Stagedive Comedian of the Year – Michael Dryburgh, Pete Selwood, Mo Haroon, Pat Draper, Lindsey Davies, Matt Hoss, Daniel Triscott, Fran Jenking, Tom King and Jared Shooter (MC)

A night where the MC gets punched to the ground, one act ends his set naked and another begins in his underpants is always going to be memorable. The Stage Dive Comedian of the Year night was memorable for other reasons, too. It didn’t begin that well for me, as I got gloriously lost in Chesterfield and ended up walking five sides around a hexagram before I eventually found where I was meant to be. The venue is a good size with a large stage and Shooter did well to attract so many people to this on a Friday night, including Stewart Coleman, who was supporting the night as a spectator. This was quite a high stakes contest, with not only further (paid) spots up for grabs, but a rather nice trophy and £100 in cash, which is a very respectable amount. There were nine contestants, each of whom had seven minutes to perform in. This is the same period as English Comedian of the Year and whilst it represents a compromise between a brief five minutes and a ten that makes the night end late, it still feels a bit of an odd amount of stage time. We began, though with the organiser and MC, Jared Shooter.

Jared Shooter (MC)

This is effectively a home town gig for Jared and I’m confident that he knew almost everyone in the audience by name. This gave him an advantage in that he could use his local knowledge well, but it also ensured that he couldn’t dip into material, as they would be familiar with it. Also, I think it may have hurt his authority, as it’s harder when the audience know you personally as a friend. Shooter is a very likeable chap and that is his strength. He’s not yet that adept at rolling with responses to his questions and fell back on asking people what their favourite thing was four times. He also has a tendency to occasionally trip up over words, going with psycho instead of psychic and confusing podiatry with paediatrician, but his innate charisma ensured that this actually worked to his advantage and both occasions were funny. One of the more unusual stunts I’ve seen a compere do is to bring frying pans to a gig and do a timed toss off of pancakes, but Jared beat that hollow tonight. He knew that there was a boxer in the audience, so he invited him up onto the stage to give him dead arms. Ross, the boxer, duly obliged and with his cross to Jared’s left arm knocked him clean over for a good 8 count. This was quite a spectacle and was definitely different, but I’m not sure that I’d like to see it become a regular thing. I’m not sure Jared would either – it looked like it hurt. There was a nice call back to this in the final section, where Shooter came to the stage wearing an improvised sling. Jared is a relaxed host who whilst not perhaps the smoothest out there, makes up for it with charisma.

Michael Dryburgh

Opening this gig was going to be tough for whoever did it, but Dryburgh didn’t make a bad job of it at all. Having recently became a father, he’s not been gigging as regularly as he’d like and this did show a bit in it not flowing as well as usual. He began well with some nicely visual material about his forehead, which being right in front of the audience allowed them to get onboard quickly. From here he spoke about partners past and present and this was decent material. The call back to Christmas didn’t land as well as it usually does, but I think that was due to him going on first, rather than anything else. Dryburgh put in a solid performance, but would perhaps have benefited a bit by altering the pace of the gags to make it more punchy, because whilst he’d have built up well over ten minutes, seven didn’t really give him as much of a chance.

Pete Selwood

Selwood had a good gig and I thought he stood a decent chance of being in the top three. He began well by referencing his left hand. This made a benefit out of what may have become an elephant in the room. When he spoke to a lady sat at the front (I think it was a lady, it was hard to tell from where I was) about touching it, this set up a nice routine, which probably did need a bigger final pay off, but it still ambled along nicely. I was impressed by Selwood’s adaptability. He was very much at home mixing material with chatting to the audience and didn’t seem too worried by flipping from one approach to the other. Even when he drew a blank about mother’s on facebook, he wasn’t bothered, he just reworked the question to children on facebook and carried on without missing a beat. This was a good set.

