January – acts that have impressed me the most

January is always something of a slow month for comedy and I’ve only seen 35 performances. However, by and large, the standard was great. The highlight was undoubtedly seeing Scott Bennett trying to perfect what is already damn nigh perfect. The only real disappointment was an act who misjudged a room and launched into a lot of sexual content before they had warmed to him.

These are the acts who have impressed me the most this month:

Paul Savage (MC)

This was pretty much a class in how to compere a room. He didn’t put a foot wrong.

From the night:

It’s been a while since I’d seen Paul and so I was looking forwards to watching him work and tonight he delivered the best balance between material and room work that I’ve seen in a MC for a long time. He began with some strong material to gain credibility with the audience and then he moved into working the room before mixing the two. This worked incredibly well and he received great laughs. I’m not generally a fan of drugs based material, as it’s a subject that I’ve no affinity for, but Savage made it not only tangible, but as it didn’t involve tales of a chemically assisted past, it was easier to get onboard with. He struck lucky with Jack, sat on the front row, who had recently resigned/been fired after shutting people in a vault and Paul showed a deft touch with leaving this unexplained as an explanation would have probably eaten up time and it would have been hard to top the basic fact of shutting people in a vault. It was nice to see a compere ask people about hobbies, as this was a nice change to the name, location and job that so many work with. Savage had a great time and was a real asset to the night.

Scott Bennett

This comedian is going to go a long way.

From the night: 

Headlining was Bennett, an act whom I’m seeing a lot of at the moment and the more I see of him, the more I like it. I’m not the only person who can think that, as amongst a roomful of people pissing themselves laughing, there were at least three who spent a lot of his set doubled over from it. He began by chatting with the lads on the front row and demonstrated that he is razor sharp with his wit, getting big laughs within seconds of looking at them for the first time. From here he went into some new material that I’d not heard before and there was a lot of good stuff in there. The word play was lovely and I’m not surprised there was applause for it. There were two bits I thought might be improved and that was to change out enjoyed for felt guilty as I think it would be more sympathetic and to name a specific brand of crisp. Beyond the solid material, Bennett is an incredible performer. He knows when to raise his voice to add emphasis and when to break the 4th wall and deliver an aside to the audience. This was a smashing set.

Special Mention: Oscar Roberts

This was a first ever performance for Roberts and on the strength of it I think he’s well worth booking by anyone willing to give a brand new act a chance.

From the night:

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.

Honourable mentions:

Charlie Gascoyne, Costas Lukaris, Craig Dixon, Dan Barnes, Lauren Walsh,

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Canal House – Matt Hollins, Danny Clives, Sam Moult, Paul B Edwards, Harry Wright, Alex Leam, Jay Johnson, Scott Bennett and Paul Savage (MC)

Tonight I was back at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. This continues to be a splendid event and numbers tonight were amazing. How many new act/material nights can seat over 100 people and then exhaust the standing room and have to turn people away? Helen, Katie and Sarah did well to manage such numbers smoothly. The crowd were a touch noisy at the back, but the atmosphere was good humoured and got more so as the night went on.

Paul Savage (MC)

It’s been a while since I’d seen Paul and so I was looking forwards to watching him work and tonight he delivered the best balance between material and room work that I’ve seen in a MC for a long time. He began with some strong material to gain credibility with the audience and then he moved into working the room before mixing the two. This worked incredibly well and he received great laughs. I’m not generally a fan of drugs based material, as it’s a subject that I’ve no affinity for, but Savage made it not only tangible, but as it didn’t involve tales of a chemically assisted past, it was easier to get onboard with. He struck lucky with Jack, sat on the front row, who had recently resigned/been fired after shutting people in a vault and Paul showed a deft touch with leaving this unexplained as an explanation would have probably eaten up time and it would have been hard to top the basic fact of shutting people in a vault. It was nice to see a compere ask people about hobbies, as this was a nice change to the name, location and job that so many work with. Savage had a great time and was a real asset to the night.

Paul has two shows on at the Leicester Comedy Festival: 19.45 on the 8th of February at Manhattan 34 and Hell to Play at 22.00 on the 9th and 10th of February at the same location.

