March – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been an absolutely superb month for comedy. I’ve seen fifty or so acts and the quality has been amazing. Putting together the list of who has impressed me the most this month has been fiendishly difficult. As always, acts who I have included in recent months are time barred for a while.

The highlight of the month was undoubtedly seeing Andrew Bird on Tuesday and then Scott Bennett on the Wednesday. Both are at the top of their game and both took the roof off. Between them, they gave me a real buzz of enjoyment and days later I’m still chuckling at their material. The lowlight was a first timer who was dreadful beyond even what you would expect from someone who had never done it before. I don’t expect a lot from a first gig and can forgive much, but this was appalling. I’m still buggered if I can see how he could have thought there was anything funny in it.

The acts that have impressed me the most this month:

Andrew Bird

An absolutely cracking act who held the room spellbound.

From the night:

Andrew Bird is an absolutely top-notch act whom I don’t see that much of. On Saturday night he was supporting Michael McIntyre in an arena and tonight he was enjoying the intimacy of a small room gig. He began with some instantly relatable comments about the pub he was performing in and these went down a treat with the regulars. This was followed by a number of fairly long routines that just built and built – the sort of routines that whilst you are hoping for more, you just know that the next one will be equally as good. The gig in Bridlington was a gift that just kept giving and the story of the pub and Bird’s last drink was absolutely fantastic. This was a set with a lot of highlights and I came close to hurting myself laughing. Bird can describe a scene better than most people, but he does it very economically with the amount of time and words he uses, managing to get more out of a dozen words than a lot of acts could get out of twice as many. His eye for toppers to lines and that extra bit of detail that sends a joke into the stratosphere is remarkable. This was an absolutely smashing performance.

Ben Briggs (MC)

Whilst people talk about how dark Briggs can go, he doesn’t get enough credit for the intelligence he brings to his performance.

From the night:

Back by popular demand, Briggs made the night a success. He took a small crowd of individuals and formed them into an audience, speaking to everyone in the room whilst doing so. From Rich and co sat at the front, to the group from Coventry come to see Carter, he took in everyone for his sharp comments, including myself who received some fair observations. There was a real feel of a community being formed by Briggs and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Briggs is an edgy comic, but not in a self-conscious way, more in having a natural interest in seeing how far he can push the envelope. However, this is allied to a first class comedic brain and he has the knack of knowing just how far he can go without going too far. Briggs has no lack of bravery either, being happy to take to the floor between the two middle spots to ask the lads at the bar, 30′ away to keep the noise down and to keep at it until they did so – a lot of other comperes would probably not have wished to pursue the matter, or would have made a token attempt and left the lads to it, but Ben saw it through. The audience took Briggs to their hearts and his hard work made it possible for the other comedians to perform as they did.

Jamie Hutchinson

A great act who is on the way up.

From the night:

Next was Hutchinson an act who came on in leaps and bounds last year. He came to the stage with a loud voice and bags of energy. I really enjoy Hutchinson’s delivery; his short and sharp sentences hammer home what he is saying. In addition to this, his performance took in every side of the room, with the audience arrayed around the stage in a horseshoe shape – he played to every angle, leaving no-one left out. The material was sharp, with plenty of unexpected reveals and everything worked like a dream. This was a set that seemed to skate on applause throughout its’ length. I was particularly impressed with Hutchinson getting the name of the local rival city right, as I’ve heard a few unorthodox choices over the years. It was fun looking about the audience as Hutchinson was in the midst of his romantic routine and seeing that everyone was 100% focussed upon him. This was a smashing set.

Jed Salisbury

A skilled up and coming act.

From the night:

Closing the night was Salisbury, a skilled act who living in Hull, probably doesn’t get the recognition or gigs that his ability entitles him to. He began by building some energy, not needing the microphone for this and then he followed with three fast jokes. This was enough to establish his credentials as closer and from here he held the room in a way that seemed effortless. The material was well considered and it had a natural rhythm to it with no odd leaps in logic or topics to interrupt the flow. I especially enjoyed the voodoo curse material and I wouldn’t have objected to hearing more on that as it seemed so unusual to really entice me into it. Salisbury was quick on his feet mentally and when talking about the differences between lads and ladies nights out he spotted three lads helpless with laughter, who had obviously seen something of themselves in this material, and he worked in some fast comments about it. This was a powerful set from someone well worth watching.

Honourable Mentions:

Colin Havey, James Cook, Radu Isac, Rob Mulholland, Roger Monkhouse, Will Mars

Advertisements

The Miners Arms – Will Duggan, Aaron Twitchen, Fran Jenking, James Cook and Jon Pearson (MC)

Tonight I was at The Miners Arms in Sutton, a rather pleasing fifteen minutes from home. This is Jon and Gabby Pearson’s pub and very nice it is, too. The comedy takes place upstairs, well insulated from the noise of the bar and the room is very memorable with chandeliers, (covered) gilt mirror and a full length wall mural. The audience were mixed in age and backgrounds and although everyone laughed at most things, they didn’t seem to all laugh at any one moment, which was odd. On the front row was a chap who couldn’t resist shouting out comments. It was probably his first time at live comedy and despite Jon and every act politely, but cuttingly, closing him down, he proved resilient and bounced back a few minutes later every time. Despite these interruptions, the night was a lot of fun.

Jon Pearson (MC)

As resident compere, barman, ticket seller and landlord, Jon was in the position of knowing most of the audience by name and this was a real benefit to him as he didn’t need to do any heavy lifting to establish his position – it also meant that he didn’t have to grasp for the names of people and this helped things flow. Jon kept it pretty tight in the opening section, concentrating on room work, where he discovered a couple who had met at a petrol station. After the first intermission he gave the room a routine about fashion, rugby and anatomy. This was a good routine and it was well delivered, but it was probably a bit long for using outside of a set. Jon did a good job and the room stayed warm and receptive for the rest of the comedians.

