NCF – Mecca Bingo, Sheffield – Tony Cowards, Vikki Stone and Barry Dodds (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield for the first comedy night held at Mecca bingo. The Mecca in Mansfield is located on a trading estate with loads of car parking, so I was rather hoping for the same thing. However, this was in the city centre and parking was next door in a NCP car park and I’m thankful that Mecca had come to an arrangement with them to offer free parking, as otherwise it would have cost everyone £10. My ticket to the show only cost a fiver and there is something wrong in life if you can see top comedians perform for half the price it would cost to park.

The venue itself was what you’d expect for a bingo parlour – the room was the size of an aircraft hanger. The ceiling was really high up and the room was huge, so building any kind of atmosphere was going to require a lot of hard work. The audience was younger than I was expecting, with a 70/30 female male gender split. The biggest issue with the audience was that they weren’t really there for the comedy. They’d gone out for a night of bingo and basically someone had turned their parlour into a comedy club and so their investment in the night wavered dramatically. As they weren’t regular comedy goers, despite Barry explaining the rules, people showed a distressing tendency to chat and in that room, it didn’t half echo when someone at the back spoke. Also, people were more than happy to get up and wander off to the loo or outside partway through sets and one bloke even had the disgraceful manners to get up and walk right in front of the stage and stand and queue at the bar, ready for when it reopened. This was a first time gig here, so hopefully as the crowd become more comedy savvy this will improve.

Barry Dodds (MC)

Barry put a lot of hard work into building atmosphere and making tonight function. He began by getting the room cheering, which built up some energy and almost forged a collective out of the individual tables. He then explained how the night would work, doing the rules, before finding out who was present. Dodds spoke to a few people, using his local knowledge to good effect and he had a lot of fun with a chap who had travelled from Cheshire to see his partner, even getting him to go down on one knee and pretend to pop the question to her. Barry has bags of charm and this helped him in building a rapport with folk. After the intermission he went with more material and this went down especially well with the audience, particularly the routine about becoming an uncle. This was good compering in a venue that was unfamiliar with comedy.

For anyone who isn’t aware, Dodds is one half of the Parapod, the best podcast I’ve ever heard. If you’ve not listened to it, then I’d recommend you do so. It’s so good they even have a film coming out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuTsp3itCRw

Tony Cowards

Cowards does intelligent and clean one-liners, with the odd darker joke thrown in and he will deliver his puns in strings, almost like a boxer with combination punches. These are strong jokes, with blood groups being my personal favourite. He varied the pace a bit, slowing it to conversational for the set ups and then increasing it when he hit the punchline and toppers. I did wonder if he might have been better off keeping the pace fast, as he may have built more momentum, but I don’t think it would have made a huge difference, as he took a bullet by going on first. The audience partly listened and laughed a fair bit, but what I’ve seen get a 9 or a 10 on other nights was only getting 6s or 7s and this was due to a combination of people talking and just not feeling that involved in there being a show on. This was bad luck for Tony and I think that this was simply the result being the first ‘turn’ as I’m sure most of the audience would have described him, of the night.

Vikki Stone

Stone gave the room an opening routine based around her footwear and this went down well, before singing the first of 4 songs, which she accompanied on keyboard. This wasn’t a bad song and I enjoyed the callback to her earlier material. That song revolved around her unrequited love of a celebrity and the second song was basically a variation on this, being another song about her unrequited love for a different celebrity. These were well written and sang very well, but I was glad when the 3rd and 4th songs were totally different. Stone was helped a bit by the demographic of the audience being in her favour, but the biggest boost she had was that the audience had settled down into the night during the intermission and the balance of the room was now with the people who wanted to listen and be entertained. Stone is a talented musical comedian, but didn’t really do it for me. Not through any lack of ability, she has plenty of that, but simply because musical comedy really isn’t my cup of tea; the audience were happy with her.

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