Mo Haroon

I was looking forwards to seeing Haroon. I’d only seen him once before and he’d been good then, winning a gong show in fine style. His material is very well written and cerebral in tone. This is stuff that requires the audience to do a bit of work for themselves and I really enjoy comedy like this. I did think that a few lines were under appreciated by the audience, who possibly weren’t fully with him, but other ones such as Jihad and holiday went down very well. Although he was briefly interrupted in one gag by someone talking loudly, this didn’t hurt his performance and Haroon emerged a good third place.

Pat Draper

We resumed after the first intermission with Pat Draper, who had read the room well. They responded extremely well to his deadpan delivery and well crafted material. I thoroughly enjoyed the pick a letter moment, when the audience thought that they had got the joke and he then hit them from another angle and judging by the applause I wasn’t the only person who liked it. This was a set that began strongly and maintained the momentum all through. Draper placed a very respectable second.

Lindsey Davies

I’d not seen Davies before, so I was looking forwards to watching her perform. She opened with a visual gag that I liked, although I do think a few members of the audience may have taken it at face value. From here she talked about her home town, with the sibling line being a standout. I initially thought that the Pamela Anderson reference was a bit 1990s, but in context it made perfect sense and considering the other person chosen, there is probably scope for adding to that routine. The yoghurt pot description was strikingly vivid and the topper was very good. This was a set that flowed smoothly.

Matt Hoss

The last time I saw Hoss, he’d had a challenging night – anyone who can go to high five someone sat on the front row, misjudge the distance, fall and demolish a table can be described as having a challenging night. There had been a lot of bad luck for him that night and from what I saw tonight, I’m beginning to wonder just how many mirrors he’s smashed. He began by talking about his Masters degree and asking the audience about their degrees. This will work in some rooms, but in a depressed mining town in front of an audience of people having a Friday night knees up, it is more of a long shot than in many places. Paradoxically, his notion of weird degrees has real potential, but he didn’t really explore it. Hoss then went with a bit more material and it became obvious that the room wasn’t exactly fully onboard, so he spoke about going off and coming back on. However, he didn’t do this and I’m not fully sure exactly how he got from this and perhaps Hoss isn’t either, but he went from attempting to reset his performance to stripping off. He began by undoing a few buttons on his shirt and here the sounds guy really stepped up – he began to play You can leave your hat on. Hoss announced that he didn’t think he was going to win the contest, which received his biggest laugh and whilst saying that, he took one shoe off and then a sock, which was thrown into the audience. Very quickly he was down to his trousers and when he asked for a cheer if people wanted him to keep them on I was sure that the loud response meant that that was the end of it, but perversely there was an even louder cheer for him going further, which he obliged. The sounds guy put Tom Jones back on and Hoss ended up starkers. This was definitely not something easily forgotten once seen and like the punch out earlier, a spectacle, but I’m rather hoping that stripping off when a night goes badly will not catch on.

Daniel Triscott

Luckily that was the end of the middle section, as no one would have been able to follow and when Triscott took to the stage after the break he was met by a shout of ‘take your clothes off’, possibly a new experience for him. Triscott gave the room a mix of one-liners and short routines and I felt that the room wasn’t that sure of him for the first forty seconds or so. However, they swiftly warmed to him and he went on to have the best night I’ve seen him have. His material was improved, with quite a number of good gags in there and the clever jokes interspersed with the odd pleasingly daft one. He’d perhaps benefit from having a few gags that link up (plus a later call back), as this would help him build momentum, but as it stands, I feel that he is moving in the right direction and I’m looking forwards to seeing him in a few months’ time.

Fran Jenking

Jenking had what you might call not a total success. I’ve not seen him do material for ages, as I’m more used to seeing him compere, where his ability to chat with people, win them round and to enthuse a joy of comedy in them is a big advantage. Tonight he began with material and there were some decent bits such as nicknames. However, Jenking perhaps made too much of being from Nottingham, which didn’t endear him to the good people of Chesterfield. Upon receiving a groan for a slightly dubious reference, he playfully admonished the room, ‘don’t groan at me you c****’. This was something of a high risk move and if he’d had a bit more momentum behind him, he could have pulled it off and ridden the laugh through to the end of his set. Unfortunately the room didn’t go that way and they turned against him, which more or less finished his set, barring a spot of heckling, which he had to put down. The comedians and myself thought his comment to the room extremely funny, certainly more funny that the audience found it. This was a rare slip from a man who is usually so sure footed in dealing with people.

