February – acts that have impressed me the most this month

This has been a superb month for comedy. I’ve seen 42 performances and the highlight of this month was two brilliant English Comedian of the Year heats. In fact, the standard of competitor in these events has made it extremely difficult to narrow down my list of who has impressed me the most. It’s nice to see comedians visibly improve their acts and both Brian Bell and Jack Topher deserve credit for having strongly improved their performances and being unrecognisable from what I’ve seen before.

There haven’t been any real low lights this month, which was nice.

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

Chris Kehoe

Despite not placing in this heat of English Comedian of the Year, Kehoe has definitely got it and the more I think about his set in the fortnight that has passed since I saw it, the more I’m admiring it. I can see him doing very well in comedy.

From the night:

Kehoe was an act I’d not seen before and his set was a lovely surprise. He took to the stage wearing a visually arresting jacket and with his beard and hairstyle, this made him visually interesting, which gave him something of a head start in grabbing the audience. However, it was his material and delivery that impressed me the most. He was almost Wrigglesworth like in his ability to make a long and fairly verbose set up fascinating to listen to. Usually a long set up risks losing people, but instead, I was really enjoying listening to his vivid descriptions and they were a real benefit to his performance. The material was rock solid and uniquely original, with triathlon and spiders extremely well thought out. This was a very strong set that if it had been performed earlier would have received more votes than it did. Kehoe is obviously someone to watch for the future.

David Callaghan

One of those lovely surprises you occasionally find at a gong show, an act that is already polished and ready for bigger rooms.

From the night:

Callaghan has a clear delivery and good diction, plus an air of boyish good humour about him and he looked plausible from his opening line. He had put some thought into which town to use for the shit town and wisely chose a local rival town, so this worked admirably. The routines were well written and showed a lot of intelligence behind the comedy. There was scarcely anything said that didn’t add value to the performance. Callaghan did well to get a laugh from an incest joke, as he was the 4th act of the night to have one and this could have put him on a sticky wicket. The theft routine was extremely powerful and was a highlight of the night, although it was his inside joke that earned him the applause break. This one was as clever as it was funny. Callaghan was the well deserved winner of the night and I suspect I’ll be seeing him doing ten spots very soon as he’s already more than bookable.

Pete Firman

A superb act who didn’t put a foot wrong.

From the night:

Headlining was Pete Firman, a comedy magician who had a great balance between comedy and magic. Unlike a lot of magical acts, he avoided doing any tricks that involved mind reading or guessing a word on a page and this was a welcome change. Firman made a positive impression on the audience through his bright and buoyant persona and his patter between and whilst performing the tricks was very funny in itself. There was very little he said that didn’t add comedy value to what he was doing; his asides were grand. A lot of what he said would have read on a script as being quite salacious, but with his tongue firmly in his cheek he easily stayed on the right side with it and this added to the fun. The tricks were a solid mixture of card, handkerchief and vanishing audience possessions and he sold them magnificently – we were in the presence of a real showman. The closing trick, which involved borrowing a ten pound note from Ken, before getting him up on stage to find it, was gloriously inexplicable and ended the show on a huge high. It’s very rare to see people standing up to applaud, but Firman fully deserved it.

Rahul Kohli

Kohli destroyed the room. This was a barnstormer performance.

From the night:

Kohli completely ripped it. From his opening line to his closing gesture, he didn’t put a foot wrong and he was voted through as winner by a landslide. The material was punchy, it was delivered with loads of energy and enthusiasm in a way that made it look like Kohli was having a great time and in a small room like this, it was impossible for the audience not to respond with the same enthusiasm. I was particularly impressed with Kohli asking a non-rhetorical question of the audience – these can be a total minefield at the best of times and in a completion, with the clock ticking away, they are a high risk move. Luck was with Kohli, as there were three jocks present in the room and this made his Scotland routine feel almost as if it had been laid on specially for them and this gave it a massive feeling of immediacy and relevance. Kohli’s stagecraft was also worthy of note. His hands and arms seemed to be really in touch with his brain and he’d use them to emphasise whatever he was saying. This was an amazingly good set and he went through with only one person in the room not having him as one of their favourite acts of the night.

Honourable Mentions:

Jon Capewell, Mark Simmons, Peter Brush, Steff Todd,

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New Barrack Tavern, English Comedian of the Year Heat: Neil Harris, Lindsey Davies, Brian Bell, Rahul Kohli, Steff Todd, Peter Brush, Roland Gent, Chris Kehoe and Ben Wearmouth

 

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for this Funhouse Comedy hosted heat of English Comedian of the Year. As ever, it was a pleasure to be in this pub, as the atmosphere is always great. It was nice to see Lauren Walsh, who won a gong show there in January, present to watch the show and also to see the promoter Jules Wasley there, too. I always think it lovely when acts and promoters who aren’t involved in a show tootle along to watch. As in all of the heats, it was a case of two going through and the chance of a possible wildcard for a third. The running order was chosen at random, which gave us an impressively strong middle section and as ever, some acts drew better slots than others. Spiky Mike had a good night compering (accidentally stepping off the stage aside), where he was able to chat to people and then weave material into their responses and very soon we were ready for our opening act.

