Bar One – Edinburgh Previews – Brennan Reece and Josh Pugh

Tonight I was at Bar One in Derby for the evening section of the Funhouse Edinburgh preview all dayer. I got there at half 7 to find a decent sized crowd that included Brent, Nick Mellors and Rob Mulholland, a man with a loud laugh that he could successfully rent out to provide atmosphere up at the fringe.

Brennan Reece – Everlong

The theme of this show is Reece’s gran, his close relationship with her and how people are not forgotten as long as they are still talked about. There are a lot of shows about relatives in Edinburgh, possibly because writing them is cathartic, or perhaps because when the person involved is genuinely remarkable it almost writes itself. However, what separates this show from the rest is Reece’s skill in bringing the story out. His rapport with the room is superb, being lively, engaging and razor sharp to the mood of the audience.

He began with a spot of audience work, where he dropped in lucky speaking to Doug, a popular character on the Derby comedy scene. Doug is 73 and has not long since gotten engaged. This prompted Reece to muse about the cost of weddings and enquire if it would really be worth it. This brought the house down, with Spiky Mike laughing the most I’ve seen him laugh since a lady in Ashby suggested using cladding for a statue of May. From here Reece did a short bit on heckles received, which went down well as these always do and then we were into the main story, with some delightful asides along the way. Reece’s gran was a character and the sort of person who probably made a vivid impression on everyone she met and so the story passed an hour buoyantly, never feeling as if we had heard too much of her. There were a lot of great lines in this show, a lovely running gag about Quality Street and some phenomenal callbacks.

As much as I enjoyed the material, it was even better when Reece went off script and just played the room with his ad-libbing skill and creativity very much in evidence. His ability to work in a callback to Doug’s tale of bullet holes was as impressive as it was funny. Doug’s presence was a real asset to Reece, who used him to just the right degree to get the funny from him, although he did risk being upstaged when Doug received an applause break for getting up and walking to the door, saying ‘fucking beer’, evidently being caught short. Reece is very talented at sensing the mood of the room and being able to summon up the correct line to get the best result when chatting away. This was a happy and enjoyable hour.

Josh Pugh – A boy named Pugh

I can see Pugh having his breakthrough year if he has a good Edinburgh, although one can reasonably argue that he’s pretty much broken through already and that everything else is just a matter of time considering how far he’s come in 4 years. Pugh is one of those acts whom an audience has confidence in even before he’s spoken. It’s nice how people settle back and relax when he’s on stage, almost as if they can sense that they are in good hands and as always, he didn’t disappoint.

The theme of his show is that it is a film of his life, with various incidents of his time to date being mined for routines. As narratives go, this is pretty loose and is something to hang some very good routines on, rather than a story arc as such. However, I like that. There are too many shows that deal with ‘issues’ and as long as it avoids feeling disjointed, I’m damned if I can see why an Edinburgh show has to have a narrative when being funny and individual are the most important attributes.

Pugh easily satisfies both of these criteria with his well thought out routines and unexpected quirky reveals. There is a remarkably good laughter rate to this show, with no long gaps between laughs as this show flows rapidly along. My personal favourite was celebs for events, which is a fantastic idea. Although the inclusion of one did result in a brief discussion of their fate when Pugh seemed a little bit unsure himself of whether they were dead, alive or kidnapped, but that is easily remedied. Rocky was a rare miss, being more of an idea than a joke, but the rest was top notch. Pugh did say before a few jokes that they’d not worked previously, something that I personally don’t like to see comedians say more than once or twice in a set, as I think it can work against them or lose potency as a set up if said too often. Naturally, though, these jokes did well, as this is a man whom I wouldn’t be surprised to hear is a perfectionist. There is room for a few more callbacks in this show and the ending was a bit unusual in that the room wasn’t sure if he had finished or not at first before he did just a few more lines, but this didn’t alter the fact that everyone had really enjoyed the performance. This is a great show and it is everything you would expect from a comedian with Josh Pugh’s reputation quality.

