Notts Comedy Review end of year round up and predictions for 2018

This has been another enjoyable year of watching live comedy. Owing to work and so on I only saw 100 or so gigs, but as always, there was a tremendous amount of quality acts on the bills. I’m still amazed that so many people who would say that they enjoy comedy only seem to want to watch it if it is a Netflix special.

Last year I saw eight male acts for every female, whereas this year it is more like six to one, which is a small improvement.

I was very pleased to do the Notts Comedy Review Awards for a third year with:

Simon Lomas getting £50 as funniest act

Stevie Gray £25 for best performance

Jamie Hutchinson £25 as most improved act

The highlights of the year have included the following:

The Elvis Dead – Rob Kemp has something magnificent here.

Panelbeaters, which unfortunately seems to have taken a break for a while, was consistently excellent, although out of the female panellists, it was only Steff Todd who managed to make the most of it.

Freddy Quinne’s solo show work up was a joy to see and the audience agreed – how often do you see someone put £20 in a bucket collection?

Stevie Gray rescuing a gig that was dying – this was a superb feat of performance.

Parapod live – this show was tremendous fun in front of a massively enthusiastic audience.

The Midland’s Comedy Awards ceremony – lovely to see so many comedians all having a lovely night and Barry Dodd’s compering was sublime.

Andy Robinson surely ticking off an item from his bucket list when the very drunken proprietor of a venue interrupted his act and tried to tell him to do what she said, stating that she was the one paying him: to which he replied that he would do what he liked as she was the one that had already paid him….

And a splendidly bonkers night in Chesterfield, where the MC got punched to the ground after asking a boxer to hit his arm, one act cunted the room, another died and stripped off naked and in a great callback to this another act began his set in his pants.

The lowlights of the year have included:

A 7-8 minute spot that morphed into a very long 20 when the act got carried away with the moment and missed the promoter flashing them until they had the house lights turned on.

One gong show entrant who spent their entire five minutes singing three songs in a row all about fannys. They followed this up in the final of the night with a fourth song about foofs.

An especially promising West Mids act having to take a step back from comedy for entirely understandable personal reasons.

The Predictions:

Acts likely to have a breakthrough year:

Simon Lomas – rather than 2017, where he’s been storming middle spots and making it hard for headliners to follow, he will be smashing opening and closing spots instead and getting a lot more industry attention.

Scott Bennett – after turning pro and gaining more time to dedicate to comedy the sky is the limit for him.

Tom Houghton – charismatic, a superb performer, solid material, can sing, excellent with a crowd – this man will go far.

And two acts from whom other comedians could learn a lot: Adam Rowe and Freddy Quinne.

Acts that will make good career progress:

Dan Tiernan, Harvey Hawkins, Hayley Ellis, Jamie Hutchinson, Julian Lee, Kathryn Mather, Mark Grimshaw, Matt Bragg, Morgan Rees, Radu Isac, Richard Massara, Steff Todd, Thomas Green.

Newcomers/inexperienced acts who have impressed:

Adam Beardsmore, Amazon Jackson, Jem Braithwaite, Phil Carr.

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Acts that impressed me the most – December

This has been a surprisingly quiet month of comedy for me. Owing to work I’ve only seen 27 acts this month. However, the quality has been superb with some amazingly good acts performing. It was very hard to separate the most impressive acts from those who deserve a honourable mention. However, these are the acts who for various reasons have made the biggest impression on me this month.

Most impressive acts:

Geoff Norcott

I don’t see a lot of Norcott; generally I only see him previewing his Edinburgh shows or through reading his political articles, so it was a real pleasure to watch him doing his set. This was a very strong performance that everyone enjoyed.

From the night:

By any measure Norcott has had an absolutely smashing year. His Edinburgh show was very well received (last year’s was a good one, too), he’s written articles for more papers than I can think of, he’s been on Question Time more than once and in a fortnight he’ll be on Live at the Apollo. He is also an act that I’ve seen three times doing Edinburgh shows, but hadn’t seen do his normal set until tonight. I was very interested in this, because I’ve always enjoyed his Edinburgh shows. Mike gave Geoff a great introduction, managing to not only build a joke out of announcing his telly achievements and get in a polite jibe at Geoff’s politics, but to also squeeze in two references to Funhouse gigs in Southwell almost all at once, which must have taken some thinking on his feet. Norcott opened by carrying on this good work and talking about what the producers of Question Time wanted from him, the nuisance that is the general public obsessed with their own parochial concerns and the tweets he received following his appearance. I liked this, but didn’t think the room was totally with him. However, after this he hit his stride and the room fully invested in his performance. Electrician was a lovely line and got a big laugh. The material about teaching was well thought out and chimed with the audience. When it came to Brexit, which can be a tricky subject if handled badly (ie, by calling 50% of the room racists or something similar), Norcott handled this very deftly by avoiding the motives of voters or the merits of the decision and discussing protest chants (fit bits was a great line) and Spain. He built up bags of momentum with this. The structure of the set had a lovely level of coherency, as he moved logically from topic to topic without any awkward pauses or lulls in the energy and this kept everyone onboard. The use an occasional pause to let the audience fill in the missing word was very well done. It was also smart of Norcott to keep the swearing down, as I think that in this room, it would have detracted from what he was saying. I’m not sure which part of this was my favourite. It’s a toss up between his dad’s comments on the Paralympics, or the cruise, which got a lot of laughs of recognition. This was a splendid performance.

