Last night I was at the Rigger in Newcastle under Lyme for the Funhouse gong show. Unusually this was one where there hadn’t been that many applicants and the line up had finished up being solely male and conventional in approach apart from one character act. This couldn’t be helped, but it is nice to see both more of a gender balance and a wider spectrum in styles. On the other hand, we were lucky in having Richard Massara present to do a bonus ten spot, which not only gave him an opportunity to be seen by Spiky Mike, but which showed the audience just how good comedy can be. Mike had fun compering, discovering a chap who was a ‘dedicated’ customer service adviser and upon not being sure he’d heard someone’s name right, went with ‘Pork?’ as a suggestion as to what he’d just misheard, which naturally got a big laugh.
When having an experienced act doing an open ten at a talent show, it’s tricky to know where to put them in the line up. Previously I’ve seen them at the top of the night and at the end prior to the vote off and both slots have their issues. Going on first, they make it hard for the entrants to follow and give the audience unrealistic expectations of contestants perhaps only ten gigs in. If at the end, it gets in the way of the vote. So I think Mike chose well in having Massara close the middle section. I’ve placed his review out of sequence simply to keep it separate to the gong show proper.
I saw Massara last month in Oakham where his skills as MC had made that gig a success and so discovering that he was performing was a bonus. Last night he gave the gong show contestants a lesson in how to build a set, deliver it and garner laughter and applause. Massara began well with a joke referencing his voice which was tangible to everyone and then he went from there into a set that was very well thought out. The bee was good, but much improved by the topper, the gift card was great and his quizzical expression when trying to fathom out the logic added a lot to what he was saying. The German section had promise, even if the audience weren’t fully onboard with it and as before, the vaping material was very strong. Massara did say ‘don’t get me wrong’ a few times, not enough to be considered a tic, but perhaps just something to be aware of in a longer set. This was a very good performance from someone whom I think I’ll be seeing a lot more of on the circuit.
Probert in blazer and lively trousers doesn’t half look like a shorter version of Eric Morecambe. He also has the basis for a set, with some nice bits of material and a good turn of phrase. However, opening really isn’t the best spot on the bill for him. Probert suffers from a lack of energy in his delivery and doing material about anal so soon in a night is a risky move. Another aspect is that his material could do with editing down. Probert is a story teller and whilst Wrigglesworth can stretch out what he is saying with various similes and repetitions, he doesn’t have to worry about having to be punchy enough to pass an upcoming vote. Probert didn’t do badly, but he has the ability to do better. He took coming off late on in his set with good grace and gave the audience a very nice bow before leaving the stage.
Nairn made a confident start with a visual gag and then then went into some good material about a night out with Scottish relatives. This went down well, helped by his ability to do a good Scottish accent. The routine about insults was a game of two halves, with the southern one being more of a feed line for the northern one, rather than being that funny in itself – something that could perhaps be worked on. Unfortunately at the four minute mark, Nairn had a bit of a stumble and that was enough to end his night.
Next it was James Harkness as Dougie, a character act who is a bit hopeless in life. Previously when I saw Dougie, I wasn’t convinced that the room realised he was a character act at first, but tonight it was more obvious from the off. There was a lot of thought gone into making this a credible performance, Harkness had got the look right, down at heel, cap pulled low and a mumbling, stumbling delivery, with a lot of scripted spoken blind alleys. However, the amount of time spent in establishing and maintaining the character and creating comedic tension ate into the space available for saying anything funny and Dougie had probably the smallest number of jokes of any of the acts. Luckily these jokes were all of a very good calibre and were worth waiting for. Dougie made it through to the final easily enough and over five minutes this was entertaining, but I’m not sure that without something more there is ten minutes in this.
Rushton has had a good year so far and it was always going to be interesting to see what he did tonight. He came on stage with a tiger under his arm, dropped him next to the mic stand and commenced his set. This was nicely offbeat and tickled me. Rushton stood at the very edge of the big stage and gave the room a set that veered towards anti-comedy. There was a definite air of oddness about Rushton’s performance from the delivery (calling the audience motherfuckers) down to the scattergun approach to topics. This went down pretty well with the room and he made the final, where an impending last bus prompted a suicide run for the final minute.
