May – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been an amazing month for comedy. I’ve seen 47 acts and the highlight was a very strong English Comedian of the Year heat that featured some amazingly talented acts.

These are the comedians who have impressed me the most this month:

Lindsey Santoro

I’ve seen Santoro twice this month and she had a brilliant gig both times. It’s not hard to picture her progressing in the comedy industry and she’s well worth booking.

From the night:

Santoro had an absolutely smashing night. Her down to earth charm and more near the knuckle content struck a real chord with Ashby, despite them usually being a touch reticent about sexual material. She began well by addressing her accent and followed it up with the skilful use of pausing and letting the audience fill in the missing word. The topper on hole was brilliant and ring size (a personal favourite of mine) landed beautifully, seeming to shimmer on the edge of applause. This was a very impressive performance that had obviously been appreciated by the audience. I had enjoyed the set, but wasn’t sure how the voting would actually go, but in a lovely show of appreciation Santoro picked up 68 votes and finished in second place, between two pro acts. By any margin, that is absolutely smashing.

Tom Houghton

A superbly charismatic act whom audience’s warm to very quickly.

From the night:

Houghton was my favourite to win the most votes. He was one of the few acts on the bill who would be just as dangerous over twenty as he would be doing seven. He has great punchy material, a flamboyant delivery and has the sort of charisma that wins people around in next to no time. Tonight he began well with a quick spot of room work, before moving onto some new (to me) material about the names of groups of people and this was a brilliant start. He then moved on with even better material. This was peppered with asides to Ed, sat on the front row and everything he was saying was getting a laugh. The closing routine was a magnificently brave choice: an audience sing-along, with Ed the recipient of his own anthem. Getting the audience involved could have backfired, but there was never a doubt that they wouldn’t play along with Houghton and this paid off handsomely. I was sure that Houghton was going to hoover up almost every vote, but when it came to the vote counting he finished as a strongly supported, but surprise 3rd place.

Tom Lawrinson

A cracking surprise, who seemed to get laughs out of nowhere in the way only someone who is very skilled can achieve.

From the night:

Next was Tom Lawrinson, an act I’d never seen before. Stood on stage, arm stretched out with his elbow resting on the mic stand and big wide grin showing off his white teeth, he presented the room with a relaxed and quirky persona. He opened with an impressive joke and then rode the laugh whilst his intriguing character drew the audience in. His material was very good and he seemed to constantly wrong foot the audience with the reveals. When he mentioned online dating I was surprised, as his set had been wonderfully creative so far and this is a bit of an old chestnut, but he carried on the good work and took it in a totally different direction to anything else anyone has done. The delivery of this set was well acted out and very much in synch with his persona. This was a smashing set and there was a heck of a lot to like about it.

Honourable Mentions:

Aaron Simmonds, Chelsea Hart, Dimitri Bakanov, Ian Crawford, Mike Carter, Mo Haroon, Tony Cowards

Advertisements

The Little Last Laugh – Rachel Fairburn, Big Shaun, Steve Gribbin and Rob Rouse (MC)

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. This was another packed out night in front of an up for it crowd. Despite being in a student area of Sheffield this gig attracts a wide variety of people and it’s nice to see a comedy savvy crowd like this. The show music is Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis and this really tees the start of the night up well.

Rob Rouse (MC)

Rouse took to the stage full of beans and immediately built up the energy levels. He stood there with the microphone in his hand and oddly the cable for it draped over his shoulder instead of on the floor. He began well with some material concerning the benefits of the local twenty minutes of free parking and this struck a major chord with the audience. He then went on to chat to the students on the front row, discovering where they were from and what they were there to ‘stude’. Josh was doing something computer based and this led into what was either a cracking ad-libbed routine or a serendipitous piece of material he had banked, on the topic of computing. Whichever way he came to it, this was brilliantly delivered. The section concerning the results of a curry was graphically acted out in a way that brought out all of the humour in the situation. Unfortunately Sheffield ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Spoons’ didn’t go down very well, but mangling the names of the teams in a way like that wasn’t much above school attempts at winding people up. This was a rare blip in what was good compering. For the second section, Rouse stayed on a fair length of time and this initially puzzled me, but when it became apparent that one of the acts in the second part was on his first ever solo gig and was doing a shorter set, then I realised why he had given the room a bonus length performance. Rouse was quick speaking and built up a lot of momentum. There were shades of Wrigglesworth in the lovely wall of words that he presented the audience with. I enjoyed watching him compere and he was a wonderful addition to the night.

Rachel Fairburn

Our opening act was Fairburn, who began with material related to her Mancunian accent. This was a good funny opening that would work anywhere in the country. It was very tangible. When she said pardon and so on, everyone got her point straight away. The routine about her dad wasn’t bad, but my favourite concerned her sister. There were some lovely lines in this (unstable was sharp) and the topper on pictures was superb. Her timing delivering that was spot on. In any month I lose count of the number of routines I see featuring tinder, so it’s absolutely amazing that Fairburn is the only person who seems to be doing anything based on Snapchat. Like vaping, it’s a curiously overlooked topic. Her material on this, whilst perhaps not as good as that on her sister, was still solid and she picked up regular laughs. This was a good performance, but as when I last saw Fairburn it did seem to reach a plateau and stay there. This is better than one that dips, but it would have been nice to see a big closing routine.

