Tonight I was at The Shinnon for the FaF Promotions gig. I usually see friends on Saturday nights, and was meant to be out with some tonight, but the weather put them off, which left me with the chance to go to my third Saturday night gig in two years. I’m back on shift tomorrow and so a gig just round the corner from home was very convenient, especially with a headliner like Wes Zaharuk on the bill. The Shinnon will fit a good 75 people or so in, but owing to the low ceiling and the crowd being up for the show, the atmosphere was such that it felt like there were over 100 people there. The stage sits slightly offset to a corner of the room, with the audience sat around it in a semi crescent, almost nudging the stage, which gave it a very intimate feel.
Brooker is a highly skilled compere, who has a very gentle demeanour that helps audiences to relax in his presence. Tonight marked his return to The Shinnon and seeing how well he was received, I shouldn’t be surprised if he gets booked many more times. Brooker is a tall chap, with what my Granddad would have called a wrestler’s build and owing to the lighting, his face and torso were well lit, but the top of his head was in darkness giving him an odd appearance, almost as if he had no top to his head. He began by finding out how many people there were regulars and who was there for the first time, which resulted in discovering just half a dozen or so newcomers. This enabled him to riff with it not being a cult or anything sinister, with some very nice remarks about the local after hours practices. Brooker announced that he had two jokes and they both worked very well. I was impressed with his quick wits for his nine comment and felt that that deserved more. In the second section, Brooker went with more material, which was a treat to watch and was streets ahead of asking people what they did for a living. Brooker did the rules, explained the format, plugged the next night, gave useful advice to help a much less experienced act and was very funny; this was good compering that helped to make the night a success.
Our opening act was Tony Burgess and he had a cracking gig. From beginning to end he hoovered up laughs, getting that little bit of applause after almost every joke that constantly seemed to hover on the edge of an applause break until he received the first of these part way through his set. Burgess has an accent that is hard to miss and he did well to reference that in his opening line. This was followed by solid material concerning the local posh town of Bakewell before he went into a sustained routine about his age. He had read the room well, especially noting the demographic and this all went down like a charm. The material on drugs wasn’t quite so well received, but this was only marginally so, as he kept probably 95% of the room with him for it. The section about his family and Christmas presents was a very strong closing to what had been a very impressive opening set. There were some great lines here, such as downsizing and Buckaroo, which were brilliant. The audience and I thoroughly enjoyed Burgess and I did worry a little bit that the night might have already peaked with this performance, it was so strong.
Opening the middle section was Jem Braithwaite, who was doing his first ever ten spot. Braithwaite is a skilled young comedian who has already found his voice. His style is surreal; he stands on stage jerking from one side to the other as if unseen Gremlins are pulling him about with lengths of string and his lines are all nicely offbeat. I think he’s someone to watch for the future, but I wouldn’t have thought that a pub in an ex pit village was his natural home, yet these are the gigs that he will have to master if he wants to play a full range of venues and audiences. Tonight, though, the room wasn’t fully with him. From the off, you could feel that they were unsure of a young act with the hood of his hoody sticking up out of the back of his cloak (the cloak is a great prop), but Braithwaite managed to entertain a fair few people. Whilst not everyone got him, those that did were fully onboard. There was a lady sat near me who laughed more at him than almost any other act. I saw some new material in Braithwaite’s set and this was good stuff, with the callback being a winner. Whilst tonight wasn’t the triumph that everyone would have wished for, Braithwaite did well and it is all useful experience. Perhaps if he were to break the 4th wall, drop out of character and acknowledge the oddity of his performance with a self-deprecating comment, it would help to break the tension and bring more people onboard. For a first ten in a room a bit outside his usual sort of gig this was a creditable performance.
Next was Sham Zaman, a high energy fast speaking act. I’ve seen Sham have some really good nights, but unfortunately this wasn’t one of them. This was pretty much due to two factors. One was that during his ten minutes he did a large number of routines concerning race and the law of diminishing returns naturally kicked in. The race card shows promise, but after so many other jokes about race it didn’t have the impact that it would otherwise have had and going forwards, a twist on it would have been nice. The other factor was the sheer speed at which Sham spoke. I’ve seen him a few times and I didn’t catch every word, whilst some of the people I was sat with were reduced to asking each other if they could make out what he was saying. If you are speaking too fast for a large part of the room to hear you clearly, then they won’t be able to laugh at jokes they haven’t followed. This could be remedied if Sham were to speak a little bit more slowly. If he were to be a bit more concise in his set ups then he would be able to do this without having to cut jokes from his set, as some of the set ups were on the wordy side. The clubbing baby seals comment was an oddity, as the vision it conjured up was more bloody than funny and he may have been better off with a gag along the lines of golf clubbing, as that would have fitted the age of the person he was speaking to and wouldn’t have had the negative baggage of the other. This wasn’t a great night for Sham and I’ve seen him do far better at other gigs so I know that this isn’t representative of what he can actually do. Next time I see him, I’m sure all will be well.
The headlining act was the very talented Wes Zaharuk. He’s a prop comic who adds a nice touch of magic to his jokes, inverting the genre in a creative way. Zaharuk pitches his persona just right, being self-deprecating, looking almost unsure himself that the stunts will work as planned. There is a lot of physical comedy in this set, some very obvious and some not so obvious. His facial expression after the mathematics was a wonderful look of guilt and shiftiness that really sold that joke. Zaharuk adds a very nice touch of anarchy to a night, with the feeling that no one knows what is coming next and that no one is safe from finding themselves on stage to assist with his stunts. Having 3 different audience members up on stage at various times certainly helps to bring people into this performance and there was a tangible feeling that everyone had a stake in the show. My personal favourite is the trick with the loo roll, this is solid gold and tremendous fun to see. The audience were massively invested in this performance and it provided a spectacular end to a the show. This was a smashing set.