despite him only being based in Leicester, so as a result, I perhaps see him once or twice a year. This means that it is easier to spot how he’s progressing. The last time I saw him was in Grantham and he’d improved then. This time he was even better. His material was noticeably stronger; not so much because he was talking about totally different topics, but more because it had become that bit more polished, with perhaps just the odd word changed here and there. His stage presence was greater, too. I would say his delivery was more confident, but that doesn’t really cover it; instead he was more forceful and he held the room a lot more easily. It was nice to see him talking to people and knowing who was whom; this made his set feel a lot more personal. Campbell would repeat the odd word, not as much as Fitzhigham who does this a lot, and I don’t think that this did him any harm at all. There were a lot of nice touches to this set, such as the joke about Southwell and the train names. This was a set that built up a lot of momentum and felt like it was going somewhere. It was also a set that seemed to end all too quickly. I dare say it will be another six months or so until I see Campbell again, but I’ll be looking forwards to seeing how much further he has improved in that time.

Jenny Collier

Collier with her big smile was an endearing presence. Her material concerned the Welsh language, farting, her self and a job that she had in London at a posh bathroom showroom. This latter routine formed the basis of a nice running joke as every so often she would pronounce words with added r’s. Her delivery was at a conversational level, which was pleasant but didn’t sell what she was saying as much as what she perhaps might have. Collier’s set hung together well, but it seemed to plateau early on and there wasn’t much of a feeling of it building. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t enjoyable, because it was. She received consistent laughs and entertained people, but she would benefit from a big hard hitting joke. If her set were a television show, then it would be like The Detectorists – no one bust a gut laughing, but she quietly made the world a nicer place whilst she was on.

Paul Sinha

Sinha had a very good night. It began, however, with something of a first at a Funhouse gig: someone attempting to film a comedian at work. I was amazed to see this, as was I think Sinha. In fairness, the filmer was young, drunk and perhaps a first timer at a gig, so she didn’t realise that this wasn’t on and as she was sat on the front row it was immediately obvious what was afoot. Sinha dealt with this politely and firmly and then made a joke about it which got the room back and also emphasised where the sympathy of the audience lay. The rest of the performance went very smoothly, with him delivering an autobiographical set. Despite the ups and downs of his life, the tone of this stayed upbeat and optimistic and as well as being funny, I think he managed to lift people with his happiness. There were a lot of references in this set that required the audience to have a moment of work to get them and this was lovely. I like it when you have to think about the material to get the most from it. This was a good set and closed off a very nice night.

Ashby – English Comedian of the Year Semi Final – Mickey Sharma, Paul B Edwards, Freddy Quinne, Rob Mulholland, Clayton Jones, Jon Pearson, Simon Lomas and Vince Atta

Tonight I was in the Lyric Rooms in Ashby for the first of the Funhouse hosted semi finals of the English Comedian of the Year. There were 8 contestants, 4 of whom over a 10 minute set I could see as front runners, but with the remainder being easily good enough to still be in with a shout. This was one of those contests where the place in the running order could make or break someone’s night. A few of the entrants had performed in the Ashby heat, so Mike asked the audience who had been there to see that and the answer out of a well attended night was only a handful. As with all of these shows the voting was very much skewed in favour of the top three acts.

Mickey Sharma

The running order was chosen at random with one exception and I’m not sure whether Sharma volunteering to go on first was a tactical decision on his part, or if he was being chivalrous. Sharma’s best material is sexually explicit and going on early in the night, with daylight outside and an audience yet to fully loosen up was a high risk move. He made a slow start which wasn’t helped with some material about Isis, which may have worked better later in the evening. There was some nice material about online dating, but as a topic this was largely done to death in 2015 and I think this diluted its’ impact. Sharma is a very visual performer and whilst he may stand still, the rest of his body is active, whether he is doing a high five or similarly illustrating a point and this definitely holds people’s attention. This wasn’t a bad set, but it wasn’t strong enough to keep him in with a chance.

Paul B Edwards

Edwards gave the room an enjoyable set with material that consisted of facebook foibles, Fifa election candidates and his garden. I wasn’t too impressed with one line about being single by choice, as I’ve heard a few versions of that joke, but the rest of his material was fun and the garden was nicely different. His delivery was fast and he built up a fair bit of momentum with his good performance skills, but on a bill like this he needed a little bit more.