The Gingerbread – Mundo Jazz, Clint Edwards, Andy Robinson and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was in Grantham at The Gingerbread for the Funhouse Comedy night. As this gig was in the function room of Grantham Town FC, it was pretty easy to find – all I had to do was look for the stadium. The room itself was spotless and quite big, with a fairly high ceiling, but it also had a sterile feeling to it. There were little of the odds and ends on walls or character that you get with a gig in a pub. This meant that the room resembled an oversized team meeting in an office. There wasn’t a huge crowd there, but I’ve been to plenty of lovely gigs where there has been a small but up for it audience. Unfortunately this audience was very much mixed in that regard. On one side, there were a few people who were quietly appreciative of the comedy. In the middle were a more ambivalent crowd, which included a lady who seemed to go from being sober to totally drunk during Andy Robinson’s set. And then there was a table where a family had definitely had enough to drink and concurrently had the attention spans of gnats. With a few more people there the balance of the room would have swung in favour of those wanting to enjoy comedy, but as it was, this was a very difficult gig for the acts. It was also one where no one could be too harsh in putting people down as the mood of the room was too uncertain for that. All too large a percentage of the room thought it was interactive and wanted to banter and talk back to the comics. Almost every line provoked a brief conversation amongst the crowd. This is highly unusual for Grantham, as the gigs at the Guildhall are truly lovely and this one has the potential to be nice, too.

Stevie Gray MC

It’s always a pleasure to see Gray. I’ve found him to be a very lively and inventive compere. Tonight, he began work before the gig had even started by chatting to the audience and working the room prior to the show commencing. Usually Gray will mix material and room work with props and music, but considering that our opening act was musical and used props, he wisely gave these elements a miss so as not to make things tricky for Mundo Jazz. Gray is lively and enthusiastic and very quickly had the room cheering. I really liked some new material of his and I can see that being a regular fixture in his set. As well as warming up the room, it was nice to see him remember to do the rules and send out the email sign up sheets. He dealt with a persistent heckler during the first intermission by having a quiet word with him and giving him a hug – something that would have silenced all but those totally lacking in self-awareness, which unhappily this interrupter suffered from. Gray had a good night and did all that was possible with the crowd short of deliberately being rude to people and he ended the night in style by getting the headliner onto the stage whilst he smartly stepped into a lift at the side of the stage and vanished from sight.

Mundo Jazz

Mundo Jazz is a character/musical act. The character is that of a Columbian singer, for which he speaks in a Spanish accent and dresses like a 1970’s prog rock singer with a fake ‘tache This isn’t especially deep as characterisation goes, but it’s enough for a bit of fun. Tonight he opened with a reasonable satnav joke, which wasn’t immediately obvious to all of the audience and this resulted in half of the room dissecting it and him explaining it. This wasn’t a great start, but he then ended up in a battle of wits with an audience member and came off second best. Mundo Jazz then wisely cut his losses and restarted the night, walking onto the stage anew. This salvaged his performance, even though he did keep on going back to one persistent heckler, when as a musical act he would perhaps have been wiser just to have ignored and then sung over him. Mundo Jazz was skilled at working information received from the audience into songs and this was a nice touch. The smoking gag was particularly strong. However, the mainspring of his set was his songs. I’m not a fan of musical acts, but I did like the t-shirt song, which was well thought out. However, with a lot of the songs, you’d got the joke by the end of the first verse and in my opinion any more was overkill and this was especially true of the drunken song, whilst Quincy worked best with those of a certain age. The audience liked Mundo Jazz more than I did. I would have liked to have seen more well thought out humour in the set, as this was painted in broad strokes, rather than nuance.

Clint Edwards

We resumed after the first intermission with London based Clint Edwards and there was a lot to like in this intelligent set. A lot of Edward’s material related to things specific to the room and to Grantham itself and it was evident that he has a keen eye for spotting the funny. He had done his research and he had no end of quirky facts about Grantham to weave into his performance. He was rather reminiscent of Mark Steel’s in Town with this and much appreciated by me for it. Generally when an act has put in the effort to make a gig feel bespoke for a particular location it is well received by the audience, but in this case the results were more mixed due to this room being so interactive. Whilst a wiser audience might have let him get on with the task in hand, this one was that was more than happy to talk about most of his facts with him. He dealt well with this and was good at thinking quickly – turning was an especially fine example of this. I wasn’t that keen when he made a joke about the L and the I of his name being too close together on the poster, as this is an old joke, but in fairness this still got a nice laugh and it led onto some enjoyable material. Unluckily, the same person who had helped to rob Mundo Jazz of momentum did the same to Edwards by talking and interrupting during his performance. Edwards won the battle of wits, but his interlocutor was impervious to this and it was a relief when the man’s wife led him outside for a bit. The audience settled down for Edward’s closing routine and this made a huge difference to the room. It suddenly became a very nice gig for that brief couple of minutes. Edwards was fun to watch and he’s an act I’d definitely like to see more of.