Will Duggan

I’d only seen Duggan once before when he was a panellist on Panelbeaters and there he had impressed me with the cerebral quality of his material. Tonight his set took in, amongst other things, a trip to Dublin, being a hero, his living arrangements and some very pleasing room work. The Dublin routine built up very well and despite the clue possibly being there, I doubt anyone guessed where he was going. This did lead to a shout out from the enthusiastic chap sat on the front row, which Duggan dealt with skilfully by managing to be totally cutting, but saying it in a light hearted way, which ensured that those annoyed by the interruption would love the insults and the man involved couldn’t get annoyed. Duggan’s material was good and his ability to bring the audience into the show was very pleasing. It is easy to see why he was booked. This was a very enjoyable performance.

Aaron Twitchen

Twitchen opened with a good line that received a big laugh and instantly quelled any audience member having to ponder upon his backstory to the detriment of giving his performance their full attention. Twitchen is a very open and engaging person and I think that the room quickly took him to their hearts. They were happy to respond to his comments addressed to individual people, but strangely left him hanging when he asked the entire audience questions a couple of times. There was a good callback to Jon’s compering, some decent material about fitbits, but the best routine concerned ghosting. Twitchen did say ‘right’ a fair few times, but it didn’t get in the way of him delivering an entertaining set.

Fran Jenking

Fran hosts the quiz at this pub and knew a few of the audience members from that, which was a bit of a bonus. He began by telling the room he was from Nottingham, which got a woo and this led into a pleasant bit of material about the Midlands and the East Midlands. There was one unfortunate moment when one woman gave out a big yawn, just due to the time of night, but luckily he was in the zone and carried on without pausing. Fran choosing Derby for some stick was a popular idea that went down well. The bus was probably the standout line from his set, though. Personally, I preferred it when Fran was just bantering with the room. He’s great at just chatting to people and finding something in what they say. This was a good set, but I’d have liked to have seen a bigger ending and I daresay that he had one, but as he was getting close to the time limit he didn’t get chance to close with it.

James Cook

Cook’s set was very well written. He opened with a joke that was clever, but easy for everyone in the room to get and this could be said of all of his routines. They were all well thought out, but not difficult for an audience late at night to follow. His observations about the eccentricities of the room were strong and again, tangible to the audience. These were all delivered in a clear voice that didn’t speak too quickly, nor too slowly. As with pretty much everyone else Cook had to deal with the man on the front row shouting out and he managed to quieten him for a few minutes, before he inevitably bounced back with another comment, which he then put down again. A few minutes later I was surprised when Cook voluntarily spoke to him again, but he managed to extricate himself from that conversation without too much trouble. There was a lot of good material in this set, but my personal favourite was the routine about the school bear. I was very impressed with Cook tying that in to the teacher sat on the front row. This was a very strong set.

NCF Canal House – Harvey Hawkins, Kathryn Mather, Tony Cowards, Adam Beardsmore, Mike Hilton, Colin Havey, James Crawley and Demitris Deech (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. Numbers weren’t bad, although unfortunately we were missing Katie Mitchell on sounds, but Sarah stepped in to assist Helen with the door. The bill was a mix of acts that were new to me, including a chap on his first ever gig, some acts that I haven’t seen much of and really wanted to see more of and experienced acts doing new material, all held together by our compere, Demitris Deech.

Demitris Deech (MC)

Deech made a good first impression with his cheerful demeanour and buoyant energy. He took to the stage and explained his role in proceedings and how the night would work. He is a man with sharp hearing and was able to make out a whisper that came from the fourth row. This was a lady called Red, who worked in CIS and he had a lot of fun in asking her about her job and the most fluid found at a crime scene. This provided great background for the comedians to work into their sets. He had a chat with a few people and kept it light hearted and tight before bringing on the first act. I was surprised that Deech did a fair bit between the first two acts, as I thought that the room didn’t need any extra compering at this point, but this was an unusual one off. For the second and third sessions Deech largely stayed with material and good material it was. He didn’t use anything too time consuming or deep, but kept things happy with his topics. This was enjoyable compering.

Harvey Hawkins

Hawkins is a strong act whom I don’t seem to see a great deal of, so his being on the bill was a bonus. He began with a serious sounding routine and this drew everyone in. The punchline landed with a bang and there was a huge laugh. Even better, though, was that this teed up his next joke very nicely, indeed. This was a set that flowed logically through the various topics. I thought Hawkins’ twist on ‘tell you a bit about me’ was absolutely splendid, even if the first one did perhaps edge a little bit towards being an insider joke and the two related gags were even funnier. There was a tremendous moment when Hawkins worked in a beautiful callback to Red whom Deech had discovered during his compering and Harvey further showed off his mental agility, when without missing a beat, he incorporated someone sneezing loudly into a routine. This was a great performance.

Kathryn Mather

I’d only seen Mather once before at the Kayal and I was impressed with what I saw then, so I was pretty chuffed to have the chance to see more of tonight. Her delivery is very downbeat in style, but this comes across as naturalistic, rather than forced. There was the odd ‘fucking’ included in her sentences, which I didn’t think she needed as it didn’t add any extra force to what she was saying, but on the other hand it didn’t hurt it, either – they were just extra words that she could have used more creatively. The material was well written and it had a fresh feel to it. No one else is doing anything on welding or shipping losses and so this was a welcome change. The topper on putting up shelves was great. The idea of farms and fox hunting probably stretched the premise of that particular routine a little bit far, but that was no big deal. The closing routine, however, was comparatively the weakest of what she had to offer. It was still decent, but I thought it not as powerful as the rest of her material. This was an enjoyable set from an act that I’d like to see more often.

Tony Cowards

We resumed after the intermission with Cowards, who was trying out some new material. Cowards’ moving up here is a real bonus. Not only is a totally smashing chap to know, but I’m getting to see a lot more of him performing. He hit the ground running with some quick gags and then experimented with the new material. It was lovely seeing the young lawyer sat on the front row explaining some of these to his partner. The jokes were of a good quality, however, Basin would work better as a visual gag and possibly the same with Hawaii; verbally they were good, but not really up to what you’d expect from Tony. Jeffery Archer was one that split the room between those who know he is a terrible hack author and those who have been lucky enough not to have ever read one, but I’m damned if I can think of an alternative famously bad author that ticks more demographics. There were a few jokes that didn’t land as well as they should, but these all required a little bit more general knowledge than the others and in front of a different audience there is no reason why they shouldn’t work well. My personal favourite was garden centre, which was gloriously daft. In a nice touch one of the audience members asked Deech to repeat Tony’s name, so it looks like she will be looking out for him in the future.