Big Shaun

The second section opened with Big Shaun of the Everly Pregnant Brothers who was doing his first ever solo set. Shaun is something of a Sheffield celebrity and he received a lot of love from the room, which was very nice to see. He had a good memory for the names and occupations revealed by Rouse’s compering and was able to work jokes into his set based on that. He wasn’t on long, so his set was largely concentrated on two topics; anxiety and depression and mishaps on the telephone. It’s hard to make depression funny, but he had some decent lines on it, whereas the mishaps on the phone was very relatable to anyone who’s ever picked a call up at work. His ability to do a Brummie accent helped to sell that routine, although it would have probably benefited from a twist on the reveal. Shaun did hold the microphone a bit close to his mouth, which gave him a big booming voice and when that was combined with his white hair, glasses and burly build there was more than a passing resemblance to the late Rev Ian Paisley. This was a creditable first performance and he has a good base to build from. Big Shaun looked very much at home on the stage and he held the room easily with his big personality. With more stage time I can imagine him becoming a good dependable host.

Steve Gribbin

We closed with Gribbin who went down a treat with the audience. He’s a musical act, who came to the stage with a guitar and performed a lot of short songs. These were snappy and he built up no end of impetus with them, helped by his, at times, intense delivery. A lot of the topics he chose to sing about were things that he has strong feelings about and this added a lot of emotion to his delivery, even if it might perhaps be a bit much for some folk. Tonight it worked extremely well. Gribbin would do accents and add little bits of characterisation and these were a huge bonus. The Mexican voice was a definite asset and the callbacks to the Mexicans became a potent running joke. Material wise, I felt that it was something of a curate’s egg. There was some great stuff here, but there was also a lot that wasn’t, such as an orange joke about Trump, gay marriage giving equal rights to be miserable and a mad cow joke that wasn’t exactly current. Despite me having some misgivings about some of the material, Gribbin gave the room a nice crowd pleasing set that was very well received and reading the room well, Rouse got him to do an encore. Although this set wasn’t for me, everyone else had a cracking time with it.

Canal House – Aaron Twitchen, Tom Lawrinson, Katie Mitchell, Tommy Wager, Dan Nicholas, Ian Hall and Paul Savage (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. At first it looked like we were going to be in for a packed house, as the area outside the pub was absolutely swarming with people, but unfortunately a lot of these stayed outside in the sun and numbers were smaller than usual. The audience that we did have varied in their enthusiasm and seemed very prone to shouting out, which was a bit irritating.

Paul Savage (MC)

Savage began with a sneeze. He took to the stage and almost immediately found himself just about to sneeze, so he paused things until the affliction had resolved itself and rolled with this event to a fair bit of laughter. Not the usual start, but he did well not to let it upset his rhythm. Savage is a strong act who always leaves me wondering why he isn’t a few rungs further up the comedy ladder. Tonight there was a lot of powerful material in the offing, such as South America and Cluedo (which is new and has a lot of promise). The game of animal shit was nicely novel and was a very welcome way of getting the audience involved in the show. Most of what Savage did was great, but every so often, such as when he looked like he was going to bring an act on, he’d go off on a tangent and these didn’t always fare so well and then he’d have to work to reset the room, meaning that he was perhaps on a bit overly long at times. Understandable, as no one would want to bring acts on to anything less than a perfectly ready audience. If he could perhaps structure this side of things to match his admirable material with his proven room work and so eliminate those odd tangents he would do well. I look forwards to seeing Savage again.

Aaron Twitchen

Opening the night was Twitchen, who was trying some new material. Strangely he is the only comic I’ve heard reference the royal wedding and this led nicely into a few jokes about sunny weather. There were some very commendable lines in this performance, such as Katie Price and contraception; I really liked both of these. My favourite section of Aaron’s set was when he was talking about Devon and his siblings – this felt really personal and interesting, although LGBT did need a bigger ending, but it’s new material so that’s fair enough. Despite repeated late comers interfering with Twitchen building up momentum, there was a lot to enjoy in this performance.

Tom Lawrinson

Next was Tom Lawrinson, an act I’d never seen before. Stood on stage, arm stretched out with his elbow resting on the mic stand and big wide grin showing off his white teeth, he presented the room with a relaxed and quirky persona. He opened with an impressive joke and then rode the laugh whilst his intriguing character drew the audience in. His material was very good and he seemed to constantly wrong foot the audience with the reveals. When he mentioned online dating I was surprised, as his set had been wonderfully creative so far and this is a bit of an old chestnut, but he carried on the good work and took it in a totally different direction to anything else anyone has done. The delivery of this set was well acted out and very much in synch with his persona. This was a smashing set and there was a heck of a lot to like about it.

Katie Mitchell

We resumed after the intermission with Katie Mitchell who had a few short jokes, but mostly populated her set with long routines. Drag Queen is a good bit of material as is her short routine about giving blood (sadly not used tonight), which is a real stand out. She opened with a prop gag involving a painting, but this just delayed her getting to the stage and in the dark it was hard for the far half of the audience to make out what she was doing with the painting and when she got to the stage there wasn’t a big enough pay off to really make carting it about worth the effort. Van Graaf generator was a nice line and with her flamboyant hair a very good visual joke, but as it required an explanation as to what one was, I did wonder if she might have been better off just saying that statics a real bitch when you have hair like hers. I suspect Mitchell would have received just as big a laugh in a quarter of the time. There were two long routines in this set. One involving a reading and another involving an audience member remembering running around and both suffer from the same issue: if you aren’t onboard within the first minute, then the rest of the routine is going to be wasted on you. In particular, running around is a long five minutes for anyone not invested in it, as apart from a bit of comedic tension as you wonder where she is going, there aren’t many laughs until you get to the reveal. Tonight I think she lost a fair few people during this routine. Mitchell has potential, but she may find that she builds more impetus with some shorter, snappier and more accessible routines.