Andy Robinson

Robinson was a confident and assured presence. I really liked his mushroom joke, but the age of the audience was against it getting the kind of response that it deserved. Just as it was looking like the room had settled down the same party who had been disruptive throughout the night struck again and Robinson had to halt what he was doing to deal with them. Realising he was in a zero sum game he invited them to leave which happily they did. However, any hopes that this would allow him to crack on were dashed pretty soon when he tried to use a chair during a routine. He was then told in no uncertain terms by a lady who had gone from seeming sober to being drunk in ten minutes that that chair had recently been upholstered and that he couldn’t sit on it. Naturally this left Robinson bemused about the purpose of a chair that one can’t sit on. He was then momentarily offered her chair before she took it back. This wrecked that routine, but like Edwards, he received good laughs for his ability to think on his feet and improvise. The lady then attempted to start a dialogue with him, which he genially tried to close down by pointing out she had a vested interest in the night being a success, to which she announced that she was the person paying him. This was something of a gift to Robinson, who thoroughly enjoyed pointing out that she had already paid him. In between bantering with the room and ad libbing responses there was some nice material trying to get out and Robinson has a good club singing voice. Andy did an extra ten minutes, ending the night with a Q and A, where he received the mind-boggling query from this lady of did he know who her father was. Robinson did well with this gig and it was nice to see people shaking his hand afterwards.

This gig wasn’t a great one and it’s a shame as this venue has potential. It was simply a case of their being a fairly small audience and the balance favouring those who wanted to chat or had had too much to drink. With a few more people there to quietly enjoy the show this would have been a totally different night.

Peter Brush – A worm’s guide to Immortality

Two years ago to this very day, I saw Peter Brush performing Older than the Oldest Dog that ever lived in Buxton (thanks Facebook memories) and so it was somewhat ironic that I would be travelling up to the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield to see him perform his new show today. I really like the NBT, but it is a venue that I consistently under estimate how long it takes to get to. Rather than the 30 minutes or so I think it takes, it is more like 45 minutes away and the extra 15 minutes I gave myself swiftly evaporated following traffic jams and me coming off the M1 a junction early (usually I come off a junction late and have to double back) and then having to work out how to get there from somewhere I didn’t expect to be. The result of all of these shenanigans was unsurprisingly, but still annoyingly, me arriving 10 minutes into Brush’s show.

Usually the comedy at the NBT is inside in a fairly compact room that generates a huge atmosphere, but the all-dayers take place in the garden, which is a lovely setting for comedy on a sunny day – especially as I was sat in shade. The energy levels were set to relaxed, as people sipped their pints and lapped up the comedy.

I walked in just as Brush was condemning Isis. Brush is quite an understated deliver of lines. He doesn’t raise his voice, or jump about on stage. He simply doesn’t need to to get the most out of his material. He lets the quality of the writing do the heavy work and his more than gentle opprobrium for Isis worked all the better for it. I was massively impressed with his comments about their facebook page, these were brilliant. When it came to talking about ‘so called’ I did wonder where he was going to go with that, as I’ve heard more than a few versions of it, but his variant was nicely creative and in-keeping with his stage persona. The routine about Halloween was nicely charming and with a lot of his material, set the scene for some charming callbacks later in the show. The messages received in the afterlife was good, but I was surprised that the accident didn’t get a bigger response, as this was a superb joke. The same could be said about the tanned chicken line, which also deserved more. However, Brush was most certainly right about CCTV and miracles being more clever than funny, but I think that a creative example to illustrate the point might be able to adjust that. The Yorkshire thought section was notably strong and I can see that travelling very well as Yorkshire is almost shorthand for the North and there is plenty for those down south to buy into, too. The notion about buying art was a great premise, and as with everything in this show, well considered and logical. It was nice to see Corbyn getting a bit of a ribbing during this show, because as much as I like the man, he has had too much of a free pass from comedians and so being the butt of a joke is overdue.

