Acts that have impressed me the most – January

This has been a fantastic month of comedy. I’ve seen 61 acts and have had a brilliant time. The highlight was seeing Scott Bennett on top form, the low light was some coked up fuckwits interrupting what was shaping up to be an excellent night.

These are the acts that have impressed me the most:

Doug Carter

I wouldn’t be surprised if Carter doesn’t end up making a living out of comedy. He’s definitely got something about him and with enough stage time and continued writing he’s going to do well.

From the night:

Carter is a great new act and he’s always a joy to see on bills. He’s got bags of presence, a delivery that is earnest and brings everyone onboard wanting to hear what he is saying. The material is improving with every performance. Tonight Bear Cash got a huge laugh, partly because it sounds so odd, but also from Carter’s look of ‘what the heck?’ as he delivered it. Tonight Carter was the winner by a landslide and I can see him going far in this industry.

James Cook

A performance that was superbly crafted.

From the night:

Cook is one of the most technically adept acts I’ve seen. He teaches comedy and it shows in his set, as he had everything spot on. His opening jokes were strong and were tied into the night (a person who looked like Dick Cheney and an undertaker sat in the audience). Cook’s pacing was great, with jokes not only coming at the right interval for the energy level in the room, but he neither spoke too quickly, nor too slowly and there were no lulls. Also, whilst there were plenty of jokes to each topic, nothing was taken to the point where it felt as if it had outstayed its welcome. There was a very subtle element of physicality to Cook’s delivery, as he would adjust his facial expression to accent the feeling he was imparting, or he would point or gesture with his hands. Nothing dramatic, but more than enough to add to what he was saying without distracting people. Similarly, Cook’s use of his voice with where he laid the stress on certain words in sentences made it clear what the key words in each routine were. This was all excellent. There was a lot of laughter during this performance. This was an impressive set.

Scott Bennett

The best I’ve seen of Bennett. This is going to be hard to top for performance of the year.

From the night:

I’ve seen a lot of Scott Bennett over the years and he’s one of my very favourite acts. Tonight, though, he surpassed himself. This was the best I’ve seen him and it was simply magnificent. What makes it even more remarkable was that a lot of it was fairly new material that he is perfecting. The tumble-drier was a great opening, 03.50 drinks great, drunk cooking has loads of promise, although it does need either a big ending or a strong link into something else, holidays with kids really came to life and above all the printer was massively funny. Even Kestrel for the crappy brand of lager was the perfect choice. Bennett has changed a few things in his delivery. For a start, he is using his wife’s name in his set and this gives it an added air of realism, familiarity and ultimately relatability; it’s no longer funny in the abstract as in ‘my wife said’. This is a small thing to change, but a big improvement. Above all, though, his going berserk over the malevolence of the printer ramped the laughter up sky high. The passion with which he delivered this routine was incredible. The use of the C-bomb (first time ever) and other strategic Fs pushed this routine massively. There were not just huge laughs during this set, but gigantic laughs. The closing routine tied everything together and was the perfect ending to a brilliant set.

Simon Lomas

A low energy act opening at a night where the lively audience is 90% comedy virgins and there are four coked up fuckwits on the second row could have been difficult. However, Lomas did brilliantly.

From the night:

Lomas is the best up and coming act in the country and tonight he demonstrated his talents. I’d not seen him open in front of an audience containing a disruptive element before and he handled it beautifully. As Simon walked to the stage someone shouted out ‘that’s my jumper you’re wearing’ to which Lomas replied, ‘yes, your mum gave it to me.’ This received a big laugh and it showed everyone that despite not looking dangerous, Lomas wasn’t afraid of biting back. From here he began his set and it was all that I expected: extremely well written, delivered with beautiful timing and with lots of laughter and applause after every joke. One of the four arseholes shouted things out a couple of times, so Simon carried out his threat of restarting a joke from the beginning. There was a lovely moment where he then asked one of these people which joke of his they had just got. This all received loads of big laughs and Lomas handled the audience wonderfully. It’s always a pleasure to see an act of this quality.

Honourable Mentions:

Becki Heaviside, Celya AB, David Tsonos, Hayley Ellis, Omar Issa, Pete Selwood,

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The Blessington Carriage – Sunjai Arif, Tom Taylor, Celya AB, Scott Bennett and Omid Singh

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse comedy night. Numbers weren’t huge, but for a cold January night, they weren’t bad at all. Spiky Mike was fortunate in having some first timers sat on the front row and these provided plenty of mirth during his compering. Rosie the expert picture hanger was a lot of fun, as were Holly and Ollie. Mike was unlucky in not talking to Thomas during his compering, as it came out later in the show that he did jousting and he could have had a lot of fun with that. As it was, the room were swiftly warmed up and ready for our opening act.

Sunjai Arif

Arif came to the stage oozing energy, which he milked before dropping the levels and talking about his t-shirt. This involved a fairly long set up about drugs and the pay off wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really worth the amount of time spent on it. The comment about Portsmouth being rough was difficult to picture. Unless an area down south has a rough reputation, such as Millwall, it’s not that easy for people to get onboard with it up here. Excuse me was good, cupcake went down really well and the closing callback was solid. However, the jokes about Jihad, whilst entertaining, are something of a staple for acts with beards and Muslim backgrounds and they are getting overused. Whilst the material didn’t draw me in, Arif had a very likeable persona and a fun delivery.

Tom Taylor

Taylor was trying new material tonight. He’s a great act who is always interesting to see and this was no exception. Whilst not everything worked so well, which is to be expected for new material, there was a heck of a lot of good stuff. The vehicle song was fun, goldfish was even better and bullet was superb. Sentences was a cracking line. The telephone call has potential and I could imagine with a number change it maybe working well as a callback. This was a good set.