Tommy Wager

Wager is visually interesting, with a short bright mohican and a shirt and tie. He opened with a couple of jokes about being at school before moving on to talk about his bathroom and perhaps in the excitement, his diction here wasn’t that clear and I (at least) struggled to catch all that was said. However, I got the gist of it, but perhaps just speaking that little bit more slowly and clearly at the top wouldn’t hurt. Following this, we moved onto the mainstay of his set, a hatred of magicians of various types. This was spellbinding material and no one else is doing anything like it, so that is all to the good. There were some grand lines in here and he motored along nicely, getting a respectable amount of laughs. There was one line in this set that was a bit too dark and that was the baby – if he were to change that out to a dwarf then I think it would maybe work better, as I felt that he pushed a few people away with baby. The section about homeless people was ok and the callbacks were solid enough (this was a pretty well constructed set, with callbacks and so on), but it would have benefited from a ruthless pruning for pace reasons. Wager’s delivery was a lot better than when I saw him last, as was his entire performance and he has certainly improved. He does need to set his phone to vibrate 30 seconds before the end of his time, as he overran tonight and it would probably bring the house down if he could close with an incidental magical trick, such as his tie lifting or pulling a stream of handkerchiefs from nowhere.

Dan Nicholas

Nicholas gave the room a lively performance with some new material. Wax work was fun and the chap who shouted out a suggestion didn’t really do him any harm, as Dan topped it effortlessly. When it came to Trident I’d never heard of the cartoon he referenced, but I got the joke all the same, as luckily this knowledge wasn’t intrinsic to it working. I thought that dentist had potential, but did need a bigger ending, which as with any new material being tried out, isn’t a problem. Despite the audience getting close to reaching a tipping point, Dan held their attention and entertained them.

Ian Hall

Hall closed the night with a mix of anti-comedy, groaners and musical prop gags. He opened and closed with deconstructing archetypal routines, with the dissection of opening bouncing well off of Lawrinson’s opening joke. This was followed by him announcing a contents list of what his performance would contain. This was then adhered to, as he did a few knowingly groan-worthy jokes and a big dramatic musical prop based closing routine. Although this routine wasn’t one I especially enjoyed, he went into it with such commitment that it was hard not to be carried along by it and the longer he continued it, the more the audience bought into it and enjoyed it.

The Rigger – Stefan Kempkes, Chris Copestake, Paul Campbell, Mike Carter, Nick Pettigrew, Lee Hamill, Ben Turner, Jack Topher (bonus ten), David Bawden, Brad Adams, Jonathan Collins

Tonight I was in Newcastle under Lyme for the Funhouse gong show. There were a lot of regulars there whom Spiky Mike had spoken to a few times before, which made compering a bit more tricky than usual. However, he was lucky in having two trainee teachers sat at the front which gave him something to work with and then when their truck driving friend joined them later that helped a lot. Soon enough, though, the room was ready for our first contestant.

Stefan Kempkes

Kempkes didn’t have a great night. He opened with what was by implication, a rape joke and this wasn’t ideal. It was also too soon for the audience to judge how it fitted in with his comedy persona. This was followed by a decent enough first impression gag, but then the next couple of jokes (pescetarian and five a day) were both pretty hack. Kempkes managed to further alienate the audience by an old fashioned fat joke and he was voted off at the first vote. Whilst this set wasn’t fantastic, if he were to rewrite it and inject a bit of energy into his delivery, he would do better.

Chris Copestake

Copestake did well. Compared to the previous act he was immediately likeable and his first joke was a good one. The tall material was decent, with a nice bit of misdirection involved – it was also pleasant to see a touch of room work in a gong show. When he was shouting to add emphasis, he would probably be better served by moving the mic away from his mouth, as there was some overkill when he shouted down the microphone. His material on nicknames was good, although when it came to the teachers using them that was the archetypal pull back and reveal and I think he can do better than that. This was a good performance that earned him consistent laughs and Copestake easily made the final. Unfortunately he misjudged the one minute he had in the final, but he still finished a probable joint runner up. I liked what I saw.

Paul Campbell

Campbell was an act that I found hard to get engaged with. He performs as a character act, playing it as a loser who lives with his mum and hasn’t got a girlfriend and without much nuance over the five minutes, it didn’t draw me. If anything, I found it depressing. With a bit more balance I would probably have enjoyed his performance more. Having said that, his text conversation was good and the rest of the room liked him enough to vote him through to the final, where he carried on from where he had left off.

Mike Carter

Carter had a great night. He opened with a couple of lookalike gags that despite this being a well worn trope, actually felt a bit of a cut above many similar vague celebrity resemblances. This gave him a strong start, which he built on with some solid material about a trip to see the Terracotta Army. The callback went down beautifully and he received the first applause break of the night. Throughout Carter’s set he was getting big laughs and my feeling was that rather than being there to specifically win the gong show, this was a skilled act who was perhaps more interested in being seen by Mike. Carter breezed through into the final, where he carried on the good work and finished as an impressive winner.

Nick Pettigrew

We resumed after the intermission with Nick Pettigrew, who was performing for the first time ever. He came to the stage chock-full of nervous energy and performed full of adrenalin, pacing about and jerking his arms. This was something that the audience responded to positively and it helped him with his performance. The material was a bit varied as you’d expect for a first ever attempt, but there was a lot to like, especially his routine about giving up. This was the stand out of his set. I thought Pettigrew had done enough to make the final, but he went off to a split vote at the final hurdle, which was a shame, as this was a very creditable first attempt.

