July 2017 – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a bit of a different month for comedy, as it was very firmly Edinburgh Preview territory. Hence this is divided into two. Circuit nights and Previews.

These are the acts who have impressed me the most this month:

Alistair Williams

A thoroughly enjoyable set that never felt like it was going to outstay its’ welcome.

From the night:

I saw Williams in Edinburgh last year – a bit of a lucky punt on my part to be honest – and with him being based down south I’d never seen him since, so having him on the bill was a big bonus. This was a set that combined well written material, good stage presence and a bouncy delivery; I enjoyed it a lot. Williams has a cheeky grin and looks happy on stage, which is always nice to see in an act. He also has skill with accents and was able to use this to add more depth to his delivery when discussing Australians and Mancunians. The routines were well put together and also in some ways thought provoking. The next time I see a picture of the Sydney Opera House, I’ll definitely be wondering what is inside. Dinner was probably the stand out routine of what was a cracking set.

Zoe Lyons

This was impressive for its quality and just how new it was. Seeing a headlining act doing a new set rather than resting on their laurels was lovely.

From the night:

It’s nice to see a comedian who has a following and the presence of Lyons’ name on the bill seemed to have specifically attracted a few extra people to the gig judging by some of the reactions of the audience. This was a set that had the feel of having been written during the last year or so, with plenty of stuff about Brexit and so on. This was lovely for a couple of reasons; one, a lot of headline acts have mature sets that vary little from year to year, so a new set of this calibre is superb and gives people a reason to see her more than every other year or so; and two, instead of a standard Brexit routine insulting people’s motives in voting, this section concentrated on the personal side of the result and how it has played out in her house. This was nicely different. Lyons is wonderfully lively on stage, acting out what she is saying, which adds a nice visual element to her work. Her delivery was great and its no wonder there was a lot of laughter in the room.

Sam Gore

Gore is always worth seeing and I’ve never felt that he has given anything less than 100% on the shows I’ve seen on.

From the night:

Gore has been consistently excellent on Panelbeaters. Every time I’ve seen him on the show he has been very well prepared with jokes in both quantity and quality. Today he was smartly dressed in jacket and shirt and he must have been melting on the stage, but this didn’t effect how funny he was at all. Amongst other things, Gore can do clever jokes, dark jokes, sick jokes and clever dark sick jokes. This means that there is a thrill of anticipation when he buzzes in; more so when he pauses as if trying to judge whether the room will go with what he is about to say. Some of his highlights were Findus Lasagne, Bill Cosby, Google tax returns and the second series of Sons of Anarchy, which frankly deserves as much shit pouring over it as possible. Gore is a superb panellist.

Steff Todd

I saw Todd on Panelbeaters and she managed to make quite an impact, even though the panel featured some very experienced acts. She’s an act who has a definite future as a performer.

From the night:

Todd was the odd one out on this panel – all of the other contestants are (I believe) pro comedians and she was the least experienced by quite a way. You wouldn’t have believed this, though, from watching her. Todd’s reference points aren’t arcane or require a lot of time listening to the home service to get; instead they are down to earth. This makes them more relatable. When she mentioned eyelashes on cars everyone knew the sort of person she was talking about and the same with her nanna and Liam Neeson. Todd’s standout line was about a wine list, which was a very strong gag. Like everyone else on the panel, not everything she said landed, but a heck of a lot did and I’d like to see more of Todd on the show.

Honourable Mentions:

Clint Edwards

Edinburgh Previews

I’ve seen a few of these this month and the ones that stood out were:

Peter Brush, Josh Pugh and Tony Cowards

Brush’s show is extremely well written and in its own way thought provoking. Pugh’s show is a bit of a greatest hits selection, but no less excellent for that – when an act has talented as him showcases his best stuff then only a fool would want to miss it. Tony Cowards’ show is a fantastically funny hour full of clever puns and is guaranteed to make people laugh for days after they’ve seen it.