TLDR: Rahul Kohli winner by a landslide, Brian Bell surprise second, Peter Brush a not too distant third.

Neil Harris

Harris had drawn a definite short straw with going on first. He was a relaxed presence and his set largely concerned anxiety. There were some good lines in here, such as ‘documentary’ which I felt was great, although I could do without hearing any comedian say ‘I’ll tell you a bit about myself’ as this is a bit overused. The main part of the set concerned the various permutations on offer at Subway and this built up very nicely towards applause. This worked very well, because it was quite an involved routine. The mathematics were impeccable, but the convoluted nature of it did eat up time, which Harris shortened by speaking quickly to the point where he did trip over a few words. On the one hand, this joke landed so well because of the involved nature, but on the other, he might have done more with the time. I do wonder if after the first few sums, he might find shortening the last couple with some kind of take my word for it gesture or comment, he may get the same laugh in less time. As it was, this was a good opening set and Harris picked up a respectable number of votes.

Lindsey Davies

Recovering from a sore throat Davies was an act who got stronger the longer she was on stage. The examples of why her home town isn’t so nice were nothing we’ve not heard a version of about most towns, but in fairness, she received some good laughs for them, especially when she changed tack slightly and linked it into speaking of her family (Hopkins and the bottom drawer getting the biggest laughs). It was when Davies discussed dating that she really hit her stride and this section got consistent laughs and went down really well. There was one gag where she went with something like get eaten and I did wonder whether replacing it with lying there waiting to get eaten might have worked fractionally better. Towards the final part of her set Davies was given a nice comedic gift when the mic lead dropped out the bottom of the microphone and she was as quick as a flash, able to give the room a great ad libbed line that was on topic to what she had been saying and this landed extremely well. Davies held the room nicely, kept everyone’s attention and this was reflected in a very high number of votes. This was a good set.

Brian Bell

Closing the opening section was Brian Bell, an act whom I felt was a definite underdog in the heat. I’ve seen him at gong shows, where despite having a few nice ideas he’s not had much success and so I wasn’t expecting a great deal from him. At first I thought that my prediction would be borne out, as he opened with a so so Corbyn lookalike gag. However, after this he had an absolutely splendid routine about class, which had a pleasingly unusual slant on it. I’d seen an early version of this at a gong show, but this was very much the finished article and the room went with it in a big way. This routine was followed by another good one about killers and through great timing Bell was able to end his set on another strong joke. This is the best performance by Bell that I’ve seen by a country mile. Everything was far better than what I’d seen previously and it’s always nice to see an act progress in their skill. When it came to the vote, Bell did very well and was second place, making it through to the next round.

Rahul Kohli

Kohli completely ripped it. From his opening line to his closing gesture, he didn’t put a foot wrong and he was voted through as winner by a landslide. The material was punchy, it was delivered with loads of energy and enthusiasm in a way that made it look like Kohli was having a great time and in a small room like this, it was impossible for the audience not to respond with the same enthusiasm. I was particularly impressed with Kohli asking a non-rhetorical question of the audience – these can be a total minefield at the best of times and in a completion, with the clock ticking away, they are a high risk move. Luck was with Kohli, as there were three jocks present in the room and this made his Scotland routine feel almost as if it had been laid on specially for them and this gave it a massive feeling of immediacy and relevance. Kohli’s stagecraft was also worthy of note. His hands and arms seemed to be really in touch with his brain and he’d use them to emphasise whatever he was saying. This was an amazingly good set and he went through with only one person in the room not having him as one of their favourite acts of the night.

Steff Todd

After Kohli had destroyed the room, it was Todd who was in the unlucky position of having to follow him. Todd is an act who has talent and is on the way up in a way that only a fool would bet against her opening/closing nights within a short time. She’s also local to Sheffield, has played in the New Barrack Tavern a few times and is popular there, so this was all to the good. As was the fact that she has great material, a solid delivery and a startling ability to tie this all in to the audience. However, no one could have followed Kohli tonight and as it was, despite getting laughs and performing as well as I’d seen in Ashby the other week, luck wasn’t with Todd. A shame, as I had her down as a contender.

Peter Brush

Brush is a superb writer and whilst I’d say that comedians are more intelligent than average, he’s probably one of the brightest people in any room and this translates into well written, well thought out comedy, chock-full of nuance. Hence I was expecting a lot from Brush. My only question was how would he fare over seven minutes? Over twenty, I think that he would have been hard for any of the acts to beat, as he’d have had time to build his set, play with the audience’s expectations and then hit them from several unexpected directions with reveals, but over seven minutes would he be able to find his feet? The answer was that the audience were in for a treat. As expected, the material was clever and nuanced, but also more punchy than in his longer sets and he won the room over very quickly and never looked back. I liked how he played his low status, despite the comments about his build, there was a lot of subtlety involved and this was great to see. His set did close without a big bang, as I think he thought he’d run out of time fractionally earlier than he had, but I was sure he’d done enough to secure a second place. As it was, he was a close third and in with a chance as a possible wildcard entry.

