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.
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.
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.
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.
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.