Lee Hamill

Hamill started well with a great callback to Mike’s compering and his line about acting garnered him some applause. There was a nice pause on KFC, which helped sell the line, but I was a touch surprised when he didn’t go with bucket for that reveal as I was expecting, but in fairness his punchline was stronger. I thought he lost a bit of impetus when discussing walking down the aisle, but this was soon regained with applause for google. There were a lot of laughs during this set and Hamill made the final, where despite not having a great last minute, he was probably joint second.

Ben Turner

Turner began well with a strong opening joke and he added to this with the topper and the next couple of gags which rolled from the back of it. Burslem has potential and there were some decent lines in this set, but unfortunately there were a couple too many pull back and reveals and this diluted their impact. With a slight rethink this set will be improved.

To close the middle section we had a bonus ten spot, which wasn’t part of the competition:

Jack Topher

Topher made a deliberately slow start, which built up a lot of comedic tension. This worked well and he gained laughs for it. Tonight Topher was doing some new bits of material and the lines about his mum and dad being dead worked well in the context of his character props. Colour blind has potential and if he can get a few more jokes to run from it, then he will have a very good routine there. Topher’s pacing is spot on and if he can work on the material to keep the pace but so that the laughs come more quickly, then he will do very well indeed.

David Bawden

We began the final session with Bawden who started by talking about his upcoming 30th birthday and then moved into talking about his life as an Emo child. I found that this material didn’t really draw me in, nor did the performance. There were a couple of nice visual gags and a good line about wrist bands, but I didn’t think that this really rose above being amiable instead of funny. However, the audience disagreed and Bawden made the final.

Brad Adams

Next was the Canadian, Brad Adams. I struggled a bit with his accent and found I was sometimes playing catch up. Just as I was getting used to it, his time was up. Brad gave us a mix of short jokes and one-liners. There were some good gags in here, such as last day and proctologist (which went over a lot of heads, sadly), but ambulance wasn’t that great. Brad did well, but did seem to run out of steam a bit before the end of his time, however, he had done enough to get through to the final.

Jonathan Collins

The final act of the night was Jonathan Collins, a Gothic transvestite, which will inevitably bring Andrew O’Neill, a pro comedian who is also a Gothic transvestite to mind. Collins was a lively act who had a lot of energy. Perhaps, too much, as within 20 seconds of commencing his spot, he had left the stage and was shouting a punchline directly into someone’s face. He followed this up by sitting in the audience, perhaps on someone’s knee – it was hard to tell from where I was. The total combination of this did seem a bit in people’s faces and considering that Collins had only told one joke, he hadn’t really done enough to give the audience a reason to keep him on and he was an early gonging. Collins may have lasted longer if he had toned down the energy and had gone with a few quick jokes to get people onside.

Admiral Rodney (Wollaton) – Mike Dryburgh, Lindsey Santoro, Aaron Simmonds, Scott Bennett (new material), Tom Taylor and Fran Jenking (MC)

Tonight I was in Wollaton at the Funhouse Comedy night at the Admiral Rodney. This was a hot and humid night and I was glad that the pub had the door open, even if the noise from the occasional passing motorist was a bit intrusive. Numbers were buoyant, with, as usual, just as many people watching the show from the tap room as the snug. Fran had a good night compering, with gardening forming the mainstay of his work at the top. I was very impressed with his tale of going to a vegan exposition, which he used later, and feel that he has the basis of a solid routine here. It is also one that will work well when compering, as every room he works in is bound to have a vegetarian or vegan present and this routine will feel like a superb ad lib off of the back of chatting to one, if he plays it right. Whilst Fran was compering it was nice to see that none of the acts were checking their phones and were all paying attention. Things like this set a good example to the audience. There was a great moment where a member of staff took some condiments through and realising he was highly visible he ducked so low he almost looked like a ninja crawling into position, except in his case a ninja who still managed to stand out like a sore thumb.

Mike Dryburgh

Opening was Mike Dryburgh whose set came in two halves, the first talking about his newly born kid and the other half featuring his wife. Both segments had their positives, with his wife perhaps being the newer material. Of the baby section, the time spent in labour was good, but hipster and vegan was the most promising. I enjoyed the section about Mike’s wife, with the make up present being decent and the final routine about her being picked up being great. However, the build to the final line didn’t feel quite as though it really did that line justice, but this routine was altered owing to time constraints, so seen in full it would probably be fine. The final line definitely deserved more than it received, though.

Lindsey Santoro

Last week Santoro had an absolutely smashing gig at the Ashby English Comedian of the Year heat and I shouldn’t be surprised if she picks up a few bookings off of the back of that. Tonight she started quickly and never looked back, getting strong laughs all the way through her set. She wasn’t even badly hurt by the noise bleed from the birthday party in the best side of the pub. Her routine about how she met her boyfriend was great, with ‘your choice’ really pushing it. The hotel visit provided a very powerful closing routine. One of the things that impressed me the most tonight was how Santoro got the audience involved in her set – this ensured that everyone was engaged and helped to boost her performance. This was a cracking set.

Aaron Simmonds

We resumed after the intermission with Simmonds who began by bouncing off of Fran’s introduction. He then moved into some chair based material which succeeded on two levels. One, it referenced the obvious without making a big deal of it and two, it was a very funny start to the set that established his credibility with the audience. There was some very good material on offer here, with his meeting with ‘Jesus’ being a big stand out. Everyone was hanging on his every word when he was discussing this encounter and the reveals didn’t let anyone down. Delivery wise, this was also very good. I enjoyed his elongation of the word ‘too’ in too far and felt that that added a lot to the delivery of that joke. However, ‘not particularly proud’ is a bit of an overused line. This was a very good set that seemed to be over all too soon.