Adam Beardsmore

I only saw Adam last night, but it was no hardship seeing him two nights in a row. Last night, he opened and as is usual in these circumstances it was a tough slot to fill. Tonight he had a far better night with largely the same material and this was nice to see. The most promising aspect of this performance was that although only 24 hours had passed, Beardsmore had worked on his material and improved it. The Lush bath bomb was great substitution for foam. I was very happy with how Adam chatted to the audience and worked the room into his material. He did well to bring in things that had been said earlier during the night, but I do suspect that there won’t be many people sat on the front row to whom he can address ‘bukkake muffin’ to and mores the shame, as it got a huge laugh.

Mike Hilton

One of the nice things about NCF is that they are always happy to give people a chance to have their first go at comedy and every so often there will be someone doing their first ever set. Tonight it was Mike Hilton who was doing his first and possibly only performance. Everyone has to start somewhere and no one expects a first timer to be as good as Nick Page, but this was pretty catastrophically bad by anyone’s reckoning. I could live with Hilton holding the mic too low (around belly button height) as that’s an easy mistake for someone to make in the adrenalin rush. Similarly, coming to stage with a load of notes in his hands and mixing reading from them with frantically searching for what he had to say next isn’t ideal, but for a first timer, it’s forgivable. The palpable sense that he’s not prepared for the show is less than ideal, though. However, the biggest problem was that his material was terrible. I’m buggered if I can see how even on the most optimistic read through it could be deemed promising. Hilton began with a list of things that piss him off and it was just that. There wasn’t anything intrinsically funny in the list, it was just standard moans that you’d see on a tedious facebook feed, such as having to get up. There wasn’t anything in it to add humour, no clever or not so clever twists – it was just a list of standard gripes. This was followed by a lengthy routine about breeding on an alien planet and I’m pretty sure he accidentally read out the same set of notes two or maybe three times, as he seemed to repeat sections of it, much to the mystification of the audience. I lost track of what he was saying, but then I was struggling to remain focussed on it and I was slightly distracted by Helen, who had come to the front of the stage to flash him off. Hilton got laughter, but this was pretty much incidental to anything he was actually saying and was a mix of nervous laughter and the more unpleasant kind when you are watching a car crash of a set. However, being positive, the best thing about this performance for Hilton is that from here, the only way from is up.

Colin Havey

Performing whilst suffering from a heavy cold must be a bit of a nightmare, but Havey made a good job of it. He opened with a bit of room work and returned to this throughout his set and I wasn’t surprised as he seemed to be particularly on the ball with this and it made me want to see him compere gigs. The material was largely job related and held together well, with a big laugh on ‘dad’. Knob head at work is a great premise and the build up is very amiable, but the pay off could do with strengthening. The order of the works material may benefit from a rethink, as Colin moved from call centre to warehouse and back a few times and perhaps having one occupation dealt with before moving to the other would work that little bit better. The closing routine about the glasses was particularly good and the suit you line a beauty. Despite the cold, Havey’s delivery was sound. There were a few ‘rights’, but I was probably the only person to notice. Interestingly Havey resembled Alfie Moore as whilst he was talking he was performing small lunges as he took a step forwards with one leg and then semi-crouched. This made for an odd visual, but didn’t detract from his performance. I and the rest of the room enjoyed this performance and I’d like to see more of Havey.

James Crawley

Crawley has only been gigging for ten months, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from his set. He opened with some timely material about snow, before moving onto ‘Millennial Monopoly’, which was a very good routine – the chance and community chest cards and parking were superb lines. The pub quiz was a fairly lengthy routine, but the final reveal more than made it worth it. Crawley had a quietly confident presence on stage and his delivery reflected that. My only quibbles with his performance was that his delivery seemed to plateau and there was no sense that he was building to a big finish and indeed, his set didn’t have the big closing routing that it deserved. However, there was a lot to like about what I saw and I’ll be very interested to see where Crawley stands by the end of the year.

Scott Bennett

Last night I saw Andrew Bird and tonight it was Scott Bennett – two comedians who are absolutely top notch and that has made this a really nice week for me. Tonight Scott was polishing new material and it was a pleasure to spot the improvements. As a great bonus there was an expanded section about daycare. Cardigan was a lovely extra line, baby monitor was pacier and daycare gives Bennett a chance for some physical actions on stage and these really brought the set to life. At one point Scott had to pause the set and ask a lady if she was ok, because she was laughing so much. When someone is laughing that hard it is a real tribute to the skill of the act. This was a great ending to the night.

The Admiral Rodney (Wollaton), Adam Beardsmore, Jack Topher, Josh Pugh Graeme Coulam, Spiky Mike, Andrew Bird and Fran Jenking (MC)

Tonight I was in Wollaton for the Funhouse Comedy night at the Admiral Rodney. This is a very nice pub in what feels like a rural setting not too far into Nottingham. It’s quite a small venue, but it’s ideal for acts to run out new material, or to gain a little bit of stage time.

Fran Jenking (MC)

I really enjoy watching Fran compering. He’s a relaxed presence and has that sort of affable charm that means he can just chit chat with people and it’s fun to watch. I unfortunately missed him giving the room a two minute warning before he started the night, though, as I was caught on the hop when he began, but that’s not the end of the world. Tonight he cheerfully chatted away with a few people sat in the room, getting to know them in a way that went a bit deeper than just asking what they did and where they lived. Jenking would follow these questions up and you got a real sense of actually getting to know something of the audience. I was especially happy with his chat with Geoff, as he seemed to get just that bit more humour out of him. Fran kept the night to schedule, did the admin and made sure that the everything went smoothly.