Brush is a low energy performer, but frankly his cerebral material would seem odd if it were delivered by an high energy act. It’s nice to hear his precise diction, with no erms or hums and this helps to reinforce the intelligent nature of the work. There are quite long set ups that are pretty wordy and in any other comic I’d probably believe that they would work better edited down for more punch. However, with Brush it’s not only obvious that the reveal is going to be worth the build, but I enjoy listening to him outlining a scenario, even if it is the (when you think about it) depressing tale of Laika. Brush reminded me a bit of Stewart Lee (personally, I think that Lee is overrated and Brush is under appreciated); as every so often following his delivery of a joke he would dissect it, explaining why it was funny, or why it should have received a better laugh. It was interesting to see the craft behind the jokes.

This was an enjoyable show, but slightly worryingly for mid July, it still had the feel of a work in progress, but I’m fully confident that Brush will have it settled in time for Edinburgh. The theme of the show seemed to hang quite loosely and there didn’t seem to be a heavy narrative arc to it, either, but this is no bad thing. There are too many shows that prioritise the story over being funny and I’d much rather take humour over a narrative. This is something that can be enjoyed for what it is – 50 minutes of well written and funny entertainment and I’d urge anyone up there to pop along to the Labyrinth at 12.50 to see it.

Panelbeaters, Hosted by Caimh McDonnell, feat. Sam Gore, Steff Todd, Gary Delaney, Steve Day and Death

This afternoon I was in Derby at Bar One for the first of the Funhouse Edinburgh Preview all dayers. These are cracking value for money, although I had a feeling that after Panelbeaters I would be laughed out, so I just went there especially to see this show. Even on a day when it was 90 degrees outside and a big car show being held just a couple of miles away, there was still a respectably sized audience present (including Elliott Bower and Harry Sanders). The panellists today were: Sam Gore, Steff Todd, Gary Delaney and Steve Day, with Caimh McDonnell as host and Death playing Rob Mulholland.

Caimh McDonnell

McDonnell has the job of explaining the concept, announcing each category and then what is probably the hardest part: that of judging when the banter and mutual piss taking has run its course and it is time to move on to the next round. For me the biggest joy of this show is just listening to the comics bouncing off of each other, as they rip each other for stumbling over a word, or they provide toppers and callbacks to each other’s gags. It is almost like listening in to the world’s funniest conversation. McDonnell does well in allowing the comics some latitude with this, but also in keeping the show on schedule and ensuring that no round overran. The individual rounds, such as marriage proposal, elevator pitch and so on were fun, but they struck gold in a big way with Childish TV programmes – this was the highlight round and one that I hope they revisit as it was splendid. McDonnell did well as host and it was great watching him taking the piss out of the panellists and telling the room about when he took a ventriloquist monkey to Ireland.

Sam Gore

Gore has been consistently excellent on Panelbeaters. Every time I’ve seen him on the show he has been very well prepared with jokes in both quantity and quality. Today he was smartly dressed in jacket and shirt and he must have been melting on the stage, but this didn’t effect how funny he was at all. Amongst other things, Gore can do clever jokes, dark jokes, sick jokes and clever dark sick jokes. This means that there is a thrill of anticipation when he buzzes in; more so when he pauses as if trying to judge whether the room will go with what he is about to say. Some of his highlights were Findus Lasagne, Bill Cosby, Google tax returns and the second series of Sons of Anarchy, which frankly deserves as much shit pouring over it as possible. Gore is a superb pannelist.

Steff Todd

Todd was the odd one out on this panel – all of the other contestants are (I believe) pro comedians and she was the least experienced by quite a way. You wouldn’t have believed this, though, from watching her. Todd’s reference points aren’t arcane or require a lot of time listening to the home service to get; instead they are down to earth. This makes them more relatable. When she mentioned eyelashes on cars everyone knew the sort of person she was talking about and the same with her nanna and Liam Neeson. Todd’s standout line was about a wine list, which was a very strong gag. Like everyone else on the panel, not everything she said landed, but a heck of a lot did and I’d like to see more of Todd on the show.