Freddy Quinne

Quinne began with a solid relatable opening and then never let the pace slacken from there. Despite being the second act in a row to have material about facebook he was such a powerful presence that it still worked like a charm. This was a set with a palpable feeling that it was going somewhere. The material was great and it was lovely to see little added touches, such as when he mimed out sending a tweet and the pause before delivering the reveal on the twitter routine was belting. With a lot of laughter and 4 applause breaks, Quinne was very obviously the man to beat prior to the first break. After seeing all of the other acts I personally still had him in second place, which he missed out on. However, I can see him being a wild card entry for the final.

Rob Mulholland

We resumed after the intermission with Rob Mulholland who after discussing his height did a bit of room work. I liked the naughty Toby Jug reference he made about a chap sat on the front row, but surprisingly Rob didn’t capitalise on what I thought was a good opportunity to work with the audience and he soon launched into material. He gave the room a choice between nice or filth and predictably they went for the filth. The material was good, it built up logically and the topper to the callback was fantastic. However, I don’t think that Mulholland was quite as sharp as I’ve seen him and despite picking up a respectable number of votes he didn’t make it to the final.

Clayton Jones

Jones had a very good night, holding the room well and delivering some nice material. The Yorkie bar was the first heavy hitter of his set, as his vivid descriptions brought his performance to life. One of the things that impressed me the most about Jones was his ability to bring the audience into his show. Some acts don’t acknowledge there are people in the same room, but Jones was nodding to folk, giving them looks and really conveying the feeling that this was live and laid on specially for them. This gave him a wonderful connect to the audience. I enjoyed this set and the rest of the room did, too, voting him through in second place by a comfortable margin.

Jon Pearson

Pearson opened by referencing that Rob had already done tall jokes and then used this as a springboard into the gym routine. This is good material, but tonight it didn’t go down as well as it usually does. I think the reason for this is that he’s performed a few times in Ashby, doing a middle spot not too long ago and it may have been seen before by just enough people to make a difference. Pearson entertained the room but didn’t make it to the final.

Simon Lomas

Lomas is a phenomenon. Tonight the running order was kind to him, but only because it gave his comedy brain the chance to spot a callback to Clayton’s set, which he used to great effect. A lot of acts like to draw the audience in, but Lomas makes a real virtue of keeping them at arms length whilst he stands there, looking like he has accidentally found himself on stage after taking a wrong turn when going to get some crisps from the bar. A lot of comedians like to have a good ratio of laughs per minute and this makes a lot of sense. They will metaphorically jab at the audience with each fast jab delivering a small laugh. In contrast Simon employs a slower delivery with a lot of judiciously timed pauses. A right hook rather than a jab if you like, and everything lands with the force of a knockout punch. The material was incredibly strong and similar to Josh Pugh’s in that the reveals come at you from surprising angles. Within 4 minutes, he was getting laughs for the set ups and it wasn’t long after that that he was getting laughs simply for standing there. Lomas is a deadpan act and with a low energy level it can be hard to keep an audience over a period of time, but I think he may have conquered this problem (at least over 10 minutes) by changing from material to a bit of room work, but keeping the character whilst simultaneously still surprising the audience with an out of character comment. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but he still pulled it off handsomely. There was an absolute gift from the Gods of comedy when he overheard a lady talking in the audience. Simon doesn’t look like the sort of act that it is a big risk to talk in front of (eg, only a fool would talk in front of someone like John Robertson). However, he challenged this lady with a threat (plus topper) that was so incongruous that the room pretty much pissed themselves laughing, I hurt myself because I was laughing so hard at it and Freddy Quinne looked like he was going to fall off of his chair as he was laughing so much. This was a tour de force and when it came to the vote when Mike announced Lomas’s name that many arms went up, it was simply easier to count those who didn’t have him as their favourite. He went through by a total landslide.

Vince Atta

Atta suffered badly going on after Lomas. I thought that he’d be fine and would be able to ride the wave created by Lomas as they are such different acts, but instead it was almost as if the audience were laughed out. Vince got laughs and was the showman that he always is, delivering a performance that was as good as ever, but this is the first time I’ve seen him have anything less than a triumphant gig.