Adam Beardsmore

Opening was Beardsmore, who although still a fairly new act, is shaping up well. However, I do think he perhaps suffered a bit from going on first as the room wasn’t totally with him for everything and this wasn’t due to his material, because I’ve seen it do better at other gigs. His opening joke built up a nice bit of comedic tension whilst everyone wondered where he was taking them and there was a great laugh for the reveal. Beardsmore did well to chat to the audience at the start of a few routines and work the next joke into this, as it tied it all in to the audience. However, the reveal on drinking possibly wasn’t that strong for the time spent on this, but that can be worked on. ‘Verbally’ was a lovely line. I really enjoyed the new routine about £1 dares, although for pacing reasons he may find it lands better if he were to start with the crisp and follow it up with the muffin (there is a chance for a line about a doughnut in there), rather than with the couple of examples prior, because although they are funny I think they may stretch the premise a bit to the detriment of the later and better lines. The closing routine was wonderful and the punchline came as a surprise to the audience. Performance wise, Beardsmore looks confident on stage, he glances around the room and forms a connect with the audience, but if he were to vary his tone of voice a bit here and there it may be beneficial. This was a good set that he can improve further and I see no reason why he won’t progress in comedy.

Jack Topher

The last time I saw Topher he had had a fantastic night and it was obvious that his new slower delivery was paying huge dividends in laughs, so it was no surprise that tonight he has continued to develop it. I’ve seen Topher quite a few times over the last couple of years and it is absolutely marvellous to have watched him go from someone who was nervy as hell before going on stage to being not only rock solid prior, but to have the confidence to throw out asides to the audience about the jokes he has made and about events of the night. The progress he has made so far is heart warming. One of the best aspects of Topher’s writing is that he makes the audience do some work. He’ll deliver a line and then it takes the room a little bit of work to fill in the joke and because they have to do that, it means more to them and the resulting laugh is louder. One improvement I would like to see is him genuflecting on all of the biblical citations as I can imagine that verbal imagery getting a bigger laugh each time, especially if he were to do a quick self-conscious glance around the room each time he did it. There may even be room for a twist on the final one if he were to do a shoulder shrug for it when he goes to genuflect and realises he can’t. I enjoyed this set and it was obvious that Jack had been listening to Fran’s compering as he was able to tie so much of his material into the room and his asides were a real bonus. This was a strong set from Topher.

Graeme Coulam

We resumed after the intermission with Graeme Coulam who left me with more mixed feelings. His set had some good writing in places, such as Ofsted, chlamydia and nice visual elements with the books. However, in other areas it felt like he was following the herd – warnings on products, jokes that feature a list of prominent paedophiles and the line, ‘I’m not boasting’ uttered after something mundane are not really breaking new ground. In similar fashion the joke about buying a rabbit was only ever going to have one ending and would be much stronger if he were to twist it. However, these are all things that can be dealt with easily enough. He delivered his material stood pretty much in the centre of the (small) room, which added more intimacy to what is already a very intimate gig. His voice was quiet and almost subdued, which worked very well with a lot of his lines. Whilst I enjoyed a lot of what Coulam had to offer, I think with more work he will be stronger. The audience enjoyed him more consistently than I did.

Josh Pugh

Next was Josh Pugh, who was polishing some new material and trying a few other bits. He began with an energy building opening that no one was expecting, but which everyone got behind. The Alexa material is something no one else is doing and I think that Pugh is well ahead of the curve on this. It’s also first class material. The newest routine was about an Austrian who should have gone to art school. At the moment this is more of an idea than a routine and I thought it took moral courage for Pugh to let it drop part way through and to move on. He was able to do this without it hurting his momentum as he had already given the room such a good time. The directions routine is another banker. It’s always a pleasure to see Josh performing.

Spiky Mike

Following a cancellation and the replacement pro act who stepped in, being unavoidably unavailable, Spiky Mike did a set. This is the first time I’ve seen Mike do a set and because he doesn’t compere this particular gig, he was able to do a greatest hits compilation of jokes he uses when compering other venues. Although I’d seen him do each joke individually whilst warming up rooms, it was very pleasurable watching him build a set out of them. Each joke in itself is good, being short and punchy and instantly gettable by everyone. His pacing was fast and he built up a lot of impetus with them and even though each gag was on a different topic, he made them all flow together smoothly. This was a nice bonus to the evening.

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird is an absolutely top-notch act whom I don’t see that much of. On Saturday night he was supporting Michael McIntyre in an arena and tonight he was enjoying the intimacy of a small room gig. He began with some instantly relatable comments about the pub he was performing in and these went down a treat with the regulars. This was followed by a number of fairly long routines that just built and built – the sort of routines that whilst you are hoping for more, you just know that the next one will be equally as good. The gig in Bridlington was a gift that just kept giving and the story of the pub and Bird’s last drink was absolutely fantastic. This was a set with a lot of highlights and I came close to hurting myself laughing. Bird can describe a scene better than most people, but he does it very economically with the amount of time and words he uses, managing to get more out of a dozen words than a lot of acts could get out of twice as many. His eye for toppers to lines and that extra bit of detail that sends a joke into the stratosphere is remarkable. This was an absolutely smashing performance.

The Little Last Laugh – Rob Mulholland, Jed Salisbury, Andy Woolston, Roger Monkhouse and Karen Bayley (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield at the Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. This is a very popular night, with a huge queue of people waiting to get in when the doors opened. I was quite relieved that I had bought my ticket online, as a good number of people were turned away when the room had reached capacity. I think a lot of people had dressed for the March weather and hadn’t considered just how warm it would get in the venue, as a lot of folk were soon taking their jumpers off. The atmosphere was great and the audience were very much up for having a good time.

Karen Bayley (MC)

Compering was Bayley, who a few weeks ago went through to the next round in the Ashby English Comedian of the Year Heat – no mean feat in itself. I missed that gig, owing to work, but did see her on Panelbeaters a while ago. Tonight, though, she opened by discussing her West Midlands accent, which led into a brief section describing the Black Country, which was more geographical than funny. Bayley then got chatting to the audience, discovering who had met on a tinder date and finding one chap who upon the room being asked about veganism, whooped, which led to the inevitable comment that he seemed to have a lot of energy for a vegan. Luckily there was another vegan sat at the front and this fellow turned out to be good value, as he was a bit of a character with convoluted answers for everything. He could have been tricky to deal with, but Bayley dealt with him adeptly, getting a lot of fun out of him, without either letting him ramble on or dominate the night. During the first section, Bayley was pretty sweary, but this dropped off as the night went on and perhaps as she relaxed into the job. A lot of her material was sexual in content and I can imagine Bayley being a good weekend club act. Personally, I found her routine on teaching to be far more interesting. Although Bayley wasn’t really my cup of tea, as a fair bit of what she said didn’t feel like it was breaking any new ground, the room liked her and she held the night together well.