Gary Delaney

This wasn’t a good day for Delaney’s self esteem as most of the panel spent the show taking the piss out of his waistline, but it was a great day for him making people laugh. Delaney is a great act and this show plays to his strengths, yet instead of dominating it, he was content to take a more relaxed approach and let the other panellists make the most of their afternoon in Derby. A lot of what he had to say was wonderfully dark in tone and I was very impressed with the Isle of Wight joke, the stream of childish tv programmes and the biscuit gags.

Steve Day

The first thing that strikes you about Steve Day is just how in shape he is. This is a man who looks fit and healthy, which is no surprise considering that he had cycled 40 miles to the gig from Birmingham (prompting Death to announce that he was going to follow him home along the dangerous roads). As a panellist Day has a slight disadvantage in being deaf and this meant that he didn’t get to join in with the banter as much as the others, but he made up for this in his answers during the rounds. His story about proposing marriage was charming, as was his notion of banning twitter and reinstating shouting at the telly, but where he scored big was with his scenario of the House of Commons being reconstituted as a bouncy castle. This was funny in itself and gave the other panellists plenty to work with as they riffed with it. Watching Death doing a parliamentary talk whilst he and Sam Gore were bobbing up and down was surreal, but funny. There was another glorious moment when he innocently asked Death about his autism, much to the surprise of Death. Day had a good show.

Death

As is traditional, Death got the majority of the best lines, as he put the finishing topper on the gags of the panellists, such as when he advised Todd that he was going to be dropping in on her nanna. Every so often McDonnell would insert the word ‘allegedly’ into the show just to keep things tidy legally and every time he did this Death would leap in with both big feet and say something defamatory. This was superbly funny and shows just how much Death relishes his role. In addition to this, Death spent 90% of the show grinning like the Cheshire cat, which was very warming.

Ashby – Markus Birdman, The Monks, Alistair Williams and Zoe Lyons

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. This was one of those nights were I’d like to have been able to shake the hand of the person who invented air-conditioning, as it was swelteringly hot again. Spiky Mike had a fun night compering managing well with a chap who tried to be funny/helpful/sarcastic with his answers when spoken to. There was a lot more fun to be had with a person who sold floors and beds and these interactions nicely set the room up for our opening act.

Markus Birdman

Birdman was excellent the last time I saw him, so I was pleased to see him on the bill. He began by making a joke about the town name, which is unusual as Mike generally advises the comics not to, as there are only so many gags to be made about it over the years without things getting samey. From here Birdman followed with the smartest knob gag on the circuit and we were off into a remarkably good set and also one that never began to feel staid. Birdman changed the tempo of the set a few times, going from material to including a couple of mimes and then room work followed by some deceptively clever gags from his notebook, before finishing with a bit more audience work. The first mime, that of a Muslim, was a bit of a slow burner, but it very nicely set things up for his next one. The room work was interesting, although he misheard an oriental man when he said about wanting to be his daughter (a callback to some of Birdman’s earlier material about his daughter). The jokes from the notebook had a lovely element of misdirection to them and worked very well. Markus was fairly sweary, but when he swore it was to add emphasis to what he was saying, rather than being gratuitous. Birdman was on a double and this performance had more of the feel of a headlining set than an opening one. This was a great performance.

The Monks

This double act had some nice touches in their set. It’s nice when acts listen to the compere chatting to people at the top of the night and can work audience members by name and their occupations into a set. This adds a huge feel of the here and now to a gig and The Monks did this very well. The prizes gave their performance a different dynamic to everyone else and this was nicely different. However, their joke about their last gig was predictable, although in fairness it received a good laugh from the audience, but this is a minor point. The main issue I have with this duo is that their material, over ten minutes or so anyway, is all based around one theme and I find that is too much on this topic for me. In their case the set is based around Christianity, but it is true with any topic that an audience member is disinterested in, any theme will begin to get old over ten minutes. Ten minutes of sketches and jokes utilising the Ten Commandments without a change away from it was too much for me. If they had mixed material based on Christianity with more general topics then I would have enjoyed them more. As it was the audience enjoyed them more than I did.