The Maze – Richard Probert, Gary Peterson, Chris Stiles, Matt West, Houssem Rhaiem, Nathan Newton-Willington, David Cox, Jimbo, Sandra Hale, Mo Haroon, Ben Verhoven, Henry Hempstead, Rob Callaghan and Sham Zaman

Tonight I was in Nottingham at The Maze for the Funhouse gong show. It seems like ages since I last went to a gong, so I was really looking forwards to this. There were a bumper 15 acts booked in and since 14 actually turned up, this made for quite a busy night. I’d only seen a few of the acts before and it’s always fun to see new comedians. My only concern was that there were a couple of local acts who had managed to bring a lot of friends with them. This isn’t usually a problem, but if it came to a cheer off we just had to hope they did the square thing and cheered the loudest for talent; something that Mike reminded them of just before the final commenced. The room was initially slow to warm up, but Mike won them over with Lilly proving to be an ideal audience member: one who laughed loudly and often.

Richard Probert

Probert wearing a blazer and a big collar was the opening act, beginning with a standard love child of joke. He gave the room an extended anecdote and then a routine about anal sex; both of which suffered from being overly descriptive and too wordy. They would have benefited from being edited down to just enough exposition to set the scene and then he could have hit the room with the funny and built up momentum. Instead the humour ended up lost amongst the verbiage. Although the pull back and reveal on the party got a bit of a laugh, I think he could have done better as I doubt anyone was hugely surprised by the direction he took. Probert’s delivery was clear, but a little bit more warmth in it to draw people in would have been nice. He didn’t do badly, making the final, but I think he could improve.

Gary Peterson

Peterson has good performance skills and has the confidence to work an audience, referencing them in his set. I was very happy to see that he had been listening to Mike’s compering and could address material to individual audience members by name. This definitely helped him to hold the room’s attention. His material wasn’t bad, but could perhaps do with a bit more work and especially a big pay off. The routine based on local place names was fun, but I don’t think it will travel that well as a lot of audiences seem a bit disengaged with material specific to not their town. The section based upon rectal investigations (Peterson was unlucky being the second act in a row to have an anal based routine) was stronger with the roast line being the stand out of the set.

Chris Stiles

Stiles had a good night with the Barnsley pilot consistently proving to be his strongest material. The plumber was good, but needs a bigger closing line. I do think that tonight Stiles missed a trick by not tying his material into the room, but he did well enough to get through to the final.

Matt West

West began weakly with a joke based around his name; he didn’t speak that clearly whilst doing this line and I think that half of the room didn’t quite catch on that it was a joke at first and even having heard it all myself I’d still say that a rewording of it at the least is in order. The rest of West’s set was better, but it only really came to life with him doing the enthusiastic advertiser type voice. This stuff was good and the audience were onboard with it. He built up a lot of momentum with that.

Houssem Rhaiem

Rhaiem has had a funny old week. Six days ago he made it through to the semi finals of the English Comedian of the Year, which is excellent going, but tonight he failed to make it to the final of this gong show. Rhaiem’s material is good, but his delivery seemed a little bit off his normal self. There was an odd moment where he started a routine and then very obviously bailed on it after about 10 seconds, which was unusual as he’s more polished than this. I was still surprised to see him get gonged off at the final hurdle as his material was good enough to justify him getting through and there were certainly weaker acts that made it to the final.

Nathan Newton-Willington

Newton-Willington was performing his first ever gig, the first of two comedy newcomers on the bill. As is usual under these circumstances Mike not only gave him a supportive build up, but also gave him a sweet spot, going on just after an intermission. I’m not going to say his material was especially original – all of these individual topics: an account of losing one’s virginity, pouting duck face and that there are Ladyboys in Thailand have been covered more than a few times. However, he wasn’t bad and for a first attempt he did alright, with a slightly generous audience seeing him through to the final.