Tom King

King had a splendid night. He began extremely well by coming to the stage in just his pants, carrying his clothes and in a call back to Hoss’ set, announcing that in contrast, he begins his set nude and then puts his clothes on. From here he went from strength to strength. His local knowledge enabled what was already a good joke to land just that bit harder. Everything King said received a laugh and with hardly a moment that went to waste he gave the room a great set. There was a palpable feeling that the audience were fully with him and he not only ended the night on a high, but came away as the deserved winner.

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The Little Last Laugh – Stacy Silcox, Clayton Jones, Danny Sutcliffe, Shell Byron, Nige and Warren Peace (MC)

Tonight I was back in Sheffield at the Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. This is a smashing gig with a crowd who are not only comedy savvy, but who are also really up for having a good time. In addition to the promoters Jules Wasley and Stewart Coleman being there, the manager and agent Adam Rushton of A Rush of Laughter was also present, plus a reviewer, which can be seen as either an opportunity to impress, or a bad night to have a bad night. It was hard to find out who was on the bill prior to getting there, which made this something of a lucky dip, but one that came up a winner.

Warren Peace

This was the first time that Peace had compered a comedy night. His usual forte is MC’ing burlesque nights, cabaret, cruises and the like, so whilst not directly experienced with comedy per se, he is used to working with audiences. Visually Peace cuts quite a dash, being elegantly dressed in trousers, frilly shirt (changed to leopard print for the last section) and a jacket and I really got the impression that this is someone who would feel quite at home with a top hat and cane . He is also physically lively on stage, moving about, stretching his legs as if looking for a pole to wrap them around and even venturing into the audience. On the positive side Peace is someone whom it is very hard not to warm to, is lively and has a good singing voice. This is something he put to good use with a couple of songs, a slow Like a Virgin and a modified Abba song. On the downside, he did mangle some names and he ticked most boxes of the stereotypical gay act – pretending to come on to chaps, making references about his availability during the breaks, hugging people who weren’t that into being hugged and so on and there wasn’t really anything new in this. It was more fun than funny and just not that original. Given Peace’s strength in performing and his warmth as a person, he could become a decent compere at comedy nights if he aimed more for the funny and widened his range.

Stacy Silcox (Keith Carter)

Carter is a good act and so anything new by him is of great interest. The deadpan Silcox made a very low energy start as she stood still and spoke slowly, hardly blinking. This made for compelling viewing and she got her first applause break for the don’t heckle comment rather quickly. From here we were off into a surreal world that was cemented together with some very inventive and clever thoughts. The only bit of material that I wasn’t quite sure of was the death ray, but everything else was tip top, especially the greeting cards and the phone call. The room work was very strong, with a chap called Mike being used as a foil for much of the set. The delivery was spot on and the moment where Stacy’s deadpan expression cracked and she started to laugh prior to someone recommending Zen was a delight, with all of the room enjoying it. This was a very accomplished opening to the night.

Clayton Jones

I’ve seen quite a bit recently of the upcoming Jones and that is fine by me. Tonight he was trying some new material in between spots of more established routines. His existing material, African name, his brother and the story about his youngest went down well and as ever he impressed me with his ability to subtly work the audience. Of the new material, smoking isn’t there yet although the concept has something to it, but neighbours shows a lot of promise. I can see that becoming a very nice routine indeed. I enjoyed watching this.