Alistair Williams

I saw Williams in Edinburgh last year – a bit of a lucky punt on my part to be honest – and with him being based down south I’d never seen him since, so having him on the bill was a big bonus. This was a set that combined well written material, good stage presence and a bouncy delivery; I enjoyed it a lot. Williams has a cheeky grin and looks happy on stage, which is always nice to see in an act. He also has skill with accents and was able to use this to add more depth to his delivery when discussing Australians and Mancunians. The routines were well put together and also in some ways thought provoking. The next time I see a picture of the Sydney Opera House, I’ll definitely be wondering what is inside. Dinner was probably the stand out routine of what was a cracking set.

Zoe Lyons

It’s nice to see a comedian who has a following and the presence of Lyons’ name on the bill seemed to have specifically attracted a few extra people to the gig judging by some of the reactions of the audience. This was a set that had the feel of having been written during the last year or so, with plenty of stuff about Brexit and so on. This was lovely for a couple of reasons; one, a lot of headline acts have mature sets that vary little from year to year, so a new set of this calibre is superb and gives people a reason to see her more than every other year or so; and two, instead of a standard Brexit routine insulting people’s motives in voting, this section concentrated on the personal side of the result and how it has played out in her house. This was nicely different. Lyons is wonderfully lively on stage, acting out what she is saying, which adds a nice visual element to her work. Her delivery was great and its no wonder there was a lot of laughter in the room.

Acts that impressed me the most – June

This has been a brilliant month for comedy. I’ve seen 65 acts at shows ranging from gongs to an English Comedian of the Year semi final and also an excellent episode of Panelbeaters. It’s been extremely difficult to narrow this list down. However, these are the acts that have impressed me the most this month:

Simon Lomas

I’ve seen Lomas twice this month, once at the English Comedian of the year semi final, where he did ten minutes and went through as winner by a landslide vote. However, it was him doing a longer set in Grantham that I found to be the more amazing of the two performances. To do what he does over ten minutes is excellent, but to do it over fifteen (or indeed longer) is fantastic.

From the night:

This was the first time I’d seen Lomas do a fifteen spot and whilst over ten he is probably one of the best comedians in the country, I was curious as to whether he could maintain his deadpan low energy approach for a longer set. The answer is that with extra time he was even better. He came onto the stage and took up his stance, looking to the right of centre and began what was a gloriously slow paced set. Lomas has longer pauses between jokes than anyone else would dare. Most comics would see it as dead time that could be filled with a gag, but instead, Lomas, without saying anything got laughs and built up comedic tension from being stood there and the audience were quickly laughing with anticipation during these moments. After he had established his persona, Lomas chatted to a chap on the front row, which led to a brilliantly conceived opening for an archery joke. There were 8 applause breaks and some of this was due to the audience taking advantage of the pacing between gags to applaud, but these were all earned applause breaks, Lomas was getting or on the verge of getting, applause for everything he said, which is remarkable. When he left the stage it was to the sound of not only applause, but also cheers from a very impressed audience.

Clayton Jones

Jones is a very strong comedian. He’s already good, but he has got tons of potential to become even better.

From the night:

I’ve seen English Comedian of the Year finalist Clayton Jones twice in the last couple of weeks and that is no hardship. Resuming after the first intermission, he hit the ground running as he delivered the standout set of the night. Jones has good material and stage presence, but what really sells it to me is his performance. He is fully aware that he is performing in front of a live crowd and his non-verbal audience interactions add so much to his show. The way he nods, looks at people, hushes the crowd to build tension on the African name and the side to side glance and giggle when doing his son’s comment are all absolutely spot on. It’s nice to see a comedian who is not only funny to listen to, but also funny to watch as they deliver their lines.

Freddy Quinne

This was a great set. Although Freddie was runner on the night, we all know that second is just a first that’s had a hard life.