David Cox

Cox had an odd night. He began with material on bears and Yellowstone park, which was a bit weak. Not offensively so, but there were just too many gaps between laughs and he may be better off dropping that as the remaining four minutes or so of his set was a quantum leap of improvement. The remainder of Cox’s material concerned activities in space and this had the feel of good, well thought out material. Unicef was a great line and it was nice to see a callback used. The visual closing gag to it, the money shot of the routine, was extremely good. If all of Cox’s set had had the mirth of the space routine then he would be much improved.


I’ve seen Jimbo twice before, but both of those times he was dressed as if going line dancing and he was absolutely plastered. This was the first time I’ve seen him in a normal suit and in any kind of state approaching sobriety. In contrast to the previous occasions he was funny for all of the right reasons. A lot of his jokes were based on his age, but these were generally creative and they struck a chord with the audience, although the terminal illness did go over a few people’s heads. This was a set with a lot of laughter from the audience.

Sandra Hale

Through a quirk of the running order the two oldest entrants were next to each other on the bill and this may have caused a clash if they hadn’t got completely different approaches. Hale began with a callback to Probert’s set, but as a fair amount of time had passed since he had been on, this didn’t land as well as it might have. The visual May observations were timely, but not especially deep. A lot of Hale’s set concerned sex and this material wasn’t bad, but a lot of the laughter came from the surprise of a senior citizen describing a use for sperm rather than the intrinsic comedy value of the material itself. Hale didn’t do badly, she made the room laugh and made the final, but I think her material isn’t as strong as it could be.

Mo Haroon

Haroon had an excellent night. At first I was a bit concerned for him, as the previous four acts had all been voted through to the final. Usually after a long stretch of winners the judges will be that bit harsher, as they realise that they have to vote someone off and I did think that he would have to work harder to counter this psychology. Haroon has some great material; his set is well written and very well thought out. He also had a good awareness of who was whom in the room, using a lady called India as the fulcrum for some material, making it feel very much of the now and highly relevant to the audience. Haroon was the first and only act of the night to get an applause break, earning not just the one, but three in fairly quick succession. This was a very good set that had a lot going for it and he was a very worthy winner of the night. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him and appreciated the work behind the writing.

Ben Verhoven

Verhoven, the second first timer, opened the final section of the night and he had a lot of support from the audience, with perhaps 2/5 of the room being friends of his. For a new act his material wasn’t especially bad, with the punching above his weight line being the stand out. What let him down was his delivery – Verhoven forgot his lines a couple of times and this really robbed him of momentum. However, he was well supported and did make the final, where luckily his friends did the square thing by Haroon and cheered the loudest for the funniest.

Henry Hempstead

Hempstead made the slowest start to any comedy that I have ever seen. He walked onto the stage, looking almost confused as to what he was doing, deliberately cultivating an air of the unusual. He was silent whilst doing this. He then took a drink of water prior to walking the short distance to the other side of the stage to put his glass down and then a slow walk back to the mic, which he then fiddled with in silence. This was then followed by him dodging behind the Funhouse banner, from where he finally began to speak. This all seemed to take more or less forever. Sometimes a silent stunt like this can build up the comedic tension, but in this case all it seemed to do was make some of the room mildly curious as to what he was up to and a lot, I’d imagine, irritated by it. The purpose of this was a low powered joke that opened a satirical routine about Mike Pence (Vice President of the US). A further problem with this is that Mike Pence and any foibles of his aren’t well known enough over here for an audience to readily get the observations or perhaps even to care overly much about them. This entire act was something that might have read well on paper as an arts student concept, but as a comedy set it was horrible.

Rob Callaghan

Callaghan isn’t the most experienced of acts and this came through in just how stilted and awkward he looked stood on stage. His material about his work colleague would be improved if he cut down the number of towns that he mentions, as this list was really strung out far beyond what the joke warranted and this may have explained his gonging.

Sham Zaman

I’ve had a run of seeing Zaman at almost every other gig during the last few weeks and tonight he was his usual self, surreal, lively and compelling viewing. He held the room and received solid laughs.

Bluey’s – Jason Neale, Sham Zaman, Luke Wright, Roger Monkhouse and Wayne Beese (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s for the FaF Comedy night. It’s always lovely to come here, as the audience are not only up for comedy, but everyone is really well looked after by Leonie and Bluey and it’s great to see the landlord so supportive of the night. Another thing that pleased me about tonight was that all of the acts stayed after their sets to watch each other perform and it’s nice when that happens.