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Bar One – Edinburgh Previews – Geoff Norcott, Big Howard and Little Howard and Tony Cowards

Tonight I was in Derby at Bar One for the Funhouse Edinburgh previews. The weather was pretty foul on the way there with a huge downpour, but luckily this held off whilst I was at the venue until the last 3-4 minutes of Tony’s set. There was a huge crowd for the first show that I saw, but as exhaustion set in (the shows run for the best part of 8 hours) this gradually thinned out. It was nice to see Brent and Neal Sullivan present. I saw the last three shows of the day, beginning with:

Geoff Norcott – Right leaning, but well meaning

Norcott is a comedian who is definitely making progress in the industry. He occupies a niche in being one of the few comedians who aren’t left wing and this has helped to get him spots on The Today Show, Question Time and The Mash. It’s nice to see talented people getting a boost like this. Tonight, though, he was unlucky in the running order. He was the 4th comic of a day which opened with the human Duracell bunny Pat Monahan and then Ian D Montfort and immediately preceding Norcott, Christian Reilly, a musical act who from what I was told by a few people, smashed the gig. I think the change of pace in being the first low energy comic without a character act or instrument diluted the impact that Norcott would have had. He was funny and did well, but I don’t think the room responded as well as what they might have done if he had had a different slot and he may have come away with a slightly downbeat view of how things went.

With his London accent Norcott always sounds a bit exotic to me and it takes a second for me to tune into his voice. It’s different to hear phrases from down there and he’s the only person I’ve ever heard say ‘mugged off’ in real life.

Last years’ show, Conswervative, explained his politics. Right leaning, but well meaning is an account of the reactions he’s received, plus updates following the political upheavals of the year. As you’d expect the references are all bang up to date and this show is very easily accessible. No one was sat there wondering what he was talking about. In one way it is perhaps a bit too accessible in that as everyone has a share in the subject matter to one degree or another people, weren’t shy in shouting the odd thing out. This never became a problem, although one group of people leaving early did take pleasure in a witticism about having to catch a train…. in 4 hours time, which as heckles go was entertaining.

There are some areas in this show that require a spot of work; these are the sections where a story is fun, but would benefit from a bigger ending, such as swimming pool and real man. The reference to Billericay probably plays well in the South East, but I’ve a feeling that up here more people thought it was in Ireland, rather than Essex and just using Essex may be more obvious. However, there are a lot of very nice lines in to be had. The opening gags about the DUP are strong, there was an applause break for the Queen, the company definitions were fun, the tweet – which incidentally was the only time he had to refer to his notes and that was just to get it spot on – was very good, voting was excellent as were the chants. The closing routine was not only a logical and natural one, but it actually had the feeling of a big climatic ending and I liked it very much.

This is well written and Norcott is a skilled performer (good with Scouse and Ulster accents, too, which was a nice bonus) and this was a very enjoyable performance.

Big Howard and Little Howard – Man and Boy

This is a nicely quirky show that has bags of charm. It’s also one where it is essential to secure a seat with a good view, as a lot of the action is projected onto a screen. Big Howard makes for quite a striking presence, wearing a suit and the sort of facial hair that reminded me of Jim Tavares and Little Howard is very different.

This show is a double act with Big Howard being flesh and blood and Little Howard a cartoon and to make it work this well relies on a number of factors. It has to be funny, which it definitely is (court summonses tickled me pink), it has to be well put together (it’s pretty much seamless) and Big Howard has to be a good actor in order to bring the show to life and he does go into this with gusto. Big Howard is also mature enough to give Little Howard all of the best lines. There are a few other creations who make an appearance, such as a chicken who plays a key role in telling Big Howard off and my favourite, Roger from Barnsley, whom I think was on just enough to get a lot of mileage out of without risking overexposure. The solo from Big Howard during the middle nicely broke up the show and stopped it from going stale and the politics callback was nicely subtle. However, this does suffer a bit from a few things that are overdone – the finger pulling was fun, but perhaps 2-3 fingers too long and whilst I’m not a fan of musical comedy, I think a few other people might not have objected to one song less being performed, but obviously not Haberdashery or the big closing number as these were great.

