Book Review – The day that never comes by Caimh McDonnell

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Sequels are a tricky business. This is true of films, tv series and books. The general rule seems to be that in the first instalment of a work a group of disparate individuals are forged into a winning team that succeeds in saving the world/finding treasure/righting a wrong, but come part two and they have gone their separate ways and the band needs to be put back together. I’m not a huge fan of this as it is seldom done with any joy, but McDonnell has managed to pull it off with this work. He has made it work both as a work of literature and as something that is a happy reading experience.

Considering just how superb his first book was, he was going to be hard pressed to produce anything as magnificent. I am a massive fan of his first book, A man with one of those Faces, as he got everything right and produced a masterpiece. Whilst this isn’t perhaps as perfect as that work and to be honest, matching it would be nigh on impossible, this is still a fantastic book. As before, the characterisation is spot on. Everyone is believable and feels plausible as a real person, being fully fleshed out, even if they only play a bit part. The observational asides really strike a chime and the scenes are drawn in such a way that you feel as if you are sat there in the midst of the action. Above all, though, the humour isn’t too heavily laid on. There are a lot of strong laughs in this book, but these don’t come at the expense of readability or plausibility. The prose is lovely to read.

The plot is coherent and doesn’t involve any leaps of logic; things build naturally and without any kind of feeling of artificialness, despite everything tying up in a way that must be seldom as neat in real life. The main characters behave as they did in the first book and whilst people have moved on in their lives they haven’t become totally different characters, exhibiting traits that seem unimaginable.

One unusual thing about this book is that there is an odd typo on pg 21, where ‘wapping’ is used instead of whopping, which considering how many times it was probably read through and checked before printing did well to make it into print. Not the end of the world at all and if that’s the only slightly negative thing in a book, then I think most authors will be chuffed.

This is a cracking book and whilst I’d recommend everyone to read A man with one of those Faces first, this isn’t one to miss, either.

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The Blessington Carriage – Death (Matt West), Adam Muscat, John James, Tony Cowards (new material), Oscar Roberts, Craig Dixon, Ryan Mold, Gareth Knight, Dan Tiernan and Scott Bennett (new material)

 

Tonight I was at my second strong gong show in two nights. It was the Funhouse comedy gong show at the Blessington Carriage, where on a cold and dismal January night a nicely sized crowd had assembled. One of the best things about this venue is the regular audience members. They have a great mix of being thoroughly decent people, welcoming to new folk and above all, up for comedy and this makes for a great time. Tonight Mike had a lot of fun chatting with a forklift instructor and a young prison office who almost unbelievably hadn’t heard of Porridge.

Death (Matt West)

We opened the show with a character act. Matt West made his way to the stage as Death, dressed in hooded robe, carrying a scythe in his gloved hands. He certainly looked and sounded the part. However, the superb Rob Mulholland has played Death as part of the Panelbeaters show in that room several times and has more or less made the role his own, so I suspected that West was going to have to work very hard to overcome that. West began well by wrong footing the audience and then he began a monologue that to begin with was funny in parts, but not the whole. He got some good giggles for this, but having his face cowled made it very hard for him to form any bond with the audience, which is doubly unfortunate in a vote based competition. Death may have warmed up if he had been kept on longer and we may have seen some stronger material, but as it was, he was an early gonging, prompting Spiky Mike to announce that Death had just died.

Adam Muscat

I saw Muscat in Sheffield late last year and he had performed a very promising set there. Tonight he continued the good work in his own laid back chilled style. If he could look any more relaxed on stage he would have to lie down on it. It’s great to watch Muscat deliver his set in such a way and the crowd found it easy to get onboard. He has a strong ability with accents and impersonations and this adds a lot to what he is doing; if used well I can see it helping him stand out, too. The material about Trump didn’t contain anything that no one else has said, but was delivered with such rawness that it still felt fresh, which was good going and the impersonation was the icing on the cake. I enjoyed the joke featuring a doctor, but did wonder if a mechanic may have possibly worked better. Muscat made it through to the final without breaking a sweat.

John James

Next was John James who tonight didn’t really seem to find his feet. He began with a quick visual gag that took a moment for the audience to twig onto – I’m not sure everyone expected him to begin so swiftly from picking the mic up and so were still settling down. This was followed by a prop gag with a clever topper. Not a bad start, but from here James did a number of jokes about being a man of advancing years, but as this is such a well travelled topic by male comedians of advancing years it struggled to hit home. His delivery wasn’t as fluid as it might have been, seeming if not tongue tied, perhaps a bit dry mouthed and on the verge of tripping on his words. The combination of so so material and his delivery ensured that he didn’t make the final.

Tony Cowards (new material)

Seeing Tony Cowards here was a lovely surprise. He was doing new material under gong show conditions, which is as good a way of road testing five minutes of jokes as any, as the feedback is more or less instantaneous. He hit the ground running and produced strings of gags on a number of topics and it was wonderful to see how quickly he got into that lovely rhythm of telling a joke and then everyone laughing. Some of the jokes were dark, but it made no difference, he got huge laughs and 5 green cards all the way through his five minutes. Despite being voted into the final without a dissenting card, Tony did the square thing and relinquished his final spot to the other acts. This was a smashing try out of new material.