Wayne Beese (MC)

I really rate Beese as a compere. He has excellent people skills and just seems able to get that bit more out of an audience than many others and all without being pushy or in anyone’s face. He has a quiet voice that I’ve never heard him raise and this seems to calm people and draw them in, making listening to him mandatory. Beese also has a natural sense of when to move on – he manages to find the balance between talking to one person and then knowing when it is time to spread his attention further. I was impressed by his ability to remember people whom he spoke to 18 months before, when he last appeared here. Tonight he discovered quite a number of characters in the pub and wove them into his work, building unlikely scenarios for them to be involved in, all of which he managed to keep relatable. There was a lovely little moment when he asked people to cheer if they’d not been before and one lady cheered with enthusiasm and then suddenly realised she was the only person – her ‘Yaaaaaay! Oh!’ was rather nice. Beese had a very good night.

Jason Neale

Neale opened, building nicely upon the goodwill formed by Beese’s compering. He began with a bit of audience participation, which whilst superficially similar to something O’Neil does ended up going in a very different direction. This made for a fun and attention grabbing opening and the jokes that it span off into were strong enough to establish Neale with the audience. Most of Neale’s set concerned trying for a baby and the joy of kids. This was well constructed and had a logical flow with some good callbacks. Skin to skin was decent, but perhaps not quite at the same level as the rest of his material. Neale had a positive delivery and received a lot of laughter; this was an enjoyable set.

Sham Zaman

This is the third time I’ve seen Sham in just over two weeks, but it is also the first time I’ve seen him perform more than seven minutes and at something other than a contest. His set began with a surprise; he thought he was on second after the intermission and so had to jump out of his seat and make ready very quickly before getting to the stage. Sham has a very fast delivery, almost relentless and this helps him no end in building momentum. Tonight the room responded with gusts of laughter, no matter how surreal his material became and he was smashing the gig for perhaps the first 8 minutes of his set, definitely being stronger than at either of the two heats that I’d seen him at recently. However, and it’s possible that I’m wrong, but I rather think that after this time the audience reaction dipped a bit. Not massively, but I’ve a suspicion that his fast speed maybe had them feeling exhausted towards the end of his set. This was a subtle change in the feeling I had coming from the audience and I think it is hard to be definite on that from just one ten spot. Either way, he still did very well.

Luke Wright

Preston based Wright was next and he was a huge change of pace to the turbocharged Sham Zaman. Initially I thought that Wright suffered a bit from this and it may have been better if he had gone on first out of the two, but he swiftly made his presence felt. Wright had a pleasingly slow and engaging delivery that was almost conversational in tone. In this he reminded me of Alun Cochrane and like Cochrane a lot of his potency comes from his material. Wright had a set that was very well put together, indeed. The standout routine was one involving helpful phrases when holidaying overseas and there were numerous ways in which Wright could have taken this. I was very happy that none of them were obvious and with how they built up. This was a very impressive set from a comedian that has definitely got something going for him.

Roger Monkhouse

Monkhouse is a highly skilled act. He has quite convoluted set ups with plenty of extraneous words and quite long gaps between punchlines. On paper this shouldn’t work that well, but Monkhouse does more than merely make it work, he gets a lot of mileage out of it. He is a comedian who looks plausible as he stands on stage with a slightly mischievous grin and after the first couple of fairly quick jokes the audience has enough confidence in him to happily go with the long set ups in the certain knowledge that the reveal will be worth it. Monkhouse looks like he’s having fun on stage and as is often the case, this is infectious and the audience enjoy themselves that bit more. This was another good performance by him.

Panel Beaters – Sam Gore, Freddy Quinne, Will Duggan, Andrew Bird and Death

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy night at the Blessington Carriage – the final one prior to the Summer move outdoors to Bar One. This was something of a special night with Panel Beaters being performed. This was minus a host following an unavoidable cancellation from Caimh McDonnell, with Death playing himself and also acting as host. Unusually it was an all male line up, which was a surprise as I get the impression that a lot of effort goes into presenting as varied a panel as can be had. There was only one act present that I hadn’t seen before, but knowing the level of talent on the panel this didn’t concern me in the least.