Scott Bennett

Next was Scott Bennett who is polishing segments of his Edinburgh show. Having Scott on the bill like this is the equivalent of an extra headliner and everyone benefits from it. Bennett has a superb presence and when he opened with a bit of room work, it landed very very well. His set construction is amazingly strong and he is the sort of act that anyone wishing to learn about comedy should sit and watch. Tonight it was obvious that his routines were more closely tied in to the theme of his show and I think everyone could feel the direction and how it would come together. There were only two minor improvements that I could suggest; one is going a bit more specific about what his daughter will do whilst he is at Ikea and the other was a bit of alliteration on crime scene. I love the conspiratorial tone his wife uses when talking to their baby and the new section about the coffee group has a lot of potential; more so following a cracking suggestion from Simmonds. Baby sign language is a work in progress, but it’ll get there. This was a lovely set.

Tom Taylor

Taylor isn’t an act that I see as much of as I’d like. He’s a musical act, but rather than spending a lot of his set singing, he uses his keyboard as a framework to fit the jokes around and this balance works extremely well. Taylor presents the room with a delightfully oddball persona and this gives him a lot of latitude with his material, as he goes from well written intelligent jokes to well written daft jokes. One common denominator is that the reveals come out of the left field and another common denominator is that they all got a big laugh (in particular, Scott Bennett was laughing his head off at Taylor’s set and it’s great to see the other acts enjoying each other’s work). I felt that the asides added a lot to what Tom was doing and I appreciated the fact that he had been paying attention during the show and was able to do callbacks to various aspects of the night. This was a fast moving set that stayed fresh and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ashby – English Comedian of the Year Heat – Mo Haroon, Katie Pritchard, Tom Houghton, Harry Miles, Stephen Carlin, Lindsey Santoro, Chelsea Hart, Dimitri Bakanov and Simon Feilder

Tonight I was in Ashby for another Funhouse hosted English Comedian of the Year heat. These have been uniformly superb shows, with some of the best up and coming comedians in the country taking part and tonight featured a wonderfully strong and artistically diverse bill. There were three acts that I’d not seen before, but there is quite a buzz around one of these and so I was especially looking forwards to seeing her. Numbers were very good, too, which added to the atmosphere, but as is generally the case in these heats, the voting was a trifle one-sided as the audience were voting for their favourite three acts. This meant that theoretically someone could be the 4th favourite of 100 people and not get a single vote, whereas equally theoretically someone who 20 people loved and 80 just wanted to finish as soon as possible would get 20 votes. Tonight, though, the votes weren’t that one-sided and every act bar one picked up a good respectable amount.

TLDR

Stephen Carlin – winner by a big majority

Lindsey Santoro – a very impressive second

Tom Houghton – a strong third

Mo Haroon

Haroon is a good act, who doesn’t have a huge profile in the industry, which is a shame, because he is a skilled comedian and has always done well when I’ve seen him. Tonight, I did wonder if he had drawn the short straw in opening, but his material is such that it would work equally well first or last. His opening joke initially felt a bit wordy on the set up, but it was worth it for the reveal and his second joke, which rolled off from the first, gained him a very early round of applause. Haroon’s writing is first rate and his references were topical, which really helped them to land well. The intelligent writing ensured that Mo did very well, gaining a lot of laughs. The only bit that I didn’t think worked as well as it might have was ‘Wales’ which felt a bit flat in comparison, but that’s a minor point. Haroon’s low energy delivery wasn’t quite as strong as his material and I did wonder if a more deadpan approach would be worth exploring, but that is something perhaps for the future. Tonight he did very well and despite the audience having seen a lot of acts between him and the vote, he did well when it came to people remembering to vote for him.

Katie Pritchard

Going on early in a competition can run the risk of being forgotten by the audience, but there was no chance of anyone forgetting Katie Pritchard. Between the props (Joan of Arc with helmet, axe and fake cigarette in holder [a charming touch]), the singing and the sheer amount of fun that Pritchard exudes, no one was going to forget her in an hurry. Her set was splendidly different and stood out. In the 7 minutes allotted to each comedian she used the time to give the room two songs, one about Joan of Arc and another about Lettuce to the tunes of Bonnie Tyler and Beyonce. Both of these songs were very good and I really enjoyed the asides. I did feel that Katie may have slightly split the audience a touch and might have been better with a bit more chatting as the few people who weren’t onboard for the songs had nothing else to get their teeth into. However, the majority of the room were with her and people were crying with laughter. This was a very good set from someone who is on their way up in the world.

Tom Houghton

Houghton was my favourite to win the most votes. He was one of the few acts on the bill who would be just as dangerous over twenty as he would be doing seven. He has great punchy material, a flamboyant delivery and has the sort of charisma that wins people around in next to no time. Tonight he began well with a quick spot of room work, before moving onto some new (to me) material about the names of groups of people and this was a brilliant start. He then moved on with even better material. This was peppered with asides to Ed, sat on the front row and everything he was saying was getting a laugh. The closing routine was a magnificently brave choice: an audience sing-along, with Ed the recipient of his own anthem. Getting the audience involved could have backfired, but there was never a doubt that they wouldn’t play along with Houghton and this paid off handsomely. I was sure that Houghton was going to hoover up almost every vote, but when it came to the vote counting he finished as a strongly supported, but surprise 3rd place.