Celya AB

There was a lot to like about Celya AB. She was a warm presence, skilled at working the room, quick to recover from the odd slip and she really sold her material well. The material itself was a bit patchy at times, with some good lines, but a few that weren’t quite there. Unconditional was decent, the wedding good and Winehouse was brilliant. However, a few bits were a tad wordy and whilst the University of Wolverhampton will play well in Birmingham, Nottingham Trent would have been a far better fit for Derby. Celya isn’t yet the finished article, but she’ll get there and she’s worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Scott Bennett

I’ve seen a lot of Scott Bennett over the years and he’s one of my very favourite acts. Tonight, though, he surpassed himself. This was the best I’ve seen him and it was simply magnificent. What makes it even more remarkable was that a lot of it was fairly new material that he is perfecting. The tumble-drier was a great opening, 03.50 drinks great, drunk cooking has loads of promise, although it does need either a big ending or a strong link into something else, holidays with kids really came to life and above all the printer was massively funny. Even Kestrel for the crappy brand of lager was the perfect choice. Bennett has changed a few things in his delivery. For a start, he is using his wife’s name in his set and this gives it an added air of realism, familiarity and ultimately relatability; it’s no longer funny in the abstract as in ‘my wife said’. This is a small thing to change, but a big improvement. Above all, though, his going berserk over the malevolence of the printer ramped the laughter up sky high. The passion with which he delivered this routine was incredible. The use of the C-bomb (first time ever) and other strategic Fs pushed this routine massively. There were not just huge laughs during this set, but gigantic laughs. The closing routine tied everything together and was the perfect ending to a brilliant set.

Omid Singh

Closing was the American Omid Singh. He had some good intelligently written material. His set was cleverly constructed and there was plenty to enjoy about it. The plane journey was the stand out routine, the Trump impression pretty good and he dealt well with discovering a jouster with English Heritage sat on the front row – probably a first for him. However, the routine about the bag and the train, whilst well written, was at heart another man with a beard and Muslim ancestry bomb joke. Arif had used a similar basis for a joke earlier and this diluted the impact of Singh’s joke. His delivery was quiet and conversational and it was good, although after the excitement and the high of Bennett’s set, it did feel a tiny bit pedestrian in comparison. With a different running order, this wouldn’t have been an issue. I enjoyed Singh and in a lot of ways he was impressive, but I don’t think I got the full benefit of his ability.

The Kayal – Hector Walker, Andrew Thompson, Steffan Evans, Jem Braithwaite, Col Howarth, Mark Granger, Rory Jones, Oscar Roberts, Doug Carter, Sean McBurney and Jimmy Alan

Tonight I was at The Kayal in Leicester for the Funhouse gong show. This was a packed out room with a lovely varied audience, which included Neal Sullivan. Spiky Mike had a great time chatting to people, discovering an exam invigilator, a couple of young students and a 71 year old who explained his youthful looks as being due to daily sex with his wife, which she then confirmed to a round of applause from everyone.

Hector Walker

I’ve seen Walker a couple of times and he’s not yet found his feet as a comedian. Tonight he opened with material about Leicester getting a bad press and followed this up with the tale of a meal in Weatherspoon’s and then stuff on Coventry being the city of culture. Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of jokes and he got a bit tongue tied, which wreaked further havoc with him building up momentum.

Andrew Thompson

Thompson had original material that was well thought out and delivered slowly. The material was almost anti-comedy in nature, but it was powerful enough to not only draw everyone in, but to get big laughs. This was a very good set from someone who stood out and easily made the final.

Steffan Evans

Evans’ strongest area is his persona. He’s bubbly, enthusiastic and full of energy. This added a lot to what he was saying. The material wasn’t bad, but a lot of it felt similar to things that other people have said a few times on other stages. If he could strengthen this side of things he’d do well. Dead bird was a nice quick joke. Evans made the final.

Jem Braithwaite

Braithwaite has unique material that he delivers very well, leaning forwards, with a fascinating intonation and sometimes in rhyming couplets. Tonight was a mixture of new and old material, with the newer stuff working well, especially the callbacks. However, the audience wasn’t fully onboard and he was a late gonging.

Col Howarth

Howarth was similar to Evans, a bright and bubbly personality which most of the audience will remember them for, even if they might struggle to remember their material, or which of them said a particular line. To begin with, he seemed to be Mc’ing the room, mixing room work with bits of material that he tied into the exchanges, but he swiftly moved on to material. He did quick jokes and some of these were good, some a bit predictable. I was very surprised when he commented about how he was the oldest act on the bill, as he looks younger than he is and Thompson has a good 15 years on him and I think a few people did a mental, ‘hang on,’ when he said it. Howarth wasn’t bad, but he didn’t really stand out, despite making the final.

Mark Granger

Granger didn’t have a great night. He did a couple of poems. One about death, which was grim and without punchlines and then one about dog shit, which we never really got into as he was gonged off at the first opportunity. There is room for alternative material in comedy, but there has to be some laughs in it to make people want to hear more.

Rory Jones

Jones is an act whom I’m interested in seeing how he develops. He’s beginning to put together sets of one-liners and he’s got ability. Tonight, he tried out some newer material and there were a few groaners present, as well as superb jokes such as stunner. If he could cut out some of the groaners he would go further, faster, as you can see it is coming together for him. He made the final and did pretty well.

Oscar Roberts

Roberts has an endearing presence and some strong material. His opening, if he were to drop the preamble would be three times as good, as it would be extremely punchy and funny, giving him a big laugh within 20 seconds of picking up the mic. He received the first applause break of the night, something which looked like it came as a bit of a surprise to him, but he rolled well with it and got another laugh for his response to it. The PE teacher was a huge change in tone and is probably better in a longer set, where it has time to be worked in. Power-walk and National Trust were both solid lines. Roberts made the final and was arguably tied for second place.