Silky

This was a cracking performance and I especially admired his quick thinking.

From the night:

Closing was Silky, an act that I’d not seen before. To begin with the tech was plagued by an attack of gremlins, but rather than have a strop, prevaricate or restart, Silky just ad-libbed his way through it and simply put this was glorious. He gave an incredibly strong impression of being 2 steps ahead of everyone in the room. Silky has that combination of spotting what is occurring, thinking up a line whilst noticing it and the comic ability to bring this together to create mirth; something not easily mastered. There was a courting couple whose inhibitions had loosened, which when mixed with a total inability to whisper in any way which wouldn’t be heard 2 miles away could have made things awkward, but it was handled beautifully. Silky suggested that they go somewhere else and begin work on conception, which brought the house down and this was followed up by some lovely jokes which worked the oracle in getting them to pay attention without being harsh or losing anyone. This was a set with a lot of room work and this gave the performance a huge feel of being laid on especially for that audience and it was a very powerful to experience. It was hard to spot what was an ad-libbed line and what was actually material modified slightly to account for the room. I’ve seen acts hold audiences through the fear of being spoken to, but with Silky, he held the room through respect for his art and a shared interest in what he was doing. The set was ended by three songs and I’m not that huge a fan of musical comedy, but even so, it was as pleasure to watch him at work. This was a magnificent set from a comedian who is absolutely razor sharp.

Thomas Green

How this comedian doesn’t have a bigger profile is a mystery to me.

From the night:

Headlining was the Australian Viking lookalike Thomas Green, an act who really should be better known in the industry than what he is. I think he’s a smashing act who matches natural charisma to a buoyant delivery, good material and a razor sharp awareness of the audience. However, for some reason he’s not got the name recognition of acts that are far less talented than him. By the time he came to the stage two of the drunken teachers had gone way beyond their personal tipping point and were interrupting on such a level that he could not only get away with telling paying audience members to shut the f*** up, but thrive on it. I think a lot of acts would have been content to have just got through twenty minutes of interruptions, but remarkably Green built up loads of momentum. Partly this was because he has changed his stage persona. Previously he was a more affable presence, whereas tonight he had adopted a higher status and more abrasive and edgy persona, being quick witted with his comments and occasional put downs when talking with the audience. Sometimes giving a mild insult to someone slow on the uptake can be risky, but Green has enough charm and is funny enough to do it well. This was a set where there was a lot of audience interaction, some unwelcome, such as with the drunks, but a lot of it welcomed in the form of answers to questions and queries and throughout all of this Green was firmly in control and command of the room. This set, barring 30 seconds of material was a brand new 20 and it’s a very good one. This was a cracking performance from someone who I think could go a long way in comedy.

Tom Houghton

A superb act who is well on his way.

From the night:

Owing to an act unavoidably having to drop out, Houghton was offered the extra stage time and by heck was that a good shout by Mike. Houghton has probably one of the poshest backgrounds on the circuit and sometimes an act having had a privileged upbringing can alienate an audience, but in Tom’s case he has both boyish good looks and absolutely bags of charisma and this totally disarms any possible resentment towards him. Tonight he bounded onto the stage full of energy, looking bright and bubbly and within 10 seconds he had won the room over. In addition to this charisma is a huge talent for performance. Houghton really pushes his material to the audience, investing almost every line with an action, be it a movement of an arm, a dance or a direct look at someone sat near the front. This certainly brings the room into his set. The same can be said of his choice of accent for a farmer. Most comics would have gone with a generic West Country accent, but in a fit of genius, Tom went Cockney Villain and this ramped up the laughter no end as he acted out the scene. The material, probably 60% of which was new to me from when I saw him last (an act having that much new first class material so soon is impressive in itself), was absolutely sound. It was all strong stuff. It isn’t often that you see any audience having a singalong whilst someone on the front row is hugged. This was a magnificent set.

Honourable Mentions:

Chris Norton-Walker, Dominic Holland, Jed Salisbury, Rosco McClelland, Sean Percival,

Southwell – George Zach, Tom Houghton and Geoff Norcott

There is a regular Funhouse gig on the second Thursday of every month here at the Admiral Rodney, but this was a special one squeezed in between Christmas and the New Year and as such there was an element of illicit joy in being here, when we normally wouldn’t. Holiday season gigs can cut both ways, with either no one being interested or instead, people being more than happy to escape out of the house and go and do something. Tonight it worked out very well with pretty much a full house. At first Spiky Mike drew a couple of blanks when chatting to the audience, finding a chap who worked in IT and then a lady who taught disabled children and initially it wasn’t looking that promising when he spoke to a business lawyer from Belgium who had picked Southwell as an unlikely holiday destination. However, Mike managed to get some good laughs from him and certainly found the funny in him visiting relatives here. Very quickly we were ready for our opening act.