Harry Miles

We resumed after the intermission with Harry Miles, who despite being in a good slot didn’t really capitalise on it. His opening joke wasn’t that great and when he followed that up with getting each half of the room to cheer it didn’t lead into anything and this ended up feeling a bit inconclusive. Diabetes wasn’t bad, but when discussing his brother and exposure he had probably his best line of the night. Films was good, but in going with three different takes on the joke he approached overkill and would probably have been better tapping out after the first one and using the time gained more constructively. This was a pretty pedestrian set that tonight didn’t really cut the mustard and on a bill with such talented acts it simply wasn’t enough to capture the imagination of the audience.

Stephen Carlin

Carlin was the most experienced act on the bill and this showed with an excellent set. His topics would have sounded a trifle grim on a read through, but his superb writing got the most out of them and his delivery really brought them to life. Heroin had an odd kind of logic to it and gay was very good indeed. This was a set that built up to a very powerful climax, gaining a couple of rounds of applause on the way. When it came to the vote counting, Mike had to stop, as it was obvious that pretty much everyone in the room had voted for Carlin.

Lindsey Santoro

Santoro had an absolutely smashing night. Her down to earth charm and more near the knuckle content struck a real chord with Ashby, despite them usually being a touch reticent about sexual material. She began well by addressing her accent and followed it up with the skilful use of pausing and letting the audience fill in the missing word. The topper on hole was brilliant and ring size (a personal favourite of mine) landed beautifully, seeming to shimmer on the edge of applause. This was a very impressive performance that had obviously been appreciated by the audience. I had enjoyed the set, but wasn’t sure how the voting would actually go, but in a lovely show of appreciation Santoro picked up 68 votes and finished in second place, between two pro acts. By any margin, that is absolutely smashing.

Chelsea Hart

There is quite a buzz around Hart and so I was especially interested in seeing her perform and I’m very pleased to say that she didn’t let anyone down. She had a good opening line and this led into a strong set. Her intonation on ‘nothing’ was superb and this made the line work all the better. Her Scottish accent was well thought out (the apology to the Scottish Stephen Carlin was a nice touch) and this built up very well. Hart managed to make Alaska seem almost exotic as she briefly discussed small town life. Hart was one of the acts that would have benefited from a longer spot, as her closing routine was definitely spectacular, but it really ate into the amount of time she had and I couldn’t help but wonder if she may have been better off tonight, going with shorter and more punchy material for the last 3 minutes or so. However, despite not winning tonight, I really liked what I saw and would like to see Hart do a longer set as it is obvious that there is definitely some gold here.

Dimitri Bakanov

I’d only seen Bakanov a couple of times before and he had impressed me both times and so it was no surprise that he impressed me again, tonight. His writing is very good and his material is certainly well considered. It was evident that he could read the room well, too. Bakanov’s opening line was solid and he never really looked back from that. His material concerned his heritage, his girlfriend, Brexit and racism and it had a lovely refreshing feel to it – this all felt like something new and unique. Bakanov was the only act to drop the C bomb, which can be a risky move in Ashby, but because the room liked him, he thrived on it. I was happy to see him have the confidence to ask an open question to an audience member and even happier when he didn’t get bogged down in the reply. A lot of the tone of Bakanov’s set was pretty grim, but he delivered it with a big grin that disarmed any possible harm that this may have done. There was a lot of laughter during this performance and I thought that Bakanov might have edged getting into the top three, but despite getting a lot of votes he didn’t make it.

Simon Feilder

Feilder came to the stage and for the first minute or so rode the wave of good will created by Bakanov, but aftet that it was his own skill that kept the energy levels flowing. Feilder spoke about drinking and Nutri-bullets and there was a lot of good stuff in here, all being delivered with a bouncy charm. I especially enjoyed the couple of different ways he name checked Ashby de la Zouch, with ‘A de la Zee’ being a crowd pleaser. Despite going on last when the audience had seen 8 other acts and were perhaps a bit laughed out, Feilder still did very well.

Blessington Carriage – Josh Pugh, Lorna Shaw, AJ Roberts, Ian Crawford and Al Lubel

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse Comedy night. This was the 3rd time in as many weeks I’d been in this room. I was slightly surprised at how many people had turned out for the show. Despite it being a bank holiday and a roasting hot day there was a fair sized audience. It would have been nice if we could have just moved the gig outside into the cool, as it was very hot upstairs. There is something about all day drinking that seems to bring out the worst in people, but for a change, this was one of the few bank holiday gigs I’ve been to where there hasn’t been a fight break out or it feel as if it was going to kick off. The only people who had been drinking were a charming couple on their first date who gave Spiky Mike no end of material. Jasmine was a magician’s assistant and had the sort of cheerful affability that made her ideal for him to chat to. Very quickly the audience were ready for the acts.

Josh Pugh (new material)

Opening was Josh Pugh who was treating the room to some new material. This was a mixture of new stuff being polished and some things that were possibly being said for the first time. The majority of this was very strong. I really like the change in energy from Oggy to his following line and this works very well. The doctor and the eye test extra were both great, as was magic trick. When he was talking about his wife talking in her sleep, I did wonder if there was possibly the chance of a callback to what he was not at the doctor’s for, but I think the route Pugh went was more punchy. I enjoyed the games jokes, but felt that Guess Who was the stronger of the two, especially the 2nd and 3rd jokes. The indie DJ is brand new and although it isn’t there yet, I feel that it has legs, and if fleshed out a bit more could be a very good routine. I enjoyed watching Pugh and whilst, as to be expected, not every new line was an instant hit, his consistency in creating strong new routines is much to be admired.

