September – acts who have impressed me the most

This has been a very enjoyable month for comedy and I’ve managed to see 58 acts this month.

The highlight was Harvey Hawkins’ performance at the Grosvenor where he gave the room ten minutes of exceptionally good comedy. The lowlight was a veteran gong show act who used old stolen jokes of the calibre of ‘….has a zoo with only one animal in it – it’s a shit zoo!’

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

Harvey Hawkins

This is a comedian who is very much on the way up.

From the night:

There is a fair bit of a buzz surrounding Harvey Hawkins and so I was especially interested in seeing how he did tonight. He began with a fairly long set up to a joke and this was worth it because the pay off was powerful enough to establish his credentials with the audience and I don’t think he ever came close to their attention wavering after that. Part of this was due to going on in the sweet middle section, but a lot was down to ability on Hawkins’ part. His material was very well written, with plenty of twists to the reveals. I thoroughly enjoyed how he took the old phrase of ‘tell you a bit about me’ and changed it into something original and funny and for him to get a second bite from that was even more impressive. Hawkins’ delivery was smooth and whilst I really did enjoy his previous style of standing there looking awkward and wooden, his new style works very well indeed. This set was too short for my liking. I was sorry to see him leave the stage after his time and I wouldn’t have objected in the least to more.

Julian Lee

Puns galore and a great performance.

From the night:

Lee, the second Geordie in a row, is a very strong one-liner act, who probably doesn’t get as much work as his talent deserves due to geographical reasons. Tonight he opened with a pun ad-libbed from Mike’s compering and never really looked back from there. Despite having a sore throat, his forceful delivery (he probably didn’t need the mic) gave his already good puns added punch. This was a set with a lot of laughter. The only bit I wasn’t too sure of was the Reluctant Cowboy, which in a longer set would provide a welcome change of pace, but which in this ten spot, whilst good, probably gave him one laugh (albeit good) in the time he could have gotten three or four with his puns. That was my only minor quibble in what was a great set.

Lynn Ruth Miller

A solid set from someone who is a comedian, rather than some kind of novelty.

From the night:

Headlining the night was Lynn Ruth Miller, originally from Ohio and now living in London – Ohio’s loss is our gain. I’ve seen a fair few comedians of advancing years and quite often their material is centred upon being old and so I was very curious to see what Miller had to offer. A lot of her routines were related to her age, but where she differed from other comedians approaching her age, is that she does it a lot better than anyone else. She’s sharper and her jokes have more depth than just being about old age – there is an extra oomph to what she is saying. Part of this comes from the surprise at how near the knuckle a lot of her topics are and how she isn’t afraid to choose words that say very clearly what she means, but just as much comes from her vivid descriptions. These bring what she is saying to life. Also, Miller’s delivery is skilful. She was quite happy using a chap sat on the front row as a potential beau and she would address members of the audience personally, which helped what she was saying hit home (plus it kept everyone attentive, as no one would wish to be caught napping if addressed). I got to the punchline before her on a couple of gags, such as the 33 Ford and the closing joke might have been a touch stronger, but these are minor things. Ironically, for an act who based so much of her material on her age, I found that her best jokes weren’t related to that. Tiger Woods and being a hutch were both fantastic lines. This was a very enjoyable performance.

Richard Massara (MC)

A performance that encompassed good compering skills, but which also featured some very strong routines, too.

From the night:

Massara worked hard to get the gig going, and in an echo of Gray last night, made a point of chatting to everyone on his way to the stage. To begin with he used a well dressed chap called Steve as his foil, but after he was played out he moved onto Corrine and then a nun (unlikely, but there was a nun in mufti present), whilst regularly bringing into play a lady whom he crowned as the Queen of Oakham. This worked pretty well and there was a lovely moment when he informed a lass that that he hadn’t got a lazy eye and was indeed talking to her, to which she innocently asked if he meant her, which proved his point in the funniest way. For the second section, Massara went with material and this was of an excellent standard and whilst arguably he may have done longer than necessary the material was so good that no one minded. It was interesting to see a small routine about vaping, as that has been a curiously neglected topic. His final section was also strong, with some good puns. This was a not only a well rounded performance, but also something of a shop window for what Massara can do and I was very impressed. I’d like to see him do a full set.

Honourable Mentions

Adam Beardsmore, Adam Coumas, Howard Anstock, Jem Braithwaite, Luke Wright, Mark Grimshaw.

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Canal House – Pat Draper, Mark Grimshaw, Luke Wright, Rosie Francis, Sarah Johnson, Alfie Moore and Will Hutchby (MC)

Tonight I was back in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night at the Canal House. A show that continues to go from strength to strength. This was another sold out evening and even arriving fifteen minutes early, I was without a seat for the first section, being stood at the back where the acoustics made it hard to hear everything clearly. As always with Canal House, this was a great night.

Will Hutchby (MC)

Hutchby managed to combine a good level of energy with a laid back comfortable approach and this made him a genial compere. He exuded a level of calmness that was quite relaxing and he wasn’t even fazed when a banner worked its way loose and came crashing down 2′ behind him. He just milked it for laughs and then continued his work. He was assisted in his room work by being an unthreatening relaxed presence and no one was afraid that he would humiliate them, so he got quite a bit out of the audience. He found a chap who had developed a board game (Full Moon Jacket) and Hutchby was wise enough to bail quickly when it became apparent that the explanation behind it was going to be a complex cul de sac. When it came to the man who had a game called ‘Exploding Kittens’ Hutchby’s moment of WTF silence was very well timed. Out of his material, I liked allocated parking, but felt that we never really got into super rats. Hutchby has an infectious giggle that was quite endearing – it’s nice to see compere’s having a good time whilst they work. This was a good booking.

Patrick Draper

Usually when I see Draper at the Canal House he is either closing it, or doing new material and as he was down as opener it was easy to work out which of the two to expect. The new material was as you’d expect, something of a mixed bag. Swearing was good, pervert better than good, the photos showed promise, but I wasn’t too sure about the donkey. There’s something there in the concept, but it needs more work in the first two sections of that, but that’s new material for you. In fairness to Draper, I did struggle to hear some of what he was saying, which I thought was down to the speakers at first, but after enquiries I discovered that the acoustics in that part of the room aren’t great. As always, it was a pleasure to see Draper on stage.

Mark Grimshaw

Whilst facebook posts aren’t a reliable guide to how funny someone will be on stage, Grimshaw’s are funny enough to serve as a bit of a shop window for him and so I was looking forwards to seeing him perform. This was new material and it was good stuff. The telly application was a great start with some clever subverting of the questions. The short set up and then the reveal certainly helped him to generate some momentum. The job application that followed was perhaps too similar for that place in his running order and would have been better with more of a gap, but I think that was due to it being new material, rather than an established set order. I really liked the press release premise and felt that he got a lot out of it. With a bit of poetic licence, this routine could gain longevity as the original idea can be modified to fit almost any event in the news, or even a made up event as long as it is plausible. This was an impressive set from a comic whom I can see progressing.

