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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.