Danny Sutcliffe

We resumed after the intermission with Sutcliffe, whom I’d not seen before. I didn’t care much for his opening gag, based around the microphone, as I thought it a bit predictable, but the rest of the room enjoyed it and in fairness this was the only joke that you could see coming. Everything else was wonderfully unpredictable, such as new me, the scotch egg and the riddle. Also, considering that Sutcliffe is the umpteenth comedian to have material on a speed awareness course he did well to keep that novel. The routine about the barbers was well thought out and the call back very nice. This was a well written set that had a lot going for it. Sutcliffe speaks in short sentences. He’d do a quick set up. Then you’d get the reveal. This worked well not only for anyone with a short attention span, but it ensured that there was a good laughter rate.

Shell Byron

Byron opened with a gag about making a good impression, but I think that she would have benefited from something a little bit stronger to help establish herself. However, this was swiftly remedied by her first routine. Her ideas for improving the world were fun, with the new name for narcos being short and funny and the Christmas permutations an highlight that has scope to perhaps be enlarged on a little bit to include a few more days. The 4th thing that she’d change led into a story about cake, which I wasn’t that convinced of. It had a fairly long set up for the reveal and as it unavoidably involved a word that she and no one else wanted to hear it felt a tiny bit clunky, too. The slapping routine was similar in having a long set up for the reveal. The ruin them material was superb, though. Her set really came to life with this and she cut a powerful figure as she delivered it, almost personally to a chap sat at the front. This section was very pleasing. Byron has a slow and measured delivery, which I liked, but which did have the side effect of drawing out the set ups a little bit. I think that Byron has a lot of potential. She has good presence and held the room, the measured delivery has its charm and with either an edit to lessen the gaps between the funny lines or perhaps a twist on the punchlines, the material that I’m not so keen on would be more punchy. I enjoyed seeing Byron and hope to see her again.

Nige (Keith Carter)

Nige made an amazing big start to his set and this built up a a lot of atmosphere that he sustained throughout his entire performance. This was a set that mixed material and audience work and which jumped from topic to topic and from person to person in a way that should, by rights, have been disconcerting, but which instead stayed as fresh as a daisy. Nige is very fast on his feet mentally and had a witty line for everything that anyone said to him and he gave the impression that he was two steps in front of everyone he spoke to. This included the people sat at the front who unwisely made a couple of comments to each other and were caught out. My personal favourite of this performance was when Nige spoke to Matt, as if his alter ego, Stacy hadn’t spent five minutes or so talking to him earlier in the night. This led to a masterful series of call backs. The set piece routine about the various dog breeds was great and I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of laughter and applause. The song about Liverpool (not sponsored by the Merseyside Tourist Board) gave a good ending to the show and it was nice to see Nige get encored back to the stage. Having two characters performed by Keith Carter on the bill was a bonus. The call backs worked splendiferously and each is a strong act in its own right. However, to get the most out of it, I think a little bit more differentiation between each would go a long way. This was a very good night of laughter.

The Little Last Laugh at the Lescar – Tom Wrigglesworth, Chris Brooker, Vince Atta and Hayley Ellis (MC)

Last night I was in Sheffield at the Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. As before, it was a doddle to find, but a lot more tricky to get a parking space nearby. I ended up parking a good five minutes away up a hill that seemed steeper on the way back up than it did on the way down. The venue is located in quite a vibrant area of Sheffield that has a student feel to it. The room itself has a high ceiling, which was a bonus to Tom Wrigglesworth, as he didn’t have to worry about bumping his head whilst on stage and it had a very nice intimate feel to it. The night wasn’t quite sold out, but, you probably wouldn’t have noticed much difference as almost every seat was filled. The audience was lively and inclined to chat to the acts, not in a heckling kind of way, but more through enthusiasm than anything else and whilst this didn’t help the comedians in sticking rigidly to their material, it did do wonders for making it feel like a community having fun together.