Rob Mulholland

Opening was Popular Comedian Rob Mulholland, an act that is always interesting to see. He began by talking to a tall bloke sat near the front, who by coincidence was the same height as himself (6’7). This led naturally into Rob’s material on being tall, which made for a strong opening routine. The topics covered by Mulholland were a nicely varied bunch with fat shaming being something that I’ve not heard anyone else do much on – it’s lovely when a comedian finds something novel to talk about. There was strong writing in evidence with some very vivid descriptions, such as the midwife’s extra job when he was born, which gave for a particularly arresting image. Mulholland delivered this set energetically and with conviction and this worked very well. I felt that he hit the nail on the head when he used Rotherham for the local rival town. Oddly Rob seemed to say ‘right’ a lot only during two routines: drugs and dirty talk, but hardly said it during the rest of his set. I loved the laugh he received when he earnestly told the room that he was going to apologise for what he was about to tell them. This was a very good set that everyone enjoyed. Mulholland closed by inviting everyone present to sign up to his website (http://robcomedy.co.uk/), where they would receive a free hour long copy of his show, which was a nicely generous offer.

Jed Salisbury

You can go a while between seeing an act and then you see them twice in the space of a just over a week. Wednesday last week I saw Salisbury doing a great job of headlining at the Canal House and tonight I was seeing him again, but doing a middle in Sheffield. As before, he opened strongly and generated some energy. I like how he repeats his first joke, as this not only gets a second, knowingly cheeky laugh from it, but it also establishes his authority over the audience. Salisbury has a quick speaking delivery and this helped with some of the longer set ups – there were a few that were slightly wordy for a ten spot and would benefit from perhaps editing down a touch. Not massively, just losing the odd word like ‘corner’ in front of shop and things like that. However, this is a minor point and it didn’t get in the way of Salisbury receiving consistent laughs. This was a strong performance that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

Andy Woolston

In contrast to seeing Salisbury twice in a week or so, it was eighteen months ago when I last saw Woolston. This was at a challenging bank holiday gig that only went ahead because the promoter was bounced into it when they arrived at the venue and didn’t want to let the acts down when it became apparent that it was going to be described as ‘character building’. I’m pleased to say that Woolston has improved since then. He had a better opening and whilst biscuits was ok, last words was a definite standout. Considering that there was a loud vegan sat at the front, Woolston commenting that he had gone down that path could have been entering into a minefield, but instead it proved a real bonus when he managed to ad lib a superb reply to the inevitable shout out that he received. I liked his use of a Liverpudlian accent as it added a lot to that particular joke and the WAGS material was both creative and funny. Woolston ended by addressing another powerful ad lib to the vegan. There were a few lulls in this set where there were gaps between reveals, but Woolston has improved and is going in the right direction. Considering just how good his room work was, I’d like to see more of that.

Roger Monkhouse

Monkhouse gives the audience long, wordy set ups, but this works far better than you’d expect just by reading a description of it owing to his command of the English language and the fun in listening to his verbosity. Within moments of him taking to the stage I think everyone knew that they were in a safe pair of hands. The topic of bald men looking much like other bald men was dealt with creatively and swiftly before Monkhouse moved on with his cerebral set. To me, the stand out moment was when he took a quick straw poll of ages and one bloke at the front made a highly dubious claim to being in his mid twenties. Monkhouse was splendidly flabbergasted by this claim and denounced it in magnificent terms, using words such as preposterous, delusional and blatantly middle aged. To see him come out with such a string of hilarious adjectives off the cuff like that was amazing to experience. This was a great closing performance to what was a lovely night.

NCF, Canal House: Dan Tiernan, Rich Austin, Josh Pugh, Laura Patch, Adam Elmi, James Hately, Jed Salisbury and Ben Shannon (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, an absolutely cracking gig. This was another packed out show with a good mix of ages amongst the audience. Owing to acts needing to catch trains at certain times, the running order was altered to take this into account and that made for an interesting mix.

Ben Shannon (MC)

Shannon has a few attributes that assist him in compering a room: he’s a likeable chap and his material is simultaneously unusual enough to be arresting, but (with brief explanation) tangible enough for a room to get on board with. At the moment, though, his room work isn’t on a par with his material. There were a few too many occasions where he would chat to someone or go down a train of thought and then either get distracted or abandon this without reaching a conclusion and he’d leave it hanging and move on. With more experience he’ll become more adept at working the room and bringing people into the night. In fairness, Ben got stronger as the night went on, partly because he went with more material (if he could work up a couple of loaded questions that led into his material, it would go down a treat), but also because he seemed to relax into the role, too. To his credit, Shannon wasn’t afraid to tackle people who were talking and he was effective in keeping the chatter down. He also did the rules, plugged the next night and held things together, keeping the night on schedule. Given his affability and material, if Shannon can build on his audience work he will become a much stronger compere.

Dan Tiernan

Opening was Dan Tiernan, someone whom I regard as a very promising act. He has a forceful delivery that makes a definite and positive impression on an audience and as his material is very personal it carries a lot of authenticity. This isn’t a set where people can guess what is coming next, they are surprised by the reveals and they work very well. I really enjoyed how he built the set ups to a high level before dropping out the punchlines. This was a very good performance from someone who is building a nice reputation.

Rich Austin

Next was Rich Austin, whom I last saw at Bluey’s. His slower and dry delivery made for a contrast to Tiernan and he opened with some local based jokes (nice to see acts do their research, although there’s no comedic need to confess to the hows and whys of this, as that time can be used for material) which led into some Bon Jovi puns. These might have gone a pun too far, though, clever as they were. The callback to Anakin was nicely played and went down well. There was a large routine based around the cultural appropriation of names and this was very nice. The Kendo Nagasaki, Big Daddy and Lester Piggott references were perhaps more for the over 30s in the room, but this didn’t seem to make any difference as everything was explained without too much exposition. The closing, guitar based, routine was very good and formed a solid closing number to what had been a very enjoyable and improved set.