Matt Hollins

Hollins was, like many of the acts, doing some new material and he began with Tinder. My first thought was that he was two years late to the party with this, as two summers ago, I probably heard upwards of twenty online dating routines in the space of a month. However, with him directing the material to the audience and then threatening to change his settings, he put a different spin on it and received a big laugh, so that worked out well. Asking about Brexit was a bit tricky and this did start half a dozen or so whispered conversations between people, but this didn’t interfere with him building impetus. Vegas was a work in progress, with the balance being more towards exposition at the moment, but that will no doubt come into shape. S & M showed promise as did the nurse, although I think if he were to make it a consultant, then the audience sympathy would be with him and the twist would land with a lot more force. This was a good set that the audience enjoyed and there was a lot of laughter.

Hollins has a show on at the Leicester Comedy Festival at the Criterion on the 14th of February

Danny Clives

Clives was the second low energy act in a row, which possibly wasn’t ideal for him. He began with a persona defining joke which made it easy for the audience to know where he was coming from and this stood him in good stead for the night. He gave the room some bits of new material and these went down well. Clives got his biggest laughs when he was being self-deprecating and he does this very well, although it would be nice to see him spread his wings a little bit more. I personally thought he was at his best when he was ad libbing and working with the audience.

Clives has a show at the Leciester Comedy Festival on the 11th upstairs at The Firebug

Sam Moult

Moult started well with some astute observations about the room and these were of a good standard. He then launched into the meat of his set which was a routine about a break up. Unfortunately comedians retelling stories of relationships going west is a well travelled path and it is very hard for anyone to stand out doing a routine on it. There were some nice lines, such as the 1920s break up with the Morse code being especially notable. Moult had a smooth delivery and so with different material I can see him being a lot stronger. He has done a lot of work in Dubai and I shouldn’t be surprised if there is a solid routine in that.

Paul B Edwards

We resumed after the intermission with Edwards who spent the first 5 minutes of his slot discussing a texting in game played on the wireless station that is on where he works. There was a bit of humour in this, but really it just sounded like him airing his irritation at having to listen to it all day. After he had finished getting this off of his chest he gave the room a mix of audience work and material, which was markedly funnier. The drunk Macarena was good, as was the vegan material. It was unfortunate that he over ran, mostly through talking about that radio game.

Harry Wright

With his quiet cultured voice, Wright was a change in temperament and he gained consistent laughs from some good material. A lot of his set was autobiographical and in his own low key way, he’s pretty interesting, so this worked well. There were a couple of things about his performance that I thought could have been improved: his jokes were all individually good, but he’d benefit from more of a theme to link them – there wasn’t a huge sense of a routine building to a climax. Also the actions to the song were impossible to see for 95% of the audience and so the impact of this was diluted. This was still a good set, though.

Alex Leam

Leam had a great night, despite not being the most frequent gigger in the world. The mobile DJ material was strong and I think he could expand on it. You could feel everyone being drawn in to the story in that section. The student uni was ok, but needed more, whereas the taxi material went down very well and there was a great moment when a chap sat at the front was just that bit too enthusiastic about a porn site. When discussing a possible sex partner I think that Leam could improve upon his choice of person, as there wasn’t anything intrinsically funny in his selection, although in fairness that part was set up rather than punchline. This was a very entertaining set from someone whom I don’t see often enough.

Jay T Johnson

We began the final section with Johnson who as a native of Nottingham (now living up in Yorkshire) was able to use their local knowledge to good effect. The lines about the Broadmarsh shopping centre were strong, but unfortunately not likely to travel well, although I daresay the name could be changed for any town with two shopping centres and work just as well. Despite holding the mic just a touch too close, it was easy to hear all of the lines and the room very quickly warmed to Johnson who was quietly flamboyant in an understated way. There was a great twist on the story that was told, although I thought that the text saying that the other party didn’t wish to meet again might have worked better if it had been one saying that they’d love to meet again as it had gone well all things considered. The closing routine about the lady in her 60s started well, but the reveal was pretty predictable. Nonetheless, this was a very enjoyable performance with a lot to like about it.

Scott Bennett

Headlining was Bennett, an act whom I’m seeing a lot of at the moment and the more I see of him, the more I like it. I’m not the only person who can think that, as amongst a roomful of people pissing themselves laughing, there were at least three who spent a lot of his set doubled over from it. He began by chatting with the lads on the front row and demonstrated that he is razor sharp with his wit, getting big laughs within seconds of looking at them for the first time. From here he went into some new material that I’d not heard before and there was a lot of good stuff in there. The word play was lovely and I’m not surprised there was applause for it. There were two bits I thought might be improved and that was to change out enjoyed for felt guilty as I think it would be more sympathetic and to name a specific brand of crisp. Beyond the solid material, Bennett is an incredible performer. He knows when to raise his voice to add emphasis and when to break the 4th wall and deliver an aside to the audience. This was a smashing set.