Doug Carter

Carter is a great new act and he’s always a joy to see on bills. He’s got bags of presence, a delivery that is earnest and brings everyone onboard wanting to hear what he is saying. The material is improving with every performance. Tonight Bear Cash got a huge laugh, partly because it sounds so odd, but also from Carter’s look of ‘what the heck?’ as he delivered it. Tonight Carter was the winner by a landslide and I can see him going far in this industry.

Sean McBurney

McBurney is already a solid joke writer. Tonight the vast majority of his gags were very good; if he could include a couple of toppers then they would be even better. He did lose people a bit with some of the darker jokes, but even here, they were well crafted jokes. McBurney does need to work on his delivery, though, as he a bit fast running out of steam before the vote, yet even then, I thought he’d get through on the basis of the consistent laughter he’d generated. With more stage time he’ll get used to pacing himself, building a bigger connect with the audience and then he’ll look more at ease on stage.

Jimmy Alan

Looking smart for the occasion, Alan started well, with some panto based comments, which culminated in a fantastic joke. However, he then had a couple of good jokes where the sympathy was all with his wife and just at the crucial moment of a vote this lack of audience appeal was enough to see him off. This was a shame, because he was shaping up to be a strong contestant.

Hoofers – Simon Lomas, John Halton, The Spirit Co-Medium, Ivan Brackenbury and Matt Stellingwerf (MC)

From the beginnings this inaugural night had the makings of a great gig and it is lovely to see live comedy in my home town. The room was well laid out, with rows of chairs and only the odd table, with people having good sight lines of the stage. It was a gig that had sold so many tickets it had been moved to the large function room and even then it had sold out. There were 146 people present who were there to enjoy the comedy, including Mark Dukes, who had come up from London. Unfortunately there were also four coked up fuckwits on the second row who were disruptive, chatting amongst themselves, shouting out and then getting even more obnoxious. I believe that in the intermission, the manager of the bar had a word with them and they promised to calm down. However, even with Stoney getting up from the sounds desk to tell them to behave (with Matt Stellingwerf walking over to add his support) they continued to be disruptive. When they threatened one of the acts with violence, the gig understandably came to an end, amidst scenes of other members of the audience squaring up to the miscreants. This venue had security staff present and if they had made themselves prominent this may have been avoided. 146 people had a lot of laughs tonight. The comedians all did extremely well, but all it takes is a small, but persistent and nasty element to compromise what could and should have been a great night. Luckily a lot of the audience could see past these four arseholes and were full of praise for the acts and will be coming back for the next night. This is a night with loads of potential and there is no reason why the next show won’t be stellar.

Matt Stellingwerf (MC)

I saw Stellingwerf compering in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago and he’d done very well then. Tonight he was equally as skilled. The audience took a moment to settle, being mostly comedy virgins, but after silencing a couple of people who shouted out to him, he hit the room with strong material (All Blacks) that was immediately funny. Stellingwerf chatted to a few people (I liked his use of the word ‘champ’, something nicely different and warm), particularly DJ, but because the opening act was deadpan, he sensibly didn’t do too much room work and did his best to get people used to listening to material. For his second session, Stellingwerf used some good material, such as Proclaimers and the clap. Wigan was ok, but he’d have gotten a bigger laugh if he’d gone with the local shit town of Chesterfield, instead. The crowd were pretty lively, but Stellingwerf settled them down every time he was on stage and was a positive influence on the night.

Simon Lomas

Lomas is the best up and coming act in the country and tonight he demonstrated his talents. I’d not seen him open in front of an audience containing a disruptive element before and he handled it beautifully. As Simon walked to the stage someone shouted out ‘that’s my jumper you’re wearing’ to which Lomas replied, ‘yes, your mum gave it to me.’ This received a big laugh and it showed everyone that despite not looking dangerous, Lomas wasn’t afraid of biting back. From here he began his set and it was all that I expected: extremely well written, delivered with beautiful timing and with lots of laughter and applause after every joke. One of the four arseholes shouted things out a couple of times, so Simon carried out his threat of restarting a joke from the beginning. There was a lovely moment where he then asked one of these people which joke of his they had just got. This all received loads of big laughs and Lomas handled the audience wonderfully. It’s always a pleasure to see an act of this quality.

John Halton

This was the first time I’d seen Halton and he did well. He opened with an inbreeding joke about his home location and lookalike gags, which are well travelled areas. However, they both got laughs and quickly established that he was funny. Using a footballer lookalike at a gig held at a stadium was a shrewd move. Revolution was clever and might have gone over a few people’s heads. When Halton was talking about his Granddad he hit a rich seam of comedy and there were some strong lines here. Tinder is a topic that has been done a few times, but Halton’s writing was strong enough for it to work well. The topper on his Christmas present was great. To close, Halton had a volunteer come on stage to help deliver a visual display showing how the yearly AGM of HIT would pan out. If he could find a ‘S’ to put before the name of his business there would be an added joke there. Perhaps, Standard, Sheffield (if gigging there, etc) or Super might work. The graphs were all easy to see and this worked well. There was perhaps room for a callback to the earlier material about his Granddad and channel 173 on one of them. If Halton could add a bit more intonation to some of the words he said, it would be an advantage. This was a good set from someone, who with more consistent gigging, should do well.

The Spirit Co-Medium

Next was the superbly creative Tom Binns, playing perhaps my favourite of his creations, the spirit Co-Medium. There is just so much to like about this character. The writing is hugely impressive. There isn’t a single word that doesn’t add value to the set and he plays the audience like a fiddle, knowing their expectations and subverting the whole cold reading/medium industry. With every audience interaction Binns is three steps ahead and I’d not be surprised if he hadn’t worked out great responses for every eventuality. This was a superb performance. The coked up fuckwits who had been quiet during Halton’s set came to life during this performance and Binns paused to ask them if they wanted to listen or leave. When they settled down, he resumed. However, it was only a temporary improvement and as they were still interrupting set ups and ruining jokes, he finished a bit earlier than planned. I hoped that this would prove a lesson to the disruptive four.