Josh Pugh

We resumed after the intermission with Josh Pugh trying out some new material. Pugh is a great act who writes some wonderfully offbeat material and so this was a joy to watch. His comments about Alexa were bang up to date and hit home hard. Winded had promise, but Judging is already something of a gem and directions was superb, but last words and the Dalai Lama possibly need more work. Pugh’s delivery was smooth and compelling and his set seemed to go by in a flash.

Laura Patch

Next was Patch, who was on her second gig. On the positive side, I found her quite engaging and bubbly, but on the negative side, her material concerned alcoholism, death and medical worries. Over five minutes this was a triple whammy that would have depressed all but the most cheerful of people and it did prove to be something of a mood killer. She could have gotten away with material on one or perhaps two of these topics, without hurting the atmosphere, but all three was just too much over too short a time without anything in it to lighten the mood and at times it did come close to sounding like speaking therapy rather than comedy.

Adam Elmi

Elmi was trying out new material, some of which was based on actual events at a gig he played at not too long ago. The energetic Elmi began by making some throwaway disparaging comments about Nottingham, which he didn’t really seem to do enough with to really make it worth his while – I think that if you start a gig that way, there has to be enough in it to either make your point, or be intrinsically funny and so this might have been better if not done, as it felt a bit disposable. Elmi is an original thinker and I believe that he could have the makings of a good comedian with this. His material and viewpoints feel refreshingly different and with more experience and perhaps quality control with his writing he will do well. He had some very interesting perspectives behind what he was talking about and if he could tighten up his writing it would be all to the good. This was new material, but I like the way Elmi thinks. I’ll be interested in seeing how he develops.

James Hately


We began the final section with Hately, who opened with a surreal joke that was a bit of a groaner, but which did establish his persona. This was then followed by a bit of exposition about his nose and then a joke about his name which demonstrated the law of stretching something out for too long. I enjoyed the callback to Shannon’s ham based material and thought it to Hately’s credit that he could change his routine to accommodate it. This was a surreal set and the meat of his material concerned beards and birds and wasn’t that easy to buy into. I certainly found that it didn’t really draw me in. If you couldn’t get on board with the premise of keeping beards that have been shaven off, then it was quite a long road to go down. The closing routine, a character act, was to me, a dead loss, as it seemed a lot of trouble for very little in the way of comedy. Hately delivered his set seemingly without pausing for breath and this helped him to build impetus. Although Hately wasn’t for me and I think he did slightly split the room, he still received laughs and I’d watch him again to see which direction he goes in.

Jed Salisbury

Closing the night was Salisbury, a skilled act who living in Hull, probably doesn’t get the recognition or gigs that his ability entitles him to. He began by building some energy, not needing the microphone for this and then he followed with three fast jokes. This was enough to establish his credentials as closer and from here he held the room in a way that seemed effortless. The material was well considered and it had a natural rhythm to it with no odd leaps in logic or topics to interrupt the flow. I especially enjoyed the voodoo curse material and I wouldn’t have objected to hearing more on that as it seemed so unusual to really entice me into it. Salisbury was quick on his feet mentally and when talking about the differences between lads and ladies nights out he spotted three lads helpless with laughter, who had obviously seen something of themselves in this material, and he worked in some fast comments about it. This was a powerful set from someone well worth watching.

Bluey’s – Michael Dryburgh, Doug Carter, Mark Row, Will Mars and Ben Briggs (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s Australian Steakhouse for the FaF Promotions comedy night. This is a gig with a smashing atmosphere that is enthusiastically supported by Bluey and Leonie, who own the venue. Numbers were on the low side tonight and this could have made for a tricky gig, but luckily we had Ben Briggs compering.

Ben Briggs (MC)

Back by popular demand, Briggs made the night a success. He took a small crowd of individuals and formed them into an audience, speaking to everyone in the room whilst doing so. From Rich and co sat at the front, to the group from Coventry come to see Carter, he took in everyone for his sharp comments, including myself who received some fair observations. There was a real feel of a community being formed by Briggs and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Briggs is an edgy comic, but not in a self-conscious way, more in having a natural interest in seeing how far he can push the envelope. However, this is allied to a first class comedic brain and he has the knack of knowing just how far he can go without going too far. Briggs has no lack of bravery either, being happy to take to the floor between the two middle spots to ask the lads at the bar, 30′ away to keep the noise down and to keep at it until they did so – a lot of other comperes would probably not have wished to pursue the matter, or would have made a token attempt and left the lads to it, but Ben saw it through. The audience took Briggs to their hearts and his hard work made it possible for the other comedians to perform as they did.

Michael Dryburgh

Dryburgh opened with a nice line, which gave him the chance to get 3-4 quick laughs under his belt before moving into material on being a new father. He managed to tie this into some of the audience work that Briggs had done and there was a cracking line about what his baby looked like upon birth. However, at the moment this routine isn’t the completed article and because there are a lot of comedians who do routines about having babies or young children it didn’t really feel as though (great line about appearance, aside) he was telling us anything that we’d not heard a similar version of before. With time this routine will become more nuanced and in fairness, Dryburgh did receive good laughs from the audience for it, so I may have been the only person thinking this. The remainder of Dryburgh’s set was, to my mind, stronger. The line about the ex girlfriend was improved and the parking joke was very powerful, so much so that it would have made for a big closing routine. This was a good performance.