We resumed after the intermission with Harris, notes in hand, who was on his third gig. He opened as a high status act, informing the room that if this didn’t work and wasn’t funny that this would be their fault. In a more established act this can be a good start, but Harris didn’t have that kind of swagger and was perhaps dressed too casually to immediately convince the audience that it would be their fault, either. The joke about childline was good and heroin showed promise, but beyond that this was very much a work in progress. Harris wasn’t helped by holding the microphone at bellybutton level until Mike shouted out to hold it higher. This wasn’t a bad third attempt, though.
After a number of low energy acts, it was a breath of fresh air to have the lively fast moving McCluskey on stage. He began with three jokes in short order and built up a good head of steam from there. His take on sex face was fun as was his approach to what could be described as a like to do list. However, despite what he was actually saying being original and funny, I felt that the topics he chose to work with were pretty much common ground and with different, less travelled areas, he would be much stronger. This was still a good set and he looked like a plausible finalist from the off. Despite mistiming his final minute and being cut off mid joke, McCluskey was well supported in the vote off.
Cooper was very much a mixed bag. He had some clever jokes that kept him on longer than I expected, but a lot of what he had to offer was counterproductive. The disciples was a nice idea, but I think he needed to add something more for the audience to fully get the joke. The drama routine was an unoriginal pull back and reveal, spicy food and sighing were just depressing and one could feel the atmosphere being sucked out of the room. On the other hand, fox hunting got a round of applause – like I said, a mixed bag. What held Cooper back the most, though, was his stage persona. This came over as arrogant and almost resentful of the audience and this made him incredibly difficult to warm to. A strong act with great jokes can pull off this kind of delivery, but when someone with patchy material tries, the results aren’t pretty.
I saw Pulcella at the Maze where the act prior to him had killed the atmosphere and this had effectively ended Pulcella’s set before he had begun it, as there was no coming back. Last night he had a better chance and he made the most of it. He gave the room a fast momentum building set of one-liners and there were some good, improved, gags on offer. Shambolic was great, fake poo deserved more than it received, but Cruise was a bit of a leap too far. Pulcella had a nice touch where he set up a joke with an obvious punchline and got the audience to deliver it – this would be even better if he could do that, but sell the audience a dummy and come out with an obscure, but even better reveal than the obvious one. Pulcella had a great final minute, where he judged the time well and gave the audience five quick gags. This was enough to make him the winner of the show by a clear margin of hands.
Malik was a very enjoyable act. His material was intelligent and well delivered in a crystal clear voice. Enunciating words clearly and without overdoing it is a definite bonus to a comedian, because if you can hear the joke, then you can laugh at it. Obvious enough, but not always achieved by acts. Malik’s take on Isis was very good and went far beyond the standard rucksack/if I bomb here tonight jokes. The film pitch was also strong, even if perhaps there was a tiny bit too much of it to be sustained by the idea. Probably 95% of Malik’s material last night concerned the topics of Asia and Islam; over five minutes this wasn’t bad, but for a longer set, it would perhaps be beneficial to have a broader approach so that it doesn’t become a case of having too much of a good thing. This was a good set that everyone enjoyed and Malik came in second place. I’d like to see more of him, as he has potential. With regular gigging, I can imagine him doing well.
The last time I saw Tiernan he had had a very good night and last night was no different – he had another good night. Tiernan is not a huge chap, but on stage he seems to be about 8′ tall and was probably the only act who didn’t need a microphone to be heard in every corner of the room. He launched into a powerful set, discussing his life and career choices. This was a barnstorming performance that saw him climbing onto speakers and tables and banging his head with an audible twonk on some structural steel framing in the ceiling. Tiernan sprinted into the final, which somewhat surprisingly he didn’t win. I’m going to be very interested in seeing where Tiernan is this time next year.