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

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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.