There were a couple of interruptions during the show, with ‘I weep for your children’ being half understandable in context, but still one of the more bizarre things I’ve ever heard an audience member shout out. The interruption by the McAfee logo, however, was serendipitous and Big Howard made the most out of that. As this is an Edinburgh show there was a lot of material pertaining to The Bucket and this was done very tastefully. This show was not only funny, but had bags of charm and is worth seeing not only because it is something different, but also for its own intrinsic comedy value.

Tony Cowards -Punderdog

I was really hoping that my mum would be able to come and see Tony, as she would love his show, but owing to the old man being at a regimental do, she couldn’t make it,which was unfortunate as she missed a wizard show. Cowards is phenomenally talented and I’m always surprised that he’s not on panel shows or the wireless. He’s not afraid to go highbrow with things like space and time, which relied on the audience being smart to get the punchline and it was highly impressive watching him come up with a pun based around the profession of everyone he spoke to. This was only topped by his lightning fast response when challenged to pun the Large Hadron Collider (not a topic I’d have expected in a million years or so) when he had people shout out topics whilst he did extra during a storm which no one wanted to walk home to.

Cowards began, though, with some solid opening gags and for the next 50 minutes or so never looked back and remember that this was in a room where a lot of people had spent the last 7 hours laughing, so there was a level of weariness to be overcome. As a one-liner expert, Cowards has a great work rate, but also a great hit work, too, with ‘memories’ being the only joke that the room didn’t go with. Every so often there would be a double laugh as some people caught onto jokes later than others and this seemed to ensure that there was always someone laughing in the room. I thoroughly enjoyed the film puns, but my personal favourites are the blood types. The middle section broke up the stream of jokes with some nice visual gags and a true story about a heckle he received when gigging at a rugby club. I can remember him posting on facebook about the heckle on the night it happened, so I’m totally confident that it is true, but it is one of those stories that is that funny I shouldn’t be surprised if half of the room thought he was making it up. Cowards finished the show with a couple of songs which he sang in a rather good voice. Tony has a couple of tics, such as saying ‘yeah’ or ‘fantastic’ and these did become noticeable over the course of the show, but they didn’t ever come close to getting in the way of enjoying the comedy. This was a buoyant ending to an evening of laughter.

Bar One – Edinburgh Previews – Brennan Reece and Josh Pugh

Tonight I was at Bar One in Derby for the evening section of the Funhouse Edinburgh preview all dayer. I got there at half 7 to find a decent sized crowd that included Brent, Nick Mellors and Rob Mulholland, a man with a loud laugh that he could successfully rent out to provide atmosphere up at the fringe.

Brennan Reece – Everlong

The theme of this show is Reece’s gran, his close relationship with her and how people are not forgotten as long as they are still talked about. There are a lot of shows about relatives in Edinburgh, possibly because writing them is cathartic, or perhaps because when the person involved is genuinely remarkable it almost writes itself. However, what separates this show from the rest is Reece’s skill in bringing the story out. His rapport with the room is superb, being lively, engaging and razor sharp to the mood of the audience.

He began with a spot of audience work, where he dropped in lucky speaking to Doug, a popular character on the Derby comedy scene. Doug is 73 and has not long since gotten engaged. This prompted Reece to muse about the cost of weddings and enquire if it would really be worth it. This brought the house down, with Spiky Mike laughing the most I’ve seen him laugh since a lady in Ashby suggested using cladding for a statue of May. From here Reece did a short bit on heckles received, which went down well as these always do and then we were into the main story, with some delightful asides along the way. Reece’s gran was a character and the sort of person who probably made a vivid impression on everyone she met and so the story passed an hour buoyantly, never feeling as if we had heard too much of her. There were a lot of great lines in this show, a lovely running gag about Quality Street and some phenomenal callbacks.

As much as I enjoyed the material, it was even better when Reece went off script and just played the room with his ad-libbing skill and creativity very much in evidence. His ability to work in a callback to Doug’s tale of bullet holes was as impressive as it was funny. Doug’s presence was a real asset to Reece, who used him to just the right degree to get the funny from him, although he did risk being upstaged when Doug received an applause break for getting up and walking to the door, saying ‘fucking beer’, evidently being caught short. Reece is very talented at sensing the mood of the room and being able to summon up the correct line to get the best result when chatting away. This was a happy and enjoyable hour.