Lorna Shaw

Shaw delivered her material without any umms and ahs, which was nice, but despite this, I didn’t feel that she made a big connection with the audience and failed to draw people in as much as what she might have done. There were some decent jokes in her set, such as the book and dumped, but a lot of it was more amiable instead of hugely funny. T shirt had potential and mild wasn’t bad, but didn’t really rise above being any more than just mild. I didn’t so much mind Dubai being a pull back and reveal, but felt that the exposition afterwards didn’t add much of value to it. The bulk of the material was ok, but it needed something more to push it further. This was a set that was in need of a big routine that everyone would remember. Shaw was a fast speaker, who delivered her material sort of semi crouched and leaning towards the audience, but if she were to edit down her set ups, she would probably find the space to say a lot more, as the builds were pretty wordy. Also, I wouldn’t have minded her not opening with ‘tell you a bit about me’ as this is overused. A lot of this sounds negative, but this wasn’t a bad set; there was some pleasant stuff in it, but it just wasn’t a stand out set. Hopefully with a bit more stage time everything will be just that bit better.

AJ Roberts

We resumed after the intermission with AJ Roberts who became the second act to tell us a bit about him. However, despite this passé opening line he gave one of the stand out performances of the night. He had a solid opening joke and I’d say that within a minute of him taking to the stage he had the room fully invested in him. A lot of his set concerned Cockneys and London and usually this doesn’t fare well up here, as outside of London no one really cares much for London-centric material, but he pitched this exactly right as an outsider looking in and it was absolutely splendid to see. The journey into work wasn’t quite so nuanced, but he delivered it with such verve that it went down a treat, with the topper being superb. This was a very impressive set that everyone thoroughly enjoyed and I’d like to see more of him.

Ian Crawford

Following Roberts could have been tricky, but Crawford managed it very well, giving the room a health and safety brief aimed at reducing cutlery related mishaps. I’d heard some good things about his act and so I was chuffed to see his name on the bill. He came to the stage overdressed for the weather and in just taking his jacket off and then moving it away from the lamp he got his first laughs of the night. Crawford is a deceptively physical comic. He doesn’t make huge moves with his limbs, nor does he dance about the room, but just through little actions and mannerisms he is able to subtly convey the humour in what he is doing. The material did what it said on the tin: it was a brief about the dangers of cutlery and there was real joy in the pedantry and minutiae of someone taking a seemingly frivolous topic so seriously. Crawford’s timing was impeccable. This set had the feel of a mature set, but I’m not surprised, as when something is as right as what this is, it must be very difficult to tinker with. As with Roberts, this was a performance that everyone enjoyed.

Al Lubel

Headlining was the American Al Lubel who opened by singing. This was well thought out, but went on too long for my liking and I was quite relieved when he changed direction. A lot of his material involved him dismantling various premises using the power of logic and this was very good. His slow conversational delivery and relentless logic strongly reminded me of Dave Allen. I really enjoyed these routines, even if the material on his name outstayed its welcome (the callback was good, though). Possibly my favourite routine was confusion, although his practising law was a close second. This was a good set, even if a few sections were a touch drawn out.

Bluey’s – Joe Zalias, Matt Fong, Tony Cowards, Alfie Moore and Aaron Twitchen (MC)

Tonight I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy night. It’s a real shame that I can only make one in two of these gigs, as I love this venue. It’s great when the landlord is so behind the night and between him and Leonie they really go out of their way to make the acts feel welcome. Numbers were pretty good tonight and that is always nice to see.

Aaron Twitchen (MC)

This was the first time I’d seen Twitchen compere and he is very bright and bubbly and it is impossible to dislike someone who is just enjoying life on their own terms like he is. However, in a surprise, Alfreton didn’t immediately take him to their hearts and he had a slow start. He began with room work and then material, but the audience weren’t biting. I don’t think this is down to a lack of skill on his part, as he’s a very engaging person, but it was more down to a lack of common ground. It might perhaps have helped if he had been briefed on who was who in the room before the night began so that he could have tried to work in some local references, but I don’t think it would have made a huge difference. The audience just didn’t warm to him to begin with. However, at the end of the first intermission when Twitchen quickly drained two glasses of wine on stage, the mood of the audience flipped almost as if a switch had been tripped and they really took to him after that. From here he received regular laughs and things that might have got little back earlier went down a treat. It all turned out well in the end.

Joe Zalias

Opening was a strong act who was trialling some new material and this was naturally an unbalanced set, as he was trying out lines rather than presenting the room with a finished product. The topics on offer included divorce, murder and deaths and it was very bleak in tone. Tonight the bleakness was a bit relentless, whereas when this is fully formed I daresay there will be a lot of lighter stuff in between the darker areas just to keep the mood buoyant. There were some good jokes in here, such as cat and being sat on the sofa with his mind wandering. I wasn’t too sure about Kuerten, though, because whilst I don’t mind material on humans being bumped off, I have a huge soft spot for animals. The room was a bit split on the darker material, but those who liked it were very happy with it. Perhaps when workshopping this, it might be better to include a few lighter areas to give the audience more of a balance, as I think it will help with judging how well it would work in a full set. The pre-existing material all worked wonderfully well and I was pleased that Joe Zalias ended on a more upbeat note. I’m hoping to see more of this act.

Matt Fong

We resumed after the intermission with the impressively dressed Matt Fong. It’s great when an act makes an effort to dress well and audience’s tend to respond well to this. The money joke was nicely visual, but where I felt it did well was in Fong then retrieving it. Laser Quest was good and flat earth is something that not a lot of people are doing material on and I think he could have made more out of it. Fong was pretty wordy and he would benefit from cutting out a few words here and there to make his set more punchy. Fong gave the room an amiable set that had potential, but which, tonight, never really seemed to take off. He got laughs, but there wasn’t much that landed with a knockout blow and this was a shame.