Doug Carter

We resumed after the intermission with Doug Carter, a new act, who had impressed me in Stoke last month. Tonight he did a longer and slightly different set. He opened by dropping the C Bomb – he got away with it, but I do think that there aren’t many rooms in the country where he would be able to do that. He may be better downgrading it to an insult that doesn’t risk alienating people, such as arsehole or going in totally the opposite direction and using something such as nincompoop, which is patently ridiculous, but might actually make the routine stronger if he were to talk it up as the worst insult ever, before unveiling it and then suggesting his modern replacement. As before, Doug’s ability to do a Brummie accent worked very well in selling the videos routine and allied with his hand gestures, this went down very well. I thought that there was the chance of a possible callback when he was talking about the gym: if he were to change the price to £24 and say he could have three Thai friends in a month instead, which would hark back to his second routine. Carter ended on a very strong joke, which gave his set a big ending. This was a good performance, especially for such a new act. It could be improved a bit by him relaxing more on stage and slowing down (this will come with regular gigging, so isn’t anything to worry about at the moment) and also by tying his performance into the audience more. A few nods and smiles to audience members would go a fair way in that. I’m looking forwards to seeing Carter again.

Mark Row

Next was Row, whom I only saw on Sunday night and so naturally his set was largely similar. He opened by referencing how other comedians had already covered topics that he was to speak on, which I thought was a smart move. He then went on to deliver a fuller version of Sunday’s performance. Mark’s delivery was conversational in tone which was totally in sympathy with his material and the atmosphere of Bluey’s. I did think that he had the chance for an extra laugh by being a bit more specific about a matter of death, but that’s a minor quibble. This was a good set and if anyone wants to know about his documentary – A1: The long road to Edinburgh, then it can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuwvgxioDrY

Will Mars

Headlining was Will Mars, who was a very interesting act to observe. It was easy to miss the technical excellence of his set amidst all of the laughter, but this was a solidly built set. Ironically, a paper read through of it would probably depress most people and Mars delivers it down at heel, looking like he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Usually this would result in a set that is unpalatable or simply kills the atmosphere, yet the quality of Mars’ writing and his ability to simultaneously talk to people and work their replies into the direction he wishes to go transforms it into a splendidly funny experience. Mars focussed on Rich, sat at the front, looking like an extra from Mad Max and built his status up in respect to his own and this worked beautifully in adding a contrast to what Mars was saying. This was a set with a lot of laughter and was extremely enjoyable to watch.

The Blessington Carriage – Tom Short, Jamie Hutchinson, Edy Hurst, Katharine Ferns, Scott Bennett (new material) and Simon Lomas

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy show at the Blessington Carriage and what a line up it was. There were three acts I’d seen before that I knew were totally tip top, plus one that although I’d not seen, I’d heard a lot of good stuff about and two that were new to me. Having Hutchinson, Bennett and Lomas on the same bill on any night, let alone a Monday night, was brilliant and I knew that the room was in for a real treat. Spiky Mike had fun compering, discovering that the front row was largely made up of senior management from Derby Council. This gave rise to a lot of callbacks from the acts during the night.

Tom Short

We opened with Tom Short, an act that although I’d not seen before, I’d heard enough nice things about him to be very chuffed that he was there. He came to the stage wearing a silver jacket that was very eye catching. Rather than make a big thing about this, in a nice touch, he didn’t refer to the jacket once and it worked all the better for this, being memorable without feeling too forced. Tonight Tom was trying some new material and his set could be split into two segments: one-liners based on Salford and some other one-liners. Out of area jokes can be tricky. In February I saw an act from Essex open in the North, with a lot of Essex based material and the audience had resented it, because he hadn’t made it feel relevant to them as an out of area crowd. Short didn’t make that mistake, all of his Salford jokes were self explanatory and short enough that the room didn’t feel that they were being asked to invest heavily in something about not their town. The other jokes were similar in style, also being clever, well thought out and delivered with zest. The vast majority of the jokes worked well and the few that didn’t felt more like statements, but even these could work with slightly different phrasing. This was an intelligent set. The lines that really stood out were Tesco, percentages and puddle. These three were all excellent. This was a very good opening set, that I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of.

Jamie Hutchinson

Next was Hutchinson an act who came on in leaps and bounds last year. He came to the stage with a loud voice and bags of energy. I really enjoy Hutchinson’s delivery; his short and sharp sentences hammer home what he is saying. In addition to this, his performance took in every side of the room, with the audience arrayed around the stage in a horseshoe shape – he played to every angle, leaving no-one left out. The material was sharp, with plenty of unexpected reveals and everything worked like a dream. This was a set that seemed to skate on applause throughout its’ length. I was particularly impressed with Hutchinson getting the name of the local rival city right, as I’ve heard a few unorthodox choices over the years. It was fun looking about the audience as Hutchinson was in the midst of his romantic routine and seeing that everyone was 100% focussed upon him. This was a smashing set.

Edy Hurst

We resumed after the intermission with Hurst, a musical act. He came to the stage, toting a guitar, the strap of which broke during his second song and he dealt well with this, continuing his playing without missing a beat. The format of this set was that Hurst would do ditties interspersing short gags and asides between them. I’m not into music or musical comedy and so I enjoyed the material in-between the songs far more. The highlight of the set involved Bond tunes, which we received a number of, possibly too many, as once you’d heard the first two, you then spent time trying to guess where he was going in the next few. One way to possibly remedy that, would be to do the last one straight, but then change the last line into something topical for the night. I can imagine that working extremely well and also being very tricky to do. Hurst was a pleasant presence and with his relaxed persona and big grin I could see shades of Jonny Awsum’s crowd pleasing positivity. Although this set wasn’t for me, it was enjoyable and the audience were certainly onboard with it.

Katharine Ferns

Ferns opened by explaining her accent (Canadian), which was a shrewd move as any unusual accent will have a good percentage of an audience spending time trying to guess where the act is from instead of listening to their material. This led nicely into a routine about her childhood and where she grew up. There was a cracking ad-libbed line related to bears in Canada that took in the Derby Council employees on the front row. This was then followed by material concerning giving up smoking, body parts and sex toys. This was all well written and delivered with good timing. However, her delivery of a lot of the reveals just didn’t quite feel punchy enough. Ferns had good material but her delivery of the punchlines didn’t get the most out of it. I’d like to see Ferns again, though.