Luke Wright

I last saw Wright at Bluey’s where he had delivered a very strong performance and so I was rather pleased to see him on the bill. He opened tonight with a dark, but very funny joke and this gave him instant comic credibility. I especially enjoyed his short routine about religious status’ as it was very recognisable and it was nice to see him get one of the few applause breaks of the night. Every so often he would dip into darker material and this was all good stuff and just as importantly, he didn’t stay dark, he used it sparingly and so it was all the more welcome when he did so. The standout of his set and one that stood out as being a cut above most of the routines of the show, was Wright’s travel advice. Even with a lady from Chile commenting on his Spanish, this was superb. Wright’s jokes managed to have a logic to them that makes them easy to follow for the audience, but which never veered into being predictable. There were a couple of pauses between routines, which added a bit of dead time, but this is a very minor thing and didn’t interfere with what was a very good set.

Rosie Francis

Next was the birthday girl, Rosie Francis, who almost sprinted onto the stage. Tonight she was trying out some new material. I liked her new opening, which whilst perhaps not as immediately funny as her older one, is definitely more unique (celeb hard life lookalike openings are a bit overdone). There was some nice stuff on display, but both the responses to the toilet situation and prosecco faults had a couple too many examples to maintain momentum – a case of too much of a good thing. The elephant man reference might be one to drop, as that film isn’t as familiar as it might have been a few years ago. It would have been nice to see a twist in the final items of the lists, as this would have added extra laughs. The rap closing routine was very good. This set was new material and there is plenty to build on from it.

Sarah Johnson

Johnson was a lively presence, being full of energy and delivering her set with verve. There were some good lines, such as vouchers (she could have made more of the callback), Masterchef and DIY. However, this was a set that whilst it never completely split the audience, definitely had more in it for the ladies than the gents. Johnson would be well suited to performing at hen nights or Ann Summer’s parties, as a lot of her material struck a particular chord with the ladies, rather than both sexes. The material largely centred on booze, bodily functions, pubes, porn and foofs and after five minutes this began to feel a bit relentless. Despite the imbalance of her topics and the set being in need of editing down to the essentials, Johnson received good laughs and applause. However, she massively overran. This was a ten spot that ended up a very long twenty, with Helen impersonating a lighthouse with all of the flashing she was doing with her phone. Johnson didn’t notice the flashing and it was only after the house lights were all turned on that she started to finish the routine that she was on. This set would have worked better as a ten.

Alfie Moore

I was extremely pleased to see that Moore was headlining tonight. Even doing new material, it’s something of a treat to see him and with solid TV and Wireless credits to his name, he’s a great booking for all concerned. This material was quite raw, but there was plenty to like in it. Neighbourly disputes has a lot of potential to it although I couldn’t help but think that slow talking might work better in front of the price, rather than after. Drones is a topic that I’ve not heard much on and so that was especially nice to hear a bit about. Missing persons was good, but I was surprised that Spartacus didn’t get more and it made me feel a bit old in a young audience when it didn’t get a big laugh. The established material went down extremely well, with tasering being excellent. When it came to Moore’s closing routine, I was hoping for ‘The Head’ as that remains probably the funniest routine that I’ve ever heard, but I was still pleased when he went with material about Stevie. This was a fun set.

The Maze Gong Show – Tommy Wager, Michael Swierad, Orrion Kalidoski, Matthew Nairn, Chris Richmond, Chris Martin, Adam Beardsmore, Hector Walker, Willy Nilly, Jem Braithwaite, Katie Mitchell, Felix Heath, Laura Cruise, Shaun Rolls and Mark Pulcella

It’s odd for me to see an act that I struggle to find anything positive about, but it seems that tonight’s the night for it. Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Maze for the Funhouse Gong Show. This had a really good crowd tonight, with people having to stand at the back, due to lack of seats. A fair number of the audience members were friends of the acts, but as none of these were judges and the finalists were all from out of area, this didn’t distort the final result. It was nice to hear a deafening response when Mike asked if the room was up for some live comedy. Mike had a nice night compering, getting laughs for mistaking Tony’s Greek accent for a Northern one and using him as a foil for part of the night. It didn’t take long for the room to be warmed up for the first of our fifteen acts. An unusual number, but for once no one had dropped out and it made for a busy, but very fun night.

Tommy Wager

Wager, looking dapper in his shirt, tie and hat opened the night, giving the room a set largely based around his dislike of magicians. This had the odd nice line, but it really needed a bit more depth to it. As he stood there shifting his feet, looking as if he was moving on the spot, Wager didn’t make a big connect with the audience and was voted off, which he took pleasingly graciously. This wasn’t a great set, but it would be nice to see him try again.

Michael Swierad

This was Swierad’s second ever performance and there was some remarkable material on show. His jokes and concepts were excellent and if he can build a smooth routine with them he will make a strong act. As it was, he lost his place in his routine a couple of times and had dead time where he was trying to remember the next bit. This was unfortunate and it was enough to see him voted off early, but it was nice to hear the audience’s appreciation of the jokes that he did remember. With more stage time, Swierad could be very good indeed.

Orrion Kalidoski

When I last saw Kalidoski he had suffered a bit from too many gaps between the funnies and I can say that he has remedied that nicely. Tonight he delivered a set that was much stronger, darker and more enjoyable than before. There was the odd erm, but not enough to get in the way of him building up his performance and I was perhaps the only person to notice it. I’d like to have seen a little bit more linking the jokes, as there didn’t seem to be much connecting them apart from one aspect, but that is a minor point. Kalidoski did well and was one of the few finalists of the night, where his routine and callback to earlier didn’t quite hit home as well as it might have done simply due to the length of time and number of acts that had been seen in between.

Matthew Nairn

Nairn began with a lookalike gag, but developed it well with the routine that followed. He was on similarly steady ground with his Scottish relatives and the risks of going out drinking with them. His ability to do a Scottish accent helped him sell that no end. The tangerine routine probably needed more as it was something of a poor relation, but it was still decent enough to help him join Kalidoski in the final. This was a performance that meandered along nicely and pleasingly without really hitting great heights. For the final minute Nairn played it safe with more bald person lookalike gags.

