August – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a dismal month for me when it comes to comedy. Owing to a mixture of adverse shift patterns, a lot of the industry taking a Summer break and various nights cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, I’ve only seen 13 acts this month. In a good month, I can see more than that in just a single week.

These are the acts that impressed me the most:

Barry Dodds (MC)

Barry Dodds came to the stage and without being particularly forceful, he still managed to take no prisoners tonight. Within seconds he had the room cheering for various things and this welded the various groups into an audience, but it also established his authority extremely quickly. His ability to so demonstrably take control like that silenced any potential hecklers or disruptive elements. From here Dodds got to know a few people. Tindy and Indy, sat close to the stage were a nice gift to him as were the couple on their second date and for one moment I did think he was going to get a proposal from another couple. Dodds was very sharp thinking with his replies to the people that he spoke to. He was also very adept with sensing the mood currents throughout the room. The level of disparagement he put into his voice when he said, ‘it’s in Leicestershire,’ upon someone claiming De Montfort Uni as an exotic place was wonderfully done. I was impressed by how Barry handled the big stag party from Chesterfield. He used his local knowledge to make enough jokes to get them laughing, but even better, he kept them onside and subtly neutralised any desire of theirs to shout out by encouraging them to cheer whenever he mentioned Chesterfield, this outlet for their energy seemed to work wonders. In between working the room, there was some great material delivered, with middle lane drivers being a stand out. Dodds’ bubbly personality was infectious and he received a lot of laughs for some strong compering.

Danny McLoughlin (MC)

McLoughlin is as down to earth as they come and this means that not only are his reference points easily accessible to audiences, but that he feels like someone they can all relate to. Tonight he began by using the mic stand and backdrop to teach spelling to a chap sat at the front, before starting to chat to the audience in earnest. There is always an interesting mix of people at the Lescar and he found John, a retired interior designer who tried to be evasive (if you don’t want to be spoken to, being evasive really isn’t going to help you), Dave, who was a para-legal and another Dave who was the manager of a leisure centre. One Dave was from Clowne, which led to a belting line about the contents of their Gregg’s. Oddly, it took a while for the energy levels to rise, despite McLoughlin getting a lot of laughs, but I think that this was probably down to the heat. During his second session, he went with more material and scored some big hits with this; Kebabs was good, but pens was superb. Danny using Dave, as a foil, though, was the highlight of the night. Whilst easily staying on the side of acceptable, he managed to get a lot of fun out of ‘Beige’ Dave, getting a well earned round of applause. The lines about how Dave proposed to his partner were superb – she had the look of someone who was wishing that they were recording this ripping to show their friends. The only thing that I wasn’t keen on was when McLoughlin casually announced that he was just going to ‘talk a bit of shit’ as I felt that that really under valued the solid work he was putting in. He announced the next shows, thanked everyone for coming and it was nice to see him remember Wayne, who was doing the door, when name-checking those who had assisted with the night. McLoughlin has great comic instincts and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him. He should be better known than he is.

Susie McCabe

McCabe was a lovely surprise. I’d not heard of her before the night, but she proved to be something of a prize packet. She’s got a great combination of material that draws you in, making you want to hear more and a sparkling delivery that really sells what she is voicing. Her material was autobiographical and it is very well written with great pacing. There aren’t huge gaps between the laughs and even the set ups are fun to listen to because what McCabe was talking about was so interesting. McCabe has a soft Glaswegian accent that seemed to be perfectly in tune with what she was saying. Her hand movements and little actions that she did added a lot to her performance. There were a lot of excellent lines in this set. I was astounded that she didn’t get an applause break for the serial killer’s plans and I was pleased when she received one for the topper. This was a massively enjoyable set, the stand out of the night, and I’m amazed that McCabe is not a pro comedian.

Honourable Mentions

Alfie Moore, Jack Topher

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Glee (Nottm) – Junior Simpson, Susie McCable, Keith Farnan, Barry Dodds (MC)

This wasn’t the gig I was hoping to be at tonight, but as my original plans didn’t work out this time, I was looking for an alternative. There were a few gigs that I could have gone to, but seeing that Barry Dodds was on at Nottingham Glee that was enough to make me pick this one above others. Numbers weren’t massive, but as it is the August holidays, this was pretty much to be expected. There were two stag parties present, but despite one being very noisy in the run up to the show, both settled down beautifully whilst the acts were on. I got there in time for the last entry, but this did give me half an hour to kill prior to show time. I can understand that the venue wants no disruption from late arrivals, but all the same I was glad that I had taken a book with me for this bit. Four minutes before show time, the music is turned up to eleven and the lights flash on and off. This certainly kills conversations in time for the compere to take to the stage, but I ended up closing my eyes before I got a headache. Perhaps a couple of minutes less would be enough to silence everyone.