Hayley Ellis (MC)

I’d only seen Ellis once before, where she had done a good middle spot and she had impressed me then with her ability. As a compere one of her strengths is her natural warmth. She reminded me a bit of Lou Conran in being one of those people who somehow manage to brighten up a room just by being there and having likeability is a definite bonus for an MC. Ellis began by asking if anyone was celebrating anything, which elicited a huge cheer from a group of girls fortuitously sat at the front. Upon enquiry it was revealed that one of them had just quit her job working in a morgue – some nights the comedy Gods smile upon the compere – and Ellis made the most of this, asking the lady (who really was far too bubbly to be working with corpses) questions that everyone wanted to know, including what she was going to do next, as cutting up dead bodies is a skill that can only have limited transferability. From here she chatted to a girl who seemed to have the knack of drawing attention to herself, but who didn’t really want to get too involved in the night, so she kept it light with her. Ellis was skilled at weaving the odd bit of material into her room work and this had a naturalistic aura to it. I was impressed with the contents of a fridge idea, not so much because it was funny, but more because it was original and something different to asking half of the room for their name, occupation and location. It was also nice to see that Ellis knew when not to pursue someone. There was a chap talking towards the back of the room just as she was about to bring on an act and she made an instant correct deduction that just a quick mention of it would be enough and would work better than making a big deal of it and then having to reset the room again. Ellis was a fun compere and a definite addition to the night.

Tom Wrigglesworth

Opening was Tom wrigglesworth, who was trying some new material. Wrigglesworth is an exceptionally talented story teller. He has a great turn of phrase that makes the unhurried nature in which the tale unfolds a pleasure. It’s rare to find the build ups to be just as enthralling as the punchlines, although the mine reveal was superb and landed so well for being so out of the blue. The entire home brewing story was splendid and I can easily see it becoming a stand out routine. The fire alarm was more of a work in progress, but there is certainly a lot there to work with. Wrigglesworth would ask a question about batteries or acronyms and this would result in the room joining in, which he handled well. There was something rather enjoyable in Tom asking a question about speed awareness courses and within a few minutes being asked a question in return about groats. The same can be said about his foray into acronyms and people suggesting other ones for him to construe. He may have ended up off piste, but all the same it was very entertaining and even when having to think a bit about L.A.S.E.R, he kept everyone laughing with him over the course of a bonus length set that seemed to fly by.

Chris Brooker

When I saw Brooker’s name on the bill I erroneously assumed that he’d be compering and I was happy enough with that, as I really rate his abilities, but I was thinking how nice it would be to see him doing a set. So it came as a big bonus to discover that that was exactly what was on the cards. He began with a joke about awkward tension, which he really sold with his facial expression as he swung his head slowly from one side of the room to the other. He then went into describing himself and it’s not often that you hear whoops of joy at someone being ginger. It was soon obvious that he had been paying full attention during Ellis’ compering and Wrigglesworth’s set, as he knew who was whom, where they were sat and he never got anyone confused. I really do like it when acts pay attention like this – it sets a good example to the audience and it makes the night feel more than the sum of its’ component sets. All of this was evidenced by him asking the ex Morgue worker what she had taken home with her and much more spectacularly with a lady who jumped horses. This became one of those moments where I was left wondering whether this was fantastic ad-libbing or a great stroke of luck in him having material specific to the situation. This was very funny and the matter of fact way by which he described the circumstances regarding an unexpected item in the bath added a lot. The kidney routine was good and the mention of Korea was timely, but the tongue trip regarding One Direction and one dimension was priceless. Brooker has a Somerset accent and despite having seen him a few times I’d not really noticed it much before, but last night he made it an asset, using it a couple of times, most particularly during his closing routine. This was well written and finished the set off with a climax. This was a very good set that everyone in the room was enthusiastic about and Brooker looked as if he was having a great time delivering it, which I think everyone found infectious.

Vince Atta

Vince Atta is a solid closing act and tonight proved to be no exception. He opened with a great callback to Brooker’s one dimension slip and continued the good work with referencing the lady sat near the front who worked on nights at Sainsbury’s. After this he launched into his set, which went down as well as it always does – ie, very well indeed. I’ve seen Atta a fair few times and what keeps his performance fresh to me are his facial expressions and his ability to squeeze local references into his work. Vince is wonderfully expressive and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching him do ‘resting bitch face’. At the end of his set pretty much everyone was shouting for more, so he gave the room an encore where he added a bass line to a song that famously lacked one before ending on a strong punchline.