Chris Richmond

This was Richmond’s first gig back after a break from comedy and I was looking forwards to seeing how it went. Dressed in a suit, Richmond looked the part and it matched his confident presence. Richmond’s opening routine about birds was nicely different and pretty decent, but despite looking as if he had settled in for a comfortable five minutes he was a surprise gonging on a 3-2 split decision.

Chris Martin

Martin was something of an odd act. He began by getting one third of the audience to clap and then gave the other thirds similar tasks and whilst the pay off to this wasn’t really worth the time and effort in setting it up, it did make an immediate impact with the room and he stood out the more because of it. Martin was quite happy to chat to the audience and this was to his credit, helping him to hold the room to the point where he was voted off at the five minute mark. This was a set that wasn’t especially funny, had few jokes, but where the personality of the act kept it above water.

Adam Beardsmore

Beardsmore was probably the most bookable act of the night. His set had the feel of an actual set that was ready for a bigger stage, rather than a series of disconnected jokes or observations and the rhythm of his delivery was very well judged, especially the material that he used for his final minute. To begin with, I wasn’t sure that everyone was with him following the underpants gag, but they very quickly warmed to him. I was especially impressed with the assault line, as I initially thought he was going to go down a similar route to Markus Birdman and so his take on it was a nice surprise. This was a very good set and one that suggests we’ll be seeing a lot more of Beardsmore.

Hector Walker

This was Walker’s first gig and he was kept on longer than his performance warranted by the goodwill of the judges, who fairly wanted to give him more of a chance to prove himself. Unfortunately a low energy monologue with few laughs in it wasn’t enough to keep him on beyond having a fair chance. However, from here the only way is up.

Willy Nilly

Wearing bright red braces and his hat, Nilly had a definite end of the pier feel to him. He began by asking where people were from before using Mansfield as the local shit town as the butt of his recycled jokes. These jokes were poor and no self-respecting Christmas Cracker would want anything to do with them. Typical was: Mansfield has a zoo with one animal – it’s a shit zoo and if you’re not laughing it’s probably because your Granddad told you that gag when you were a kid, or you saw it etched on a wall in Pompeii or came across it when doing ancient history somewhere. There was also an old gay joke, which whilst it was low level unpalatable rather than actively offensive, really did belong back in the 1970s, plus it simply wasn’t funny enough to be worth the trouble. I doubt whether Willy Nilly even wrote any of his jokes, beyond modifying them slightly to give them a local colour. In a new act, this would be a bad set, in an act who has been going for a few years it went beyond bad. This was a set that was painful to watch, and the judges agreed, voting him off 5-0 at the first vote.

Jem Braithwaite

Braithwaite had a storming night. He stood on stage, leaning forwards, face in shadow and would jerk from side to side as he addressed the room, looking like someone was pulling strings, but hadn’t quite got the hang of how to work him. This was something new and it gave him a pleasing oddness. His jokes were as offbeat as they were clever and it was no surprise when he received the first applause break of the night. There was some very intelligent material on display here. He did run out of material before the five minutes were up,but he is one of those unusual acts that can just get laughter for standing there looking at the audience as if to say that he’s as puzzled by himself as they are. For the final minute he gave the room another spot of his quirky act and was voted winner of the night. Braithwaite is someone to watch for the future.

Katie Mitchell

Mitchell began well by speeding up her delivery to get the pacing right for a gong show. The lookalike jokes might have done slightly better if Nairn hadn’t done some earlier, but they went down well enough all the same. She then received big laughs for a 6AM conversation, but despite all of this, Mitchell went off to a split decision. I was surprised by this as she seemed to be doing well up to then.

Felix Heath

This was Felix Heath’s first ever gig and in contrast to Walker, he did a lot better, even getting the second applause break of the night. Heath had put some thought into his material and this showed with him receiving regular laughs. His delivery, whilst perhaps not as lively as it might have been, was still very good for a first timer and although he didn’t make the final, he did well enough that I’m sure it will encourage him to have another go.

Laura Cruise

Cruise was possibly something of an acquired taste and split the room between her friends, plus a few others and almost everyone else. Her set was sweary, which isn’t the end of the world, but when combined with the sourness and what seemed like bitterness it failed to draw people in and if anything it felt off putting. It’s possible that in a longer set there would have been more of a sense of balance to it, but as it was, Cruise didn’t last long.

Shaun Rolls

Rolls was a puzzling act. He delivered most of his material stood facing one part of the audience, all but ignoring the rest of the room. He wasn’t helped by someone suffering from too much beer shouting out ‘Peaky Blinders’ at him – if you’re flummoxed then I’m no wiser, either. However, the biggest problem he faced was that no one seemed to be able to spot the punchlines to what he was saying.

Mark Pulcella

Pulcella began with a nice callback to Rolls’ set, but despite Mike giving the room a quick reset, he suffered very badly from Rolls having sucked all of the atmosphere out of the room. Pulcella did one-liners, which weren’t really strong enough to be delivered slowly and he didn’t do them at enough of a pace to give them the impetus that they needed after fourteen other acts had been on. The jokes themselves weren’t hugely impressive, but they certainly deserved better than they received and if he had gone on earlier in the night, I think he would have done a lot better.

Grosvenor – Harry Sanders, Howard Anstock, Harvey Hawkins, Jason Neale, Patrick Draper and (Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was at the Grosvenor in Nottingham for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a deceptively wide room with a high ceiling and it is tricky to maintain a big atmosphere in there, especially when most of the audience aren’t regular attendees at gigs. The audience were sat more or less together, but were of mixed ages and backgrounds and included a German and a Spaniard, which wouldn’t matter, but tonight it seemed to ensure that everyone was playing to a very mixed demographic. Some material would go well with the people sat to the left, but not those sat in the middle and so on – this was less an audience and more a collective of small groups. This made it a tricky room to play and the atmosphere had a terrible habit of resetting itself a lot in the opening and closing segments. This wasn’t the end of the world, but it did make it feel like a bit of an uphill struggle for the comedians.

Stevie Gray (MC)

Gray made a concentrated attempt to compere without using material and the results from tonight won’t have given him a fair grasp of how well it should go. Despite Gray being a very talented MC with a genius for getting people onboard (he made my list of recommended acts last month for this skill), tonight the audience stayed fairly cold. This wasn’t down to any lack of ability on Gray’s part – he’s got a real talent for this – it was just how it was with such a disparate group. Although the 66 – 1 section needed more to make it work (what else has been 66 – 1 might have been a nice addition), he did get laughs. Gray got people cheering as you’d expect, but he had a lot more in his arsenal than that: he got Callum up on stage to take part in a song (with new mask) and his celeb based question demonstrated how refreshing it is to ask people different things to where they live and what they do for a living. Gray having some solid material as a concluding joke to that section worked very well. This was a night where a skilled compere did the best that could be expected with that crowd.