Barry Dodds (MC)

Barry Dodds came to the stage and without being particularly forceful, he still managed to take no prisoners tonight. Within seconds he had the room cheering for various things and this welded the disparate groups into an audience and it also established his authority extremely quickly. His ability to so demonstrably take control like that silenced any potential hecklers or disruptive elements. From here Dodds got to know a few people. Tindy and Indy, sat close to the stage were a nice gift to him as were the couple on their second date and for one moment I did think he was going to get a proposal from another couple. Dodds was very sharp thinking with his replies to the people that he spoke to. He was also very adept with sensing the mood currents throughout the room. The level of disparagement he put into his voice when he said, ‘it’s in Leicestershire,’ upon someone claiming De Montfort Uni as an exotic place was wonderfully done. I was impressed by how Barry handled the big stag party from Chesterfield. He used his local knowledge to make enough jokes to get them laughing, but even better, he kept them onside and subtly neutralised any desire of theirs to shout out by encouraging them to cheer whenever he mentioned Chesterfield, this outlet for their energy seemed to work wonders. In between working the room, there was some great material delivered, with middle lane drivers being a stand out. Dodds’ bubbly personality was infectious and he received a lot of laughs for some strong compering.

Junior Simpson

Simpson is a well experienced act and has a good reputation as someone who suits weekend clubs and I can see why. There was a broad appeal in his set, with pretty much something for every demographic to enjoy and nothing too niche to leave others out in the cold. On the downside, I unfortunately found him to be a bit unchallenging. His material had the feel of a well established set and whilst there were some good lines in there (ginger, breakfasts, etc), there also wasn’t a lot that made me sit up. There were a few pull back and reveals, which I’m not that keen on personally, but in fairness, they all received good laughs from the audience. The closing routine about blowjobs was one that built up a lot of momentum and had everyone on board. Whilst Simpson wasn’t particularly for me, the rest of the room liked him and I can easily understand why he was booked.

Susie McCabe

McCabe was a lovely surprise. I’d not heard of her before the night, but she proved to be something of a prize packet. She’s got a great combination of material that draws you in, making you want to hear more and a sparkling delivery that really sells what she is voicing. Her material was autobiographical and it is very well written with great pacing. There aren’t huge gaps between the laughs and even the set ups are fun to listen to because what McCabe was talking about was so interesting. McCabe has a soft Glaswegian accent that seemed to be perfectly in tune with what she was saying. Her hand movements and little actions that she did added a lot to her performance. There were a lot of excellent lines in this set. I was astounded that she didn’t get an applause break for the serial killer’s plans and I was pleased when she received one for the topper. This was a massively enjoyable set, the stand out of the night, and I’m amazed that McCabe is not a pro comedian. 

Keith Farnan

Farnan had a good night. He opened with a splendid callback to the diversity of the line up, which went down well and this was followed by early applause for North and South. There was a fair bit of applause for this set, with some good lines being present. DUP was fun, the obtaining of a chap’s email address was adroitly done (I liked the callback to it) and I really enjoyed Farnan delivering material about the various seating sections. This kept everyone on their toes, just in case he spoke to them. Farnan has a wonderfully soft and soothing Irish accent and this didn’t do him any harm at all when he was talking to people (Ewok was a cracking line). The material based around his name was ok, but I didn’t feel it quite as strong as the rest of his set, especially homophobia – that was a great routine. Farnan received consistent laughter and ended the night well.

Two Gates, Tamworth – Chris Purchase, Rory Jones, Jack Topher, Alfie Moore and Andy Gleeks (MC)

Tonight I was down in Tamworth for Darren Mortiboy’s night at the Two Gates Sports and Social. My night didn’t get off to a great start, because we had to have a pet put down and so five minutes before I came out, I was in the garden digging a grave for him. However, it was nice to get out and go and see some live comedy. Two Gates is a big room. It has a high ceiling and room to sit a heck of a lot of people. Like most nights at this time of year, numbers were down, but with the tables spread out a touch, the room still seemed to be pretty full. This, combined with the high ceiling did make it hard to build up the energy levels, but you can’t have everything. This is the first time I’ve seen a radio mic being used and I can understand why not many people use them, as it didn’t seem to be without its’ issues. It was good to see the booker, Mortiboy, busy amongst the audience, chatting to people and making everyone feel welcome before the show started. He did a couple of minutes of plugging upcoming nights before he introduced our MC, Andy Gleeks.