George Zach

I’d not seen Zach before and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. He began by talking about his accent, which was wise, as otherwise a fair percentage of the audience would likely enough have spent a lot of his set trying to guess where he was from. Following this he launched into his set and initially I found it strangely hard to focus on what he was saying. My attention seemed to keep wandering away from him and I think this was because I didn’t find his early material that compelling. Zach got a good laugh from the audience for plates, but it would be nice, just once, to hear a comedian with a connection to Greece not doing a plate smashing gag. When it came to the routine about the British Museum, this set came to life in a big way for me. This was a superb routine that Zach sold extremely well. I also thoroughly enjoyed the pay off on the two people routine and that definitely deserved more applause than it received. This was a set that I enjoyed, but not as much as the rest of the room, who were really into it.

Tom Houghton

Owing to an act unavoidably having to drop out, Houghton was offered the extra stage time and by heck was that a good shout by Mike. Houghton has probably one of the poshest backgrounds on the circuit and sometimes an act having had a privileged upbringing can alienate an audience, but in Tom’s case he has both boyish good looks and absolutely bags of charisma and this totally disarms any possible resentment towards him. Tonight he bounded onto the stage full of energy, looking bright and bubbly and within 10 seconds he had won the room over. In addition to this charisma is a huge talent for performance. Houghton really pushes his material to the audience, investing almost every line with an action, be it a movement of an arm, a dance or a direct look at someone sat near the front. This certainly brings the room into his set. The same can be said of his choice of accent for a farmer. Most comics would have gone with a generic West Country accent, but in a fit of genius, Tom went Cockney Villain and this ramped up the laughter no end as he acted out the scene. The material, probably 60% of which was new to me from when I saw him last (an act having that much new first class material so soon is impressive in itself), was absolutely sound. It was all strong stuff. It isn’t often that you see any audience having a singalong whilst someone on the front row is hugged. This was a magnificent set.

Geoff Norcott

By any measure Norcott has had an absolutely smashing year. His Edinburgh show was very well received (last year’s was a good one, too), he’s written articles for more papers than I can think of, he’s been on Question Time more than once and in a fortnight he’ll be on Live at the Apollo. He is also an act that I’ve seen three times doing Edinburgh shows, but hadn’t seen do his normal set until tonight. I was very interested in this, because I’ve always enjoyed his Edinburgh shows. Mike gave Geoff a great introduction, managing to not only build a joke out of announcing his telly achievements and get in a polite jibe at Geoff’s politics, but to also squeeze in two references to Funhouse gigs in Southwell almost all at once, which must have taken some thinking on his feet. Norcott opened by carrying on this good work and talking about what the producers of Question Time wanted from him, the nuisance that is the general public obsessed with their own parochial concerns and the tweets he received following his appearance. I liked this, but didn’t think the room was totally with him. However, after this he hit his stride and the room fully invested in his performance. Electrician was a lovely line and got a big laugh. The material about teaching was well thought out and chimed with the audience. When it came to Brexit, which can be a tricky subject if handled badly (ie, by calling 50% of the room racists or something similar), Norcott handled this very deftly by avoiding the motives of voters or the merits of the decision and discussing protest chants (fit bits was a great line) and Spain. He built up bags of momentum with this. The structure of the set had a lovely level of coherency, as he moved logically from topic to topic without any awkward pauses or lulls in the energy and this kept everyone onboard. The use an occasional pause to let the audience fill in the missing word was very well done. It was also smart of Norcott to keep the swearing down, as I think that in this room, it would have detracted from what he was saying. I’m not sure which part of this was my favourite. It’s a toss up between his dad’s comments on the Paralympics, or the cruise, which got a lot of laughs of recognition. This was a splendid performance.

Southwell, Sean Percival, Roger Swift, Peter McCole and Dominic Holland

Tonight I took my mum and dad to Southwell to the Funhouse Comedy Night. I was especially interested in them seeing Roger Swift as it is an experience, but naturally the rest of the bill was also an attractive prospect, too. The seating had been slightly rearranged to give a better view of the stage and at first I thought that that might have been done to make Roger’s props more visible, but on reflection, I think it may have been done to fit more customers in, as this was a sold out gig. It was nice to see Nick Mellors there with a party of friends, but the star of the audience was a deaf James Brown lookalike called Denny, who was very funny in his own right. Mike had a lot of fun chatting to him and very quickly the room was up for the comedy. In addition to the show, there was also a charity collection for the Homeless, which was well supported by the audience.

Sean Percival

Opening was Sean Percival who continued his 100% record of smashing every room I’ve seen him perform in. He came to the stage and immediately started in top gear and he bounded through his set, building up no end of momentum. There was a lot of laughter and the room thoroughly enjoyed him. I really appreciated his audience work with Denise who was sat on the front row, who is now the owner of a new nickname. This was a very good set that was delivered with lots of energy.

Roger Swift

We resumed after the intermission with Roger Swift, who tonight didn’t so much split the room as polarise it. Normally there is a middle who would quietly enjoy the performance, but not tonight; it was all one or the other. Some people were laughing at what he was wearing before he had even begun and this section of the crowd were with him. They enjoyed his set immensely, laughing at the jokes, with the prop gags getting bigger laughs than the puns. The other half of the room, surprisingly for such a comedy literate audience, didn’t ever seem to get what the set was about, missing the irony and staying resolutely miserable. This was a bit odd, as there are some great gags in this set and I’ve seen it slay rooms before. However, the audience here is quite senior and I do wonder if that might have been a factor in there not being enough people going with it for Roger to get to critical mass. I enjoyed watching Swift and so did my mum. Whilst Roger was putting his props away he managed to smash the glass of a woman who hadn’t enjoyed his set, making it even less likely that he would ever get a Christmas card from her.

