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.
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.
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.
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.