June – Acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a pretty crappy month for me regarding live comedy. Not because I saw bad acts (much to the contrary, I saw some superb acts), but simply because I always seemed fated to be on shift whenever there was a comedy night on. As a result, I only saw twenty four acts.

We are now entering Edinburgh Preview season and I’ve seen some very good ones, plus one that was mostly exposition. Will Mars and Tom Houghton’s shows are Edinburgh ready and will only improve between now and August; Thomas Green‘s was seen earlier in the month at a ‘lively’ gig and despite the audience being gloriously drunk and amiably interrupting, he managed to get a lot of funny stuff out. Another nice thing this month was seeing an act on her second gig who had some nicely different material to talk about.

The low light of the month was me fulfilling one of my ambitions by seeing an act that I’ve been wanting to see for three years. I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about this act. However, when I got to see them, I discovered that they really weren’t my cup of tea. They took the roof off, but just weren’t for me, which felt massively disappointing after I’d built them up in my mind so much.

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

Danny McLoughlin

This was a bouncy feel good performance that really seemed to light the room up.

From the night:

It had been a while since I last saw McLoughlin and so his name was a very welcome sight on the bill. I had enjoyed him previously and in the 18 months or so since I last saw him it is obvious that he has moved into an even higher gear. He opened by referencing a hoody that he was wearing and this led almost organically into a short but solid opening routine that gave everyone a feel for what he was about. As McLoughlin himself said, he doesn’t do politics – instead he delivered a set that was relatable to everyone in the room. There were some clever lines in this set, such as the meaning of Peter and Wayne. This was a great joke even if it did go over a few heads. I adored Danny’s comments when Neil tried to fib about his age – the Indiana Jones reference was right up my street, as indeed was Clash of the Titans (McLoughlin has a great taste in films). Rewards for crying and Hetty were both well thought through and unboxing is nicely novel. However, to me the standout routine of his set and of the night in total, was when McLoughlin spoke about a fight he had at school. His vivid descriptions had everyone sat tight listening in and hanging on his every word. This was a brilliant set that carried a real feel good factor and McLoughlin seemed to effortlessly make the Lescar a happier place.

Harvey Hawkins

A smashing set that had everyone fully onboard from someone who is definitely progressing in the industry.

From the night:

Hawkins had a cracking night. His opening joke worked very well at drawing people in and getting them listening, as everyone wanted to know how things turned out in this story. When the punchline came, it landed with a lot of force, getting him his first laughs and applause of the night. Hawkins was very aware of whom Mike had been talking to during his compering and was twice able to tailor his material to tie it to individual members of the audience and this worked brilliantly in adding extra impetus to what he was saying. I loved it when Hawkins played with the conventions of comedy when he announced that he would ‘tell the audience about me’. In a comedy literate room like this, it worked a charm. In contrast to an act I saw last week, Hawkins has a slow delivery and a crystal clear voice and in consequence no one missed a word of what he said and so everyone was laughing a lot. A hell of a lot. Very quickly we were at that lovely stage where every time he finished a sentence the whole room laughed. This was a smashing set and Hawkins never put a foot wrong all the way throughout.

Thomas Green (MC)

This was a lot of fun. The audience all knew each other, were drunk and talkative. Green handled them with aplomb.

From the night:

I’ve only ever seen Green doing his show (2016) or a straight set and although I’d heard some very nice things about his compering, this was a first for me. Green has oodles of likeability, but he has a lot to offer beyond that. He has an agile mind, which meant that he was never caught off balance by anything anyone said to him, he is skilled at directing conversations towards his existing material and his performance skills are remarkable. I was especially impressed by his habit of assuming a separate character whenever he addressed the room with an aside. This was a lovely touch and it was something that everyone liked. Green has quite a vocal range, which not only came to the fore in the asides, but also through him adding little touches of characterisation to people he was describing and also when he dropped his voice to say with sinister menace to someone, ‘and you thought I wasn’t going to talk to you….’ Green has a very good memory for people’s names and this meant that he was able to structure quite a few callbacks to people whom he’d chatted to earlier. When this was combined with the character traits he had assigned to the various people present (many of whom now have new nicknames courtesy of Green) it gave the gig a wonderful feeling of an intimate shared experience. The only thing of substance that I wasn’t so keen on was a joke about vegans not having any energy. It was a good joke and received a big laugh, but this is a pretty well travelled area. That aside, this was excellent compering.

Tony Cowards

This was an instance of a comedian being so switched on to what he was doing that he made it look easy in such a way that the technical excellence and swift mental footwork were probably unnoticed by most of the audience.

From the night:

Cowards mixed established material, room work and new material. He opened with a solid joke to prove that he was very funny and never let up from there. This was a relaxed set, with Tony working well with Jamie, the chap with Asperger’s, even halting the show whilst he went to the loo and singing some hold music, before resuming. The callback to Wallace’s compering was good and it was nice to see him ask about Belper with genuine interest in a new location. What impressed me the most about Cowards tonight, apart from the writing and delivery, which he is superb at, was his affability. He managed to play the audience like a finely tuned piano, asking them questions and then riffing off of the replies into jokes without a pause for thought. This gave his performance a wonderfully fluid feel and watching someone do this without ever looking off balance or even being momentarily stumped is incredibly powerful. It requires a lot of skill and mental dexterity to pull it off so well. Having people pick numbers for the new material was a great way of ensuring that everyone was invested in that element. This was a very enjoyable set to watch.

Honourable mentions:

Pete Phillipson, Tony Burgess, Wes Zaharuk

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