Harry Sanders

On reflection, Sanders was probably too dark to make the ideal opener to this gig. Sanders has some clever material that I like, but I think he would have received more laughs for the same set if he had gone on later in the night. To begin with it felt like the audience were dipping in and out of what they were prepared to find funny. This changed for the better with crayfish (intelligent use of Derby for the crap town) and with the card routine he carried on the good work. Born yesterday was a nice line and I especially enjoyed Thatcher and holes closing, although I dare say that would perhaps go over the heads of most people under 30 who aren’t from a mining area. This was a good set that didn’t get the laughs I’d have expected simply due to being on just a bit too early.

Howard Anstock

Locally born, but since moved away, Anstock was under a lot of pressure tonight. He was performing comedy for the first time in front of his family. This added a bit of tension to the room, as people were curious as how they would react if he said anything of a personal nature (answer, his mum would occasionally look away and slightly shake her head, which I thought was very endearing). Anstock began with a few references to television, which were relatable enough to get him going and he followed this with a set that covered a lot of ground in a short time. This kept it fresh and because he performed with high energy levels, it helped him to build a lot of impetus, despite performing stood facing to the left of stage. The comment about Beat the Frog was probably more fun for the comedians that the rest of the room, but it still worked all the same. The line about the caravan was very good. Anstock has improved since I last saw him and he is definitely making progress.

Harvey Hawkins

There is a fair bit of a buzz surrounding Harvey Hawkins and so I was especially interested in seeing how he did tonight. He began with a fairly long set up to a joke and this was worth it because the pay off was powerful enough to establish his credentials with the audience and I don’t think he ever came close to their attention wavering after that. Part of this was due to going on in the sweet middle section, but a lot was down to ability on Hawkins’ part. His material was very well written, with plenty of twists to the reveals. I thoroughly enjoyed how he took the old phrase of ‘tell you a bit about me’ and changed it into something original and funny and for him to get a second bite from that was even more impressive. Hawkins’ delivery was smooth and whilst I really did enjoy his previous style of standing there looking awkward and wooden, his new style works very well indeed. This set was too short for my liking. I was sorry to see him leave the stage after his time and I wouldn’t have objected in the least to more.

Jason Neale

I regard Neale as a promising act. He looks plausible on stage, has decent material and a good delivery and he has enough stage presence to hold a room. Tonight he did well and got laughs, making a big impression on the room with his opening routine. The school visit might have been better in a longer slot, though, as whilst it was good, the pacing to it sat a little bit awkwardly in the middle of a ten spot. The clinic, trying for a baby and skin were all highlights to this set, with the lady translating also pretty good. There were a few bits that might have been edited down, such as the chap in Milton Keynes, who didn’t really add a lot, but this was a good performance and it’s always nice to see Neale gigging.

Pat Draper

Stevie Gray and Jason Neale organised a big entrance for Draper with the audience chanting ‘all we need is Patrick Draper’ to the tune of Radio GaGa and this worked very nicely. From here Draper launched into his set with the mixture of sarcasm and dryness that works very well for him. He would chat to members of the audience, tying them in to the routines and this worked pretty well and it was fun to see the deadpan Draper smiling and suppressing the odd giggle at what some of the audience had to say in response. This was a very good set, but I think this Tuesday night audience had reached a tipping point earlier than expected and this robbed him of a lot of impetus. Draper got laughs, lots of them, but he did have to work hard to maintain the atmosphere as this audience seemed to fancy an early night.

Blessington Carriage – Ash Frith, Sam Russell, Lynn Ruth Miller and Gary Delaney

Tonight, for the second Monday in a row, I was back at the Blessington Carriage in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy night. It was lovely to see the night sold out, with people sat waiting to see if they could bag a seat from anyone unlucky enough not to turn up. Owing to the numbers present, Mike and Brent had to do a fair amount of re-jigging with seats to accommodate everyone, including a large group who worked with disadvantaged children who were there on a group night out. The atmosphere was lively and annoyingly (more so perhaps because you hardly ever get this as Funhouse gigs and so aren’t used to it) there were two people who seemed intent on chatting to themselves. They weren’t loud, or disruptive, but if you were sat close enough to hear them, they were damned irritating; luckily someone must have had a word with them and they quietened down for the end of the show. Mike had a good night compering, being in good form and having lots of energy and very soon everyone was ready for our opening act.

Ash Frith

Essex born Ash Frith opened the show with a nice, but fairly standard joke about being a southerner up North, which endeared him to the crowd and was probably chosen for this reason, as everyone could get onboard with it. This was followed by some fun material that was nicely tied into Derby, which helped it to gain traction. I enjoyed the routine about him buying clothes, although it might possibly have benefited from a slight editing for pace, but having said that, it was still good. I think every man who reaches a certain age ends up having a prostrate exam and this is shown in the large number of male comedians who are of a certain age doing routines about it. Unfortunately this makes it hard for jokes about it to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Frith’s routine was good, better than many, but it is just such a well travelled path that it didn’t get the reception it probably deserved. Frith’s delivery was clear and pretty swift with no pauses or awkward gaps. He reminded me of Jon Pearson, not only in looks and hair style, but also in comedic style and this is no bad thing. This was a decent performance.

Gary Delaney

Delaney was doing some new material and this was split into three appearances between the other acts, spreading out fifty minutes or so quite nicely through the night. Delaney is a quality act and by no coincidence, he is also a perfectionist in his approach. He brought his clipboard and pen to the stage and marked each joke depending upon how well it went down. He was rigorous in his approach and discarded many a gag that would have satisfied others and he was even intellectually honest enough to recognise when one got cheers instead of laughs. Despite being on three times during the show, Delaney’s fast delivery ensured that he never outstayed his welcome and he was very well received each time he came to the stage. As you’d expect, the jokes were dark, creative and funny with only one that I thought wasn’t great (emotional baggage has been done too often to really be worth visiting) and another that I thought was far funnier than the rest of the audience – the clever dog – this one was wonderfully inventive. I think everyone in the room knew that whenever Delaney giggled prior to a joke we were in for something especially juicy. This was, as ever, a wizard performance.

Sam Russell

Russell didn’t have a bad night at all, getting laughs regularly. There was some nice material in his set, such as boppit, his wife’s job, the Brexit move and the tale about his dad’s treatment of a guest (a few more stories of his pranks wouldn’t have gone amiss) being particular stand outs. However, I wasn’t too sure about the inclusion of land line, as that didn’t really seem to add a lot to what he was saying, being more of a scene setter than a set up. As a huge fan of pets, I found the closing routine to be a bit of an awkward one and it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but in fairness to Russell I was pretty much in the minority on that and everyone else enjoyed it. This was a performance that showed promise.