Roland Gent

Gent was the most experience act on the bill and I thought he had two big things going for him. Firstly, he is a well travelled man and he can fit in local references to any place I’ve seen him gig and this gives his material a lot of relevance for an audience. The second positive was that in full stride, his delivery has the pace of a man holding a meat auction who is on a promise if he gets home early and this results in him building up loads of momentum. Tonight, though, he delivered his material more slowly and with only one local reference and as a result he didn’t make as big an impression on the audience as he might have done. Odd really, considering that I’d last seen Gent in this same room last year, where he had had a tremendous night.

Chris Kehoe

Kehoe was an act I’d not seen before and his set was a lovely surprise. He took to the stage wearing a visually arresting jacket and with his beard and hairstyle, this made him visually interesting, which gave him something of a head start in grabbing the audience. However, it was his material and delivery that impressed me the most. He was almost Wrigglesworth like in his ability to make a long and fairly verbose set up fascinating to listen to. Usually a long set up risks losing people, but instead, I was really enjoying listening to his vivid descriptions and they were a real benefit to his performance. The material was rock solid and uniquely original, with triathlon and spiders extremely well thought out. This was a very strong set that if it had been performed earlier would have received more votes than it did. Kehoe is obviously someone to watch for the future.

Ben Wearmouth

Wearmouth was unlucky in going on last in the show, as his low energy was unsuited to the slot and I think a lot of the audience didn’t buy into his performance in the same way that they might have done with a high energy comic. Predictive text made for an ok opening, but really he would have been better off with something that packed more of a wallop, as this would have established him more firmly with the audience. The majority of the material wasn’t bad, but it needed to be stronger to stand out on a night like this. The tale of the concert was another thing, that was ‘ok’ but was dangerously close to just being an anecdote. Whilst tonight Wearmouth was up against more experienced acts, who had had better luck in the draw for the running order, he may find it beneficial to workshop his material a bit to see if he can get more out of it.

The Rigger, Barry Heap, Joe Bains, Ben Turner, Mark Pulcella, Doug Carter, Ben Bridgeman, David Callaghan, David Wroe, Jon Capewell, Gregg Cooper and Donald Mackerel

Tonight I was at The Rigger in Newcastle under Lyme for the Funhouse Gong Show. Numbers were good, with all of the tables full apart from one at the front that none of the people stood at the bar wanted to sit at. This was a shame, because as the night went on the folk stood at the bar became more talkative and whilst it didn’t upset anyone’s act, it was a mild irritant. The recent advent of Valentine’s Day gave Spikey Mike a good opening for chatting to the couples in the room and he had fun with them. The night contained much darker themes, as five of the acts had material about incest and others covered bestiality and necrophilia, which is unusual, even for a gong show.

Barry Heap

We opened with Heap whose set, apart from a Dr Who joke, largely concerned his sexuality. There were some good lines in this, such as his take on Cougar and Justin deserved more of a laugh, but despite his bubbly delivery it was probably too early in the night for a gay incest joke and off he went.

Joe Bains

Bains began with a bit of audience interaction, which made for a lively start, but his choice of a backwards village didn’t really land well. His alcohol rating joke was fun, but needed more to really hit home and much the same could be said about his full name joke. This was also fun, but the best part was his opening line to it, the rest was ok, but it ate up a lot of time for the return. Bains got a laugh for his description of ‘for this joke only’, which is a bit too well travelled a line for my taste. However, although I thought Bains was a bit patchy, he made it through to the final, but owing to transport issues he had to leave before taking part in that.

Ben Turner

Turner opened with one of the strongest jokes of the night, which he followed with an equally hard hitting topper. From this, he had a couple of jokes that whilst not bad, weren’t especially great (possibly suffering in comparison with his opening?) and this was enough to seal his fate, despite getting in a good joke just as the voting concluded. I felt that this was a bit of a harsh gonging as he’d done enough to be worth keeping on. One thing that I felt might not have helped Turner was that a fair few of his jokes put him in a negative light and that might have made the difference to how the judges perceived him, but I could be wrong. Either way, I’d have liked to have seen him stay on longer.

Mark Pulcella

I liked Pulcella’s beginning, where it looked like he was following on from Turner’s opening and he then pulled the rug from under the audience with a totally unexpected reveal. This was very timely and it worked well. Morse code was good, but I felt that the barmaid joke put over the wrong impression. Pulcella’s gag where he gets the audience to fill in the punchline was nice, but it still needs work – I liked the out of the blue reveal, but feel that this needs to also be intrinsically funny to get the most from it. The rape joke was ok in itself, but this is a topic best avoided like the plague, as with dead babies and abortions it can really upset people and potentially turn a room against a comic in the blink of an eye. Pulcella made the final easily and gave one of the strongest final minute performances of the night, with five quick jokes. The fast delivery of these really helped them to hit home and I’m wondering if it would help the delivery for the rest of his set if he showed similar energy. It might not, but it may be worth experimenting with.