Punch-Drunk Comedy (Nottingham) – Steve Harris, Scott Bennett, Daliso Chaponda and Matt Reed (MC)

Tonight I was at the new Punch-Drunk Comedy night in Nottingham at the Oakleigh Lodge, located in Bulwell and owing to me missing a road off on my specially drawn map, rather tricky for me to find. It took me 45 minutes to get there, but only 20 minutes to get back, showing how far off course I’d gone. As an opening night, Punch-Drunk had pulled out all of the stops, with there not only being a solid bill, but also close up magic, Robin Hood and Maid Marion present and the burlesque dance group The Rockettes to start the show before the compere came to the stage. There was a definite feel of razzmatazz to the night and to begin with it felt more like an event than a comedy show and as a result I felt almost as if I was trespassing. The Oakleigh Lodge is a social club in tiptop condition. The function room is the size of a school assembly hall, but with perhaps a higher ceiling, which made for an unusual atmosphere. It will hold well over 200 seated people and I think that there may well have been more there tonight. The night was well organised with the sometimes overlooked basics, like the bar being closed during the performances, taken care of. It was quite a long night, with lengthy breaks between the acts, but with so many people present I don’t think it could have been otherwise, as it seemed to take ages for everyone to use the toilets. There were also a lot of staff present, probably the most I’ve ever seen at a night not based in a theatre and these were all active in leading the audience in cheering and clapping, which definitely helped with the atmosphere. Punch-Drunk do a lot of good work for charity and they had two short videos to highlight that. Things like this can kill the mood in a room. I think most of us have been at a comedy night where someone will show scenes of suffering to emphasis the value of donations before uttering the immortal words, ‘and now who’s up for a laugh?’ (answer: usually no one by that stage). Punch-Drunk managed to square that by showing the clips at the end of the breaks and before the MC took to the stage so he could put things back on track and this worked out pretty well.

Matt Reed

Our MC for the night was the Mackem, Matt Reed, who in some ways didn’t really have to work that hard with this audience. He began by asking people to cheer if they have and then if they hadn’t been to a comedy night before and the result was something close to 90% comedy night virgins. Give or take. This meant that he spent extra time at the top telling people how to behave at a gig, emphasising that heckling does not count as helping the show. From here he went to work building up the atmosphere and this is where, for me, the downside of the 90% comedy newbies came to the fore. Reed was able to use the standard compering lines that I have heard too often to really enjoy (girl works with shelves – ‘what’s your favourite type of bracket?’), but which were brand new and hence very funny to the 90%. This worked very well for him and the room enjoyed it, but it did feel like low hanging fruit being picked to me, which I don’t blame Reed for, because when he used anything that was more creative or required a bit more thought by the audience it did go over their heads a bit, or at least did not get as big a laugh. In time, I think this audience will get more comedy savvy, though. I did like what I saw of Reed, but I think to get a better feel for his capabilities, I’d have to see him at a gig where he needs to push himself to get the big laughs.

Steve Harris

Harris is someone who I often see booked for gigs that are either too far away from me, or on nights when I’m at work, so I was very glad to see that he’d been booked for this and it did influence my choice in going. However, I had a frustrating time in watching him and that was my own fault. When I had arrived I had been offered a seat, but chose to stand at the back, where I could write with my pad resting on some stacked chairs in the light. It’s a real pain if I’m sat in the dark and it’s unfair on the acts if I’m sat right in front of them, so this seemed to be the best option. Unfortunately for me, I was stood at what turned out to be the the pedestrian equivalent of the A1, with everyone walking by me on their way to the toilets or just going about their business as staff and this was very distracting. I can’t blame anyone but myself for this and it did mar my enjoyment of Harris a bit as it was hard to concentrate on him as people were walking by so often. He delivered a set that would have been quite at home closing Jongleurs and unless my ears deceived me dropped the C-bomb within the first line or so. This wasn’t quite easing a new audience into things gently, but although he was sweary it worked well, even being on stage at 2030. The topics he spoke about were family, tourettes, London, sex and gigging in Afghanistan. The joke offensive to Americans was good and although I got to the punchline a long time before he did the rest of the room really enjoyed it. I preferred it when he was talking about buying property there as I thought that was much more creative. Harris was a lively performer, as he stood there, crouching forwards slightly, delivering his lines. I liked how he would act out bits of his routine with some physical comedy, such as with the people floating by – this added a lot to what he was saying. Mostly due to the size of the audience and the law of averages, a fair few people got up to go to the toilet before he had finished his set, which didn’t help matters much. This was a fun set, but the audience enjoyed it more than I did.