Ivan Brackenbury

We began the final section with Ivan Brackenbury, the hospital radio DJ. I saw him last week in Southwell and he’d been fantastic then. Tonight he was just as superb, including new material in this show, which was great. It was lovely watching the audience and seeing people listening to the set ups, hearing the song and then getting the gag. This was all top notch and Binns really brings the character to life. However, the four arseholes were still talking loudly and being disruptive. Brackenbury turned the volume up a bit, but they increased their volume. Eventually, Binns paused and asked them if they wanted to listen to the show, or talk, pointing out that there were 140 people who had paid to hear the show and not them. He got applause and cheers for this and with people not off their heads, this would have worked. When he suggested that if they wanted to talk they go outside and do it, he was met by a threat of violence and no one should have that and so the gig understandably ended there and then. This had been a great performance, marred by a small number of fuckwits.

The New Barrack Tavern – Aaron Wood, Joseph Dalton, Leon Brown, Becky Heaviside, Mickey McKay, Greg Husband, Omar Issa, Roger Poulter, Lee Watson, Harry Chalmers-Morris, Dan Baines, Erika Ehler, Jimbo, Anna Spark

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse Comedy night. This is a lovely pub and I’ve never had anything less than a great night here. The room was pretty full, too, which was great. Present in the audience were Lou and Wayne B (Last Laugh) and my best friend, Bill and Donna. Spiky Mike had a cracking time compering, discovering a lady who was happy to be from local shit town, Rotherham and another lady whose given profession was that of ‘undertaker’ upon being challenged, this changed to hairdressing before she finally confessed to being a supply teacher. No one was doing dry January, which received a big cheer and Mike’s new bit of material comparing Theresa May to a hopeless sportsman went down well. There were 14 acts on the bill tonight, with a wide sweep of styles amongst them. Ten made it through to the final and whilst a couple of these were a bit generous, the judges were pretty much spot on. There was a lot of talent in this room tonight.

Aaron Wood

Wood opened the night by talking about anal sex (with a pretty standard punchline about who received it). Apart from an ironic cheer, this got nothing. He then went on to give the audience some one-liners about a new lady in his life, but it was too early on in the night for this material and apart from laughter coming from the green room, it didn’t get a lot. In fact at the first vote it was touch and go whether he went. However, after that he did a routine about being taken too soon and this was a total contrast to his earlier material. It was witty with unexpected reveals. This was good stuff. It could have perhaps been improved if he had changed the order a bit so as to reveal the lady was Glaswegian earlier, as that would have made it more punchy. That aside, this was a very good routine and it saw him through to the final.

Joseph Dalton

I last saw Dalton in Stoke and he’d not had a stellar gig there. Tonight he continued this pattern. He opened with material on Easy Jet and things being optional extras. This topic has been done to death over several years and it’s hard to sound original unless the material is really good. This wasn’t. It was then followed by some material about God opening coffins and this was too odd for the audience and off he went.

Leon Brown

Brown opened with a joke about a donation that he made to a homeless man and not only was this a bit bleak, but it was too soon in his set for the room to have really grasped his persona. As all of the sympathy was with the homeless man, it didn’t endear Brown to the audience. This was followed by a disparaging quote and as the source of it was his mum, it didn’t feel like anything no one hadn’t heard of a version of before. Attention spans was shaping up to be more interesting, but there just weren’t enough jokes in it to keep the judges with him and as a vote came up, Brown was off.

Becky Heaviside

Becky Heaviside had a great gig and easily made the final. Her delivery and well written material drew the audience in and she was the first act of the night that had everyone onside. She also had a very nice visual habit of pulling the mic away from her mouth when she was swapping character in her routines and this worked very well. The only thing I wasn’t so keen on was ‘sadder than that’ which is a pretty common line. However, with her eye for a nice turn of phrase and well measured delivery I really enjoyed her set and I’d like to see her perform again.

Mickey McKay

I saw McKay a few months ago and whilst he reminded me of a young Tony Cowards, not everything came together and he was much more of a work in progress. However, tonight, he was great. He received a laugh for his opening joke and never really looked back. He kept the one-liners coming, not rushing the delivery, but just letting them arrive at their own pace with pauses for the laughter. He was the only act to receive a shout out – when he said about being single and a star wars fan, he received a ‘yes!’ from a lady in the audience and his well timed response of ‘fuck you,’ which was said with a grin, went down nicely. The gag about kick boxing was extremely good and the joke about Birmingham train station was solid, but if he were to just swap Brum for wherever the local shit town is to his performance, it would land twice as hard. McKay continued the good work in the final, where he delivered a punchy 60 seconds and made it through to the cheer off, arguably in second place.

Greg Husband

Husband is possibly the first folk music comedian I’ve seen and he added a wonderful element of difference to the night. He sang songs, accompanied by guitar (later squeeze box) and these stood out on a diverse bill. The songs were self-deprecating and pretty raw with how they painted him. However, instead of being depressing, Husband was very funny and received a hell of a lot of laughs. He’s got talent and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a comedian. Tonight he not only made the final, but was in the cheer off for top spot.

Omar Issa

Issa opened well with a rhetorical question about how to follow a folk music comedian and this showed not only that he was aware of what was happening on stage, but also a certain generosity of spirit, which was well received. What jumped out the most from this set was the quality of the writing. Issa has spent a lot of time working on this set and it has a great logic to it. There is nothing discordant about any of the routines, they don’t segue into something odd, but instead they all hang together very nicely. There was also a refreshing newness about his chosen topics, too, with Fusion Foods being a standout. There were a few ways that he could have taken this, but the familiar and the odd, exaggerated for comic effect worked extremely well. The delivery was also solid, with Issa changing pace and adding emphasis at just the right moments in his set. Issa was a well deserved winner tonight and I think I’ll be seeing a lot more of him in future.