Rob Mulholland (played by Death)

It seemed odd having Death play host as well as doing his usual role and whilst it worked, it didn’t work as well as having a host. I felt that it weakened Death somewhat, as he was quite a jovial host, even if obsessed with lemon and herb. I do prefer it when Death is on the sidelines, coming in with a killer line every so often. That way his impact and authority is always top notch. However, he was still very good comedic value, getting a lot of the best laughs (Buddha converted to Islam was brilliant and I’ve a feeling that will follow a certain contestant for a while) . Despite a hitch with the props, everything else went well. The format was explained and the odd part of the show was repeated for the benefit of the podcast recording. Death kept the night on schedule and ensured that the various rounds, (pitch, party broadcast, slogan, etc) were wrapped up before the contestants ran out of good material.

Sam Gore

I’ve seen Gore twice before. Once at a showcase in Edinburgh, where he did very well and on Panelbeaters a while ago, where he had also had a good night. Tonight he stood out for three very good reasons. One, his material was dark and edgy, which fits in with the premise of the show. Two, he had put a lot of work into preparing for this and had bags of material to choose from on every topic and three, he was very funny. Gore didn’t quite dominate proceedings to the exclusion of the other contestants, but like Bennett two weeks ago, I feel that he had that much material he ended up restraining himself and deliberately foregoing some jokes in order to give other people chance to comment. Even so, it did seem that when each new round was announced the contestants would pause and wait for him to go first. The quality of his material was very strong, with only the odd miss, such as smoke alarm, which was a bit deep. A few jokes such as Pepsi can deserved a lot more. Gore was extremely good and is someone I’d definitely want to see more of.

Will Duggan

Duggan had easily the most cerebral material of the panellists tonight. Some of this was just that bit too clever to be instantly funny, requiring a moment for the audience to get it. This was a shame because although not all of his material was as accessible as the other panellists, it was of a very high calibre. Duggan had a dry delivery, which worked very well with his material and although he was ultimately bumped off by Death, I very much enjoyed what I saw of him.

Freddy Quinne

I was very pleased to see Quinne on the bill, but I will confess to expecting him to be more active during the first half, where he was relatively quiet (food bank was a definite standout, though). However, in second half he came to life in a big way and came out with a lot of great lines. ‘Sock’ was pretty grim, but also very funny and it was great just watching him banter with everyone else. Quinne did well, but I was expecting just that little bit more from him.

Andrew Bird

The last time I saw Bird was at Mike’s birthday party where he did a short set. I had enjoyed that and so I was curious to see how he’d do tonight. Like Gore he seemed to have loads of material and this was a big positive. As the buzzers were not available each contestant had to make their own noise and Bird was the only one who really transformed that into an opportunity. He chose ‘yes’ for his sound and the varying ways in which he inflected this simple word with emphasis was remarkably funny and since he fully committed to it for the entire show this became a very nice running joke. Out of all of the contestants Bird was probably the most consistently excellent with his answers, getting a laugh for almost everything he said. The only bit of his that I wasn’t keen on was the Dragon’s Den/shot gun joke, which I’ve heard a few versions of. In a nice touch he did the square thing with crediting Brent with suggesting a great line for him to use. This was a strong performance and he was chosen to be saved from Death.

NBT – Deague Paxton, Dan Triscott, Stephen Harper, Ben Wearmouth, Lou Conran, Zahra Barri, Sham Zaman, Steff Todd, Freddy Quinne, Tom Taylor and Masai Graham

Last night I was at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse hosted Sheffield heat of English Comedian of the Year. Every heat I’ve been to has been a cracker and this one was no exception. The NBT is a great venue, with an audience that allows the acts time to show they are funny, instead of making an instant decision, which is always welcome. Strangely the room hadn’t sold out, which was odd, as this is usually one of those places where it’s useful to book a ticket well in advance. As with all of the heats, the voting was heavily skewed towards the top three acts. The format is that every audience member votes for their favourite three comics and this means that 75% of the comedians who thoroughly entertained the room, but weren’t in anyone’s top three go home with very few votes. It must be quite disconcerting to have perhaps been the 4th favourite of 20 people and pick up hardly any votes just through not being in their top three. The running order was chosen by picking cards with lowest to highest in the suite choosing their slots first. This inadvertently led to most of the more experienced and stronger acts going on later in the night and all three ladies picking to perform in the middle section, which did give the show a bit of an unbalanced feel. Mike, in his jazzy shorts, had fun compering the gig, discovering a man with the unlikely profession of currency trader. This prompted a useful correction from Kev the landlord of ‘money launderer!’