Oscar Roberts

We resumed after the intermission with a first timer, Oscar Roberts, who is only 17 and looks so much younger I’m surprised he didn’t have trouble getting into the venue. Mike gave him a big build up and the audience were fully prepared to support him. Sometimes this can result in an inexperienced act being kept on longer than is warranted simply not to upset them. However, tonight Roberts fully deserved his stage time. He has the rhythm of a trans-Atlantic act and I shouldn’t be surprised if he is a big fan of Netflix comedy specials. This rhythm stood him in good stead as he delivered some very well thought out material that managed to be relatable, tangible and funny all in the same breath. Roberts understandably looked a bit nervous, but was confident enough to ask the audience to back him up on things, which helped to bring people further into his set and mitigated some of the harm caused by him not making much eye contact with people. In addition, his mic technique requires a bit of work, as he held it way too low, but that will come with time and is a minor point. This was a well constructed set, with some very nice callbacks and a good turn of phrase. Roberts made it through to the final with ease, being one of the few acts to get applause and although he didn’t win tonight, he definitely has a lot of potential and should gig as often as he can.

Craig Dixon

Roberts had had a very good gig and Dixon was shrewd to open by referencing this. From here he gave the room the darkest and nearest the knuckle set of the night. There were a lot of quality dark jokes here and he kept the vast majority of the room with him all the way throughout his set, which is unlike a lot of comics with similar material who seem to alienate a fair few people. I think I got to the reveal on Killers before him, but I was probably the only person who did and it was a good line anyway (the topper was even better). Netflix and Chill made a bit of a slow start, but came alive with Star Wars. I was a bit nonplussed about the Redditch line, as I know nothing about the place apart from it’s in the West Midlands. This was a joke where the gag gave context to Redditch, rather than Redditch giving context to the gag, but it may work better for people who know the place. Dixon’s delivery was forceful and in a small room like this, it dominated it, which was in synch with his tone and aided the performance. Dixon made the final, placing second, and there was a lot to like in this set.

Ryan Mold

Mold gave the room a strong performance, which went down very well. He had the audience doing the sound effects whilst he acted out a routine and this was nicely refreshing. However, the material itself was reasonable instead of mighty. The odd items contained within Aldi has been covered a few times before and I don’t think that Mold really broke any new ground with that or the enthusiasm of their staff in scanning goods. This was an enjoyable set, but that was due to Mold’s performance instead of the material. With different material he would be a much more powerful act. He was still entertaining, though, and he made it through to the final.

Gareth Knight

The Australian Knight was next and despite having a soft Aussie accent he never referenced it, which probably ensured that a lot of the audience spent time playing at guessing where he was from. He began by acting nervous, which I wasn’t that keen on and I think that his subdued style suffered by going on after the lively Mold. Knight received laughs, but there seemed to be too long a gap between one laugh and the next and he was voted off after the second vote.

Dan Tiernan

I only saw Tiernan last night, so won’t review him in full here. However, I will say that he got huge laughs and demonstrated his quality. He was a narrow second last night and won tonight. I’m sure I’ll see him next doing a ten spot somewhere.

Scott Bennett (new material)

Last night I saw Bennett storming it at the New Barrack Tavern with some new material and tonight he literally carried on from where he had gotten to on his clipboard with much the same result. It’s a fascinating process watching Bennett trying to whittle down two shows worth of first class material into just one show. It is no longer comedy engineering; it is beyond that – it is now the further refinement of stuff that is already refined. There are no weak routines, it is instead a question of finding a stronger or shorter way of saying things whilst keeping to the theme and avoiding overlap or suggestions of tonal shift. There were few parts that suggested easy improvement, perhaps funeral needed more and possibly flipflops, too. Guatemalan may be changeable to Brazilian, as it is a bit of a niche reference and that ties in to the next joke better and there is a possible link from warnings into another routine, but either way Bennett is well on his way to crafting a superb show.

New Barrack Tavern – Becky Pennington, Ted Thomson, Grenville Glossop, Bridget Pearson, Rory Jones, Charlie Gascoyne, Lauren Walsh, Dan Tiernan and a bonus set from Scott Bennett

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse comedy gong show. As is usual, this was a sold out gig with plenty of characters in the audience, from the newly married landscape gardener to Dave, sat on the front row and more than happy to join in with Mike’s compering. Spiky Mike did a bit more at the top than was usual, but with so many unfamiliar acts present this was for the best just in case some were gonged off unexpectedly soon. The atmosphere was great and very swiftly the room was ready for the show.

Becky Pennington

Pennington opened the night with jokes about not having a baby. A few of these jokes were a touch obvious, but when it came to the line about meeting new people she was on firmer ground. This was easily the standout line of her set. Pennington wasn’t helped by being stood a bit too far away from the mic, which made it that bit harder to hear what she said and also I didn’t feel that she made a huge connection with the audience. She made the final, though, so the audience were happy with what she did.