Josh Pugh – A boy named Pugh

I can see Pugh having his breakthrough year if he has a good Edinburgh, although one can reasonably argue that he’s pretty much broken through already and that everything else is just a matter of time considering how far he’s come in 4 years. Pugh is one of those acts whom an audience has confidence in even before he’s spoken. It’s nice how people settle back and relax when he’s on stage, almost as if they can sense that they are in good hands and as always, he didn’t disappoint.

The theme of his show is that it is a film of his life, with various incidents of his time to date being mined for routines. As narratives go, this is pretty loose and is something to hang some very good routines on, rather than a story arc as such. However, I like that. There are too many shows that deal with ‘issues’ and as long as it avoids feeling disjointed, I’m damned if I can see why an Edinburgh show has to have a narrative when being funny and individual are the most important attributes.

Pugh easily satisfies both of these criteria with his well thought out routines and unexpected quirky reveals. There is a remarkably good laughter rate to this show, with no long gaps between laughs as this show flows rapidly along. My personal favourite was celebs for events, which is a fantastic idea. Although the inclusion of one did result in a brief discussion of their fate when Pugh seemed a little bit unsure himself of whether they were dead, alive or kidnapped, but that is easily remedied. Rocky was a rare miss, being more of an idea than a joke, but the rest was top notch. Pugh did say before a few jokes that they’d not worked previously, something that I personally don’t like to see comedians say more than once or twice in a set, as I think it can work against them or lose potency as a set up if said too often. Naturally, though, these jokes did well, as this is a man whom I wouldn’t be surprised to hear is a perfectionist. There is room for a few more callbacks in this show and the ending was a bit unusual in that the room wasn’t sure if he had finished or not at first before he did just a few more lines, but this didn’t alter the fact that everyone had really enjoyed the performance. This is a great show and it is everything you would expect from a comedian with Josh Pugh’s reputation quality.

The Gingerbread – Mundo Jazz, Clint Edwards, Andy Robinson and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was in Grantham at The Gingerbread for the Funhouse Comedy night. As this gig was in the function room of Grantham Town FC, it was pretty easy to find – all I had to do was look for the stadium. The room itself was spotless and quite big, with a fairly high ceiling, but it also had a sterile feeling to it. There were little of the odds and ends on walls or character that you get with a gig in a pub. This meant that the room resembled an oversized team meeting in an office. There wasn’t a huge crowd there, but I’ve been to plenty of lovely gigs where there has been a small but up for it audience. Unfortunately this audience was very much mixed in that regard. On one side, there were a few people who were quietly appreciative of the comedy. In the middle were a more ambivalent crowd, which included a lady who seemed to go from being sober to totally drunk during Andy Robinson’s set. And then there was a table where a family had definitely had enough to drink and concurrently had the attention spans of gnats. With a few more people there the balance of the room would have swung in favour of those wanting to enjoy comedy, but as it was, this was a very difficult gig for the acts. It was also one where no one could be too harsh in putting people down as the mood of the room was too uncertain for that. All too large a percentage of the room thought it was interactive and wanted to banter and talk back to the comics. Almost every line provoked a brief conversation amongst the crowd. This is highly unusual for Grantham, as the gigs at the Guildhall are truly lovely and this one has the potential to be nice, too.

Stevie Gray MC

It’s always a pleasure to see Gray. I’ve found him to be a very lively and inventive compere. Tonight, he began work before the gig had even started by chatting to the audience and working the room prior to the show commencing. Usually Gray will mix material and room work with props and music, but considering that our opening act was musical and used props, he wisely gave these elements a miss so as not to make things tricky for Mundo Jazz. Gray is lively and enthusiastic and very quickly had the room cheering. I really liked some new material of his and I can see that being a regular fixture in his set. As well as warming up the room, it was nice to see him remember to do the rules and send out the email sign up sheets. He dealt with a persistent heckler during the first intermission by having a quiet word with him and giving him a hug – something that would have silenced all but those totally lacking in self-awareness, which unhappily this interrupter suffered from. Gray had a good night and did all that was possible with the crowd short of deliberately being rude to people and he ended the night in style by getting the headliner onto the stage whilst he smartly stepped into a lift at the side of the stage and vanished from sight.