Lynn Ruth Miller

Headlining the night was Lynn Ruth Miller, originally from Ohio and now living in London – Ohio’s loss is our gain. I’ve seen a fair few comedians of advancing years and quite often their material is centred upon being old and so I was very curious to see what Miller had to offer. A lot of her routines were related to her age, but where she differed from other comedians approaching her age, is that she does it a lot better than anyone else. She’s sharper and her jokes have more depth than just being about old age – there is an extra oomph to what she is saying. Part of this comes from the surprise at how near the knuckle a lot of her topics are and how she isn’t afraid to choose words that say very clearly what she means, but just as much comes from her vivid descriptions. These bring what she is saying to life. Also, Miller’s delivery is skilful. She was quite happy using a chap sat on the front row as a potential beau and she would address members of the audience personally, which helped what she was saying hit home (plus it kept everyone attentive, as no one would wish to be caught napping if addressed). I got to the punchline before her on a couple of gags, such as the 33 Ford and the closing joke might have been a touch stronger, but these are minor things. Ironically, for an act who based so much of her material on her age, I found that her best jokes weren’t related to that. Tiger Woods and being a hutch were both fantastic lines. This was a very enjoyable performance.

The Blessington Carriage – Matt Bragg, Mark Kennedy, Julian Lee, Adam Coumas, Kelsey de Almeida, Faye Treacy, Chris Stokes

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse comedy night and I can say that this was a cracking start to the new season. It was one of those nights where pretty much every act did very well and the crowd were definitely up for it. Between Doug and partner who were celebrating their marriage last week, Bob the Asian Elvis impersonator (yes, for real, not just a nickname for the evening) and Helen with her Woody the Woodpecker laugh, we had a very nice audience indeed. Getting Bob up to sing a bit of Elvis before the final section worked wonderfully well. Spiky Mike himself was firing on all cylinders and he hit the room with a lot of energy during his compering and this was a night that was great to see.

Matt Bragg

Bragg began the night and he gave a splendid opening performance. As a low energy, softly spoken comic, it was a tribute to his ability just how well he did, as usually this slot suits the more lively and brash acts. What Bragg did have, though, was a well written set with some subtle reveals, a reassuring stage presence and the ability to draw the audience in. Although I felt the bread set up could have been edited down a touch, it worked well and everything else was spot on, including the puns. This was a very good set indeed and I’m rather pleased that he has moved into the area.

Mark Kennedy

Kennedy made an interesting start with a visual clothing gag and then he gave the room the darkest material of the night. In his soft Geordie voice he would tell jokes and then stop at the punchline, letting the audience figure that bit out themselves. I liked this approach, as it can mean more when you have to do a tiny bit of work to get the gag, although I think a couple might not have been fully worked out by a few people and the crack reveal probably works better within 50 miles of Newcastle. There were a lot of good clever jokes in this set, but I don’t think they all landed as well as what they might have done. It might have been a bit early for some of the edgier ones, or perhaps they just needed that bit more to get the most out of them. Kennedy isn’t the finished article, but he’s definitely got something to build on.

Julian Lee

Lee, the second Geordie in a row, is a very strong one-liner act, who probably doesn’t get as much work as his talent deserves due to geographical reasons. Tonight he opened with a pun ad-libbed from Mike’s compering and never really looked back from there. Despite having a sore throat, his forceful delivery (he probably didn’t need the mic) gave his already good puns added punch. This was a set with a lot of laughter. The only bit I wasn’t too sure of was the Reluctant Cowboy, which in a longer set would provide a welcome change of pace, but which in this ten spot, whilst good, probably gave him one laugh (albeit good) in the time he could have gotten three or four with his puns. That was my only minor quibble in what was a great set.

Adam Coumas

We resumed after the first intermission with Coumas, whom I saw deliver a very good set in Oakham the other week. Whilst this performance didn’t hit home as well as that did, there was still a lot to like in it. The material was good, especially the advertising slogans, which made for a strong closing routine and I enjoyed his delivery. I did think that there may be room for an additional gag with Keith, where if he had pointed to the ladies in the audience instead of at random, he may generate a possible added laugh, through the incongruity of it. This was an enjoyable set.

Kelsey de Almeida

Wearing all black and looking like a cross between Johnny Cash and a Mormon, Kelsey stood out on the stage as someone a little bit different and this was something of a bonus. He began by discussing his Portuguese/Swedish heritage and whilst I don’t think there are many Swedish connected acts who don’t mention Ikea, he did well with it. The sofa sneezing line was a lovely one, as it was so easy to picture. Kelsey was, however, politely derailed by Doug speaking to him in Swedish or Portuguese (hard to hear from where I was) and as no one would really expect that in Derby, it took him by surprise. The mood of the room was playful and with Doug being 73 and just recently married, it was hard for Kelsey to reply too much without losing more than he would have gained and when a shout from the other side of the room that he was being groomed got a huge laugh, including from Kelsey himself, I think he knew that his night had taken an unusual turn. After the laughter had subsided, Kelsey continued with a routine that revolved around him not being manly in contrast to his dad being manly, which is pretty well travelled territory. Not being a manly man seems to be to this year what internet dating was to the last two years, something that a lot of comics talk about. However, despite this, he had some good material on it and received loud laughs for it. This was something of an odd set,with a lot of laughter for the wrong reasons (being politely derailed) and the right reasons (being very funny). Whilst I don’t think that the topics Kelsey spoke about where especially original, I definitely liked what he did with them and I think he is an act with a lot of potential. I’d certainly like to see more of him.

Faye Treacy

Treacy is probably the only comedy trombonist in the country and her act is certainly quirky enough to add a nice touch of something that little bit different to bills. Her approach was to do routines in-between the musical jokes and whilst ‘commitment’ was a wonderful line, I felt the comedy side wasn’t really that strong. It was decent, but without the trombone, I don’t think it would stand up on its own. She wasn’t helped by having a tic – saying ‘right’ a lot, which once noticed was hard to stop noticing. The musical side was better, but the first routine, seemed to go on for an awful long time and I gained more from playing name that tune than from the comedy in it. The finale, opera played with a butternut squash was a spectacular end to the set, even if the humour all came from it being possible to do and the rest was just finishing off the tune. In fairness to Treacy, I’m not a fan of musical acts and this wasn’t for me – however, the rest of the audience enjoyed it and if she can strengthen the comedy side of her act, she’ll not do badly.