Peter McCole

McCole was a radical change of pace to the swiftly moving Roger and the energetic delivery of Percival, but this didn’t do him any harm. He opened by chatting a bit about where he was from, which owing to the Monopoly analogy was easily tangible. He then followed this by two pretty long stories. These were both very well thought out, with lots of little laughs along the way before they built up to a climax and received big laughs. McCole held the room easily whilst telling them and I was especially impressed by his tone of voice on ‘really?‘ which sold that line extremely well. He did have a bit of a tic in saying ‘right’ a lot, which is something to perhaps think about. McCole gave the room a good show, working in some very nice callbacks to Roger’s performance and received big laughs. In a nice move, which I don’t think he knows I saw, on his way out, he put a tenner into the charity collection, which I think was a lovely thing for him to do.

Dominic Holland

Headlining was Dominic Holland, who had had a superb gig when I last saw him in Ashby. The audience in Southwell are never rude, but can sometimes get lively and tonight they were lively. When Holland took to the stage he opened with a few intelligent comments about the venue and then mentioned that it had taken him 4-5 hours to drive there, which immediately resulted in a shout of ‘Tha should have got a train, youth!’ This was then answered by someone on the other side of the room who pointed out that there wasn’t a station in Southwell. Whilst this was occurring Holland stood, mouth comically open, rotating so that the room could take in his expression. He managed to nail a look of surprise, despair and a request to be beamed up all in one, which went down a storm. This was then followed by a set that was wonderfully dry, sarcastic, tightly written and splendidly performed. I thought that the way he discussed his eldest sons career was funnier in Ashby, where his most well known job was kept till last, but considering just how famous Tom now is,I doubt that it would still work that way, as the surprise is no longer there. Holland mixed his material with some very powerful room work and this kept everything fresh and moving. Probably the highlight of the set and indeed of the night, was when Holland was wrapping up, discussing the show and his 4-5 hour journey back down South. As soon as he mentioned his journey time, his friend from earlier informed him, ‘Tha should have took that train!’ which got both laughter and applause. This was a brilliant performance.

Canal House, Graham Milton, Matt Hoss, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Jem Braithwaite, Jack Shanik, Phil Carr, Thomas Green and Rob Coleman (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the final NCF £1 comedy night of the year. Numbers weren’t bad, but were down on what was expected, as a few people had booked and then not turned up. Unfortunately for all concerned the front row was largely made up of some teachers on a night out. They were originally merry, but got drunker as the night went on and generally made life difficult for the acts by doing a loud running commentary throughout sets. There was a lot of satisfaction when the headline act, Thomas Green, descended on them like an Ofsted inspector from hell and told them to shut the f*** up. These people aside, this was a lovely night.

Rob Coleman (MC)

Coleman had a night of two halves. To begin with the audience wasn’t that helpful in providing him with anything that was easy to make funny and every conversation seemed isolated from the others. He got laughs, but there wasn’t a lot of atmosphere being built. However, in the second section he spoke to Grace who gave him a lot to work with, a man with spectacular hair and even better was one chap who unwisely confessed to not having washed his hands after visiting the loo. Coleman got a fair bit out of these three, which added to the ambiance. I think that Rob might have fared better in the first section if he had done more material, but he obviously wasn’t to know that no one on the first (and visible) couple of rows would be comedically interesting. Coleman didn’t do too badly all the same, he did the rules, plugged the next few nights and kept things to schedule.

Graham Milton

It’s been quite a while since I’d last seen Milton and so it was nice to see him on the bill. Tonight he was doing new material. His downbeat and world weary approach struck a chord with the room and he tried out four or five routines. Two of these concerned his cock, which gave it a bit of an imbalance, but this was new material, so that’s not massively important. A few of the set ups were a bit wordy, but this will no doubt be ironed out. Living room VCRs and porn have been covered a fair few times by comedians aged 30 and over, so it was nice to see a new take on it. The final reveal on that was splendid. I was rather surprised that Home Alone didn’t get referenced during the set up, though. Scurvy was more of an observation than a finished article, but again, that can be honed. The final routine, about a massage built very nicely, but would have benefited from a bigger ending. This was a nicely delivered set and I’ll be very interested to see what he does with the material.

Matt Hoss

Next was Matt Hoss, who whenever I see him normally seems to get mixed up in some kind of fiasco, whether it be misjudging a high five and crashing through a table, smashing a light with a mic stand or following a patchy audience reception stripping off naked on stage. I’m sure that he was beginning to think that I was some kind of performance Jonah. I’m happy to say that he’s broken that string of bad luck and that he had a good gig tonight. In fact it was the best I’ve ever seen him. The reason behind this was partly that his set featured a lot of audience interaction and this brought everyone onboard and created a good atmosphere. There were still a few things that could have been improved, such as him doing a few jokes before announcing his degree, as this would have given it more credibility. The tweets were good, but the 9/11 one was a bit bald and would have been better if he’d made a funny comment about it. As ever, the final one was a bit predictable and I’d like to see a rethink on the sender to make it someone totally unexpected. Hoss did well and received good laughs from the audience, with everyone enjoying his set.