Mundo Jazz

Mundo Jazz is a character/musical act. The character is that of a Columbian singer, for which he speaks in a Spanish accent and dresses like a 1970’s prog rock singer with a fake ‘tache This isn’t especially deep as characterisation goes, but it’s enough for a bit of fun. Tonight he opened with a reasonable satnav joke, which wasn’t immediately obvious to all of the audience and this resulted in half of the room dissecting it and him explaining it. This wasn’t a great start, but he then ended up in a battle of wits with an audience member and came off second best. Mundo Jazz then wisely cut his losses and restarted the night, walking onto the stage anew. This salvaged his performance, even though he did keep on going back to one persistent heckler, when as a musical act he would perhaps have been wiser just to have ignored and then sung over him. Mundo Jazz was skilled at working information received from the audience into songs and this was a nice touch. The smoking gag was particularly strong. However, the mainspring of his set was his songs. I’m not a fan of musical acts, but I did like the t-shirt song, which was well thought out. However, with a lot of the songs, you’d got the joke by the end of the first verse and in my opinion any more was overkill and this was especially true of the drunken song, whilst Quincy worked best with those of a certain age. The audience liked Mundo Jazz more than I did. I would have liked to have seen more well thought out humour in the set, as this was painted in broad strokes, rather than nuance.

Clint Edwards

We resumed after the first intermission with London based Clint Edwards and there was a lot to like in this intelligent set. A lot of Edward’s material related to things specific to the room and to Grantham itself and it was evident that he has a keen eye for spotting the funny. He had done his research and he had no end of quirky facts about Grantham to weave into his performance. He was rather reminiscent of Mark Steel’s in Town with this and much appreciated by me for it. Generally when an act has put in the effort to make a gig feel bespoke for a particular location it is well received by the audience, but in this case the results were more mixed due to this room being so interactive. Whilst a wiser audience might have let him get on with the task in hand, this one was that was more than happy to talk about most of his facts with him. He dealt well with this and was good at thinking quickly – turning was an especially fine example of this. I wasn’t that keen when he made a joke about the L and the I of his name being too close together on the poster, as this is an old joke, but in fairness this still got a nice laugh and it led onto some enjoyable material. Unluckily, the same person who had helped to rob Mundo Jazz of momentum did the same to Edwards by talking and interrupting during his performance. Edwards won the battle of wits, but his interlocutor was impervious to this and it was a relief when the man’s wife led him outside for a bit. The audience settled down for Edward’s closing routine and this made a huge difference to the room. It suddenly became a very nice gig for that brief couple of minutes. Edwards was fun to watch and he’s an act I’d definitely like to see more of.

Andy Robinson

Robinson was a confident and assured presence. I really liked his mushroom joke, but the age of the audience was against it getting the kind of response that it deserved. Just as it was looking like the room had settled down the same party who had been disruptive throughout the night struck again and Robinson had to halt what he was doing to deal with them. Realising he was in a zero sum game he invited them to leave which happily they did. However, any hopes that this would allow him to crack on were dashed pretty soon when he tried to use a chair during a routine. He was then told in no uncertain terms by a lady who had gone from seeming sober to being drunk in ten minutes that that chair had recently been upholstered and that he couldn’t sit on it. Naturally this left Robinson bemused about the purpose of a chair that one can’t sit on. He was then momentarily offered her chair before she took it back. This wrecked that routine, but like Edwards, he received good laughs for his ability to think on his feet and improvise. The lady then attempted to start a dialogue with him, which he genially tried to close down by pointing out she had a vested interest in the night being a success, to which she announced that she was the person paying him. This was something of a gift to Robinson, who thoroughly enjoyed pointing out that she had already paid him. In between bantering with the room and ad libbing responses there was some nice material trying to get out and Robinson has a good club singing voice. Andy did an extra ten minutes, ending the night with a Q and A, where he received the mind-boggling query from this lady of did he know who her father was. Robinson did well with this gig and it was nice to see people shaking his hand afterwards.