Deague Paxton

Paxton didn’t have a great night. He began with 20 seconds of silence whilst he looked around the room and fixed a few people with his stare. This built up a bit of tension, but the time could perhaps have been better spent using material. He followed this with a not too bad ginger joke and some one-liners, all said in an accent that probably had a lot of people trying to work out where he was from and which he may have done well to address. Paxton delivered his material looking directly at certain members of the audience, rather than staring off into the middle distance and this could have helped him to build a connection with the people sat there. Unfortunately a lot of his material wasn’t that strong and he had a slight defensive vibe to his set, where he’d comment on how much he liked his jokes and I think this pushed people away from him. He had the feel of someone who is heavily influenced by American stand ups, but hasn’t yet really mastered how to make it work for him. At around the five minute mark of the seven minute slot, Paxton acknowledged that he wasn’t going to go through and announced that he was just going to do his favourite jokes, which got a great laugh from everyone, especially Mike, who looked in danger of falling off of his chair. Although Paxton didn’t do well, he can learn from his experience and improve for the future.

Daniel Triscott

Triscott, wearing a nice shirt and jacket and polished shoes was visually a cut above most of the contestants. Looking smartly dressed doesn’t make a comedian any funnier, but it can give them an air of seriousness and often an audience will sit up and take note of that. This initially helped Triscott establish himself as he delivered a set that was a mixture of one-liners and short routines. The material was something of a curate’s egg and would benefit from some editing. There were some very good lines, the number plate routine built up very well indeed and the twist at the end was extremely good. However, for every good joke in the arsenal, there was another that wasn’t quite up there. The rake description was ok, but as it needed an explanation, it lost pace and perhaps did more harm than good to the overall set and this was true of a few of the short routines that were just slightly overly wordy. Not massively so, but just enough to rob them of the impact they may have had if they had been more punchy. This wasn’t a bad set, but it was one that with a few tweaks could be a lot better. The framework is there for something rather good.

Stephen Harper

Harper was another act who would be stronger with an editing of his material. He got laughs, but the gaps between the punchlines were too long for him to really gain any momentum and when he did an extended anecdote there was a palpable feeling of the room slipping away from him. This was an act who ran out of steam before his time was finished. However, there were a lot of positives, too. Harper has a nice smile and looked happy to be there and the audience responded well to this by being equally happy to see him – even when he began to lose traction the audience were still cordial towards him. There was evidence of some quick wits in his retort when he was corrected over Dawn’s name and there was a welcome twist on having a girlfriend. With more experience Harper will be an improved act, perhaps an obvious point, but still a valid one.

Ben Wearmouth

Wearmouth was a relaxing presence with his a slow delivery and whilst this didn’t excite the room, he certainly held everyone’s attention. There were some lovely lines, such as sleeping bag and Buckeroo which managed to paint a vivid picture and be surprising at the same time. The bit about odd laws of the Isle of Man was a missed opportunity, as the example given was more of an example rather than being something intrinsically funny in itself and this could be improved upon. Wearmouth has improved since I last saw him and whilst he entertained the room, he just needed that bit more.

Lou Conran

I’ve only ever seen Conran twice and both times she’s impressed me on and off the stage. Simply put, she’s one of those rare people who can just brighten up a room by simply being there. Last night she gave a smashing performance and was the first act to have the entire room rocking with laughter. She mixed good material, great timing and solid performance skills. Conran would address material directly to audience members (remembering people’s names from Mike’s compering), spreading this out amongst those sat at the front and this really brought everyone onboard quickly. Her material is largely based on orifices and over seven minutes this didn’t outstay its’ welcome. The result of this was that she gained bags of momentum and went through to the next round as winner of the heat.