Scott Bennett

Rather than dividing the time between two ten spots, the middle section featured Scott Bennett on his own, performing probably within cycling distance of his home. Knowing how good Bennett is and also being sure that most of the audience wouldn’t be familiar with him, I had a very nice thrill of anticipation as he came to the stage. Feeling that he would come as a very nice surprise to a lot of the room. I wasn’t to be disappointed, either, as he had a great gig. He kept to his shortest and most punchy routines, which kept everyone’s attention. -]He started strongly and the laughter and a fair few applause breaks rolled around the room. Whereas Reed and Harris had gone for the more obvious jokes to get the most out of this crowd, Bennett managed to overcome this through the sheer relatability of his material. There was nothing in the way of whimsy, or leaps of logic or obscure reference points for the room to grapple with. Instead it was straight forwards everyday events and relationships that everyone could emphasise with and the room responded very well indeed. Bennett is an act who simply gets better every time I see him.

Daliso Chaponda

Fresh from his triumph on Britain’s got Talent, Chaponda took to the stage to a huge welcome and it was apparent that the lure of his name had been the big draw for most of the audience. There was a lot of laughter and applause during this set. Some of the applause was perhaps a bit on the generous side for the odd line, but this was still a very good performance indeed. There was some good strong material present, such as online trolling, the results of his appearance on the telly, exorcism and race. I thought the line about American policemen and the one about paratroopers were definite standouts and extremely funny, too. Chaponda is a charismatic performer and audiences take to him quite easily, which helped him to bridge the gap from screen to stage and still keep everyone happy. Or almost everyone. Towards the end of his set, he became aware that there was a conversation going on in the seats in the middle left of the room. He stopped what he was saying and addressed the issue, asking what was being said. After a moment of enquiring the person speaking announced that they didn’t like his language. This was pretty odd. Daliso had sworn a couple of times, but not that many times and it was interspersed throughout his set and all used in context, rather than gratuitously. It seemed an odd thing to object to so loudly, but Chaponda dealt with it well, getting the room on his side (as if there was any question as to where their sympathy lay) and then finishing what was a very good set that was very well received by the audience.

Bluey’s – Max Wall, George Dimarelos, Stu Woodings, Andrew Bird and Chris Tavner (MC)

Tonight I was at Bluey’s my favourite Alfreton Australian steakhouse for the FaF Comedy night. It was unusual being there without Stoney who was unavoidably detained in Germany. Instead Abbi was filling in for him and apart from one brief hiccup in announcing the compere to the stage before tipping him off that it was time, she did well and the evening ran smoothly and to schedule.

Chris Tavner (MC)