Chris Stokes

Stokes had put in a skilful performance when I saw him in Ashby and so it was nice to see more of him. Tonight he began by referencing the oddness of the gig; his taking to the stage after Treacy had played a butternut squash and Bob the Asian Elvis Impersonator had come up from the audience to do a song. This was followed by him talking about and how he has never had a normal visit to the city and this made for a splendid lead into his set, which started with his own connections to Derby. When discussing which of the two swimming pools he had visited to dive (including well appreciated comments about Ilkeston), he did come close to provoking a debate amongst the audience about the merits of the pools and he did well to bring everyone back on board, as the room was now in a festive mood. His tale of time spent at the station went down wonderfully well and as it was about Derby, the room lapped it up all the more. The tales of the ninja, his young looks and dog were all well written, too. Stokes was a relaxed presence, not afraid to pause his set to chat to people and he proved to be an excellent closing act.

The Kayal – Dan Fardell, Neal Sullivan, Joseph Emslie, Mr Andre, Brad Varnam, Johnny Wardlow, Dave Fensome, Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes, Alex Black, Chris Cooke, Graeme Collard, Jonny Birch and Houssem Rhaiem

Tonight I was in Leicester at the Kayal for the first Funhouse gong show of the new season. It was nice to be back, even though numbers weren’t massive. The acts were mostly from down south with a strong contingent having travelled all the way up from Brighton; a beast of a journey if ever there was one. The Kayal is a deceptively large room, with a high ceiling and it is hard to maintain the energy levels there. Tonight the room’s energy seemed to reset itself very swiftly and this made it harder for the low energy acts, which was a shame.

Dan Fardell

Dan Fardell opened with a nice callback to the number of medial professionals discovered by Spiky Mike during his compering. He then followed this with a series of short gags that gave him comic credibility in a very short time. His jokes were of a uniformly high standard, although the pace did drop a little on the set up to dreams, but the pay off was worth it. I liked the wheeliebin gag, although I think knowledge of the reference point will fade over the next couple of years. Crashes was fun and the topper definitely added to it. Fardell’s delivery was lively, energetic and in synch with his material and although he stood with his right shoulder higher than his left, this wasn’t anything that distracted the audience from what he was saying. Unfortunately he didn’t make it through to the final, being a surprise and harsh gonging late on. I think if Fardell had made it through then he would have been a strong contender for the top prize.

Neal Sullivan

Looking dapper in his hat, Sullivan began with some yoyo based impressions that were offbeat enough to hold the audience. However, the downside to this was that he had to stand away from the microphone to have enough space to operate the yoyo and this made it slightly tricky to hear him. Following a loss of momentum just before a vote his night ended.

Joseph Emslie

Emslie was a confident presence who had some nice material with the standouts being Othello and Yeast. However, he suffered badly from not being especially distinct from a lot of other young white slightly posh sounding well dressed male comics. Wearing skinny jeans and a checked shirt, he was even dressed the same as one of the other comics on the bill from the same demographic. Emslie was decent enough, he got laughs and made it through to the final, but to stand out, he’ll need to do something to be more distinctive and I hope he does, because I quite liked what I saw.

Mr Andre (Reynolds)

Hailing from New Jersey and looking like a slightly downsized version of John Coffey, Mr Andre certainly stood out. His material wasn’t especially strong, with the chocolate opening being ok, but not much more and his short bit about Trump not really going any further than saying it’s a bit shitty, which I think everyone could take as read. However, what hurt his performance the most was his pacing. Mr Andre has a relaxed low energy delivery with a lot of short pauses mid-sentence and whilst this would be fine over a ten spot, against the clock of a gong show it wasn’t enough to keep the audience with him.

Brad Varnam

We resumed after the intermission with Brad Varnam, who was doing his first gig in ten years. He was a confident presence who spoke clearly and was very expressive with his hands, which were busy demonstrating what he was saying (I liked that). A lot of his material concerned getting old and his kids, which whilst it wasn’t anything a few people of his age haven’t mined for material, it still ambled along nicely. The Argos pencil gag went down well, but I’ve seen a few people do one similar using Ikea instead, but this aside, the material wasn’t at all bad. Africa was a big standout line and this provided a great callback for the final. Varnam was a close second place, whom I thought might have slightly edged it in the very narrow first two votes. With a little bit more work on his material Varnam definitely has the potential to go further with comedy.

Johnny Wardlow

Wardlow, the other (fairly) young comic in skinny jeans and a checked shirt was another confident presence. Wardlow has a rather distinctive voice and the peg stunt was a nice idea and this made for a more gripping opening than a lot of the comics on the bill. However, the rest of his material was more descriptive than funny. The breaking up with his ex and the valentine card especially undeniably had some quirky value, but they needed more humour in the routines to really get the most value from them. Despite a buoyant delivery, Wardlow didn’t make it through to the final.

Dave Fensome

Fensome had impressed me the last time I saw him and tonight it was the same story. Out of all of the comics, his performance felt the most like a proper set and I enjoyed it. He was slightly hurt by two factors: one, him being the third comic in a row to do material about getting older and secondly by the energy in the room being a bit flat. He was getting laughs, but they were lower than what I would have expected for the quality of his material. Fensome overcame this to make it through to the final.

Sikisa Bostwick-Barnes

Sikisa was a lively, enthusiastic and bubbly performer, who added some much needed energy into the room. She began with a bit of faux flirting, which helped to establish her persona. Sikisa was the fourth comedian in a row to reference getting older, but this was only a short part of her set and so she wasn’t badly hurt by that. Her material was pleasant and fun and contained a song, but she needed a line with a knockout punch to get the most out of her work, although she did make it through to the final. This was a performance where more people will remember Sikisa’s bubbly personality than her material, but this isn’t the end of the world – it’s easier to write material than it is to gain an endearing presence.

Alex Black

Black began with some new material involving hand based audience interaction. During a ten spot, this set up would have been ok, although possibly better if used part way through, rather than at the top, but during a gong show it ate up the crucial first thirty seconds of his performance. If Black had opened with something that immediately established his comic credentials then this would have bought him enough goodwill to go further. However, he seemed to be on the back foot after his opening, partly due to that and partly due to the energy levels having dropped and so we never got to hear his song.

Chris Cooke

We began the final section with Chris Cooke who was an amiable presence. He had a quiet delivery that was fine, but didn’t really sell what he was saying. A lot of his material concerned him having dyspraxia and there were some good lines in this. However, after a few gags where the punchline revolved around his lack of coordination you soon got with the programme and it became something of a variation on the same joke. Cooke was entertaining, but with a broader base to his material he would be stronger.

Graeme Collard

Collard was an odd act to watch. He easily had the most variable quality material of the night and seemed to veer between getting a round of applause and just titters. It was quite odd to be listening to material that wasn’t that strong and for him to then suddenly pluck a great line out and this made for a strange rhythm to his set. I liked what I saw, though and Collard emerged as the winner of the night.