Zahra Barri

Barri had the tricky job of following Conran. Sometimes it is possible to ride the wave created when going on after a strong act, but this works best when the comics are very different in style and last night the differences weren’t marked enough for Barri to really benefit from the running order. In fact, if anything it probably hurt her night. On the positive side Barri has a clear delivery with good diction. There were no ums and erms or awkward pauses. Her material was decent, although she did lack a knockout joke. However, what I felt let her down was the lack of surprises or twists in a lot of her reveals. Whilst the specifics of the reveals weren’t always obvious, the type of punchline was. If you assumed she was heading towards a celebrity nonce, then you might not have got the right prison cell, but your guess was probably in the same wing of the prison. With a few more surprises Barri would make a bigger impact.

Sham Zaman

Zaman is an high energy act whose delivery reminds me of Tim Fitzhigham. They both talk nineteen to the dozen, repeat a few lines here and there and both build up a lot of impetus. Zaman gave the room fifteen minutes of material in seven, talking directly to the odd audience member. He is a bubbly presence and although sometimes it’s possible to lose track of the odd sentence due to how fast he speaks, Zaman has a great rhythm in his delivery and remains funny even if you may be hard pressed for the specifics of why you are laughing. This was a fun set that the room enjoyed a lot.

Steff Todd

Sheffield born Todd had the accent to match the venue, talking about her ‘fern’ rather than phone, which tickled me for all of the right reasons. I found her accent to be very endearing and it definitely adds to her presence. Todd was an act who built up a lot of momentum as she delivered a set that included some great one-liners and some impressions. The impressions were all of celebrities whom I’ve never ever heard speak, but because Todd spoke the words that you could easily imagine these people saying they still worked very nicely. This kept her set fresh and added a nice touch of variety to her act. This was a very enjoyable performance that gained a lot of laughter from the audience (all apart from one lady who was the exception, not laughing at anything) and seemed to end all too soon for my liking. After Conran Todd had been the most popular act of the night to this point.

Freddy Quinne

On any bill Quinne would have to be a serious contender. Over twenty minutes I’d consider him quite possibly unbeatable, but I was curious as to whether seven minutes would be enough for him to build up a head of steam. As it happened, he powered through the room making it through to the next round and being the act I most enjoyed. He began with a fairly long set up, which seemed to eat time until he got to the funny bit which amply justified the investment in it. This was just the start of a performance that included three or four routines that all landed knockout blows. Any one of these routines would have stood out for quality and squeezing them all into the one set was highly impressive. The delivery fully did justice to the material, being slightly camp when talking about his sister and having great tonal quality. It’s lovely when an act manages to place the stress on the correct syllable of certain words to get the maximum emphasis of what they are saying – it’s a subtle touch but one that massively adds value and clarity to their delivery. Also, it is usually the comedians who speak quietly that draw the audience in, but Quinne managed to achieve that by talking loudly, which is pretty exceptional. This was a stand out performance that saw Quinne through to the next round.

Tom Taylor

Taylor is a delightfully surreal act who is consistently very good. He is also perceptive when it comes to constructing his set and this is demonstrated in the quality of his work. In seven minutes he managed to find time for some sharp observations about the room, some great jokes and some lovely short songs and this was seven minutes that went by rather quickly. What I appreciated the most about this set was that he constantly wrong footed the audience. They would follow the set up and reach one conclusion, whereas Taylor would then reveal a punchline that was unexpected and which landed all the more because of it. I don’t think that there was a single line or moment that didn’t add mirth during this performance. Taylor comfortably made it through to the next round.

Masai Graham

Graham was a comedian whom I think everyone saw as a real contender to make it through to the next round. Unfortunately despite putting in a strong showing he didn’t make it and this could be due to a paradox in his material. Masai is at his best when he is doing dark material, yet his darker stuff slightly split the room. Not massively so, but I think it just stopped enough people voting for him to hurt his chances. Naturally if he’d been squeaky clean he wouldn’t have been as funny as he was, so it’s a bit of an Hobson’s choice. Masai got a lot of laughs from the off with his joke about the cat and there were some fantastic gags in his set. The new chemist based joke worked well on facebook and works even better live, being a highlight of the night. It’s superb how Masai let the audience think they’d got to the punchline before him and then proving otherwise. This was a great performance from an act who did very well.