Jeanette Bird-Bradley

We resumed after the intermission JBB who was doing new material. This got off to a false start when a mobile phone rang loudly on the second row, with the owner having no idea how to silence it, but as JBB is unflappable, this didn’t mess her set up. She began with some nicely seasonal material about how she is turning into her mum, which went down well and this led nicely into a routine about hoovering. This was quite promising, but needed a bigger ending – possibly if she did do her neighbour’s flat, too, that might lead into one, especially if she were to do the routine about having elderly neighbours during the same set. The baby pigeon was a very nice one liner and she delivered it with the exact level of dismissal and this might have got the biggest laugh of her set. The final routine was quite a lengthy affair, travelling from stink bombs to gangland, through a South African advert. This was new material, so I can imagine it getting edited down quite dramatically to maintain the momentum of her set. This was a fun performance.

Jem Braithwaite

Next was the Midlands Comedy Awards New Comedian of the Year, Jem Braithwaite, who was well supported by friends in the audience. However, although their laughter helped to create a good atmosphere, the entire room (barring the four teachers at the front) were fully behind Braithwaite and he received consistent big laughs throughout. It was fun watching him trying not to corpse, which he more or less succeeded in keeping at bay. His delivery felt a touch more polished than when I last saw him and it’s nice to see improvement in a good act. I did think that he might have been better with a brown cloak for one of the gags, but that’s a minor point and there is room for a nice visual touch if he were to hold the mic in one hand and dangle the cable from his other when talking about a puppet. This was a very enjoyable set.

Jack Shanik

Shanik took to the stage wearing jazzy trousers and immediately stood out. He began with some nicely tangible bald jokes, from which slid got the biggest laugh. These were then followed by a few more gags, some of which were ruined by the now drunken teachers who received some very good put downs. The box is a splendid idea and it worked well – possibly having the audience pick a piece of paper, read it out and then pass the box on one would work even better in bringing everyone in, although I can imagine it would mean a lot of hassle in re-writing the unreturned slips. A lot of these jokes were very clever, such as Phoenix and Prince Harry, but were under appreciated by the audience. Cinders was a good joke, but due to the demise of coal fires probably only people over 40 were thinking along those lines and everyone younger probably guessed the correct direction he was going in rather quickly. Towards the end of his set Shanik chatted a bit with the audience and this went very well. I’m wondering if he had done more of that at the top whether he’d have formed a quicker bond with the room. There was a lot to like in this set.

Phil Carr

We began the final section with Carr, who was on his 14th gig. I doubt whether anyone in the room would have believed that. He has the presence and authority of a much more established act. As you’d expect with such a new act, the set was largely the same, albeit with some nicely promising new bits. Despite having seen him three times in short succession, I still really enjoyed it and I can see him doing well with his good material and well paced delivery. Out of all of the acts tonight he was one of the few who wasn’t messed around by the drunks on the front row. Keeping their attention was no mean feat. This was a performance that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Thomas Green

Headlining was the Australian Viking lookalike Thomas Green, an act who really should be better known in the industry than what he is. I think he’s a smashing act who matches natural charisma to a buoyant delivery, good material and a razor sharp awareness of the audience. However, for some reason he’s not got the name recognition of acts that are far less talented than him. By the time he came to the stage two of the drunken teachers had gone way beyond their personal tipping point and were interrupting on such a level that he could not only get away with telling paying audience members to shut the f*** up, but thrive on it. I think a lot of acts would have been content to have just got through twenty minutes of interruptions, but remarkably Green built up loads of momentum. Partly this was because he has changed his stage persona. Previously he was a more affable presence, whereas tonight he had adopted a higher status and more abrasive and edgy persona, being quick witted with his comments and occasional put downs when talking with the audience. Sometimes giving a mild insult to someone slow on the uptake can be risky, but Green has enough charm and is funny enough to do it well. This was a set where there was a lot of audience interaction, some unwelcome, such as with the drunks, but a lot of it welcomed in the form of answers to questions and queries and throughout all of this Green was firmly in control and command of the room. This set, barring 30 seconds of material was a brand new 20 and it’s a very good one. This was a cracking performance from someone who I think could go a long way in comedy.

Notts Comedy Review awards for 2017

These are only open to non-pro acts and this year there are three categories:

Funniest act (£50 prize)

Best performance (£25 prize)

Most improved act (£25 prize)

The prize money will be remitted through paypal or in cash when I see the act.

I have excluded pro acts because I want this to be a nice little bonus for those acts who don’t (yet) earn their living through performing comedy. Previous winners are also excluded, as it’s not fair on others to award prizes to the same performers.

Funniest act (£50 prize)

This was initially a two horse race and for a while it was looking like I’d have to declare it a draw and double the prize money as it was so hard to choose between them. There are two acts who have smashed every gig I’ve seen them at and I’ve probably seen them half a dozen times each and such consistency is fantastic. One of them, Scott Bennett, has turned pro and so is unfortunately ineligible, but the other, although the biggest rising star of the circuit is still semi-pro. Simon Lomas wins £50 as the funniest act.

