Tonight I was back at the Canal House for the NCF comedian of the year contest. The venue was absolutely packed out with seats full and thirty people or so stood at the back and the atmosphere was terrific. There were seven judges who all had to list their top three and an audience clap vote whilst the acts were sent downstairs. There were six acts of whom Lomas was the obvious favourite, but tonight the vote was closer than one perhaps might have expected. Whilst the votes were counted there were bonus ten spots from Ben Cohen and Callum Oakley. Sounds were in the capable hands of Harry Sanders and the MC was Steff Todd.
Steff Todd (MC)
Todd mixed material with a bit of banter, but as usual she did more material than room work. I wasn’t surprised by this, as her material is strong and the drink related gags lend themselves well to leading questions, as does twitter – usually, anyway, except that tonight she had a front row who were non-tweeters, which she handled with charm. Todd is a very likeable presence and she has this endearing habit of occasionally looking left and right with her eyes after saying something slightly questionable, almost as if she’s checking with the audience that it is alright and this is a great subtle touch. I was pleased to see her do the rules and also to fill the empty seats on the front row that had somehow been missed by all of the folk stood at the back of the room. It might have perhaps been better if Todd hadn’t referenced the odd thing that didn’t seem to go well, as whilst a couple of comments can help, I thought she may have overdone it a tad, but that’s not the end of the world. I’d also like to see a little bit more structure to her compering, but this is more me being picky than it being anything that affected the night. Todd held the room well, kept everything on track and it’s always a joy to see her at work.
Our opening act was Morgan Rees, who has been having a splendid year so far and if not perhaps quite a breakthrough year, at least one that has put him on the radar of a lot of people. There is a nice solidity to Rees and this transmits itself to the audience who gave him their confidence fairly quickly. A lot of this set was new to me and I was impressed by it. Ditto was great as was when he paused, characters was strong and I really liked his visual action on explaining sequel. This was a very powerful set and when it came to the audience vote he received a lot of support, which for an opening act was very much to his credit.
I’m not sure where Yates was stood when Todd called his name, but it seemed to take him an age to get to the stage and the applause almost ended up being about 12′ too short. There was a lot to like in Yates’ set. He was clever in getting in a callback to Todd’s compering (between jobs) and his deadpan persona worked well. He’s not yet the finished article, being fairly inexperienced in comparison to most of the acts in the contest, but he did well and picked up a lot of applause in the audience clap vote. The visual tea towel gag was fun, but probably tricky for 70% of the room to see and he may be better with an A3 flip board or someone holding his props as he looked very awkward holding them. It would have been nice to see a big closing routine, but I think he ran up to his time limit before he got chance. I’d like to see how Yates improves with regular gigs.
I’ve a feeling that Johnson may have under ran her spot as she seemed to finish a touch early after going through her set at a fair clip. The material concerned foos and deconstructing a porn film. There were some good lines in this, but also a few that didn’t really add a lot. If she were to concentrate on the 4-5 lines that got really good laughs and edit the routine down into those vignettes then I think the routine would be more pacey and funnier, with a lot of concentrated laughter. As it was Johnson got laughs and her performance was lively.
We resumed after the intermission with Jamie Hutchinson who although he didn’t win, possibly had the best gig of the night. Hutchinson has great vocal projection, which combined with his slightly aggressive tone and his new staccato delivery paid a huge dividend in laughs. This was a performance that had everyone sat up paying attention and is a big improvement from when I last saw him and he was good then. I think we can all say that he has literally found his comedy voice. It was great hearing the lass sat behind me howling with laughter throughout his set. The dating routine was strong, but the twist on it was superb, earning one of the few applause breaks of the night. This was a most impressive performance and Hutchinson was very well supported by the crowd clap vote. Although he was runner up, Hutchinson did push Lomas and with a slightly different running order he may well have took the trophy.
I saw Smith about a year ago where he had had a great night at a gong show, being the most interesting of the acts on the bill. In the last year he has come on no end and tonight he gave a great performance. He opened with a deliberately drawn out joke, that could have been risky, but which paid off nicely. This also served to establish his persona with the room. From here he went into a very well constructed set, with a lot of well thought out jokes. This was a performance that showed a lot of intelligence behind how it all came together and I’d have liked to have seen more of him. There were some nice surprises on the reveals and I was very pleased with how he handled a single overenthusiastic person clapping at a surprising moment. Although Ross didn’t win, this was a very promising performance and he’s obviously someone to watch.
We finished the contest part of the proceedings with Simon Lomas who was the cognoscenti’s favourite to win. It’s getting hard to write reviews about Lomas as every time I see him he smashes the gig and I hate to repeat myself. Although not all of the room were with him immediately, within two jokes he had them in the palm of his hand and then he proceeded to smash it. Lomas won the trophy, plus the beer, which he sportingly shared out.
Whilst the votes were counted we had two bonus ten spots.
Cohen was something of a curate’s egg. His material was good. His brother jokes were nice and the throwaway lines were all decent. I really enjoyed his material. His delivery was smooth, without any erms and there weren’t any wasted words, either. However, his delivery was all in the same tone and this didn’t really sell what he was saying. If anything, it made it difficult to stay focussed on his voice and to not zone out from it. This was a huge shame, as what he was saying was worth listening to. With a greater vocal range this problem should be negated and he would be a stronger act.
It’s been a while since I last saw Oakley and he’s been having a great year. Tonight he gave a great performance. His delivery was bright and bubbly and served to bring everyone into it and as if that wasn’t enough, his big grin really helped to reinforce the fact that we were all there having a good time together. His material was strong and I really enjoyed the nightclub routine. The look on his face when delivering the final line was superb. The only thing I wasn’t too pleased with was the inclusion of something similar to, ‘because it’s going really well’, as too many other comics use that and I think Oakley is more creative than that. This was a cracking set and I can easily see why he’s on the way up.