Roger Poulter

Poulter gave the audience one-liners. Some were groaners, some were Christmas Cracker style jokes and a couple were really good. The fortune teller gag was excellent and if the rest were as good as this he’d have lasted much longer. Audience’s will tolerate the odd groaner (more so if it is clever), but they are there to laugh and if the groans outweigh the laughs, it becomes tricky. Poulter banged the gags out one after the other, but his lack of a connect with the audience was fatal. Poulter didn’t really look at the audience or form any kind of connection with them and if he were to at least acknowledge the roomful of people or find a way to make them want to invest in him as being worth their time he would do far better.

Lee Watson

Watson has potential, but at the moment is a work in progress. His biggest problem was a lack of concision. His set ups and sometimes the reveals, were that wordy that the funny got lost amongst the talking. He wasn’t helped by a long pause after a (sadly guessable) reveal, where it wasn’t clear if he had lost his way or was pausing for affect. The material about LGBTQ+ was unique, interesting and a lot more fun. With more stage time Watson will improve.

Harry Chalmers-Morris

Chalmers-Morris could become a good act. He’s only 19, looks younger and has an engaging stage persona. His material was pretty well thought out, too, with some nice lines. ID was a great one. Chalmers-Morris made a shrewd use of the local shit town. Chalmers-Morris made the final and although he didn’t win, there was plenty to enjoy in his set.

Dan Baines

I last saw Baines in Stoke, where he had done pretty well. Tonight he continued from where he left off with a good set that saw him through to the final. Baines has a solid stage presence and this helped him in his performance. A lot of the material concerned his build, but he had a lot more to offer and spoke about his tastes in life. Slap in the face was a great line and morbidly was even better. I was impressed when he tied some material into the supply teacher discovered during Mike’s compering. This was a good move and made his performance feel very much of the here and now. There was regular laughter during this set.

Erika Ehler

The Canadian Ehler delivered her material in a slow calm and deadpan manner. The topics included Amanda Knox and drama school and these were all interesting, making the audience curious to see where she was going. The laughs came consistently during Ehler’s set and she made a good impression on everyone. I expected her to be better supported during the final, but this time she didn’t make the cheer off.

Jimbo

This was the fourth time that I’ve seen Jimbo and tonight he received laughs for the right reasons. Aged 75 and dressed like an extra from Last of the Summer Wine, he stood out on a bill that was notable for its diversity of style. The jokes largely concerned the troubles of getting old and these went down very well, with him making the final without any trouble.

Anna Spark

The Australian Anna Spark had some superb lines and ideas, such as haunted, which was a fantastic premise. However, she did split the room with her shock material approach. Spark suffered from her material all being either overly sexual or overly dark. Whilst a fair number of lines were strong, it all began to feel pretty much of a muchness and that it was shock for the sake of shocking. If it had led further, ie, into something that wasn’t sexual or dark then it would have drawn more people in. In fairness, she made the final, there were some great lines, but I’m not sure how many people would have wanted much more of what became fairly samey sounding material.

The Saracen’s Head – Ivo Graham, Chris Kehoe, James Cook and Ivan Brackenbury

Tonight I was in Southwell at The Saracen’s Head for the Funhouse comedy night. This was another packed show and Spiky Mike was on form with his compering. He had some fun with vegan sausage rolls, but really got into his stride chatting to Les, a train driver from Doncaster. The undertaker he discovered during his second session added to the list of interesting professions present.

Ivo Graham

Graham was unfortunate enough to arrive later than expected at the venue and owing to the double ups, he ended up going on stage more or less as soon as he had taken his coat off. This lack of time to relax and get himself settled and mentally focussed had an adverse effect on his performance. Graham started off well, riffing off of Mike’s introduction, getting laughs for his comments about the location of the double and establishing his persona. However, when he came to talk about holidaying with his parents he got parts of the routine in the wrong order and his attempts to get back on track weren’t quite snappy enough to keep everyone with him. The routines about losing his virginity and then breastfeeding were ok, but I don’t think he delivered them with as much panache as he would have done if he hadn’t erred in his earlier routine, although the annihilation jokes were good. The closing routine about Go Ape was sound. However, the biggest laugh during this set came for a well timed and relevant callback shouted out by Les in the audience, which got a huge laugh. Graham didn’t do badly, he got laughs, entertained everyone and you could see the quality behind it all, but owing to having to jump straight in, I don’t think he did half as well as he could have done.

Chris Kehoe

Kehoe is a very talented act. His intelligent material had a great logic to it; he is imaginative in how he takes a set of facts or a scenario and builds arresting comedy around it and his command of the English language allows you to enjoy every perfectly chosen word in his set ups. In addition to this, his performance, with things such as the small nod to acknowledge the glass being dropped (prior to a great ad-lib that tied it into his material) added a lot to what he was saying. This was a superb set that had everyone laughing, gained applause and was a joy to listen to. I enjoyed Kehoe the first time I saw him and thought he had improved further tonight. I’m going to be very interested in seeing how he develops.

James Cook

Cook is one of the most technically adept acts I’ve seen. He teaches comedy and it shows in his set, as he had everything spot on. His opening jokes were strong and were tied into the night (a person who looked like Dick Cheney and an undertaker sat in the audience). Cook’s pacing was great, with jokes not only coming at the right interval for the energy level in the room, but he neither spoke too quickly, nor too slowly and there were no lulls. Also, whilst there were plenty of jokes to each topic, nothing was taken to the point where it felt as if it had outstayed its welcome. There was a very subtle element of physicality to Cook’s delivery, as he would adjust his facial expression to accent the feeling he was imparting, or he would point or gesture with his hands. Nothing dramatic, but more than enough to add to what he was saying without distracting people. Similarly, Cook’s use of his voice with where he laid the stress on certain words in sentences made it clear what the key words in each routine were. This was all excellent. There was a lot of laughter during this performance. This was an impressive set.