There was a lot to like in Tavner’s work. I think it’s wonderful that he makes a big effort to get dressed up for a gig and he is still the best dressed man in comedy. Being so smartly turned out gave him a head start in establishing his authority over the audience tonight and this may partially explain why he was successful in moving people forwards towards the stage. His compering consisted of a mix of audience work and material, leaning more to material (Ireland was very good). He chatted to a couple of people, discovering a painter and decorator and an actual astronomer, which set up some nice moments for the rest of the acts. His joke about amber nectar deserved more than it received and I thought the playful back heel kick of his on ‘fun’ was a lovely visual touch. I was very happy to see him continue to work during the intermissions, as he chatted to people in the audience, because I think this can really help comperes to build up a relationship with the room. Another thing I appreciated was his way of building up the applause, which I thought worked wonderfully well. Tavner was fun and got stronger as the night went on, but perhaps a little bit more research about the venue, personalities present and the area before he took to the stage would have given him a big advantage. Tavner was the victim of a practical joke, being told that there was a meat raffle and so he spent some time talking about how nice it was to be back in the North and returned to the forthcoming meat raffle a few times during the course of the night, only being told what everyone else knew, that it was for free tickets and a drink, as he was about to do the draw….

Max Wall

Wall is visually interesting, wearing Rupert the Bear style trousers and having a passing resemblance to a young and white version of Danny Trejo. He also has a clear voice, which is an advantage. Slightly surprisingly for someone from the East End of London he only had a faint accent. Of his material, I liked imaginary friends, Ed Sheeran, blind dating and the bus story – the callback to this was much appreciated. However, jokes about there being three types of people and some not being able to count, Ann Summers having a back to school range in the local shit town (good call on using Derby, though I personally would have gone for Mansfield) and the sound of someone chubby falling downstairs sounding like the end of Eastenders are all pretty well known lines. Bluey’s has a pretty comedy savvy crowd and I’d be surprised if these were new to anyone there. None of these were bad jokes and they got laughs, but I think Wall could improve on them by giving them a twist. This wasn’t a bad set, but I think he would have been better received if he had gone on during the middle rather than opening.

George Dimarelos

It’s rather lovely when you see an act that you’re not familiar with and come away highly impressed and that is exactly what happened tonight with Dimarelos. He only arrived in the country from Australia this week, being up for Edinburgh and so I think I’m lucky to have caught him. He began well with a solid opening line and then he made some well observed comments about the room, which went down well, before moving on to material. I liked the bus call back to Wall’s set, which showed that he had been listening and I also liked the Liverpool gag, but felt that he could make it stronger by naming the local shit town to wherever he is performing that night. Dimarelos’ references were vivid and arresting, especially when discussing pineapples and this added a lot of life to what he was saying, although this routine wasn’t quite so fast paced as the rest of his set. Dimarelos was a lively, funny and confident presence and I was sorry to see him come off the stage – if he’d done another five minutes I’d have been very happy, as would the audience.

Stu Woodings

It’s been a while since I last saw Woodings and like the last time I saw him, I could see definite improvement in his work. What struck me the most tonight, was just how well he brought the audience into his set, making his performance feel really relevant to them. There are some comedians who perform almost as if the audience is an afterthought, whereas Woodings made his spot feel like it was bespoke to Bluey’s. He began by getting the audience clapping before deliberately changing course much to the amusement of everyone with their hands in the air. When he sang Paint it matte he made sure to reference the painter and decorator present and there was a nice moment later on when he revealed the song that he had just dedicated to a long married couple. I liked his new material about zoos although I did half expect a quick throwaway reference to a cuddly toy to go with the conveyor belt scenario. This was a very strong performance that received a lot of laughter from the audience.

Andrew Bird

I don’t see a lot of Andrew Bird and that is a shame, because he is a consistently strong act. Tonight he delivered a barnstormer of a set that matched great material and a polished delivery with relatable topics. The result of this was a lot of laughter and applause. Bird began well with talking about nearby Matlock and then he went from here to talk about parents, friends, pets and marriage – all things that everyone in the room could relate to very easily. His routine about the Millwall fan, which can only have been written in the last few months, was not only magnificently funny but also so well delivered that it felt like he had been doing it for ages. Bird moved seamlessly from topic to topic and there were hardly any words that didn’t add value. He was fast speaking and probably gave the room an extra 5-10 minutes of material in the time that he was on. Bird also looked joyful whilst doing this and combined with the verve with which he delivered his set he built up one heck of a head of steam. This was a superb set and Bird ended the night on a definite high.