Jonny Birch

Birch was performing comedy for the first time ever tonight. He began by reading out a long list of topics that he wouldn’t be talking about and in more experienced hands, this could have been funny. He did skate around the edges of anti-comedy with this, but hadn’t got the experience to really make it work and when he followed it by reading from an article about mental health it was enough to ensure a gonging.

Houssem Rhaiem

Rhaiem consistently does well in gong shows, but tonight his low energy delivery exacerbated the room’s low energy levels. Despite delivering lines that I’ve seen get strong laughs at other venues, he failed to make his mark.

Oakham – Lindsey Santoro, Ken Grinnell, Adam Coumas, Katie Mitchell, Red Redmond and Richard Massara (MC)

Tonight I was in Oakham for the NCF Comedy night. This takes place in the well appointed cellar/bunker of a rather nice pub. With a dozen or so people there is a decent atmosphere, with twenty it is even better and full to capacity I can imagine that it is electric. The ceiling is low, which did make me concerned that our MC would bang his head if he stood up straight.

Richard Massara (MC)

Massara worked hard to get the gig going, and in an echo of Gray last night, made a point of chatting to everyone on his way to the stage. To begin with he used a well dressed chap called Steve as his foil, but after he was played out he moved onto Corrine and then a nun (unlikely, but there was a nun in mufti present), whilst regularly bringing into play a lady whom he crowned as the Queen of Oakham. This worked pretty well and there was a lovely moment when he informed a lass that that he hadn’t got a lazy eye and was indeed talking to her, to which she innocently asked if he meant her, which proved his point in the funniest way. For the second section, Massara went with material and this was of an excellent standard and whilst arguably he may have done longer than necessary the material was so good that no one minded. It was interesting to see a small routine about vaping, as that has been a curiously neglected topic. His final section was also strong, with some good puns. This was a not only a well rounded performance, but also something of a shop window for what Massara can do and I was very impressed. I’d like to see him do a full set.

Lindsey Santoro

Santoro began by asking Corrine about cat grooming in a callback to Massara’s compering and this wasn’t a bad start, but it perhaps needed a bit more to make it funnier. This was followed by material that was based upon her life. Santoro’s description of where she lives as being like ‘the holding pen for the Jeremy Kyle show’ was a nice line, but one that is devalued through so many people using it, although in fairness it still got a laugh. I also had mixed feelings about the online dating routine, as similarly, that is an area that a lot of comics have done material on. However, triangle was good, ring size was superb and the closing routine about the bath was solid. Santoro’s delivery was quiet and low key, which brought the audience into what she was saying. This wasn’t a bad set, but with a few improvements, it could be stronger.

Ken Grinnell

Rather embarrassingly, I’m not sure that I’ve got the name of this act correct, as this is what I saw wrote down, but I can’t find any trace of him to confirm it. So apologies, if I have got it wrong, as he had a good night. He began by discussing his background and the unlikely ethnicity appearance which it resulted in. This was followed by a short set where he talked about food and school toilets. The suffering in silence line was very nice and the description of the toilets was vivid enough to come to life. I did think, though, that even in context the bleach line was a bit bloodthirsty. This was a set that was very easy to listen to, although it would have benefited from a big closing routine. Oddly, he only did 6-7minutes and it would have been nice to have seen more of him, because this was going well.

Adam Coumas

We resumed after the intermission with the excellent Adam Coumas. He got off to a flying start and never really looked back. He was lively, enthusiastic, looked over the moon to be there and he won the audience round swiftly. I was initially a bit concerned that his set would be London-centric, but he was smart enough when mentioning the various areas to give them a context, showing why he was talking about them. This is a huge step up from London acts that assume people north of Watford know all about Shepherd’s Bush and the like. As a result, the audience never lost their sense of the what and why of his material and it remained accessible. Whilst this set was delivered with skill, the material itself was also convincing and this was a ten spot that seemed to fly by. The closing routine ended his set on a climax.

Katie Mitchell

Mitchell had a good night, but as I only saw her and reviewed her the night before, it’s hardly fair to review her the next day, too.

Red Redmond

Our headline act was Red Redmond, who like Coumas experienced the room warming to him almost instantaneously. Red’s material had a natural feel to it and it flowed smoothly. The flat mate was the stand out and he delivered this perfectly. Red managed to stand totally still, staring into the distance, unblinking and apparently on a different place of existence, as he did the routine. When the the long pauses are factored in, he did well on a physical level to avoid blinking or moving for such a long period; comedically, this routine built up massive amounts of comic tension. The pants gag was fun, but I wasn’t quite so keen on the line about the cat. The choice of closing routine was interesting and although perhaps not quite as pushing the envelope as he sold it, still funny and a nice way to close off the show. This was a great performance and one that everyone enjoyed.

August – acts that have impressed me the most this month

This has been something of a quiet month for comedy and I’ve only seen 37 acts. The nights have ranged from an extravaganza charity comedy night to a truly bonkers competition which will long be remembered by all who were there.

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

Andrew Bird

This was a masterpiece from a performer who deserves a far bigger public profile.

From the night:

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.

Chris Brooker

This is a comedian who is perhaps better known as a MC and so it was a real treat to see him do a set.

From the night:

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.

Nige (Keith Carter)

This was on a night where Carter opened as Stacy Silcox and closed as Nige and it was allthoroughly enjoyable.

From the night:

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 callbacks. 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 callbacks 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.

Stevie Gray

Although I didn’t see the running order, I believe that Gray was down to close this evening and he decided to forego that and go on early to rescue a night that was teetering on the edge of dying due to a combination of people not used to seeing live comedy and the mood of the audience being set to impress us or else.

From the night:

Gray played an absolute blinder tonight. He could see that the night was in danger of going West and so he requested to go on next. Gray is high energy and has a genius for bringing audiences onboard and the fact that this became a gig is in large part due to him going on and bringing the entire audience into the show. He was a veritable battering ram of joviality. He made his way to the stage by walking through the audience, talking to everyone, before standing on a chair at the front and using his powerful voice instead of the microphone. He pointed out the oddities of the rooms’ fittings, which everyone could relate to and this helped the audience to bond. From here he did some short and snappy routines that built up a lot of impetus and so that when after a few minutes he was stood on a table chatting to a lady the room loved it. This was a master class in how to turn a gig around.

Tom King

I saw King at a night that was totally bonkers and included the MC being floored after asking a boxer to punch his arm, an act insulting the audience in a high risk move that might have worked on another night and another act dying and stripping naked – which led to the mostly naked start to Tom King’s set.

