Blessington Carriage – Champion of Champions gong show – Jem Braithwaite, Adam Beardsmore, Mark Row, Mark Woodrow, Liam Jeavons, Dan Barnes, Billy Lowther, Lulu Reubens and Dan Tiernan

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Champion of Champions gong show final. Every act bar one wild card entry, was a winner of a previous gong show and the standard was fantastically high. Looking at the list of entrants, even from a position of knowledge, it was impossible to predict the likely winner. In a contrast to the usual 5 minute maximum, tonight, it was 7 minutes, with 3 chances to be voted off. Unusually, hardly anyone picked up red cards, with all of the acts bar one, making the final and the act who didn’t being a last minute gonging, who might easily have made it through. All of the acts tonight found favour with the audience and hardly any put a foot wrong or misjudged the room.

Mike had a fun time compering the night, with a joyously happy birthday girl to chat to, Shortsman there, a plethora of Rolls Royce employees present and a chance to try out a joke with an added prop, which worked extremely well. The cladding material was a joy to hear. We were soon ready for our first contestant.

Jem Braithwaite

Living the furthest away by quite a margin, I shouldn’t be surprised if Braithwaite actually volunteered to go on first. Wearing a cape, which gave him the look of a substitute teacher at Hogwarts, Braithwaite made an immediate visual impression. This impact was magnified by his splendid intonation and his wonderfully offbeat material. All of this was then added to by his physical performance, which consisted of him jerking from side to side as if the remote control working him was being used as a stage to riverdance on by a group of hamsters. All of this combined made a huge impression and Braithwate received big laughs throughout his set. He did run out of material at the 6 minute mark, but such was the strength of his persona that even just faffing about for the last minute he remained compulsive viewing and got big laughs. With just one more joke, I think he would have made the final, where he would surely have been in with a chance of winning. This is a man who most definitely has funny bones.

Adam Beardsmore

Unbeknownst to the audience, Beardsmore was the wild card entry – although he hadn’t won a gong show, he had performed well enough to stand with the winners tonight. After seeing the performances, I doubt whether anyone in the room would have guessed that he wasn’t a past winner. I was impressed by his ability to work in material discovered during Mike’s compering and I was even happier with the strength of his set. The surprise twist on his daughter’s comments when his wife gets hurt worked very well. The routine about pets and kids was also very strong. Beardsmore’s lively and energetic delivery helped him to sell his material. For the minute in the final he gave the room a very well judged and timed routine that built up to a strong crescendo.

Mark Row

Row opened with a clever reference to him being Mark Row and there being a Mark Woodrow on the bill. This was funny and it also threw down the gauntlet to Woodrow who when he came on would have to try to match it. Row made a possibly risky move in chatting to the audience. With this one never knows what the response will be and if their comments weren’t useful, he would have found himself racing against the clock to turn things around. Happily he was easily up to the task and he made a lot from what he got back from the room. This is possibly a skill that he honed up in Edinburgh and it was nice to see it used to such effect tonight. The rest of his set consisted of good material and whilst there was the odd swear word that didn’t really add anything, this was a set that was well delivered and I could see a lot of improvement since I last saw him perform. For his minute in the final, Row asked Katrina, the birthday girl to choose the route he took, an unusual approach, but one which tied the audience in to what he was doing and it was nicely different.

Mark Woodrow

Woodrow began with a powerful callback to Woodrow’s comment about their names and from here he never looked back. Despite having a low energy delivery, his material was clever enough to hold the room well. Having a soft Norn Iron accent not only helped to differentiate him from the other acts, but it added a certain tonal charm to what he was saying and this worked very well when he went a bit darker with burnt down. The instructions for use was easily accessible and funny, although my personal favourite was his final minute. For his minute in the final Woodrow went with some very sharp room work based around the colour of party hats being worn and facts discovered during Mike’s compering. This worked well enough for him to get applause as well as laughs for his work.

Liam Jeavons

Jeavons is one of those gifted people who brightens up a room just by being happy, enthusiastic and wearing a big grin. This was fed into his set and it came out the other end as an energetic, enthusiastic and upbeat delivery that kept everyone’s attention, making them want to hear more. The little touch when he slowed down his delivery when discussing the lady running worked very well. The standout routine of the night belonged to Jeavons and it concerned a train ride. This had no end of nice little comments in it that all elicited a laugh. In this he has what I would consider to be a good pro level routine. He followed this up by talking about his employer, which we didn’t hear much of as he was up to the time limit. Although saying, ‘can’t name for legal reasons, but it sounds like…’ is a bit overdone, but in fairness it always gets a laugh. For his minute in the final Jeavons either muffed what he was going to do, or was that good an actor he made it look so, before going off on a delightful tangent about school insults. Whether accident or design, it worked well and the way he dealt with it was very much a credit to him. Jeavons emerged as the eventual and well deserved winner of the night.

Dan Barnes

Barnes opened with a timely reference to the collapse of Monarch Airlines, something which he possibly wrote this afternoon and I liked it. Barnes was another act not afraid to talk to the audience and take a chance on an unpredictable reply – this was shown when chatting about nicknames with Cruz. His reply that his school nickname was Pony boy was begging further questions to be asked and even though he was against the clock, Barnes was wise enough to spot that he had to take it further. From this Barnes carried on with a performance that built up a lot of momentum, although number of kids wasn’t quite up to the quality of the rest of his material. This was a very good performance and although I only saw him a month ago, this was an improved performance. For his minute in the final Barnes gave the Blessington Carriage a routine which went down pretty well.

Billy Lowther

I always enjoy seeing Lowther. His slow and deliberate delivery of rock solid one-liners never fails to make me laugh. There is something wonderfully inevitable about how whenever he closes his mouth everyone laughs at what he has just said and I like the tension this builds during the set ups. There was laughter with every joke and applause for remember. This was a great set. For his minute in the final Lowther did three one-liners to further laughter and applause.

Lulu Reubens

There were only two acts in the final whom I’d not seen before and Reubens was one. Her material was good. Parking wasn’t bad, Bradford was better, her brother even better and sanitary towels was smashing. The smoking material didn’t hit home as well as the rest of the material with the older members of the audience, but this was the only section that didn’t. Her delivery was nice and it was easy to make out everything she was saying, with an appropriate energy level to her material. For her minute in the final she gave the audience her strongest material of the night, which took on a nicely dark turn. This was a good performance.

Dan Tiernan

Tiernan was the other act that I’d not seen before. He began with a cracking Emmeline joke and then went on from there to chat about moving out, education, work and romance. His delivery was massively energetic and like Simon Wozniak, almost a rant and also like Wozniak, it worked extremely well. At times, it looked as if Tiernan was addressing a rally and it was enthralling to watch him. The material was all good quality and so it was no surprise to see him make the final, too. For his final minute, Tiernan gave the room some strong jokes.

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