Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the second gong show in two nights. In contrast to the previous event, the crowd here were a tiny bit flat, which was a shame as we had a cracking line up containing past winners and contenders, plus some very good new acts. Mike had a smashing time compering, chatting to Christina who was too bright and bubbly to be working in Birmingham Crown Court, although he struck gold when he discovered Dr Andy who had a belting story about the oddest item he’s had to surgically remove from someone. Ironically, though, Mike got one of the biggest laughs of the night when checking on the judges and only then discovering that he’d forgotten to create enough. The room was soon ready for some comedy.
I last saw Elmi in Derby doing some new material, so it was nice to see how it all came together in this performance. He began by advertising how dark he was, which made me wonder if he’d have been better off going on later, as the room seemed to draw back from him a touch. However, he recovered from this with some autobiographical material and then after the room had bought into his persona he returned to the dark material which went down pretty well. There were some good lines in this set, such as bragging and screwdriver, which stood out. I couldn’t help but feel that Elmi may benefit from adjusting his set so that he eases into the more near the knuckle material, rather than opening with it. This was a decent performance that saw Elmi through to the final, which he had to miss, because he had a train to catch.
Hughes began by telling the audience what he was going to talk about, a verbal contents page that just ate up some time without being funny – an odd start when time and being funny is of the essence. His performance did pick up when he began to talk about the date (deviant was a nice line), but he did lose a bit of pace with the Wolf set up and rather irritatingly he paused everything whilst the voting was in progress, which hurt his momentum. This was a bit of a clunky set, but if Hughes were to edit it down to be more succinct then he has a base upon which to build. Whilst he didn’t have a great night, people laughed and with work he will have something stronger.
With a nice introduction from Mike, Doug took to the stage. He began well with a smashing callback to Mike’s compering and then launched into his set. Despite holding the microphone a bit too low, he held the room nicely as they listened to him. The set ups were a bit on the long side and it would be better if they were a bit more punchy, containing a few laughs on the way to the reveals, but this wasn’t a huge problem and the punchlines were consistently good. Doug was very astute with his swearing, using it sparingly enough to get the maximum benefit from it and not overdoing it. He has an eye for constructing a set and he did well, getting some big laughs and making it to the final.
Braithwaite last performed here a month or so ago in the champion of champions final and I think that that may have diluted his impact tonight. I like both his material and his delivery – bad manners was such a wonderfully understated reveal that it’s a joy to see. This is an act with a great command of the English language who can substitute a common word with one that combines the unexpected whilst still remaining accessible and that is pretty rare. Braithwaite did well and made the final.
We resumed after the intermission with the only first time performer of the night. He began with what sounded like it was going to be a Christmas cracker gag, but which had a splendidly visual reveal and he carried on from there, using this as the basis of his set. The toppers to this were well timed, although hit man was a tad weak. Knott was an endearing presence, having an infectious giggle and looking like he was about to start corpsing at any moment. This added a lot of ambiance to his performance and even when he ran out of material there was enough goodwill to see him through to the final. This was a good first attempt, although as 90% of the material comes from one visual thing, unless he wishes to scrap this set and start again, he is rather boxed into a corner.
Next was Phil Carr, an act who has gravity and presence and should probably be more widely known than what he is. He’s a new act, but had the room firmly with him after probably 20 seconds. He gave the room short jokes that linked together and these built up a lot of momentum. His delivery has a good rhythm that suits his material and there were some great lines. Cheat day would probably have worked just as well without the rule of three, but the special instructions really went down extremely well. Carr made it through to the final and was the worthy winner of the night.
When I saw Luck at the Maze he had impressed me and so I was looking forwards to seeing more of him. He took to the stage with a clipboard in hand, which I think is a nice touch, even if it didn’t come into play it still created a good impression for being nicely different. Luck gave the audience a selection of one-liners and these were pretty clever, too, being well thought out. There were a few that elicited groans, which could have been filed under ‘more creative than funny’, but the standard was high. I was surprised that he missed the chance of a call back to Mike chatting to Dr Andy, as this would have helped him to connect more with the audience and it would have been nice to see some links between the gags, but this was a good set. Luck was slightly hurt by following Carr, who whilst not doing one-liners had done plenty of short form jokes, as opposed to routines and he was unfortunately voted off.
Pulcella was our second one-liner comedian of the night and as it happened he was performing straight after the other one. He was extremely unlucky in this and was facing an uphill struggle from the off. Although he had a couple of jokes miss early on, Pulcella had plenty of energy and I did think that he might have worked hard enough to get by the vote, but it was not to be. Pulcella is by no means a weak act, he won the last gong show I saw him in, but sometimes the running order can make a huge difference.
We ended the middle section with Sean Heydon, not a gong show entrant, instead a professional magician who was doing a ten spot to film a show reel of close up magic. The purpose of this was for his trip to Las Vegas, where he is appearing on the Penn and Teller show and as he began by performing for Mike in the Blessington Carriage it was fitting that he filmed it here. His tricks involved decks of cards and he was amazingly dextrous with it. However, it was very hard to see what he was doing, as it was so fast paced. Heydon gave the room a running commentary, using his powerful voice instead of the microphone, but as this was delivered at the speed of someone running a meat raffle who wanted to get home early, it was still hard to follow. Heydon would probably benefit from a big screen showing close up what he was doing. He pulled off all of the tricks, but it was damned hard to follow the performance and one ended up getting the general drift, rather than the specifics of a trick.
Jones did very well last night in Sheffield, standing out for a lot of good things and tonight he continued that. His set was nicely varied, mixing a few short gags and longer routines and it managed to remain fresh throughout. This was one of those performances where because the material had such variety, five minutes seemed more like two or three. This was well paced and Jones is rather expressive with his hands when talking and this added a lot to the delivery, nicely emphasising what he was saying. He made it to the final and received a lot of support in the audience voting.
McDonald began weakly and never really recovered from that. The material about the Gorbals was probably the strongest in her set, but this was let down by her delivery which sounded more like a read through than something that she was using to try to bring people onboard with. The taxi driver material may have built up, but she wasted too much time in explaining the geographical details for her to get to the funny before she went off. If McDonald were to edit down her set to just what was funny and the bare minimum of set up and address her delivery she would do better.
Glass is a quick learner. Last night he had a good gig and he has learnt a lot from it, making the most of what went well and picking up on what could be adjusted to improve his set for tonight, although surprisingly he hadn’t kept his approach of letting the audience fill in the punchline of some jokes, which was a shame as I thought that had worked extremely well. Despite holding the microphone too low, Glass reeled the audience in quickly, letting the quality of his material do the work. There were some intelligent jokes here, all very dark, but as they are well thought out (former dad was a superb line and granddad was wonderfully unexpected as 90% of comics would have settled for dad), they went down very well indeed. There was a great callback to Mike’s compering which the audience hugely appreciated and Glass made the final. Whilst still raw and inexperienced, I suspect that there is some gold here.