This gig wasn’t a great one and it’s a shame as this venue has potential. It was simply a case of their being a fairly small audience and the balance favouring those who wanted to chat or had had too much to drink. With a few more people there to quietly enjoy the show this would have been a totally different night.

Peter Brush – A worm’s guide to Immortality

Two years ago to this very day, I saw Peter Brush performing Older than the Oldest Dog that ever lived in Buxton (thanks Facebook memories) and so it was somewhat ironic that I would be travelling up to the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield to see him perform his new show today. I really like the NBT, but it is a venue that I consistently under estimate how long it takes to get to. Rather than the 30 minutes or so I think it takes, it is more like 45 minutes away and the extra 15 minutes I gave myself swiftly evaporated following traffic jams and me coming off the M1 a junction early (usually I come off a junction late and have to double back) and then having to work out how to get there from somewhere I didn’t expect to be. The result of all of these shenanigans was unsurprisingly, but still annoyingly, me arriving 10 minutes into Brush’s show.

Usually the comedy at the NBT is inside in a fairly compact room that generates a huge atmosphere, but the all-dayers take place in the garden, which is a lovely setting for comedy on a sunny day – especially as I was sat in shade. The energy levels were set to relaxed, as people sipped their pints and lapped up the comedy.

I walked in just as Brush was condemning Isis. Brush is quite an understated deliver of lines. He doesn’t raise his voice, or jump about on stage. He simply doesn’t need to to get the most out of his material. He lets the quality of the writing do the heavy work and his more than gentle opprobrium for Isis worked all the better for it. I was massively impressed with his comments about their facebook page, these were brilliant. When it came to talking about ‘so called’ I did wonder where he was going to go with that, as I’ve heard more than a few versions of it, but his variant was nicely creative and in-keeping with his stage persona. The routine about Halloween was nicely charming and with a lot of his material, set the scene for some charming callbacks later in the show. The messages received in the afterlife was good, but I was surprised that the accident didn’t get a bigger response, as this was a superb joke. The same could be said about the tanned chicken line, which also deserved more. However, Brush was most certainly right about CCTV and miracles being more clever than funny, but I think that a creative example to illustrate the point might be able to adjust that. The Yorkshire thought section was notably strong and I can see that travelling very well as Yorkshire is almost shorthand for the North and there is plenty for those down south to buy into, too. The notion about buying art was a great premise, and as with everything in this show, well considered and logical. It was nice to see Corbyn getting a bit of a ribbing during this show, because as much as I like the man, he has had too much of a free pass from comedians and so being the butt of a joke is overdue.

Brush is a low energy performer, but frankly his cerebral material would seem odd if it were delivered by an high energy act. It’s nice to hear his precise diction, with no erms or hums and this helps to reinforce the intelligent nature of the work. There are quite long set ups that are pretty wordy and in any other comic I’d probably believe that they would work better edited down for more punch. However, with Brush it’s not only obvious that the reveal is going to be worth the build, but I enjoy listening to him outlining a scenario, even if it is the (when you think about it) depressing tale of Laika. Brush reminded me a bit of Stewart Lee (personally, I think that Lee is overrated and Brush is under appreciated); as every so often following his delivery of a joke he would dissect it, explaining why it was funny, or why it should have received a better laugh. It was interesting to see the craft behind the jokes.

This was an enjoyable show, but slightly worryingly for mid July, it still had the feel of a work in progress, but I’m fully confident that Brush will have it settled in time for Edinburgh. The theme of the show seemed to hang quite loosely and there didn’t seem to be a heavy narrative arc to it, either, but this is no bad thing. There are too many shows that prioritise the story over being funny and I’d much rather take humour over a narrative. This is something that can be enjoyed for what it is – 50 minutes of well written and funny entertainment and I’d urge anyone up there to pop along to the Labyrinth at 12.50 to see it.

