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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.