Doug Carter

We resumed after the intermission with Carter, who was the least experienced act of the night, having three gigs under his belt. Understandably Carter was nervous before he went on, but you wouldn’t have known that from seeing him on stage, as he looked rock solid up there. Also, he’s got the build of someone who could wear a dickie bow and stand in a doorway telling people that their shoes are casual, so nervous or not, no one would have made it awkward for him, so he could have relaxed a bit more pre gig. Carter’s material was dark and sexual and worked very well, although the Thai story was a big build for not a huge punchline, but it still worked well. I’m generally not keen on trans people being described as ‘him’ I usually prefer them to be described through their chosen gender, but in the context of the routine it wouldn’t have worked half as well if Carter had described them in any other way. The ice cream van joke was entertaining, although I’d consider changing ‘caught’ to ‘been tumbled’ as I think that would get a bigger laugh. Carter has a very engaging stage persona, with a bit of a white van man vibe and the room warmed to him extremely quickly. He was one of the two acts whose personality sold their sets extremely well. Tonight Carter made it through to the final and did well in the vote off. This was a very creditable performance and I’m going to be interested in watching how he develops.

Ben Bridgeman

I last saw Bridgeman performing at The Kayal, where he’d not done too badly. Tonight though, he muffed an ad libbed opening, which also gave away the reveal to his usual opening gag and this torpedoed his set. He never looked likely to recover from this and he was voted off early.

David Callaghan

Callaghan has a clear delivery and good diction, plus an air of boyish good humour about him and he looked plausible from his opening line. He had put some thought into which town to use for the shit town and wisely chose a local rival town, so this worked admirably. The routines were well written and showed a lot of intelligence behind the comedy. There was scarcely anything said that didn’t add value to the performance. Callaghan did well to get a laugh from an incest joke, as he was the 4th act of the night to have one and this could have put him on a sticky wicket. The theft routine was extremely powerful and was a highlight of the night, although it was his inside joke that earned him the applause break. This one was as clever as it was funny. Callaghan was the well deserved winner of the night and I suspect I’ll be seeing him doing ten spots very soon as he’s already more than bookable.

David Wroe

Following Callaghan was a tough slot to be in as he had set the bar high and Wroe, apart from one brief moment, never seemed to catch the audience’s imagination. Unusually, he delivered his set leaning forwards, which was a nice change and this enabled him to do a good joke about eye contact that momentarily brought the entire room on-board. However, a lot of his material wasn’t that strong. I liked his take on the special skills scene in Taken, but I’ve seen too many variations on that scene for it to really feel like he was breaking new ground (three routines on it in eight days, once). The use of Swindon as a dodgy town might work well in Wessex, but up here he was whistling in the wind and would have been much better off if he had named a town that was local to the gig, as Callaghan had done. Wroe was the fifth act to do an incest joke and after all of the others, it would have been best to have changed tack. He didn’t make the final.

Jon Capewell

Hailing from Liverpool was Capewell. He was another big personality who quickly got everyone engaged in his performance. There were some good lines in this set, such as borrowing and the sex routine was decent. For his minute in the final Capewell went with a risky, but dark joke that paid off very well indeed. However, the best part of this performance was Capewell’s ability to work the room. He received a nice applause break after noticing that one of the judges had gone from red to green for the second vote and commenting about her changing her mind. This display of quick wits was very impressive, as was his willingness to chat to people whilst he was up against the clock. I don’t know if Capewell has done any compering, but I can imagine that he’d make a very good one. Tonight, though, he came second.

Gregg Cooper

Owing to a non arrival, the final section consisted of two acts, both from Shropshire. Cooper’s opening gag benefited from being about Newcastle under Lyme, but wasn’t that sophisticated and was probably a bit old hat for anyone who lived there and so it fell a bit flat. He then went on from this to ask for someone to take his picture and this merely ate into his time without much laughter being gained. The bag of props looked interesting, but photos printed onto A4 paper just don’t cut the mustard – they need to be on A3 minimum for people to see. Also, A4 just looks like you’ve run them off at work when no one was looking, whereas A3 shows some effort and people will pay more attention because of this. The material about the 1960’s and 70’s was mostly exposition without a punchline in sight, although in fairness this might have been missed due to Cooper being gonged off before he got there.

Donald Mackerel

In some ways Mackerel was unlucky in his place in the running order as the room felt like it had reached a tipping point when he went on and people were ready to see the night end and go home. However, Mackerel’s set suffered from a few problems, but nothing that can’t be solved in the long run. He didn’t say anything hugely funny quickly enough to establish himself and he was quite wordy in his set ups, which didn’t help him in building momentum. If he were to edit his set ups down to the bare minimum needed for the punchline to work then it would help. Shropshire based material isn’t going to work outside of Shropshire or perhaps the neighbouring counties, as it hasn’t got enough of an identity for other people to feel strongly about the place one way or the other. However, I’m not sure how much he was planning to do on his locale and this may well have just been the set up to the routine about his friend. The poultry routine was pretty obvious and it would have been astounding if his chum had been sacked for anything else, so perhaps this needs work to make it less obvious. On the plus side, Mackerel was a pleasant presence, spoke clearly, looked happy to be there and with more experience he’ll be stronger – the negatives in his set can all be ironed out with more performing.