Best performance (£25 prize)

I considered two acts for this: Rob Kemp and Stevie Gray. With The Elvis Dead, Rob Kemp has developed a masterpiece, but what makes it work is his performance. He is massively committed to the role and gives it his all. How he’s not broke a few ribs I’ll never know. In addition to this he pitches it just right and the result has been a cult hit. When I’ve seen the show, he has been performing it in front of a polite, well mannered and very up for it audience and whilst this doesn’t take anything away from his skills, it does make things more conducive. In contrast I saw Stevie Gray at what was an awful gig. The MC was inexperienced, the room was large with open curtains, the first act, good as he is, was too low energy to bring people into it and the audience (comedy first timers) was dreadful. There were only a handful of people in a space that could hold forty or so. They were spread out, the people at the back just chatted amongst themselves a lot, I think someone had some food arrive and in short, through a perfect storm of circumstances, it was looking likely that at the intermission people would leave and not bother coming back. Most nights can survive a few of these factors, but all of them combined made it a terrible atmosphere. I believe Gray was down to close the gig, but instead he volunteered to go on second and through hard work, force of personality and sheer performance he saved the gig and made it playable. This means that Stevie Gray wins the Best Performance award.

Most improved act (£25 prize)

This was between Daniel Triscott who has been making great strides in becoming a stronger act and Jamie Hutchinson, who whilst already a good act has moved up several gears. Whilst Triscott has improved and is definitely far better, the scale of improvement I witnessed the last time I saw Hutchinson was simply amazing. His new style of delivery was superb, his material much more powerful and as a result, his performance was fantastic. Jamie Hutchinson gets the award for Most Improved Act.

Previous winners can be found here and here

Ashby – Duncan Oakley, Rosco McClelland, Clint Edwards and Paul Sinha

Tonight I was in Ashby for the Funhouse comedy night at the Lyric Rooms. As usual the night was pretty much sold out and anyone arriving late would have been hard pushed to find a seat, especially if they arrived in a group. Mike had fun compering, enquiring about how people’s Christmas shopping was going, but he really hit his stride with a chap who was a member of a barber’s shop singing troupe. He was one of sixty five members of Grand Central Chorus and a former Elvis impersonator, so in the second section, Mike had him up on stage to sing a minute or so of an Elvis song, which soon had everyone waving their arms aloft and joining in.

Duncan Oakley

We opened with Duncan Oakley, who is a solid and dependable act. He is also a comic whose set shows imagination, is tightly worded, he has visual gags and some great asides. This is a very technically adept performance. I enjoyed his opening and his tease with the guitar, the short jokes were very funny and his crowd work was impressive. What I wasn’t so keen on, personally, was the musical side (flamenco seemed a bit too long for my taste), but then I’ve never been a huge fan of music or musical comedy. However, I can certainly admire someone who can do it so well and Oakley is top notch at it. This was a good set that went down very well with the audience.

Rosco McClelland

We resumed after the intermission with Glaswegian Rosco McClelland, who was a lively and affable presence. This was only a short ten spot and I’d like to have seen more. His material concerned trips to Ireland and Australia, marriage, meat, some room work and prop gags. This was a fast moving set that covered a lot of ground and stayed fresh. On the downside, because he didn’t seem to spend too long on any subject (not easy in ten minutes, admittedly) a lot of the topics felt like we were being given a snapshot, rather than all he might have had to say about them and I’d like to have heard more about a few of them. His actions in miming kicking and batting when delivering a couple of knowingly cheesy gags helped to sell them and even if this is used by a few too many comics to make them fresh they added to him building momentum. This was a nicely buoyant performance that everyone enjoyed and I’m sure we’ll see more of him down here.

Clint Edwards

Next was Clint Edwards, whom I last saw at a tricky gig in Grantham. He began by checking the demographics of the room, asking for cheers from various groups and whilst this wasn’t hugely funny in itself (although the end joke worked well), it certainly built up the energy levels. The material was well thought out and luckily he kept the sections involving porn and drugs until after he had established himself with the room, as the audience here doesn’t always seem that up for those topics from the off. Although having said that, despite its timely nature, I’m not sure they were fully with him for the routine about consent. Of his material, I especially enjoyed the various tests that he had undertaken, as this was totally fresh as a topic. BBC was also strong and generated a nice round of applause for him. I also appreciated the callback to drop down. It was nice to see that Edwards had been listening to the previous performances, as he knew who was sat where and was able to talk to these people by name. The closing routine was a definite joy and Edwards delivered this wonderfully, dropping his voice and taking his time with it, which built up a lot of comedic tension. There was a bit of a feel of a suppressed weekend club set in this performance (lots of cheering, porn and drugs, etc), but that is to take nothing away from it. This was a very good performance.

Paul Sinha

We closed the night with Pail Sinha, who is possibly one of the most patient and generous minded artists I’ve seen – he allowed quite a few people to take selfies with him before he went on, when most comics would be busy getting themselves into gear. When he took to the stage he quickly had the room within his grasp. He began with a bit of material about being on The Chase, which ticked that box for people who had come to see him through having watched him on it and as it was all very funny, this helped to demonstrate to anyone else that he was performing through merit, rather on the strength of his fame. This was an intelligent and largely autobiographical set with some superb lines, such as Nostradamus. Although the line that received the biggest laugh was an ad-lib when Mike went to get him a glass of water and Sinha described him as being a ‘badly dressed ninja’, which the entire room enthusiastically got behind. There was a nice sprinkling of new material in this set and there wasn’t anything that felt as if it hadn’t been thoroughly considered before inclusion. The banter/sex comment received a lovely round of applause. This performance was delivered with sincerity and in addition to being funny, rather uplifting, too.