Andy Gleeks (MC)

This wasn’t ever going to be an easy room to compere. It was a big space and with people sat up to 40 yards away from the stage, Gleeks was limited to the handful of people sat close enough to the front for him to be able to easily hear their replies. When I’ve seen him compere in the past, I was impressed by him playing a game called claim to fame, which had worked really well, but oddly he didn’t do that tonight. Instead, largely chatting to the people about how they met and doing material. A lot of his material concerned him coming from Northern Ireland and there were two issues with this. The troubles, over here anyway, feel increasingly distant as every year passes and for anyone under twenty it must seem like history. The other issue was that Gleeks has some good stuff on it (in particular his own Good Friday agreement and the kerfuffle), but because he did so much about being from Northern Ireland this diluted the impact of these. Gleeks has quite an interesting background and he may do well to exploit these other areas of his life. I thought that he was on firm ground when talking about his family and the loo roll routine is a solid banker. Gleeks did put himself down a couple of times after jokes and whilst this can be done once and get a good reaction, any more times risks convincing the audience that you aren’t doing that well. I think that Andy has the makings of a good compere; he has a quiet confidence, a nice manner and authority about him that stands him in good stead. With more varied material to back that up, he’ll do fine.

Chris Purchase

The audience warmed to Purchase very quickly. He began strongly by announcing a celebration. This had a fairly long set up, but it was totally worth it, as it achieved three, but not four things tonight. It got everyone listening to him, it established Purchase’s comedy credentials and it was very funny, but surprisingly it didn’t get an applause break, which I fair expected it to. There was a lot of good material in this set. Who you gonna call? and the subsequent variations were nicely interactive, the carpet was good and genital percentages fun (a shame 69% couldn’t be worked into it somehow). However, the real standout was Pokemon. For something that is played pretty widely no one seems to be doing any material on it and so this was both distinctive and funny. On the other hand, I wasn’t convinced that Milton Keynes was that unpleasant a place to live; he could have gotten away without explaining the maths on vaccination and ‘In American that would have got a cheer’ is overused, even though it got a laugh. This was a very entertaining set that was well delivered.

Rory Jones

I last saw Jones up in Sheffield where he’d had a good night. Tonight, I could see improvement in his joke and set construction with more strings of gags on the same topic, which was all to the good. However, his delivery seemed to be a bit slower and I’m not sure that this was a benefit when it came to building up momentum. Also, Jones did comment on a few jokes that missed, such as saying ‘one for the older people’ and this not only served to emphasise that that particular joke hadn’t fared well, but even worse, it used up time where he could have been telling a joke that would hit. There were some strong gags in this set, the make up and morning jokes work very well and these seemed to get everyone onboard, particularly one lady who laughed long and loudly at all of the jokes to the point where she was setting other people off. Ket was good, but probably only needed one hurrumph and a stamping of the feet for people to get it. This was a promising set.

Jack Topher

Back in February I saw Topher have a storming gig during the Southwell English Comedian of the Year heat, but he had an even better gig tonight. He came to the stage and paused, standing there looking around, as if he was puzzled to find himself there. Topher then followed this up with a bit of sartorial prop work and this built up a lot of comedic tension. From here, he never ever looked back. He had the audience just where he wanted them. The first half of his set is the more punchy, but the second slower paced half works well, too, with some big jokes. Topher received the first applause of the night for Ashley Cole and then more applause for his observations about the layout of the audience and the presence of the big stage behind him. The comment about the people of Tamworth was a pearler. I did think that his usual line regarding the playing with the cards was stronger than the one he went with tonight, but that’s a minor point. This was an excellently delivered set, with some well considered pauses. Topher had a smashing gig and the end result was a hell of a lot of laughter.