Ivan Brackenbury

Brackenbury was very fast in generating belly laughs. Within 30 seconds of commencing he had people laughing their heads off. The format of him being a hapless hospital radio DJ who unknowingly plays inappropriate songs is very strong. Brackenbury had a superb eye for the funny and in this very punchy performance, the laughs came thick and fast. For those less clued up on their music, Brackenbury would repeat the relevant lines or song titles so that everyone could get the gag. There was a brilliant moment when in discussing what the heck a ‘Milf Farms’ is, a lady in the audience said ‘yes’ at a personally awkward moment, and Brackenbury briefly broke the 4th wall to talk to her. There was so much laughter that I was surprised that there wasn’t a standing ovation.

The Lescar – Craig Murray, Njambi McGrath, Pete Selwood, Jonny Awsum and Matt Stellingwerf (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield at The Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. This is a belter of a gig in front of an appreciative audience. There was one person there tonight, who had had a little bit too much to drink and whilst not abusive, did have a tendency to shout out some pretty bizarre things and this led to some great reactions from the comedians.

Matt Stellingwerf (MC)

Stellingwerf got the night off to a good start through a mixture of hard work and talent. Almost the moment he took to the stage he received a laugh for announcing that he was from New Zealand (it’s always good when acts address anything that might get people’s attention, like an exotic accent) and then a shout out from a chap at the back of the room. This wasn’t anything that you’d perhaps expect to be shouted at a New Zealander, but it was some factual information about the strength of the Ozone Layer above that part of the globe. Stellingwerf wasn’t taken aback, he replied with a witty put down and some factual information of his own, outdoing his interlocutor. Every once in a while, this person would shout out something pretty random, but Stellingwerf handled him adroitly, showing who was in control, but not being brutal about it. Other people he spoke to included a lawyer and a nutritionist and he got quite a bit out of them. In the second section Matt went with more material and this was all great stuff, with flags, All Blacks permutations and the British Museum all landing well. Stellingwerf has quite a bubbly and pleasant personality and he managed to impart a sense of fun into the proceedings. I’m looking forwards to seeing him again.

Craig Murray

Murray had a night of two halves. He began by talking about buying a newly built house, moved on to a being vegan/gay comparison and then talked about being a father and the travails of parenthood, which formed the mainstay of his set. The material was competent, but I’ve heard a few people do routines about similarities in coming out as vegan and coming out as gay and there are simply too many comics doing routines about the challenges of being a parent for it to feel fresh unless the material is very strong. Murray’s material wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything that really stood out. In contrast, Laser Quest was a lot more unique and this was a really good routine. Where Murray did excellently, though, was in his room work. He was as sharp as a pin here. Every time he interacted with a member of the audience I wanted him to carry on. For every comment or curveball he received, Murray had a very quick witted reply and seemed to be 3 steps in front of whoever he was speaking to. I can easily imagine him being a great compere.

Njambi McGrath

Based in London by way of New York and Kenya McGrath had a fascinating backstory and she made use of this in a set that demonstrated her ability to write intelligent, penetrating comedy. However, at times it felt like a cross between a lecture and a bit of a telling off for the issues of Imperial Genocide, British Colonialism and the slave trade with a bit about immigration and Brexit, too. There was some good stuff in here, but perhaps with a slight change in tone so as not to feel that the audience are catching it for the sins of our past leaders, this would perhaps have a bit more bite. When talking about other areas, such as sex and Mills and Boon, McGrath was just as sharp, funny and a lot more enjoyable.

Pete Selwood

Selwood and Stellingwerf look like brothers and Matt made the most of this by giving Pete a great build up as the best looking comedian on the circuit. I really liked this as it added a nice touch of ‘this is live’ to proceedings. However, as Selwood took to the stage, the drunken chap from earlier shouted out ‘Aurora Borealis!’ at him. An unusual shout at any time. He then followed it up with a comment about Selwood’s Simpsons Tshirt. Selwood was on him in a flash, arms in front of him, pointing out that of all the things to notice about him, that was the one thing that this guy picked out. For anyone who knows Selwood, this was an absolute blinder of a line and it received a huge laugh. I was laughing so hard that I hurt my ribs. From here Selwood began his set and I thought him talented when I last saw him, but he’s come on a lot since then. His material flowed smoothly and he went down very well with the audience. His intonation on ‘a bit of a’ was absolutely spot on to sell that line. This was a great performance.

Jonny Awsum

There can’t be many acts who are as good as Awsum in creating a joyous atmosphere in a room. He looks cheerful, which the audience bounce off and he’s unthreatening, so everyone is happy to play along with him. His songs are good, with catchy tunes and he keeps the audience participation simple and straight forwards, so it’s easy to get involved. He closed the night in fine style sending everyone out into the cold January night with a smile on their face, including me.

Canal House – Martin Durchov, Chris Copestake, Jon Pearson, Alex Leam, Matt Edmonds, Danny Treanor, Adam Hughes, Scott Bennett and Adam Beardsmore (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night at Canal House. As usual, this was a very busy night, with plenty of people in attendance, including Matt Bragg and Tommy Tomski, who had come to support the night.

Adam Beardsmore (MC)

This was the first time I’d seen Beardsmore compere and he did pretty well. He was friendly and welcoming, mixed room work with material and always ended on material to get the audience back into listening mode before he brought an act on. I thought his question regarding holidays was timely and it made a nice change to people being asked what they did for a living. During his compering, Adam found a girl who was celebrating her birthday and a chap who in a Fork Handles moment, had old paintings/ old paint tins in his car. The material was good, with the new story about the train journey being very pleasant, funny and also something that drew people in. I did think he could have perhaps added to his list of Shakespearean Stratford shops and in the routine about his daughter pointing at a mole there is perhaps room for him to say she was pointing at it as if she’d seen ‘something’ before getting to the reveal for two bites of the cherry. I’d like to see Beardsmore do some more compering.

