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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.