Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse gong show. Although there are gong shows closer to home, I’d invited 4 other people simply because this is a bloody lovely pub and there it always has a fantastic atmosphere and I wanted them to see a gong show under the best of conditions. A bonus to the night was seeing Wayne Bamforth (Last Laugh) in the audience, as it is always wonderful when such comedy fans are present. Mike had a great night compering, mostly talking to Dan, who worked in a call centre who kept feeding him lines to build material with. Probably the biggest laugh, though, came from a well built lad sat with Dan, who was asked if he was a darts player, to which he reposted that he’d need to borrow Mike’s shirt for that. This compering provided plenty of material for callbacks from the acts during the night.
Our opening act was Hector Walker, whose material has potential, but he’s not yet worked on it enough to get the most from it. On the debit side, the jokes about Coventry being a crap town aren’t anything we’ve not heard about any other town, the line ‘suck its’ own dick’ was a bit jarring and the Isis goat was a digression, but on the credit side of the ledger, Coventry as City of Culture and the Aldi loyalty card are very novel topics and he should be able to get a lot of mileage out of them. Although having said that, the loyalty reward might need changing to something funnier, as I’m not convinced the present reveal is strong enough (perhaps some bizarre object that they’ve not been able to shift?). Walker displayed some good room work upon the votes and it would be nice to see him inject more of his personality into the rest of his delivery as he seemed to come to life more in those moments and it really added to his presence.
O’Leary was an oddity. He has funny bones, but no material and tonight his performance veered from superb to boring. He began with a downbeat opening that worked surprisingly well, he built on this with a fantastic comment that his dad had made on his comedy and then followed this up by chatting to Dan on the second row. O’Leary seemed the most surprised of all the people in the room when he received 5 green cards at the first vote, but he was doing well and as so much of his work involved the audience everyone was paying full attention. He was a bit sweary and commented a few too many times about having no material, but what killed him off at the final vote was that just working the room can only take you so far, even in a home town gig in front of a friendly room and the audience simply grew bored of there being no framework of material for him to base this off. This was a shame, because with just a few minutes worth of material O’Leary would have made the final.
The penultimate act of the opening session was Grenville Glossop. Tonight he had a change of style from what I’ve seen before and came to the stage with an A3 folder full of visual gags. The opening joke was smashing and even if he discards the rest, he should keep that. The rest of the gags featured cuttings from the local paper and whilst he could have built something out of them, there wasn’t really enough in it to impress the room, but it is entirely possible that in a longer set it would work better. I think he could be onto something in incorporating some more visual jokes into his set, even if the press cuttings aren’t what he ultimately goes with. I like Glossop, but this wasn’t his night.
Mackridge gave the New Barrack Tavern an uneven set. The first few minutes, despite having a nice start and convinced being a good line, wasn’t especially strong and he was more of an amiable presence than really funny – he was receiving giggles, rather than laughs. When he came to ‘bombs’ his set took off and the final few minutes were much improved. He managed to get enough support in these minutes to secure a place in the final, which he wasn’t able to capitalise on due to having to catch a train back to Manchester.
We resumed after the intermission with TJ Harlott, who was performing his first ever gig and who, by and large, did almost everything right. This is despite there being an excruciatingly awkward moment when at the top of his set he asked the audience to give it up for the acts they’d already seen, which got absolutely fuck all from everyone. To his credit, he didn’t go to pieces at this total lack of enthusiasm and he bounced straight back from it with a callback to Walker’s material about Coventry being the City of Culture. It was also evident that he’d been listening to the rest of the performances, as he had remembered Dan’s name and had something funny to say about him. Harlott had also kept his eyes open in the pub and was able to make some very relevant comments about the cocktails on offer. This was all very impressive and it tied his performance in to the audience wonderfully, as they could either see or relate to everything he was saying and it felt incredibly of the here and now. Harlott did forget some of his prepared material, but everyone was happy to forgive this as he had charm and had remembered enough to get by. He made it into the final very easily and here he treated the room to an improvised minute of comedy based around why Sheffield is great. This had more than a whiff of wikipedia having been googled during the intermission, but as with his earlier material, it was charming and above all relevant to the audience and he ended the night as a close runner up. For a first ever gig this was very impressive and if Harlott can match his nous at getting the most out of the environment with some material to fall back on, he will do very well.
With his massively varying energy levels Brudenell was something of an acquired taste. He began full on, bouncing around on the stage, burning up calories at a frightening rate as he jumped up and down upon it, only to then send the energy levels through the floor as he began to talk about his girlfriend. Unfortunately, imaginary girlfriends are a fairly common trope and this didn’t go down that well and then when he ramped the energy back up for the next routine it was more jarring and bewildering than a comic contrast. This fluctuating energy felt like it had come from a drama workshop or something and the girlfriend material was a mood killer. The persona adopted by Brudenell felt forced and unnatural and when he let the downbeat and odd mask slip, he seemed quite cheerful and this was a much more attractive stage persona.
Dunlop is a fairly new act, only having been gigging for 6 months and I think he has potential. The mainspring of his set was being black and middle class, with the tale of a gig in Leeds forming the rest of his material and there was some great stuff in here, such as Jesus, which was a cracking line. The timing on lawyer could have been a bit improved with a shorter pause, but it worked well. The joke about Trump having small hands felt a bit last year, but it still received a big laugh, all the same. Aside from the good material, what struck me the most about Dunlop’s performance was the delivery. He addressed the room with a big warm smile and I think that everyone was able to bounce off of this; he looked like he was having a great time on stage and only the most churlish of people wouldn’t have responded in kind. Tonight he made the final. There is some gold here and I’ll be very interested to see how Dunlop develops.
Adams began by tying his opening line into Dan, sat in the audience and despite snapchat being a fairly novel and curiously underused topic, his set was pretty flat. Routines about Tinder were done to death in 2015 and it is incredibly hard to say something about it that hasn’t been said a dozen times already and I think most audiences can explain how it works after seeing so many acts describe it. Luckily this was only a short part of his set and he soon moved onto snapchat. The broken bed was ok, but it really needed more, being an anecdote at present. This wasn’t a great set, but Adams has something to build on.
McKay didn’t half remind me of a younger Tony Cowards, being tall, facially similar looking with having stubble, glasses and doing one-liners. However, in contrast to Cowards, McKay is in his early stages as a comedian and his material wasn’t that strong, feeling more like ideas than something that is the finished article. This will all improve in time, though. Tonight, possibly thanks to a slightly generous audience, he made the final, but wasn’t the winner.
Donny Otemod (Mark Richardson)
Otemod was a character act and visually arresting, wearing shorts, shirt and waistcoat with a dickie bow (non rotating, alas) and a flat cap. He began by describing a childhood incident and ‘Friday’ was a good line with the rest of that routine being a logical progression that was ok, but perhaps needed a bit more. Where Otemod came unstuck was when he came out of character to mention comedy experience and this felt like an aside at best and a road to nowhere at worst. As it was, coming out of character fatally weakened him just as a vote was cast.
A lovely bonus to the night was seeing Beardsmore who is very much on form at the moment and seemed much sharper than when I saw him last. Possibly this was because he had already gigged tonight and was totally warmed up (this double was a happy coincidence of him being in the area and Mike being short of an act), but having said that the lady sat next to me had seen him in January and thought him much improved, too. Tonight he opened with a solid joke and never looked back, with pretty much every gag landing with the force of a punch, getting big laughs all the way. Beardsmore flew through to the final where he came back on stage and continued the good work. Instead of his usual closing joke, he did a new routine which went down well and Bearsmore finished the night as a worthy winner of the show.