Admiral Rodney – Mark Simmons, Josh James, Jonny Lennard and Jonny Awsum

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse Comedy night. In contrast to most bills, I’d not seen either of the middle acts before and so I was curious as to what they’d be like. The audience were in good form, although I do wish that people wouldn’t try to give a fake name as it doesn’t really help them much. Luckily we had the James Brown lookalike back in the audience and he was sat on the front row; his quiet dignified wit was a real asset to Mike in his compering. Unusually there was a bit of a glitch with the sound system (buzzing noise), but this was quickly fixed in time for our opening act to take to the stage.

Mark Simmons

I’d last seen Simmons in October doing a middle spot at Ashby for Funhouse and he was very impressive, so it was no wonder that Mike had so swiftly promoted him to his opening/closing double up list. Tonight he came to the stage looking dapper in a suit and opened with a gag referencing the speaker trouble. Simmons is a one-liner comedian and he delivers these with low energy and at a moderate rate. This could be tricky, but Simmons is very much aware of the audience and he is more than happy to chat away with people as he uses these brief exchanges to set up the next few jokes. This helps the audience to feel involved in his set and it also assists him in making a connection with the room. Some of the set ups are planted subtly and some in a more obvious way, but with plenty of charm. The jokes are uniformly strong, with a few thinkers in there that I adored, as I did the callbacks and the occasional string of jokes on one topic. Simmons is from Canterbury and elongates his vowels a bit and this is tonally very different to the acts that I’m used to, but it is nicely unusual. Simmons gave the room a very good set, receiving a lot of laughs and applause for an ad lib.

Josh James

We resumed after the intermission with Josh James, who came to the stage carrying three decent sized pictures. James is from Essex, which he made a fairly big thing of at the top of his set and unfortunately for him, this is The North and audiences up here don’t often engage that well with material that is centred down south. This might be because of a North South divide, or it could be the dislike of particular accents, but I believe it is more because unless the act can make this feel relevant then not many people are that fussed about something from an area that feels if not alien, then at least very distant to them. James followed this up by asking a question about how Southwell had voted in the last election and this opened a small can of worms as the Tory, Labour and Liberal voters made comments, some audible and many whispered to their neighbours about their thoughts concerning the politics of the area. James’ question was really just a feed line for his next routine and I think he’d have been better off ditching the question and just making it a quick rhetorical comment before launching into this. The routine itself concerned a picture of his MP, a picture of a local celebrity and then a third picture. In this he wrong footed me, as I expected the face of his MP to have been photo shopped in place of the breasts of the celeb, but instead the third picture was of someone whom I’ve never heard of before. I’m not sure how many people in the room had heard of her, to be honest, or if they had, would know she had a connection to his home town. James then moved into a spot of Oedipal material which was quite good, but he was possibly doing it in the wrong room, as the audience weren’t with him for it. In other rooms I can imagine it doing better. This wasn’t a great set, but if James hadn’t come in so strong with the Essex boy material, or lost momentum with the voting question and had had a more tangible reveal on the pictures then he would probably have been better received.

Jonny Lennard

Next was Lennard who had a lot of things going for him, but never really fulfilled his potential. The material was pretty good, but a lot of the set ups were long and wordy, with pauses between odd words and this wreaked havoc with Lennard building up impetus. Just as you thought he was moving up a gear, he’d slow it back down. If he were to edit out the inessential words and speed up the delivery a tad then it would do wonders. The inclusion of the camping shop gag was questionable as I think more people got the reference from the joke than got the joke from the reference as it’s not a hugely known brand and with the connotations it’s probably not worth the trouble. The deconstruction of a snowman and of the nursery rhyme were both clever and received good laughs, but they were very similar routines, albeit by different routes and having both in the same set was overkill. The snowman was also pretty bleak and not as funny as the nursery rhyme, which was a solid routine. I liked how Lennard let the audience do some work on the reveal for the wallet and this was a nice touch. This was a decent set, but one that could have been better.

Jonny Awsum

Closing was Jonny Awsum, who is one of the most consistently strong headliner acts on the circuit. I’ve never seen him do anything less than end a night on a high and tonight was no exception. The songs are good, but it is the warmth in his performance that really sells his act. He looks happy and cheerful to be on stage and also actually concerned that everyone is having a good time getting involved in his set and this comes over exceptionally well. The result of this is a great atmosphere and one that encourages people to sing-along when he requests and for his volunteers to really buy into what he is asking of them. The closing song got a bit complicated with the use of mobile phones and I think it would be beneficial for the audience to be given more time to prepare the first of the stunts to get the most out of it. The second part was also a bit fiddly for people, but the third part was a lovely touch. This was a cracking set that ended the night brilliantly.