Scott Bennett has a show on Feb 7th at the Manhattan at the Leicester comedy festival 9.15pm

Bluey’s – Pat Monahan – Rewind Selector 90’s

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s for the FaF Promotions comedy night. Instead of the usual show consisting of MC, opener, two middles and a headliner, tonight was different. By popular demand it was the return of Pat Monahan, who was performing his Rewind Selector 90’s show. There aren’t many comedians who can sell tickets on the strength of their name, but Pat is definitely one of them. The numbers were great and the crowd, as you’d expect at Bluey’s were well up for it. We began with Stoney compering the night, doing the rules and building the energy levels. He kept it tight so as to give Monahan more performance time.

There are some comedians who can readily be described as being people persons, but Pat Monahan is easily the most open and welcoming act on the circuit; he simply oozes bonhomie. It helps that he has a strong memory for names and faces, as so much of his performance concerns bouncing off of the audience. Tonight he spoke to a fair proportion of the room, including people who had travelled specially to see him perform again and not once did he get a name mangled or mistake someone. All of this helped to build a shared comedic experience.

The theme of the show could be described as how some things have changed since the 1990s and it encompasses vices of the 90’s, such as drugs, drinking, going out, BSE, parenting and phones. This gives a structure, but it is loose enough to allow Monahan free rein to run with whatever he likes and to talk with the audience at will. This is a great approach for him to take, as whilst the set pieces were strong (Zumba being a particularly fine line), the real joy was in watching Pat simply chat to people and ad lib responses. This is a man who is very fast on his feet mentally. It didn’t hurt that Bluey’s has a lot of characters such as Nev and Rich who were able to provide him with a lot to work with. There was a lovely moment when Pat was asking for people to suggest vices and a genius shouted out ‘cookers’ – seeing Monahan laughing his head off was a heart warming sight. This little snippet became the subject of a nice running gag for the duration of the show. Monahan is a very energetic performer and watching him acting out dressage and the old fashioned way of obtaining money added a lot of comedic value to what he was saying.

This was a cracking performance from an act who I can happily see often, as each show is so individualistic. The audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves and this was a great night.

The Blessington Carriage – Nathan Webb, Costas Lukaris, Conor Clarke McGrath, Dan Barnes, Frank Foucault and Adam Vincent

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse comedy night. Initially numbers were lower than expected, with twenty people who had already prepaid for their tickets being absent with only ten minutes until show time. Luckily most of these turned up just before Mike began his compering. Although the audience were a bit more sedate than usual, we were quickly ready for our opening act.

Nathan Webb

We began with the first of a large contingent of Welsh acts, Nathan Webb. He began with a drawn out routine concerning nicknames: his and others. This wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that punchy and it took up a fair amount of his slot. I think it may have been better being used later in a longer set, as it didn’t have enough in it that was immediately funny to make a strong opening routine, especially when Webb would be wanting to establish himself with the audience. There were some nice lines in this set, such as three fingers, but these didn’t come along as often as I’d have liked. There were a fair few periods where there was a lull in the laughter. This was unfortunate, because I had the impression that Webb had more in him than what we saw tonight. On the bright side, he is good at bouncing off of a crowd, there is some good stuff in his set and if he were to edit his routines down so that there aren’t as many wasted words, he would achieve more laughs per minute.

Costas Lukaris

Lukaris was a very nice addition to the bill. He opened with comments about a sponsoring charity and I thought that he was either going to kill the atmosphere, or it would be a misjudged joke and to my surprise it was neither; it was a solid opening routine. From here, Lukaris went on to give the room a very good set indeed. His material was exceptionally well thought out with plenty of reveals that you couldn’t guess at, although Cadaver and Top of the Pops was probably a bit too subtle for many people to get. His delivery was low energy and understated and this served to draw the entire room in to what he was saying. He didn’t need to be loud to get everyone’s attention. It was obvious that Lukaris (who never referenced his unusual name) had a powerful command of the English language and he used this to his advantage in how he phrased things. The only disappointing thing about this set was the closing routine, which whilst it was memorable, seemed to take a lot of setting up for what the joke was and I thought that he could have made better use of the time. That aside, this was a lovely set and I’d like to see more of Lukaris.

