Canal House – Nig Lovell, Thomas Rackham, Clayton Jones, Aaron Twitchen, Dan Nicholas, Pat Draper and Ben Briggs (Mc)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. This was once again packed out, with Elliott having to set out some extra chairs for the audience. The line up was a bit of an unusual one, being all male, but this is far from the norm, as their booking policy is usually more even. Another oddity was the crowd which seemed to consist of a surprising number of first timers.

Ben Briggs (MC)

I was chuffed to see Briggs down as MC. I saw him compere at Bluey’s a few months ago and he had absolutely smashed it, reaching godlike proportions as he worked that room. One of the differences between Bluey’s and the Canal House is that at the former the MC can see every single member of the audience even under the subdued lighting, whereas at the latter only the first few rows are visible owing to it being a bigger room and darker. This leaves probably 85 plus people whom it is hard to engage with, which can be tricky (it may be an idea to move the stage back to the side wall and pack the chairs around it). Briggs opened well, looking happy with a big grin and seeing one chap with three younger ladies with him, he came out with a lovely line about grooming. It was here where the second snag became evident. This audience didn’t want to go with anything dark. Briggs is at his best when he is doing dark material and this robbed him of a lot of his strength. I think the cause of this reluctance was the high proportion of comedy first timers in the room. The end result of all of this was that Briggs had to work extremely hard to get the atmosphere ready and couldn’t use his best material with which to achieve it. This meant spending longer than expected on stage and unfortunately he overran in his sections, because no MC would want to leave a room less than perfect for the acts. Briggs mixed room work and material, but was unlucky in that no one on the first couple of rows really had anything especially usable for him to work with, although the lady who wanted to work with psychopaths could have been useful if the room was going with dark material. Briggs referenced how the audience had a bit of a love hate relationship with him, as he’d win them and then lose them and this can be a good approach, but when you say it half a dozen times I think it runs the risk of the audience agreeing, rather than playing along. This was a tricky room, especially when Briggs couldn’t use his best (darkest) material, but he worked hard and it was nice to see members of the audience shaking his hand at the end of the night.

Nig Lovell

I last saw Lovell in the final of the UK Pun Championships, where he had done well. As an ex student in Nottingham he opened promisingly with a joke about rival town Derby and his local comments all went down very well. A fair bit of his material concerned getting older and going clubbing and this was delivered in a mixture of puns and short set up gags. Lovell wasn’t as punchy as I was expecting and the room didn’t seem to warm to him as much as I thought they would, but I think that this was largely due to him going on first. I thought that the shorter his joke was the better it did. Lovell didn’t do badly, but from what I saw in Leicester at the pun championship, I know he can do better under the right conditions.

Thomas Rackham

Cardigan wearing Rackham had a good night doing new material. There were some very nice elements to his set including the campaign to make cardy’s popular and the fading out gambit, plus relegated was a lovely line. Like Lovell, a lot of his set concerned getting old and going clubbing and this was a bit unfortunate as they were next to each other in the running order, but as both approached it differently this didn’t hurt anyone’s set.

Clayton Jones

I’ve seen English Comedian of the Year finalist Clayton Jones twice in the last couple of weeks and that is no hardship. Resuming after the first intermission, he hit the ground running as he delivered the standout set of the night. Jones has good material and stage presence, but what really sells it to me is his performance. He is fully aware that he is performing in front of a live crowd and his non-verbal audience interactions add so much to his show. The way he nods, looks at people, hushes the crowd to build tension on the African name and the side to side glance and giggle when doing his son’s comment are all absolutely spot on. It’s nice to see a comedian who is not only funny to listen to, but also funny to watch as they deliver their lines.

Aaron Twitchen

Twitchen was doing new material, mostly related to his aerial silk comedy show in Edinburgh. He had a bit of a slow start with what seemed like exposition, but moved on from here as he built up his set. I’d say that Twitchen split the room a bit. I think that this was because a lot of his reference points (Lorraine Kelly etc) were more easily accessible to the ladies in the audience and it took the men a bit longer to get what he was saying. His comments about vaginas were a huge hit with the female half of the audience, but less so with the male side, whereas sad Rachel went down well with everyone. Twitchen was buoyant and fun, but I think he could have done with a longer slot to bring everything out in his set.

Dan Nicholas

Nicholas was also doing new material and it was nice to see him getting giggles before he even spoke. A lot of his material concerned a break up and a simple read through of it would probably sound quite bleak, but as ever with Nicholas, it is his performance that is compelling. He took what could have been depressing and made it feel a lot more lighter in tone. A couple of his references were a little bit niche: Sploshing isn’t something everyone knows about, or will admit to knowing about and I think that paypal might have been more readily understood than bacs. This was an enjoyable set.

Pat Draper

Draper had had an unlucky night in his car breaking down on the way to the gig. He was actually waiting for the AA man to contact him five minutes before he went on stage, so there was always the risk that he’d have to leave part way through (an eventuality that Helen had to work fast to cater for). He opened by explaining this and from here he launched into a very enjoyable set. The dog track material is great and I especially appreciate the callbacks to it. He was a bit unlucky in not being there (delayed due to car troubles) when Briggs had spoken to the credit controller and so there was a slight and unavoidable element of repetition in his asking her what she did, but this wasn’t that jarring. This was a set that went down very well, getting a good number of laughs and with the second dead animal joke as closing routine it definitely had a feel of completeness to it.

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