Stevie Gray, Chris Stiles, Gary Delaney and Anthony J Brown (MC)

Tonight I was at the Fishpond in Matlock Bath for Anthony J Brown’s comedy night. On a freezing February night parking wasn’t bad, but I can imagine it being tricky to park close by on a pleasant Summer’s evening. The comedy itself is held in the upstairs room of the pub, which rather than being a mere anonymous function room, looks more like a pocket sized ballroom that is wondering where the Edwardians went. The ambient music pre-show consisted of vanilla instrumentals, which sadly did nothing to add energy or atmosphere into the venue.

Anthony J Brown (MC)

Brown took to the stage wearing a good hat and what might have passed as a demob suit and I liked this. It hinted at him being something nicely different and it’s always good to see someone make an effort. Brown is a low energy compere who had some nice bits of material, such as Weatherspoons and gloves, but a lot of what he did was competent, rather than inspired. One problem was his microphone technique. He would take a drink and carry on talking, into the glass, rather than the mic, or he would move away from the mic stand and continue talking. Whilst this didn’t render what he was saying unintelligible, it didn’t help him in the least. During the second session, Brown did ten minutes, much of this was taken up with a song which was funny, but a bit of an atmosphere killer and I think he only spent so long up there because the middle act was doing fifteen and it would otherwise have seemed a short middle section. It’s unfortunate when a compere introduces an act by their facebook alias (in fairness, similar sounding), but approaches careless when after said act has bookended his set by giving his correct stage name, for the MC to come back out and immediately use the facebook alias again.

Stevie Gray

I can vividly remember seeing Stevie at a gig on this very same date last year, because upon his discovering it was my birthday he proceeded to get me on stage to dance in ‘Gangnam’ style. Tonight there was none of this as he got this gig off to a cracking start. Gray is a high energy and charismatic act who has the knack of enthusing audiences into taking part in his set. He got a couple of people up on stage at different times to participate; Mack the Mechanic with his dry wit was a great choice, but it was a bit unlucky that the lady ignored the steps and fell onto the stage when she tried to clamber on at the front. Both of these sections worked really well. The bread joke is still fine, although inflation means that sooner or later someone will enquire where exactly bread can be bought so cheaply. I was pleased to see Gray tailoring his set to take into account some local material he had that was specific to a pub in Matlock and this certainly added to the feeling that he was really invested in the night and this audience in particular. This was a great performance.

Chris Stiles

There is no doubt that Stiles has improved as an act; however as with anyone and anything, there is still room for further improvement. Luckily it is a matter of just making small changes to his existing material, as he will get a lot more from it. Tonight Stiles began with a pull back and reveal, which was alright, but not really suitable for opening with and winning the confidence of a room. Ironically his next routine about the Barnsley pilot was much, much stronger and if he were to open by asking if anyone was going abroad on holiday it would give him a chance of doing some room work and helping people feel involved in his set and it would tee this routine up very nicely. This routine itself could perhaps be improved by swapping out one line about the time taken and substituting one about Control saying the weather is bad and it should take 2 hours. The ET material was good and I liked it, although I did wonder if softening the description would actually add more as it would sound incongruous. Barlow was good and can be played around with as can the dinosaur material. Tonight Chris was a bit more sweary than this audience really wanted from him and he had a habit of saying ‘right’ or ‘lets be right’, but this wasn’t the end of the world. This wasn’t a bad set, but with a bit more work, it will be a better one. It’s nice to see an act progress.

Gary Delaney

Headlining was Delaney, who was trying out some new bits of material for his forthcoming show, Gagster’s Paradise (a smashing title, by the way). Delaney received laughs from the off and never had to worry about gaining the confidence of the room. This gave him free rein to go dark with the jokes and to add in swearing for extra emphasis where needed. He began with some established material to get a feel for the audience level. In this he was interrupted in the set up to a joke by the laughter of the ‘Wow’ lady sat on the front row. He quickly abandoned his joke and had a chat with her, discovering her tattoo and ad libbing some wonderful lines from it. Following this, it was time for some new material that was getting another airing to confirm the quality. This was all solid enough and then it was some more veteran jokes before he moved onto material written just that afternoon. A few of the jokes were variations on a set up, with only the best reveal making the list, perhaps with the odd cleaner version being kept as a reserve for when needed. Delaney is very pragmatic with his new material and grades the jokes fairly: he doesn’t keep in gags that he likes, but which aren’t first class. With Delaney, it’s a given that the vast majority of his new material will be strong and it’s always a joy to watch him perform. This was a great closing performance.

Ashby – Ignacio Lopez, Steff Todd, James Sherwood and Pete Firman

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. As usual, this was sold out and emergency stools had to be sought to accommodate a few people. I counted myself lucky to get a good seat next to a warm radiator. Mike was full of beans and began compering with tons of energy. He had a bit of difficulty in finding an audience member that he hadn’t spoken to before, but that is an occupational hazard for a night that has attracted a loyal audience over a number of years. He had a lot of fun with a young boxer who was present, getting him up onto the stage to recreate the weigh in intimidation scene. Pretty soon everyone was ready for the wonderfully diverse bill that we had.