Martin Durchov

I last saw Durchov in Derby, where he had been impressive. Tonight he made a powerful start by discussing being a Bulgarian living in Britain. This was strong material and for the first 6-7 minutes he hoovered up laughs. He continued this by talking about his appearance, body hair, relationships and dating with mutual decision being the outstanding line of his set. However, he went a bit off piste with an aeroplane journey and didn’t finish as well as he began his set. Perhaps there was also one too many mention of Brexit affecting his ability to be in Britain, too. Whilst Durchov isn’t the finished article, there’s some gold here and he will develop into a fine comedian.

Chris Copestake

I saw Copestake in The Rigger gong show last year and enjoyed what I saw, so tonight I was looking forwards to seeing more. Tonight it was mostly new material and there is some promise in it. He began, though, with a great comparison between Canal Street in Manchester and Canal St in Nottingham and how there wasn’t a tasselled nipple in sight here. This was a clever line. The missing cat was good, but he’d benefit from the poster being A3, as the detail must have been all but invisible from any distance. When it came to footballer’s wages, bonuses, appearance fees and so on, I feel that Copestake is onto something that could become really good. Tonight he cross referenced it to normal jobs as he went on, but if he were to show how ludicrous it is first and then to tie it into a normal job, especially if he can relate it to someone discovered during compering or at the top of his set, then it will hit home very hard indeed. Copestake closed on ‘the hug’ which was very visual and a real crowd-pleaser, especially when he got to the pay off. This was a good set.

Jon Pearson

Big Jon was only doing a tight five in preparation for a gig at the Comedy Store and it seemed to pass for him and us in the blink of an eye. He opened with relatable material about birthdays close to Christmas, which he tied in to a girl on the second row whose birthday it was. This was followed by a short routine about Trivial Pursuit (it would have been nice to hear if he had won) and some enjoyable dark jokes about the Twin Towers. This was a nice five, but it did feel more like a taster for a longer set.

Alex Leam

We resumed after the intermission with Alex Leam, who was practising part of his upcoming show at the Leicester Comedy Festival. The opening about naff Christmas presents was timely and the jazzy jacket really sold it. The tales of being a mobile DJ were interesting and I can imagine Love Shack working well with perhaps a projector showing the lyrics. The tale of the bouncy castle needed a bigger pay off, though. Leam looked more confident and was smoother than before.

http://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/alex-leam-the-joy-of-decks-work-in-progress/

Matt Edmonds

This was Matt Edmonds first ever gig and he did extremely well. He opened by telling everyone to blame his girlfriend, who had pushed him into it, if it all went wrong, which did eat up a bit of time. However, from here on in, he was on stronger ground. Being from Hereford originally gave him the chance to chat about tractors, for which he got a big laugh and to use a lovely line about a cheap time machine. Dogs names was even better and he delivered this bit very naturally. Food texting was a strong routine and the applause that this netted him wasn’t merely an audience supporting a brand new act, instead it was earned by it being funny. I did get to the type of reveal, if not the exact person, on signed books, but it was still a good joke and if Edmonds was to shorten the set up to the present he got caught on, without giving any clues, then that would be more punchy. Either way it was a cracking joke. This was a very good performance and for a first ever performance it was well above average.

Danny Treanor

Ending the second session was Ulster born Danny Treanor, whose low energy, low key performance and wordy set ups didn’t really hold the room. He got laughs, including a few big ones, but I and a few people sat near me, seemed to find it hard to stay focussed on what he was saying. Every so often he would skirt around the edge of going darker with his material and these moments were the most interesting parts of his set. I got the feeling that he had some darker material that would have helped his set stand out more.

Adam Hughes

Hughes had a fascinating rhythm to his delivery. He’d talk for a long time, hardly taking a breath and then taking one at an unexpected moment and this seemed to help people pay more attention to him than some other acts. He did look a trifle odd, wearing a shirt and tracksuit bottoms, but I think more people noticed his voice. Hughes has a voice that is hard to forget and I was surprised that he referenced it so late in his set. It was a bit of an elephant in the room and he may have been better speaking about it earlier. The material itself was pretty good and there were some original thoughts behind the material. Hughes got consistent laughs and didn’t do badly at all.

Scott Bennett

Headlining was Scott Bennett who was trying out new material. Bennett has got to be one of the most productive writers on the circuit and I shouldn’t be surprised if he throws away a lot of routines that many comics would be grateful to have created. Tonight he covered a lot of ground and the standouts were his dad casually chatting to the pilot, video games for the over 40s (there could be a lot of mileage in that), holidays with kids (relatable to so many people) and mooning. These were all routines that seemed very promising. There were some great lines, such as drone and the fastest moving queue at the theme park. The printer was a more established bit of material and it was a joy to hear.

Ashby, Laura Lexx, Joby Mageean, Hayley Ellis and Brennan Reece

Tonight I was in Ashby at the Lyric Rooms for the Funhouse Comedy night. Unlike other audiences, this one was very discreet when it came to denouncing their friends and relatives for getting them terrible presents. Luckily Spiky Mike had a great example from another venue that he was able to use. He was a bit unlucky, though, in the occupations of people, as designing magazines for the chemical industry and working in a plastics warehouse aren’t the easiest of topics to riff with. However, by using his skills, Mike was soon able to get the audience into a state of enthusiasm for comedy.

Laura Lexx

Laura Lexx had a great night. She’s a fast speaker, but as her tone was conversational and she had good diction, it was very easy to keep up with all she said. She opened with some timely material about the gym, followed this with relevant (to the venue) material on class and received her first applause for Chanel. Stereotypes about Brighton were dealt with well and the topper on dentist was great. I wasn’t so grabbed by the routine on 90’s holidays, though, as the laugh ratio dipped a tiny bit there, as it wasn’t quite so punchy. However, she deserved applause for pastry. There were some very powerful jokes about Brexit, but after two years of hearing about it, I wasn’t too sure that there was much appetite in a split voting audience for them. The closing routine about opinions was a great way to end what had been an impressive set. Lexx’s material all felt very relatable, which speaks highly of her ability as a comedian.

