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.
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.
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.
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.
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.