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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.