Panelbeaters, Hosted by Caimh McDonnell, feat. Sam Gore, Steff Todd, Gary Delaney, Steve Day and Death

This afternoon I was in Derby at Bar One for the first of the Funhouse Edinburgh Preview all dayers. These are cracking value for money, although I had a feeling that after Panelbeaters I would be laughed out, so I just went there especially to see this show. Even on a day when it was 90 degrees outside and a big car show being held just a couple of miles away, there was still a respectably sized audience present (including Elliott Bower and Harry Sanders). The panellists today were: Sam Gore, Steff Todd, Gary Delaney and Steve Day, with Caimh McDonnell as host and Death playing Rob Mulholland.

Caimh McDonnell

McDonnell has the job of explaining the concept, announcing each category and then what is probably the hardest part: that of judging when the banter and mutual piss taking has run its course and it is time to move on to the next round. For me the biggest joy of this show is just listening to the comics bouncing off of each other, as they rip each other for stumbling over a word, or they provide toppers and callbacks to each other’s gags. It is almost like listening in to the world’s funniest conversation. McDonnell does well in allowing the comics some latitude with this, but also in keeping the show on schedule and ensuring that no round overran. The individual rounds, such as marriage proposal, elevator pitch and so on were fun, but they struck gold in a big way with Childish TV programmes – this was the highlight round and one that I hope they revisit as it was splendid. McDonnell did well as host and it was great watching him taking the piss out of the panellists and telling the room about when he took a ventriloquist monkey to Ireland.

Sam Gore

Gore has been consistently excellent on Panelbeaters. Every time I’ve seen him on the show he has been very well prepared with jokes in both quantity and quality. Today he was smartly dressed in jacket and shirt and he must have been melting on the stage, but this didn’t effect how funny he was at all. Amongst other things, Gore can do clever jokes, dark jokes, sick jokes and clever dark sick jokes. This means that there is a thrill of anticipation when he buzzes in; more so when he pauses as if trying to judge whether the room will go with what he is about to say. Some of his highlights were Findus Lasagne, Bill Cosby, Google tax returns and the second series of Sons of Anarchy, which frankly deserves as much shit pouring over it as possible. Gore is a superb pannelist.

Steff Todd

Todd was the odd one out on this panel – all of the other contestants are (I believe) pro comedians and she was the least experienced by quite a way. You wouldn’t have believed this, though, from watching her. Todd’s reference points aren’t arcane or require a lot of time listening to the home service to get; instead they are down to earth. This makes them more relatable. When she mentioned eyelashes on cars everyone knew the sort of person she was talking about and the same with her nanna and Liam Neeson. Todd’s standout line was about a wine list, which was a very strong gag. Like everyone else on the panel, not everything she said landed, but a heck of a lot did and I’d like to see more of Todd on the show.

Gary Delaney

This wasn’t a good day for Delaney’s self esteem as most of the panel spent the show taking the piss out of his waistline, but it was a great day for him making people laugh. Delaney is a great act and this show plays to his strengths, yet instead of dominating it, he was content to take a more relaxed approach and let the other panellists make the most of their afternoon in Derby. A lot of what he had to say was wonderfully dark in tone and I was very impressed with the Isle of Wight joke, the stream of childish tv programmes and the biscuit gags.

Steve Day

The first thing that strikes you about Steve Day is just how in shape he is. This is a man who looks fit and healthy, which is no surprise considering that he had cycled 40 miles to the gig from Birmingham (prompting Death to announce that he was going to follow him home along the dangerous roads). As a panellist Day has a slight disadvantage in being deaf and this meant that he didn’t get to join in with the banter as much as the others, but he made up for this in his answers during the rounds. His story about proposing marriage was charming, as was his notion of banning twitter and reinstating shouting at the telly, but where he scored big was with his scenario of the House of Commons being reconstituted as a bouncy castle. This was funny in itself and gave the other panellists plenty to work with as they riffed with it. Watching Death doing a parliamentary talk whilst he and Sam Gore were bobbing up and down was surreal, but funny. There was another glorious moment when he innocently asked Death about his autism, much to the surprise of Death. Day had a good show.