Ignacio Lopez

I last saw Lopez doing a strong headlining set in Retford about a year or so ago and in that time he has written enough new material to allow him to perform a mostly different set tonight. It’s nice when a comic doesn’t just rely on the same old material. His first routine concerned Christmas and I thought that it was perhaps about a week or so too late for that topic not to feel like a back number, but he made it work well. In particular he received good laughs for his description of the children. A lot of Lopez’s material was autobiographical in nature, but as he has such a splendidly unique background this was refreshingly different. I especially enjoyed Dai and with the number of callbacks he made room for, this became a successful running joke. Whilst Lopez hoovered up lots of laughs, he did lack a killer knock out joke or routine right up until the end, when he finished with a song that hit home hard. This was a very enjoyable set.

Steff Todd

We resumed after the intermission with Steff Todd a very promising act who has recently been signed by Avalon, which is quite a triumph. Todd had watched Mike’s compering and taken in everything that was said and so when she came to the stage she was able to take full advantage of people he had spoken to and address them by name, asking questions that lead naturally into a couple of strong jokes. This worked extremely well and it is always nice to see an act paying close attention like that. Todd had also read the room skilfully and kept the language clean enough not to alienate anyone. As a result she won the room over very quickly and they took her to their hearts. Her jokes landed well and she received good laughs. The impressions, whilst not as funny as her jokes added a nice change of pace and were fun. I felt that the face she pulled when discussing her driving being questioned was a joy and it added a lot to her performance. There were still a few ‘rights’ being said in-between the jokes, but not as many as before and they didn’t leap out as much. This was a great performance that I thoroughly appreciated.

James Sherwood

Sherwood came to the stage carrying a stool to sit his keyboard on. He began by flitting between a couple of jokes about politics and signs. Oddly his voice didn’t really carry that well when he was just talking, but as soon as he began to sing it was much easier to hear. The vast majority of his set was musical in nature. He would play a snippet of a song and sing along to it before deconstructing it and correcting the grammar or mathematics of the song, with a fair bit of whimsy thrown in. He was talented in this and whilst musical acts really aren’t my cup of tea the rest of the audience were very much onboard and they were delighted by this performance.

Pete Firman

Headlining was Pete Firman, a comedy magician who had a great balance between comedy and magic. Unlike a lot of magical acts, he avoided doing any tricks that involved mind reading or guessing a word on a page and this was a welcome change. Firman made a positive impression on the audience through his bright and buoyant persona and his patter between and whilst performing the tricks was very funny in itself. There was very little he said that didn’t add comedy value to what he was doing; his asides were grand. A lot of what he said would have read on a script as being quite salacious, but with his tongue firmly in his cheek he easily stayed on the right side with it and this added to the fun. The tricks were a solid mixture of card, handkerchief and vanishing audience possessions and he sold them magnificently – we were in the presence of a real showman. The closing trick, which involved borrowing a ten pound note from Ken, before getting him up on stage to find it, was gloriously inexplicable and ended the show on a huge high. It’s very rare to see people standing up to applaud, but Firman fully deserved it.

English Comedian of the Year – Southwell Heat: Jack and Andy, Adam Beardsmore, Hannah Silvester, Paul Savage, Jack Topher, Pat Draper, Phil Reid, Dan Nicholas and Scott Bennett

Tonight I was in Southwell for the first of the Funhouse Comedy hosted English Comedian of the Year heats. Despite it being an extra night held at the Admiral Rodney a week before the regular Funhouse night, numbers were pretty good, which created a decent atmosphere for the acts. We had a varied style in performers, with a rare double act, deadpan acts, surreal acts, joke tellers and story tellers. Prior to beginning, I had Bennett down as the frontrunner, but a completely open mind as to second place. Spiky Mike gave the room a lot of comedy during his compering when chatting to a couple who were both taser specialists in the police and he also gave some unexpected mirth when through a clerical error he named Adam Beardsmore as Ben Wearmouth.

The voting is always pretty one-sided in these heats, with 100 or so people enjoying every act, but only able to vote for their top three. This leaves a few acts whom everyone enjoyed and may have had as their 4th or 5th funniest with low numbers in the vote off, which can be a bit awkward to sit through, unless the acts go into a different room during the vote.

TLDR

The results:

Winner: Scott Bennett – too many votes to really want or need to count

After a recount:

Second: Hannah Silvester – 57 votes

Third (and in with a chance of a wildcard): Jack Topher – 56 votes

Jack and Andy

Opening were Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney as a double act who were in the toughest of slots. Opening isn’t easy for any act, but with some of their material being sexual in content, they’d have definitely benefited from a later slot more than any of the other acts. They delivered their set sat down, which on a small and cramped stage helped ensure that they didn’t stand in each other’s way, but it had the side effect of making it hard to see their faces for a lot of the audience. Their chemistry is great and they definitely have something good going on, but the material, at the moment, is a bit too out there to land as well as it might do with some rooms. The football song was good, but it was too early in the night for a joke about someone’s mum being into anal to fully work. Another factor was that whilst they got laughs for their routines, the gaps between punchlines were just a tad too long to help them in building momentum up and that was a shame as there were some nice jokes in the set, such as the 70’s night, which received strong laughs.