Tony Cowards

Next was Cowards who was trying some new material. His moving to Loughborough has proved a huge bonus to the comedy scene up here, as he’s a reliable pro act who is a prolific writer of new material and is always happy to snap up a bit of stage time to try things out. This happy fact means that quite a few line ups are being given an extra bit of polish by him being there. Cowards was the first act of the night that everyone fully got behind and the applause and laughter came quickly. The jokes were clever, with him being happy to assume that the audience were intelligent and would get them and I think that when people comprehend an uncommon reference point they laugh all the harder for it. There were only 2 misses: Indie DJ, which got a huge laugh when he ostentatiously scratched it off of his notes following the silence and dog pound, which is a good joke, but which didn’t seem to capture anyone’s imagination. It was lovely when someone suggested a topper to a gag and Tony stopped to make a note of it whilst nodding his head, to much laughter. Personally, I thought that the arsonist gag might be strengthened by the inclusion of the word ‘notorious’, but I could be wrong. Rampant Rabbit was an absolutely smashing joke. This was a very powerful set that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Alfie Moore

Headlining was Alfie Moore, whose name had sold tickets, with some people coming down on the strength of his presence. His material was partly autobiographical and partly career based and the sum total was very good indeed. There were a lot of great lines in this set. I especially enjoyed his dad’s last words and his one and only pun and both received applause as well as laughter. Moore’s way of dealing with possibly ticklish subjects was novel and fun. The brief visit to the most common ways murder is committed in the UK was very entertaining and I’d heartily recommend anyone who hasn’t seen his show ‘Getting away with Murder’ to do so, as I really liked it. I was a bit surprised that when discussing the driving habits of paedophiles he didn’t go down the route of there being speed restrictions outside of schools, but he got a good laugh for what he said, anyway. Moore’s closing routine was ‘The Head’, which fully deserves capital letters. This is the best routine I’ve heard. Every single line ends with a big laugh and it is very easy to picture the scene. This was a strong set.

April – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been something of a slow month due to me missing a lot of comedy nights due to work and I’ve only seen 32 acts.

The highlight was seeing a first timer at a gong show (TJ Harlott) show a very strong grasp of the art and get a load of material out of things he had just picked up at the gig by keeping his eyes open and his wits sharp. The lowlight was seeing a semi pro act deliver a set that at best failed to rise above pedestrian and at worse was almost a buzzword bingo list of things you’d expect to hear on his chosen topics.

These are the acts that have impressed me the most this month:

Richard Massara

An up and coming act who is reliable, dedicated and very funny.

From the night:

Considering how tricky it was for Massara to get to and from this gig he is showing the sort of commitment that will take him far. This is matched by his ability, so I’ll be very interested in seeing where he is in a year or so. Tonight he came onto the stage and opened with a strong joke and never really looked back. The honeybee was wonderfully drawn out for long enough for the big reveal to get a superb response and this gave him his first of three or four bouts of applause. The material on insomnia was especially good and as well as getting a lot of laughter, I’m sure I saw a few people poking each other in recognition of what he was saying. The mugging was well acted out and this helped to sell it. With his winning smile and confident stage presence Massara gave the room a cracking performance.

Simon Wozniak

A great act who is naturally funny.

From the night:

Next was Simon Wozniak, doing new material. I’ve not seen Wozniak for over a year and in that time he has gone from strength to strength and there is a definite buzz about him. Within 2 minutes of him opening his mouth you can see why. He is a naturally funny person and even things that he had wrote that day, such as condoms were well worth keeping. The routine about the system being down was highly relatable to anyone who has worked in an office and he got a lot of mileage out of it, although he might be able to edit it down a bit and get the same result. I really appreciated his use of the words jeopardy and charades as they just added an extra layer of icing to the cake. Homeless was more chilling than funny, but as new material, it is early days and savings has a lot of potential. The closing routine about driving was a belter. This was a very impressive performance from an act with a touch of quality to him.

Stephen Grant

This was a splendid set that brought everyone on board.

From the night:

Stephen Grant is an act that I was especially interested in seeing. However, to begin with, I thought that he had misjudged the demographic of the audience, as his opening joke about Mansplaining, whilst a totally solid gag, went completely over the heads of most of the room. He easily bounced back from it and then gave the room a set that was perhaps 60% room work and 40% material. This did initially feel a little bit like a continuation of Mike’s compering, but Grant took it in a different direction and subtly swung the interactions in the direction of his chosen topic: marriage and relationships. Everyone was happy to chat with him and he held the room easily, picking up a lot of laughter. There were a few challenges to overcome, such as a lady giving a plausible lie about the number of times she had been married, only to pull the rug from under Grant’s feet when he began to weave something out of it – he rolled with this effortlessly – and then there was a chap who had business in education. The specifics of this took a bit of nailing down and it did feel a bit of a long road that would end in a comedy cul de sac, but much to his credit, Grant managed to make a lot out of it and my fears of a dead end were quite unfounded. The room work was done so well that when Stephen moved into material it felt like a natural continuation and there was no jarring change of direction. The delivery was very fast and there were a surprisingly high number of fucks contained within it. This was a very strong set and I’d love to see Grant compering a room as I can see that he’d be superb at it.

Honourable Mentions:

Adam Beardsmore, Cally Beaton, Jack Topher, Pat Monahan, Steve Royle