Ted Thomson

Next was Thomson, a fairly new act. He made more of a connect with the audience, opening with some seasonal gags. There was a very nice moment when a rather good joke took a while to sink in and then got a big laugh a moment later when he was on the set up to the next one. Thomson had quite a good hit rate to his gags, but unfortunately lost the audience with a longer set up as a vote came up and off he went. Up to that point, he’d been doing well.

Grenville Glossop

Closing the opening section was Glossop, an act I’d seen do well at the New Barrack Tavern previously, but who isn’t as consistent a gigger as he could be. He opened with a seasonal joke, too and whilst Parkinson’s deserved more, it didn’t feel like a concluding gag to a routine, it felt more like one part way through and this meant that his opening routine felt a bit cut off in its’ prime. The serious message about sauce built up very nicely and he is certainly onto something with that. The phonetic alphabet could have been easily improved by picking a few more suggestive letters. I thought he’d make it to the final, but instead, he became a last minute gonging.

Bridget Pearson

We resumed after the intermission with Pearson who was on her first proper gig. She began with a seasonal routine which could have gone very badly, being the 3rd act out of 4 to begin this way, but luckily the intermission gave her a bit of leeway with this. However, her biggest problem was that her set ups were very wordy and simply not punchy enough for a gong show. Generally if you haven’t made the room laugh within the first 30 seconds or so, or got a big laugh within the first minute, you run the risk of the audience losing confidence and voting you off, which is what happened to Pearson. If she were to break her set down into what’s a punchline and what is a set up and work out the minimum set up required to get to the funny, she’d do better. On the upside, she spoke clearly, was calm and came over well. She’ll do better next time.

Rory Jones

Next was Jones, the act who had travelled furthest, which made his West Midlands accent sound almost exotic in Sheffield. From what I’d seen in videos, I regarded Jones as a talented one-liner comic, but this was my first time seeing him live. His first two jokes didn’t do badly, but it was his third that established him with the audience. This gag hit the room hard and he never really looked back. It was nice to see the gags follow on from each other so well. Morning was good, but it was the South American holiday that got the first applause of the night for any of the acts (beyond the usual clapping at the end of a set). The amnesia gag worked very well and if he can write a standout memory gag to close on this would be very satisfying. A few of Jones’ jokes could have potentially been figured out by the audience, but he delivered them with enough pace not to give them time and this worked in his favour as he built up a lot of momentum. Another factor in his favour was that Rory looked like he was really enjoying performing and this can be infectious, with the audience bouncing off of it. There was one moment where one fellow enjoyed a joke so much that he was the sole applauder, as opposed to laugher and it would have been good if Jones had perhaps broken the 4th wall to acknowledge that, as I think he’d have received a good response. Jones easily made the final where he received a very respectable number of votes.

Charlie Gascoyne

It would have been tricky for anyone to follow the high energy quick fire puns of Jones, as a radical change in pace and energy can really affect the audience. Even more so for Gascoyne, as instead of jokes, she had a routine that needed the audience to invest in it and listen to every word to get all of the nuances. This could have been disastrous, but instead she thrived on it, which says a lot about her having some strong skills. This was a routine that was not only performed very dexterously with just enough vowels elongated to build characterisation and some lovely subtle physicality, but it was also well thought out and easy for the room to buy into. Gascoyne did extremely well and held the room’s attention easily with some very good laughs coming her way. This was a very funny and skilful performance that easily made the final.

Lauren Walsh

This was Walsh’s third gig and it was a superb performance that ticked a lot of boxes, including her having a big helping of charm and likeability. She opened with an ad lib addressed to an audience member sat on the front row and this had an incredible feeling of the here and now and the audience loved it. She’d also been listening to all that had been said on stage previously and was able to do some very good callbacks to this. Not many new acts would really want to speak to the audience, or have them participate in the night, as that can be dangerously unpredictable, yet she was confident enough to do so and it paid off. Some of this confidence came from being on home ground with strong family support in the audience, but most probably most of it comes from working behind a bar and dealing with people. It’s great to see a new act who will take a risk and not just read from their hands and hoping that nothing they aren’t prepared for occurs. Walsh is good at thinking on her feet and with talking to a crowd, which with her material (convincingly acted out), made for an intelligent set. Walsh was a narrow winner tonight over the very talented Dan Tiernan, but with consistent gigging she’ll do very well in comedy.

Dan Tiernan

The final contestant was Tiernan, whom I had down as a likely winner. He’s a strong act who is obviously going places and tonight he demonstrated why. He hit the room with tons of energy, earned lots of applause and spectacularly sold his set to the room. His material is solid and his performance skills are outstanding. Tonight he was narrowly pushed into second place, but he’ll be earning a living from comedy much sooner than later.

Scott Bennett

We ended the night with a bonus length set from Bennett, who is busy working on some new material before he takes it to Edinburgh in August. This man is a perfectionist who is working very hard to succeed and tonight he delivered a show that made it look easy in only the kind of way that someone as good as him can. Even with clipboard and a pen in hand, this show flowed naturally and he gave the audience a real treat. A few bits were a work in progress and whilst still very funny just needed a bit more (Humperdink and balls) and there were some simple improvements that could be made to a couple of lines, such as substituting the odd word to one that provides a callback, but working on these things is the purpose of him performing tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him.