Alfie Moore

Moore is a reliable act who has a solid presence. His material has a nicely dark slant to it and his background not only gives him insights unavailable to other comedians, but it is something that the audience finds tangible. When Moore talks about ne’er do wells, the room knows what he is talking about. There was a lot of good stuff in this performance. The callback to Topher’s set was strong, the Diane Abbott joke timely, names great, tasering superb and earliest memory received an applause break. The excerpt from his show, Getting away with Murder (well worth seeing), was very impressive. On the other hand, Asbo needed a bigger ending, but that was the only routine that didn’t hit home hard. I think the radio-mic had a sweet spot where the signal was picked up easily, but not so well a couple of feet either side of that zone, as Moore looked as if he was wedded to that particular spot and didn’t move or lunge as much as what I’m used to seeing. The closing routine was ‘The Head’, which is the strongest routine that I’ve seen. It is deliciously dark, draws everyone in and there is a laugh with every line. This is a beautifully crafted closing routine. This was a cracking performance that everyone enjoyed.

The Little Last Laugh: Quincy, Big Shaun, Barry Castagnola and Danny McLoughlin (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield, having a great time in the Lescar. Numbers had dipped a touch from last week, but with holiday season being in full swing, this was to be expected. There were still plenty of people present to create a great atmosphere.

Danny McLoughlin (MC)

McLoughlin is as down to earth as they come and this means that not only are his reference points easily accessible to audiences, but that he feels like someone they can all relate to. Tonight he began by using the mic stand and backdrop to teach spelling to a chap sat at the front, before starting to chat to the audience in earnest. There is always an interesting mix of people at the Lescar and he found John, a retired interior designer who tried to be evasive (if you don’t want to be spoken to, being evasive really isn’t going to help you), Dave, who was a para-legal and another Dave who was the manager of a leisure centre. One Dave was from Clowne, which led to a belting line about the contents of their Gregg’s. Oddly, it took a while for the energy levels to rise, despite McLoughlin getting a lot of laughs, but I think that this was probably down to the heat. During his second session, he went with more material and scored some big hits with this; Kebabs was good, but pens was superb. Danny using Dave, as a foil, though, was the highlight of the night. Whilst easily staying on the side of acceptable, he managed to get a lot of fun out of ‘Beige’ Dave, getting a well earned round of applause. The lines about how Dave proposed to his partner were superb – she had the look of someone who was wishing that they were recording this ripping to show their friends. The only thing that I wasn’t keen on was when McLoughlin casually announced that he was just going to ‘talk a bit of shit’ as I felt that that really under valued the solid work he was putting in. He announced the next shows, thanked everyone for coming and it was nice to see him remember Wayne, who was doing the door, when name-checking those who had assisted with the night. McLoughlin has great comic instincts and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him. He should be better known than he is.

Quincy

Opening the show was Quincy, who was doing some new material. As you’d expect with new material, it was something of a mixed bag, but you could see the potential in it. He began with some timely remarks about the weather. Flip flops was a nice line that led into a decent section about how it’s hard to look hard under certain conditions. The name for an illness was good, but the mainstay of his set were the routines about boxing and his kids. A comedian who boxes is refreshingly novel and despite there being a few lulls in the routine, it easily held everyone’s interest. There were a number of strong lines in this, but I was a bit surprised that Balboa and Drago didn’t get referenced as white boxers fighting it out for the world heavyweight belt, though. The routine about kids and home life wasn’t as distinct as boxing, as a few comics have covered this, but there was still obvious potential in it. If Quincy were to tighten up the wording then he would maintain his momentum in these routines, but he’s certainly already got something to work with here.

Big Shaun

Big Shaun took to the stage wearing a cowboy hat, neckerchief and waistcoat, which were part of his opening gag. Whilst this didn’t work out as well as he might have hoped, it was worth experimenting with. Shaun is a big presence and this stands him in good stead. The call centre material has potential; when he asked the room if anyone worked in one I thought there was mileage in him taking that further and asking what sort of call centre, as he’d be able to bounce off of their response. The snapped clothesline was a good line, but it could possibly be improved further by him changing out towels for failed to hold up my clothes without me in them. Big Shaun is a work in progress, but he’s getting there.

Barry Castagnola

Closing the night was Castagnola, up from London. He opened with a well remembered Wikipedia history of Sheffield, which was delivered with plenty of knowing charm and then a strong topper. His material covered a lot of ground, not dwelling on any particular topic overly long and this seemed to keep everything fresh and might explain why his set seemed to pass by all too quickly. This was a set where I’d have liked to have seen more. There were some lovely lines present, with shoes being a standout, although the closing routine about The Krankies came close. Castagnola gave a very interesting performance, both visually and audibly. Visually, he never seemed to be still for a moment and this helped inject energy into the room. Castagnola has a lovely manner of speaking. He would lay the stress in certain words in unexpected places and I found this really endearing and it was a real benefit to him in emphasising the keywords in a routine. This was a very good set.