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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.