From the night:

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 (£100 cash prize and paid spot in Autumn).

Special most improved act recognition:

I’m used to seeing acts improve, but this act has made a big leap forwards. Note, the act before the intermission had died and stripped naked.

From the night:

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.

Honourable Mentions:

Daliso Chaponda, Danny Sutcliffe, George Dimarelos, Hayley Ellis (MC), Vince Atta

Carnero Lounge – Jack Topher, Stevie Gray, Alex Leam, Katie Mitchell, Ben Turner, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Dan Barnes and Matt Hoss (MC)

Tonight I was in Derby for the opening NCF £1 night, a show that if it has half of the success of the Nottingham night will be doing very well indeed. For an opening night, numbers weren’t bad, but the audience were quite spread out and not many had been to live comedy before, which made things a bit tricky. There was also a talkative table who seemed to have just come to, if not quite sneer at the acts, to at least make a determined effort not to enjoy themselves. Luckily they soon left. I was pretty happy to see two dogs at the gig and think this should happen more often. Stevie Gray did some sterling work in moving everyone forwards prior to the gig starting, which made things easier for our MC, Matt Hoss.

Matt Hoss (MC)

Hoss had a bit of a mixed night, but a lot of this was down to bad luck. A lot of what he did would have worked fine in front of a more comedy savvy audience willing to give him time to build, but this audience initially seemed more interested in things that were immediately funny and unwilling to invest in much else. Also between the table at the back who were determined not to enjoy themselves and the spread out nature of the audience it was very difficult to reach critical mass. As it was, his material about his MA went down better than when I last saw him, the Romeo and Juliet crowd work was unusual, but it worked in breaking the ice and whilst his tale of unusual gigs didn’t get the laughs it deserved, Hoss definitely has something in that. I was surprised that he didn’t open with the twitter story, as that is not only unusual, bizarre and true, but also pretty damn funny, even if the sender of the final tweet is a bit foreseeable, which robs the final gag of impact. Although he had to work hard tonight, with a few small steps Hoss will be much improved.

Jack Topher

Topher was very unlucky in the running order and would have been better going on later. He has a dry low energy delivery and well written material that the audience has to listen to to get all of the subtle references. Opening to an audience that was more tepid than warm was always going to be an uphill struggle and it must have been a disheartening and perhaps slightly frustrating experience for him to deliver a set that I’ve seen make a lot of people laugh heartily at and get very little back. I really enjoyed the new Ashley Cole joke, especially the way it wrong foots the audience and at first I thought it had gone over their heads, but instead, it was a case of the room resetting itself after Hoss had finished his compering and them not being relaxed enough to laugh.

Stevie Gray

Gray played an absolute blinder tonight. He could see that the night was in danger of going West and so he requested to go on next. Gray is high energy and has a genius for bringing audiences onboard and the fact that this became a gig is in large part due to him going on and bringing the entire audience into the show. He was a veritable battering ram of joviality. He made his way to the stage by walking through the audience, talking to everyone, before standing on a chair at the front and using his powerful voice instead of the microphone. He pointed out the oddities of the rooms’ fittings, which everyone could relate to and this helped the audience to bond. From here he did some short and snappy routines that built up a lot of impetus and so that when after a few minutes he was stood on a table chatting to a lady the room loved it. This was a master class in how to turn a gig around.

Alex Leam

It was nice to see Leam. I’ve not seen him for a while, but from everything I’ve heard he had a very good Edinburgh Fringe, apart from coming back with Festival Flu, which he was still suffering from tonight. He opened with a heckle he’d received before moving on to tell of his gig on a bus, which was good. This was a well written set, with dehydration and not been back the standout lines. Leam’s ability with accents is impressive and these add a lot of life to what he does. This was a set that had a lot to like in it, even if the delivery did suffer a bit from Leam having the flu.

Katie Mitchell

Mitchell began by referencing various lookalike comments and generally I’m not too keen on this, as heckles received and ‘look like such and such that has had a hard life’ comments are pretty much ten a penny as opening gambits. However, because Mitchell has such a gloriously noticeable style, if she didn’t reference it in some way, then there would be an elephant in the room that would distract from her set. Mitchell has a lot of charm and confidence, which are two big advantages. She also has pretty quick wits, so when she got tongue tied on one set up and tripped on the word order of another joke, she was quick to bounce back and make a joke of it and the audience were happy to stay with her. This was a good set that everyone enjoyed, but she would definitely benefit from editing the set ups down to the essentials, as they are overly wordy. Whilst it is still fun listening to her do the odd detour on the set ups, with more concision she could probably fit a lot more gags into her set which would reap a dividend in more momentum and more laughs per minute.

Ben Turner

Turner, on his 100th gig, gave the room a proficiently written set, where there were hardly any words that didn’t add something to what he was saying. This enabled him to fit a lot of jokes into his time. He was also easily the act with the most sexual jokes of the night. This was no bad thing in itself, but he may benefit from balancing them out with other gags, as there is a possibility that the room will remember him for that, rather than for being funny. There were a lot of laughs during this set, although Peppa Pig perhaps wasn’t worth the lengthy set up, as I think he could have done a few gags in the time that took. This was a good set that was well delivered even if it did perhaps concentrate more on sexual humour at the expense of a broader approach.

Jeanette Bird-Bradley

JBB has improved since I last saw her, with a sharper delivery and a better stage presence in evidence. There were a lot of little subtle things that she did that cumulatively added a lot to her performance. The changes in tone of voice and the little faces that she pulled were minor, but they certainly added up, which combined with her material meant that this is probably the best that I’ve seen her. Whilst cressing the bed was the standout routine, the reviews were also good, although she may have done one too many to get the full value out of the routine. I enjoy the surprise ‘also bought’ item, and I’m surprised that she didn’t ask the audience to take a guess at what that would be, as I can imagine that that would add a nice element to her set and I’m confident that no one would ever guess the correct answer. This was a very good performance.

Dan Barnes

Barnes had a good night. He began with a lookalike gag, but this was followed by a decent gag and an even better topper and then it was a mixture of momentum building short routines and jokes until he got to a longer routine to close with. The jokes were pretty strong, with the reason he got fired being a highlight. The toothbrush joke was good, although I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t a comment about sideways being an option for an even worse end. The cashier number joke had a bit of a throwaway air to it, frozen doll was foreseeable and whilst the Seven Dwarves was well written there are too many gags about them for it to really stand out as something that people haven’t heard a version of. Whilst that may seem like a long list of things I feel could be improved upon, it does give an erroneous view of how much I and everyone else enjoyed this set. It was funny, it built up momentum and was well delivered. I look forwards to seeing Barnes again.