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.

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