Conor Clarke McGrath

We resumed after the intermission with Conor Clarke McGrath who probably enjoyed his performance more than the audience did. He made a good first impression as he came to the stage smartly dressed and full of energy, but he lost most of the audience with an early joke about self sucking. The people in The Blessington Carriage aren’t prudish, but this was too early in his set for them to have acquired enough confidence in him for a joke like that to really work. From here McGrath launched into a string of lamp based puns, before adding to this process of audience withdrawal by him talking about his Oedipal dreams. Between the not funny enough to be worth the audience alienation sexual comments and the puns, it was hard to know where you stood with this act. It’s nice when a comic mixes up their styles (see Foucault), but this was more bewildering than refreshing. There was a joke about grans and members of the aristocracy that McGrath repeated 3-4 times with a change each outing, but this was an instance where the law of diminishing returns kicked in alarmingly quickly. His delivery was clear, but lacked warmth. McGrath got some laughs and he didn’t die, but he would benefit from a rethink. Perhaps if he read the mood of the room before going for the sexual material he would do better and if he were to work on drawing the audience in they would invest more in his set.

Dan Barnes

Next was Dan Barnes who had made a good impression by being one of the few acts that stayed to watch Mike’s compering – stuff like this sets a good example to the audience and helps the act to be able to put faces to the names of anyone that Mike speaks to. Barnes opened strongly with something that after the last act, the room could recognise as being a joke. He was also able to chat to audience members by name, such as the nurse, and to bring them into his set, which helped form a bond with the room. The mugging routine was good, although to be fair Barnes looks like a perilous candidate to be mugged and there was a lot of joy in just how the police were using his description. There was some great timing on both the Christmas present he bought for his disabled friend and the topper. The online purchase joke was good, although perhaps changing offshore to Nigeria may add to the impact of the punchline. Stood on stage, leaning on the mic stand, Barnes looked relaxed and this was nice to see. Despite tripping over the set up on one joke, which can happen to anyone, this was the strongest I’ve seen Barnes. He’s made visible progression in improving his performance.

Frank Foucault

The deliberately oddest act of the night was Foucault. He began with a drawn out opening that seemed to drag on forever and frankly I was beginning to wish for him to move on, until he delivered the big reveal, which got a huge laugh. After the first few jokes Foucault would sing a few lines from a song and this worked pretty well, although if he had continued it, then it might have strayed into being gimmicky. There were some very strong jokes, such as Russian transgender and the God complex, which were clever and funny. There was a stunt with a pint glass that worked well and got not only a laugh but some applause for the final reveal and the closing routine was delightfully oddball. Foucault covered a lot of ground, changing it up regularly and this kept his act very fresh. There is a fine line between being too odd for a room to invest in and being odd in a way that everyone can enjoy and Foucault kept to the right side of that. Not everything he did was too my taste, but the room thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d definitely like to see him again.

Adam Vincent

Headlining was the Australian Adam Vincent. Vincent took a nice relaxed approach to his delivery and the room warmed to him quickly. He began with some autobiographical material before chatting with Helen’s party, sat on the front row. Vincent managed to have a brief exchange with them and he judged the amount of time to devote to this before he resumed his set pretty well. After this, his set took a definite turn for the dark, but it remained accessible and became even funnier. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, if he’s been the recipient of a few post gig conversations about nutjobs with beards, following his splendid theory about clean shaven loons. The vibrator routine was another stand out in what was a very strong set. Vincent’s delivery was conversational, which was pitched correctly for half ten on a Monday night, being in tune with the energy in the room. This was a very enjoyable performance.

Book Review – Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell

McDonnell has already written two superb books: A man with one of those faces and The day that never comes and he has made it the hat trick with this little treasure. He is a consistently strong writer who has an eye for the funny in everyday settings. You can see this in the tales that he relates when he is performing on stage – they are hilarious. This natural ability to tell a story has made it through to his books.

This latest work is a prequel featuring the most striking character of the Dublin Trilogy: Bunny McGarry. McGarry is big, rough, feared by the criminals and disliked by his bosses. So far so Vic Mackey or Jack Regan, but McGarry is different. He’s more believable, well rounded and fun. He’s a character that both threatens to dominate the book, yet also one that you can’t get enough of. The bit players add a lot of enjoyment, too, with The Commissioner, Deccie and a sheep having a bad day being stand outs.

The plot is sound and rattles along at a fair old pace. You become really invested in discovering how everything will turn out in the end and you really resent having to put the book down. I’ll be mightily disappointed if there are only four books in this series.

Aficionados of the UK Comedy Circuit will be tickled pink by a couple of Easter eggs in the book. Buy it and enjoy it.

 

 

Book Review – The day that never comes by Caimh McDonnell

day

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.

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.