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.

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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.