Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse Champion of Champions gong show. Every act on the bill had won at least one gong show and this made for a very strong line up. Just upon seeing the list of acts it was impossible to guess who would win and even whilst the voting was in process it was still too close to call. It was nice to see such a full room for the show, too. There were some very interesting people there for Spiky Mike to chat to as MC, such as Miranda who had moved from a bust exotic pizza parlour (goats cheese and rhubarb toppings) to a champagne bar, and Vaughn who was there with his family. Both of these people were referenced by the acts and this made it feel a wonderfully inclusive gig. It was also nice to see Jack Topher there to support live comedy on a night when he wasn’t gigging. In a change to the usual five minutes max of stage time, it was seven minutes tonight, which made things pretty interesting and ensured that none of the acts could just use the set that got them there.
Carter began a trifle slowly, but he had plenty of presence and held the room easily whilst they awaited the first big laugh. Whilst the list of names received applause, the topper was the real gold and that really deserved a bigger laugh. I liked how Carter directly spoke to Vaughn, sat on the front row. The tale about the dog was very good, although I did think he had moved a bit away from it during the build, but when he came back to it, he came back strong. Carter set the bar high with this performance. It was a great opening set and if he had gone on later in the night, he would have been a real contender for the win.
Beardsmore delivered this set with energy, having a loud clear voice that everyone could hear. There was a gratifying amount of new material in this set, too. Cbeebies was good, the assault was a real high point, his multitasking wife, not yet the finished article and the £1 bets was something that built up very nicely. This was a good performance that saw him through into the final.
This was Walsh’s 4th ever performance and it was a real credit to her. She’s naturally funny and this came across well. As you’d expect in someone with so few gigs under their belt, there were a couple of things that you wouldn’t perhaps see in more experienced acts, such as superfluous repeating of a punchline (which, in fairness, can sometimes work well) and saying ‘do you know what I mean?’ a lot. However, there was a heck of a lot here to like. The opening gag about a murderer on the loose was timely and relevant, her skill with accents added a lot, tourettes was interesting and funny. Walsh received a lot of laughs for a set that was delivered with charm. Although she didn’t make the final, with more consistent gigging she’ll do very well in comedy.
Campbell came to the stage carrying half a pint of skimmed milk, something that I think everyone was expecting would form part of his act, but he never mentioned it the once, which was a surprise. He began well, getting laughs for just standing there and moving awkwardly whilst he established his comedy persona, that of a loser in life. This is a character that he brings to life remarkably well with both his writing and his mannerisms. I thought the very specific terms of reference, such as Chase and the holiday destination worked really well. The crowd work was also a nice change in pace, whilst still keeping the substance of the act. Although I found the persona to be on the depressing side, the audience really enjoyed it in a big way and Campbell received a lot of laughs. For a while he was a credible contender for the title.
Elmi had a great gig. His material was sound and improved from when I saw him the other week ago. Train tickets was sound, race card great and when he singled Vaughn out for a comment it really emphasised just how much of the best stuff in live comedy is in the moment. His enunciation on sign-me-up was absolutely spot on to get a laugh from what would probably read as a straight forwards line. The callback to the ticket situation in the closing routine was smashing and really added a lot to that routine. Elmi emerged as a very deserving runner up.
Braithwaite gave an impressive performance that despite being easily the most surreal of the night, was one that also kept the majority of the room onboard. Leaning forwards at an alarming angle and swinging from side to side as if he were impersonating a lighthouse, Braithwaite was getting giggles before he even started. These giggles soon became consistent laughs. The material was well thought out and it was great to see some new writing evident. New material is a comedian’s lifeblood and so it’s very encouraging to see. The last time that Braithwaite performed at the Bless, he had run out of material a minute before the end, but still held the room. This time he ran out just 5 seconds before the end, but it did him no harm at all and he bounced back with a very strong minute for the final, finishing the night in third.
After three acts had been voted through in this section, it was inevitable that Tuffy would face a higher level of scrutiny from simple judge psychology – after voting through a few acts, judges tend to get stricter. Despite doing a lot right, such as having a punchy opening, changing the dynamic of his set to introduce more audience work (good shout on speaking to Miranda), Tuffy was voted off. However, even with that in mind, it was easy enough to see his ability.
This was a set where the performance was as strong as the material and the resulting combination held a great feeling of it all coming together for Smith. He had a fairly long opening joke about H&S, which felt a bit convoluted until he got to the pay off, which involved an extremely astute local reference that everyone in the audience from Derby (ie, probably 95% of them) could get. This immediately established Smith as a force to be reckoned with and from there it was all a breeze for him. His description of chippy teas was relatable, the bath was vividly drawn, the prop added an extra dimension and the physicality of rearranging his hair was very visual. This was all powerful material. However, as good as the material was, the delivery matched it. Smith had loads of little mannerisms, actions and vocal changes that emphasised the various parts that needed it. His face during the playground routine looked positively villainous. The final minute was timed to perfection and Smith was the convincing winner of the night.
Roberts opened by referencing how although he looks about twelve years old, he is actually eighteen and this was a smart move on his part, because his material was very dark. In fact it can’t be often that Elmi has the second darkest material on a bill. There was some good material here, although I did think that exercise ball split the room a touch. The line about hitting things was good, although I did think it may have been improved, perhaps, if Roberts had said that he hadn’t even hit puberty yet, as this would have worked as a good callback to his earlier material about it. This performance was going very well until he dried up and despite getting a lot of love and encouragement from the audience, Robert’s called it a day at that. Despite how it finished, this was a good set and Roberts shows a lot of potential.