Bluey’s – Billy Lowther, Jed Salisbury, Silky and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was back at Bluey’s for the FaF Promotions comedy night. This is a lovely night in a very friendly pub – the sort of place where you feel welcome from the moment you step inside to when you leave – and obviously a lot of people agree with that, as there were plenty of people there to see the show. One could definitely tell that it was coming up to Christmas as there was a tree next to the stage and I had to struggle not to be mesmerised by the flashing lights on it. I was lucky enough to have the landlady, Leonie sat next to me and she’s the ideal audience member – she enjoys comedy, doesn’t heckle and has the sort of loud and infectious laugh that she could rent out to less entertaining nights. As an added bonus, parking was also a doddle.
 
 
Steff Todd (MC)
 
It’s nice to see Todd compering. She comes to the stage with energy, enthusiasm and a lot of charm. She also has written enough one-liners to give her a fighting chance of having something to counter anything that is said, too. A nice bonus to this are her impressions, which add a nice touch of variety to what she does and this could be expanded. Todd is a very endearing presence and she has no end of little actions that she will do to sell what she is saying. There were, however, a few things that I felt that she could have done differently tonight, which might have helped her, but they all come under the one heading and that is verbal repetition. It’s not the end of the world when the MC has a few favourite things to say and I was most likely the only person to really notice most of it, but for someone who is so obviously equally talented and on the way up in the world it’s nice to see them be the best they can be. The phrases that stood out were ‘right’, ‘my friend’, ‘like your style’ and variations on ‘fuck’. All of these were overused (some more than others); worse things happen at sea by far, but it’s just something to consider. I’d also like to see Todd not say that she’s there to talk shit, I’m sure that is part of the persona, but I felt that it did slightly devalue the good work that she was doing. The crowd were lively with Nev (picture a well built Lenny Sherman) playing a large role in proceedings, but she handled them well and had the room quickly settled. I enjoyed the game of who had to be up earliest as this was novel and it brought the audience into the night. Those minor suggestions do make this review sound slightly negative, but far from it. This was a good performance that everyone enjoyed.
 
 
Billy Lowther
 
Opening was Billy Lowther, who is one of my favourite acts. He not only is an eye catching presence, but he has a rock solid set that he delivers in a grandiose style. Tonight he was demonstrating a set that contained quite a lot of new material and it was as finely honed and crafted as anything I’ve seen him do – gym was superb. Within three minutes Lowther received his first round of applause and he continued getting them throughout his set. Not only were the individual jokes strong, but they were well constructed, too, with toppers and just enough of a pause to ensure that they hit home as hard as they could. It was lovely hearing people still laughing at the jokes long after they’d been told. This was a smashing set.
 
 
 
We resumed after the intermission with Jed Salisbury whom I last saw a few years ago at a horrible charity gig in Lincoln. Salisbury was originally down to do a ten spot, but owing to various issues he ended up doing a twenty and he didn’t look out of place in the least. There was no feeling of his set being a ten padded out to twenty, or a first rate ten followed by a slightly patchy ten: instead it was consistently good all the way through and I’m surprised that I’m not seeing him getting more opening spots. Jed hit the room like a ball of energy, making a big entrance and getting everyone shouting, building up no end of atmosphere and all before he even touched the mic. As the second Hull based act of the night, I did have a slight concern that material based on Hull had already been ticked off on the list, but Salisbury has gigged with Lowther enough to be aware of this and so he took his set in a different direction. This was just as well, because both of them have the same build and dress not too dissimilarly (a fact that was alluded to later in the set when it came to parentage) and so if they had anything that was similar in the way of jokes, it would be even harder to pull off. The Brighthouse material was nicely contemporary and without coming close to losing the humour, also probably educational. The Jesus material was clever and I thoroughly enjoyed the big ending. This was a very good set from an act who has really come on well since I last saw him.
 
 
Silky
 
Closing was Silky, an act that I’d not seen before. To begin with the tech was plagued by an attack of gremlins, but rather than have a strop, prevaricate or restart, Silky just ad-libbed his way through it and simply put this was glorious. He gave an incredibly strong impression of being 2 steps ahead of everyone in the room. Silky has that combination of spotting what is occurring, thinking up a line whilst noticing it and the comic ability to bring this together to create mirth; something not easily mastered. There was a courting couple whose inhibitions had loosened, which when mixed with a total inability to whisper in any way which wouldn’t be heard 2 miles away could have made things awkward, but it was handled beautifully. Silky suggested that they go somewhere else and begin work on conception, which brought the house down and this was followed up by some lovely jokes which worked the oracle in getting them to pay attention without being harsh or losing anyone. This was a set with a lot of room work and this gave the performance a huge feel of being laid on especially for that audience and it was a very powerful to experience. It was hard to spot what was an ad-libbed line and what was actually material modified slightly to account for the room. I’ve seen acts hold audiences through the fear of being spoken to, but with Silky, he held the room through respect for his art and a shared interest in what he was doing. The set was ended by three songs and I’m not that huge a fan of musical comedy, but even so, it was as pleasure to watch him at work. This was a magnificent set from a comedian who is absolutely razor sharp.