Joby Mageean

Mageean came to the stage full of energy and enthusiasm and this felt refreshing. He’s a likeable person and he seemed to brighten up the room. He had a chat with a vegan discovered during Mike’s compering and spoke to her in a way that felt like a natural extension of a conversation and that worked very well. I felt that he could perhaps have made more out of the Scottish connotations of his name, though, as he seemed to announce what it meant up there very quickly – I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a few laughs in playing around a bit with it, such as going for a Joby, or had a Joby or a ginger Joby, etc. The gay card was a great piece of material and this was delivered very nicely in a way that brought it all to life. I did think that Mageean perhaps went a bit off piste with jam eaters, but it was nice to see him have the confidence to follow up on that conversation and he got everything back on course with noodles, which gained him a big laugh. The watch was a great touch that added a nice little something extra to this set. I really enjoyed this performance and can see Mageean doing well.

Hayley Ellis

Ellis was similar to Mageean in that they are both cheerful positive acts whose happiness rubs off on the audience and as a result the room took to her very quickly, too. The topics covered included relationships, anxiety, a sober night out with a drunken friend and kids, plus a pleasing running joke about a fitbit. These were all dealt with in a light hearted manner that was not only in-keeping with her persona, but which also seemed to say fun. I liked that a lot. The material was very well thought out and everything came together very well. Ellis’ delivery was great, too, with her knowing when to pause to let people think for a moment before laughing. I enjoyed her asking John sat on the front row about his plan for the day if he swapped body’s with his wife, although I did think he took a big risk by announcing that he would tidy up. This was a set that was funny and also somehow uplifting.

Brennan Reece

Reece hit the ground running and then moved things up a gear. He had his persona established within the first minute and then the routines flowed to an appreciative audience. There were a lot of clever lines in this set and his construction was very good, too. Some of the areas felt a tad well travelled, but Reece got a lot of life from them. He is an unthreatening act and when he chatted directly to people they were more than happy to get involved. His reaction to one audience member’s name was very well done, indeed. There was an unusual moment where he was the victim of a drunken audience member shouting out to him. This is pretty much unheard of in Ashby and although it did wreck what was building up into a great routine, Reece tackled them head on, established his authority and then moved on to another area, getting laughs whilst doing so. Similarly, there was a point where he paused the gig to sneeze, but then discovered that he didn’t need to and he got a lot of laughs for his explaining all of this. The closing routine about giving blood was a nice one to close on. This was a great performance on what had been a cracking night.

Saracen’s Head – Alfie Moore, Carrieanne Guthrie, David Tsonos and Tanyalee Davis

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse comedy New Year special. This was a gig that was sold out and that was no surprise. Four comedians, a buffet and then Brian Damage and Krysstal performing live music was quite a draw for a lot of people. There were quite a few newcomers to the gig and Spiky Mike had a lot of fun chatting to them, especially the couple who met playing Scrabble. The atmosphere was subtly different to the usual comedy nights here; being not quite so keyed up for the comedy per se, but more up for having a good night in total.

Alfie Moore

With his strong writing and well measured delivery, Moore was a great act to begin proceedings. He had everyone onboard very quickly and kept them with him throughout his set. There was quite a lot of material that was new to me in this performance and it’s always a pleasure to see a well established act happy to carry on writing. I did wonder whether he may have got a bigger laugh if instead of ‘not ideal’ he had gone with ‘which was a bit inconvenient’, but that is a very minor point. There were some cracking lines in this set, such as seized, scab and OBE. The church gig felt a tad wordy on the set up, but it was definitely worth it for the pay off, as that landed mightily. To close, Moore did The Head, which is a magnificent routine and a personal favourite of mine and a lot of folk.

Carrieanne Guthrie

Originating in North Carolina and now living in Norwich, Guthrie used her opening joke to resolve a question that might have had people trying to guess throughout her set (to the possible detriment of them paying attention to the material). From here, she made a lot of her ten minutes by giving the room a set that took in sexuality, her build, North Carolina and her experiences of England. Her use of Norfolk to give substance to one of her jokes was really on-point. Guthrie has a naturally loud voice and looked overjoyed to be onstage, which was nice to see. She also had a loud giggle, which came out quite a lot and I can easily imagine a lot of people finding it endearing and a lot also finding it irritating, but I’m not sure of the percentages and how much they’d vary over the course of a set. Guthrie started strongly and although I thought she did tail off a bit towards the end, it was an enjoyable ten.

David Tsonos

It had been ages since I last saw Tsonos and he was the act that I was most interested in seeing tonight. He’s Canadian and is stylish in apparel and appearance. He’s also very astute and was well prepared for the gig. He’d made a point of remembering whom Mike had been speaking to a hour or so before and was able to address them by name and his comments about the New Year decorations and audience were very relatable and shrewd. This thorough preparation combined with him breaking the fourth wall to chat to people really drew everyone into his performance. Tsonos built on this good work with his routines, all of which were sound and cleverly written. The cat was great, but national animals was the stand out. The delivery on this was far sharper than when I had seen him previously and he acted out the part of Canada getting more and more frustrated with other nations’ choices very well. I thoroughly enjoyed this set and Tsonos should gig up here more often.

Tanyalee Davis

Tanyalee is naturally funny and she dominated the room. Her material is unique and interesting. A lot of it is autobiographical, but owing to her particular situation she has had different experiences to a lot of people and has crafted some great material out of it all. The only section I thought contained a bit of a lull was concerning rail travel, but even so, there were still plenty of laughs in there. Davis is a very lively performer, being very visual in her actions on stage and these really hammered home what she was saying. This was an excellent performance that received a lot of laughter.