Scott Bennett (New Material)

Next was Bennett who has gone beyond fine tuning his Edinburgh show and is showing the sort of quality control you’d expect on a NASA mission (obviously not one of the ones that went bang). He began with some great topical references that led naturally into storm based crowd work. Two people picked this moment to nip to the loo and he managed to riff with this, weaving it into what he was saying. Following this, he was down to business, with his notebook open and a routine about children to workshop. This material is already fantastic and he delivers it with passion, so naturally everyone had a great time. There was one moment where his mind went momentarily blank, but strangely this didn’t affect his momentum at all. When an audience admires an act they will happily stay with them and this is what happened for Bennett. The golfing routine is pure joy and the new lines to it just add to this. It does need more of an ending, though, something that gets him off of the course in a logical and consistent way to the story of his show. Possibly bedtime, the weather turning nasty or something unmissable being on Cbeebies may square that. Seeing a comedian like Bennett who is on absolutely top form is a wonderful experience.

Simon Lomas

It is interesting observing the room whilst Lomas is performing. The faces of those who don’t know that he is probably one of the most bookable acts in the country, are usually pretty blank, whereas for those in the know, you can see smiles of anticipation and this is lovely. When you look around later, you will see pretty much everyone helpless with laughter as he slowly and methodically takes the roof off of the place. It’s also makes for an interesting crowd dynamic, as when he first steps up to the stage no one is intimidated by his non-threatening appearance, yet by the halfway point of his set no one is hoping to catch his eye and the trepidation felt by those he speaks to is palpable, even before he asks them anything (it can’t be often that Helen is rendered speechless). This performance went as well or better than anything else I’ve seen Lomas do, ie it was terrific. The new lines worked very well and the closing comment formed a nicely logical end piece to his set. I was very impressed by him fitting in a line especially laid on for the Derby Council employees – it’s great when someone has a tightly scripted set and they can still find room for a line like that. This set was magnificent.

The New Barrack Tavern – Radu Isac, Jared Shooter, Mark Row, Tom Wrigglesworth and Tom King (MC)

This was a sold out show, but it appears that the weather must have put a few people off leaving their warm houses, as there were a few seats not taken. These people were unfortunate, as they missed a cracking night of comedy at the New Barrack Tavern. As ever, the family that run this pub had laid everything spot on for the night and this is always appreciated by the acts.

Tom King (MC)

Tom made for a topical start by asking who had gotten stuck in the snow, to which one person gave an enthusiastic cheer, but then bizarrely turned out not to have been stuck in it himself. King rolled with this, got laughs and used it as a lead in to the fact that he lives in Sheffield himself, on a fearsome hill and hasn’t been able to move his car a yard up it. One of the benefits of gigging in your home town is that you can name check areas and even individual streets with the confidence that people will instantly know what you are on about and this paid off well. King did a bit of material about being fat (despite being more powerfully built than fat – think of someone whom you’d be glad to have help you move house) which went down well, although I did think that maybe using a more playful word, like ‘tubby’ would have possibly gotten a laugh on it own. The true story about his mum worked very nicely, although roadside diners was my favourite routine of his. Tom did the rules, plugged the next couple of nights, didn’t overdo his spots and in a pleasant move, reminded people to take their empty glasses back to the bar. Tom had a good night compering.

Radu Isac

Isac is a comedian whom I really like seeing on bills. Every time I watch him, he seems to have improved and it’s no surprise to see him regularly appearing in the finals of pretty much every credible competition going (can it be long before he gets signed by a big agency?). Tonight I think the room took a couple of minutes to settle into his set, but after that it was all plain sailing and I think that that first few minutes was probably people just tuning into his accent, rather than him starting slowly. This was a set that combined strong logical material with an impressively paced delivery. Isac would make a statement and then logically demonstrate that he was correct in every way – there were no leaps of fancy here, everything made perfect sense. My favourite routine of his tonight was the crash, as the longer that went on the funnier it became. Isac doesn’t deliver his lines quickly, nor does he do them slowly, instead he does it at just the right pace and this worked very well. One thing that did stand out was that he sometimes used American English: vy-tamins instead of vitamins and boogers instead of bogies, which can make people sit up just for an instant, but that isn’t the end of the world. This was a smashing set.

Jared Shooter

It’s been a while since I last seen Jared, so I was really looking forwards to seeing what he had to offer and he didn’t disappoint. He came to the stage with a parcel under his arm, which immediately got everyone’s attention, as people were very curious as to what it contained. He put this to one side, though and began his set, without referencing it, which was a good move. Shooter is a lively and energetic performer who has an enviable level of likeability. In the past this has been his strongest attribute, with the material not quite being up there with his presence. Now though, his material has caught up and the combination is very pleasing. The litter picking routine had a great structure to it and this paid dividends with the callbacks, his job application was sharper and had a better ending and whilst the wall routine hasn’t really changed, Shooter just seemed more focussed when delivering it. There were a few lines that could have been tightened up, but a lot less than before and these didn’t get in the way of the fun. This was an improved set and a joy to watch.

Mark Row

Possibly best known for his documentary, ‘A1: The long road to Edinburgh’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkFme25WGoo), Row was another welcome addition to the bill. He opened with a nice joke and then asked a wonderfully loaded question of a couple before resuming his set, which largely comprised routines about families and teaching. These were all of a good standard, although I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t a reference to arming teachers in the set, as that would have been very timely. Whilst the writing was good and this isn’t to take anything away from it, I did think there were a few areas were it might have been improved a touch. When he introduced his kids, I thought it might have worked better if he had said p**** father of two…. out of three kids and when it came to mocks, I did wonder whether that could have been tightened up. These are just minor points, Row received consistent laughs and this was an enjoyable set.

Tom Wrigglesworth

Wrigglesworth has such a command of the English language that just listening to him deliver his lines is a joy. If he ever decided to try his hand at writing fiction then I’d be very interested in seeing the result. Tonight he had the audience with him from the off, as he delivered a performance that covered, births, organ donation, printers, airlines and a speed awareness course. The material was solid, but it was the performance that I enjoyed the most. Wrigglesworth is able to deliver crafted material in such a way that it looks like he is sharing an inspired train of thought that his brain has just discovered and this gives a real feel of immediacy to his set. The toppers and apparent after thoughts were the icing on a delicious cake. This was a magnificent set with a charming ending.