Adam Beardsmore

Beardsmore was the least experienced act in the room, but that can cut both ways. Out of all of the acts, only he and Jack Topher are that used to doing 5 – 10 minutes and that can work in their favour as they wouldn’t have to cut down a set to squeeze it in. Beardsmore’s approach was short set ups and then a reveal and this worked wonders in building impetus as the room didn’t have to wait long for a laugh and there were plenty of laughs to be had. The material was good, although the posh reveal wasn’t as strong as it could have been and I think there might have been a missed opportunity with the stag night as the person was sent home when just by changing a couple of words they could have been sent somewhere that was intrinsically funny. The closing routine was one of the stronger ones of the night and that was a big plus. Beardsmore’s delivery whilst clearly enunciated wasn’t as enticing as the other acts, but that is due to being a new comedian. It felt a bit more like he was addressing a group meeting rather than delivering a set, but this will right itself with more stage time. This was a good set from a new act who will be back stronger next year.

Hannah Silvester

Silvester is a good act who is on her way up the ladder and tonight she gave a smashing performance. She began well (although I didn’t think she needed to explain the joke, but that got an extra laugh, so fair play) and just got better the longer she was on. There were some superb lines, like sober and her material was relatable to all. Whilst there were perhaps some laughs of recognition from the ladies in the room, the men were laughing hard too and she didn’t split the room in any way – everyone could get onboard with what she was saying. This was the first set that had a theme running through it and her performance was all the more stronger for it. Silvester was good with her room work and this nicely made it clear to everyone that she wasn’t on auto-pilot. There were consistent big laughs all the way through a set that was charming, funny and splendid. This was a smashing performance.

Paul Savage

We resumed after the intermission with Paul Savage, who had been brilliant compering Canal House for NCF last week. His opening routine was about a trip to South America and an unusual bar there. The set up for this initially felt a bit long for a competition, but when the punchline landed it hit home with a bang and so he was fully justified in using the time that way. From here he delivered a fast speaking well polished set that went down very well with the audience. In particular the Kindle material was champion and he received some rare applause during his performance, as opposed to at the end. However, despite picking up a respectable number of votes, Paul didn’t make it through and was unlucky in that. If he’d been on a different night then he may well have made the cut.

Jack Topher

Next was Topher, another fairly new act. His style is usually slow and dead pan and he’s tweaked it to make it slower and even more dead pan, standing there silent, with coat zipped up and glasses on, letting the comedic tension build. This is a huge step in the right direction as tonight was by far his strongest ever performance. Rather than being there just to get a bit of stage time and experience, Topher quickly became a serious contender as he proceeded to get one huge laugh after another. The pauses did give a chance for shout outs suggesting the upcoming punchline, but he always managed to wrong foot them and this added to the fun. The moments when he broke the 4th wall after a joke were a real bonus and will help to differentiate any comparisons in style between him and Simon Lomas. The voting for second place was incredibly tight and following a recount Topher was edged out by Silvester by one vote. I look forwards to seeing more of Topher.

Pat Draper

It’s always a pleasure to see Draper although I did wonder how he would fare as the second low energy act in a row. However, instead of suffering from this, he managed to ride the wave created by Topher and had a very good night. His material, especially the asides received good laughs and his Humber Bridge routine is a real banker. His new routine about sex was a big hit. Like Savage, Draper did very well and got a lot of laughs and on another night he may well have found himself in contention.

Phil Reid

We began the final section with Reid, whom I’ve not seen in a couple of years. He gave the room a bright and bubbly performance and the audience quickly warmed to his charisma. His material was good, but like with Jack and Andy, the gaps between the punchlines were just a touch too long to help in building momentum. The Take me Out routine was nicely interactive and the entire room got onboard with it, although one slight improvement might be to change his mates from dickheads to shithouses, as I think that would probably get a bigger laugh. Reid’s closing routine suffered from a technological mishap that resulted in a lot of crackling and showing his stagecraft Reid salvaged a good laugh from announcing it would have been funny. This was an enjoyable performance.

Dan Nicholas

As expected, Nicholas was the most surreal act of the night and his ability as a performer really sold his material to the audience. A lot of his set was interactive, but people were happy to get behind it and it went down pretty well. The panto was a classic pull back and reveal, but worked no less well for that. Dan entertained everyone and managed to stand out.

Scott Bennett

Closing was Bennett who opened with instantly relatable quick observations about the room that hit home like a sledgehammer. This was followed by some of his shorter routines, which the audience lapped up. The laughs came thick and fast and even though this is probably the 4th time I’ve seen Bennett in as many weeks I was still laughing hard myself. It was lovely looking around the room at people laughing their heads off. When Bennett ran out of time on his closing joke and was cut off by the music there were a lot of cries of disappointment from the audience. He went through as winner with no need to count the hands in the air.