The Remarkable Hare – Roger Swift, Mrs No Overall, Chris Norton-Walker and Marshall B Anderson (host)

In the Summer a run to Matlock is quite pleasurable, as one can take in the views as you amble up and down the country lanes and hillsides. On a dark November snowy night that drive turns into a major arsehole (made worse on the way home by a diversion), but all the same I’m glad that I went. The venue itself is easy to walk by, but once you find it, it’s very welcoming. Owing to a double-booking the WI had the function room and the comedy was in the front room of the pub. This was frustrating, but with the bar closed and the music off, the coal fire and intimacy of the smaller room didn’t hurt the night at all. This was the third ever gig here and I’m hoping that they have more, as this could be really nice. The bill perhaps wasn’t quite as balanced as it could be, as we had a prop gag one-liner comic opening and a one-liner comedian closing and the middle act had a few prop gags, but in fairness, the gaps between the one-liners and the lack of props used by the closer mitigated this imbalance.

Marshall B Anderson (host)

As the audience wasn’t huge on this snowy and generally unpleasant night, Anderson warmed the room up with some early Christmas material, which was close enough to December to work. I especially enjoyed the line about Eastenders as it contained a lot of truth and it’s entirely possible that there is a small routine just in that. The politics I could take or leave. The joke was fine, but it did stray a bit into making a point rather than being hugely funny. Very soon the room was ready for Roger to appear.

Roger Swift

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Swift. Certainly prior to Edinburgh and so it was lovely to see lots of little improvements to his performance. He was smoother with the props and had got them arranged so that they flowed more easily than before. There was also some impressive attention to detail in evidence, such as the tattoo on ‘Dave’. Small crowds don’t always suit Swift as sometimes people seem a bit reluctant to laugh at first and the asides don’t always land as well. Tonight he spent the first couple of minutes winning the audience over, but he pretty quickly had them with him, even if one chap seemed to be a bit hot and cold at times. There were laughs, groans, cheers and a brief sing-along to The lion sleeps tonight. Roger had brought his telly with him for some of the gags and this worked extremely well in breaking up the twenty and kept things fresh. I did worry for the telly, as it seemed to wobble a lot on the stool and I probably wasn’t the only person who felt quite relieved when he took it off at the end. There was a moment where the photo of a rancid scone was left on the screen whilst Roger did more gags and that seemed to be an unfortunate backdrop – perhaps that could be flicked on one to a sign saying ‘5 more minutes only’ or something else deprecating? Out of the new gags, Sorry and Porridge were a lovely pairing and the leper joke was superb. There was a possibly tricky moment where Swift set up a gag for a prop that wasn’t there, but he handled this very well and the audience might even have thought it was scripted. The pub definitely enjoyed this performance and it was an experience and a joy for all to see.

Mrs No Overall

We resumed after the intermission with Mrs No Overall who to begin with seemed to fall between being a character and a novelty act. She took to the stage festooned in cleaning equipment and then danced to a jazzed up version of the theme from a Space Odyssey, throwing dusters about and pulling scourers and brushes out from her top and stripping down to a leotard. This was definitely a unique way of starting a set, but unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of comedy in it. Also, although she kept it decent, I’m far from convinced that acts taking off clothing, even as a gimmick, is the way forwards – anyone walking in would have wondered just what sort of act had been booked. This was followed by a few prop gags, which weren’t helped by the door to the WI annual dinner being opened and some horrible noise bleed. However, this did lead to the highlight of the set when for comedy effect she shouted at them to shut up, thinking no one was there and got quite a meek ‘sorry’ come back. There were a few jokes, but if I were to tell that they involved Subway and a 6” and a 12” you can probably guess which way they were heading. The room was keener on her than I was. There was quite a bit of dead time where she didn’t say a lot in between sections and that time could have been filled with material to add to the pace of the jokes. There is also a huge requirement for a proper ending, or any ending to her set, as it seemed to finish all of a sudden without any definitive closing. Perhaps since she started with music, ending with a musical gag might work? Although this wasn’t an act that I enjoyed, Mrs No Overall was good with talking to the audience and perhaps adding more of that to the set would help. It’s possible that she may be stronger as a compere than as an act.

Chris Norton-Walker

We closed with one of the biggest personalities you’ll see in any room, Chris Norton-Walker. CNW has changed his style from doing lots of crowd work to one-liners – or more accurately reverted to this, as I believe that is how he started and I can understand why. Jokes will work in any room, and having the ability to get a lot from the audience if need be is a wonderful plan B should it be required. CNW hit the ground running with a few solid fast jokes to establish his credibility and this worked very well and he built up momentum. There were some smart jokes here and this meant that every so often there would be a lovely delay whilst a few people got them. 4 star was my personal favourite of the set, being delivered with panache and quickly enough that no one had a chance to fill in the reveal themselves, although having said that scrap heap challenge was also strong. There was a great moment when one chap suggested another punchline to a joke so CNW retold the joke with that person’s suggestion to a lot of sarcastic laughter and there was a bit of an odd moment when a bloke who’d been a bit hot and cold in Roger’s set got involved and then tried to pull back out of it. There was also a possible chance for a callback to stage diving which may make a nice addition. This was a very entertaining set. There are a fair few one-liner comedians out there and there are also a few acts who do a lot of audience work. However, there aren’t many who are in a position to combine the two and this could make Chris Norton-Walker stand out very well indeed.