Death

As is traditional, Death got the majority of the best lines, as he put the finishing topper on the gags of the panellists, such as when he advised Todd that he was going to be dropping in on her nanna. Every so often McDonnell would insert the word ‘allegedly’ into the show just to keep things tidy legally and every time he did this Death would leap in with both big feet and say something defamatory. This was superbly funny and shows just how much Death relishes his role. In addition to this, Death spent 90% of the show grinning like the Cheshire cat, which was very warming.

Ashby – Markus Birdman, The Monks, Alistair Williams and Zoe Lyons

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. This was one of those nights were I’d like to have been able to shake the hand of the person who invented air-conditioning, as it was swelteringly hot again. Spiky Mike had a fun night compering managing well with a chap who tried to be funny/helpful/sarcastic with his answers when spoken to. There was a lot more fun to be had with a person who sold floors and beds and these interactions nicely set the room up for our opening act.

Markus Birdman

Birdman was excellent the last time I saw him, so I was pleased to see him on the bill. He began by making a joke about the town name, which is unusual as Mike generally advises the comics not to, as there are only so many gags to be made about it over the years without things getting samey. From here Birdman followed with the smartest knob gag on the circuit and we were off into a remarkably good set and also one that never began to feel staid. Birdman changed the tempo of the set a few times, going from material to including a couple of mimes and then room work followed by some deceptively clever gags from his notebook, before finishing with a bit more audience work. The first mime, that of a Muslim, was a bit of a slow burner, but it very nicely set things up for his next one. The room work was interesting, although he misheard an oriental man when he said about wanting to be his daughter (a callback to some of Birdman’s earlier material about his daughter). The jokes from the notebook had a lovely element of misdirection to them and worked very well. Markus was fairly sweary, but when he swore it was to add emphasis to what he was saying, rather than being gratuitous. Birdman was on a double and this performance had more of the feel of a headlining set than an opening one. This was a great performance.

The Monks

This double act had some nice touches in their set. It’s nice when acts listen to the compere chatting to people at the top of the night and can work audience members by name and their occupations into a set. This adds a huge feel of the here and now to a gig and The Monks did this very well. The prizes gave their performance a different dynamic to everyone else and this was nicely different. However, their joke about their last gig was predictable, although in fairness it received a good laugh from the audience, but this is a minor point. The main issue I have with this duo is that their material, over ten minutes or so anyway, is all based around one theme and I find that is too much on this topic for me. In their case the set is based around Christianity, but it is true with any topic that an audience member is disinterested in, any theme will begin to get old over ten minutes. Ten minutes of sketches and jokes utilising the Ten Commandments without a change away from it was too much for me. If they had mixed material based on Christianity with more general topics then I would have enjoyed them more. As it was the audience enjoyed them more than I did.

Alistair Williams

I saw Williams in Edinburgh last year – a bit of a lucky punt on my part to be honest – and with him being based down south I’d never seen him since, so having him on the bill was a big bonus. This was a set that combined well written material, good stage presence and a bouncy delivery; I enjoyed it a lot. Williams has a cheeky grin and looks happy on stage, which is always nice to see in an act. He also has skill with accents and was able to use this to add more depth to his delivery when discussing Australians and Mancunians. The routines were well put together and also in some ways thought provoking. The next time I see a picture of the Sydney Opera House, I’ll definitely be wondering what is inside. Dinner was probably the stand out routine of what was a cracking set.

Zoe Lyons

It’s nice to see a comedian who has a following and the presence of Lyons’ name on the bill seemed to have specifically attracted a few extra people to the gig judging by some of the reactions of the audience. This was a set that had the feel of having been written during the last year or so, with plenty of stuff about Brexit and so on. This was lovely for a couple of reasons; one, a lot of headline acts have mature sets that vary little from year to year, so a new set of this calibre is superb and gives people a reason to see her more than every other year or so; and two, instead of a standard Brexit routine insulting people’s motives in voting, this section concentrated on the personal side of the result and how it has played out in her house. This was nicely different. Lyons is wonderfully lively on stage, acting out what she is saying, which adds a nice visual element to her work. Her delivery was great and its no wonder there was a lot of laughter in the room.