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.

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4 thoughts on “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

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