From the night:

On any bill Quinne would have to be a serious contender. Over twenty minutes I’d consider him quite possibly unbeatable, but I was curious as to whether seven minutes would be enough for him to build up a head of steam. As it happened, he powered through the room making it through to the next round and being the act I most enjoyed. He began with a fairly long set up, which seemed to eat time until he got to the funny bit which amply justified the investment in it. This was just the start of a performance that included three or four routines that all landed knockout blows. Any one of these routines would have stood out for quality and squeezing them all into the one set was highly impressive. The delivery fully did justice to the material, being slightly camp when talking about his sister and having great tonal quality. It’s lovely when an act manages to place the stress on the correct syllable of certain words to get the maximum emphasis of what they are saying – it’s a subtle touch but one that massively adds value and clarity to their delivery. Also, it is usually the comedians who speak quietly that draw the audience in, but Quinne managed to achieve that by talking loudly, which is pretty exceptional. This was a stand out performance that saw Quinne through to the next round.

Tom Taylor

Taylor’s act works on a lot of different levels and is always a joy to watch.

From the night:

Taylor is a delightfully surreal act who is consistently very good. He is also perceptive when it comes to constructing his set and this is demonstrated in the quality of his work. In seven minutes he managed to find time for some sharp observations about the room, some great jokes and some lovely short songs and this was seven minutes that went by rather quickly. What I appreciated the most about this set was that he constantly wrong footed the audience. They would follow the set up and reach one conclusion, whereas Taylor would then reveal a punchline that was unexpected and which landed all the more because of it. I don’t think that there was a single line or moment that didn’t add mirth during this performance. Taylor comfortably made it through to the next round.

Honourable Mentions

Andrew Bird, Jack Campbell, Luke Wright, Mo Haroon, Pat Monahan, Sam Gore,Tom Binns and Wayne Beese (MC),

Grantham – Pat Monahan, Chris Tavner, Simon Lomas and Tom Binns

Tonight I was in Grantham for the Funhouse Comedy night. It was a horrible wet drive there, yet in contrast to home, which was cold enough for me to be wearing a jumper all day, it was pretty hot at the venue. It felt unusual being at a gig in daylight until Judi rushed around to finish closing the curtains, standing on a radiator to reach. Mike had a great night compering, renewing his acquaintance with a music promoter sat at the front whom he had met at Glastonbury after having sampled some of the local cider a few days ago. Mike recognised a lady who had made the local news a while ago by refusing to have a statue of Thatcher in the Grantham museum in which she worked unless it was made out of coal, so Mike asked her for her thoughts of what a statue of Theresa May should be made out of, to which the lady, quick as a flash, replied, ‘cladding’. This was a beautiful moment that came completely out of left field and Mike was stood on stage trying to carry on whilst almost pissing himself with laughter. Mike judged this comment to be that good he posted about it on facebook and announced the number of likes after the intermission, pointing out that he had had advice to book her for a gig.

Pat Monahan

We opened with the energetic Pat Monahan, a man who moves about that much on stage he probably hasn’t needed to go near a gym in years. Monahan is famous for a number of things including, his ability to work a room, hugs, being incredibly funny and not being able to tell the time. Tonight he was on a double and so came off at the right time (he may well still be performing in Oakham as I type this, though), he gave out a few hugs, worked the room marvellously and was indeed very funny. Perhaps 25% of his time was taken up with material, but really this was just a useful framework for him to chat to the audience around. The lights were dimmed, but leaving enough light for him to see most of the people there and he used this to great effect, as he dispensed his ideas of a recipe for a happy marriage. He may have perhaps spent a little bit too long on the partying material, but this is a minor issue, as his strong performance skills brought his set to life and opened the show with a bang.

Chris Tavner

Tavner has replaced Tony Wright as the best dressed comedian that I have seen. Tavner came to the stage wearing matching trousers and waistcoat and a shirt and tie and this gave him the look of a best man at a wedding about to make a speech to the room. This prompted a rare shout out at this usually well behaved gig about him being overdressed. Tavner dealt with this well, being kind, but authoritative and then he began his set. His material consisted largely of his house share experience, marriage and a bit of politics. This was all fine and I enjoyed the fact that his UKIP joke was accurate enough to get a tut from someone; on the other hand, hope in the eyes of youngsters is a bit overdone, but that’s no big deal. There were some nice touches such as when he leaned in and lowered his voice, which helped to sell what he was saying. This was an enjoyable set, but also one that I think needed a little bit extra to really shine and I think that the extra element was a bit more time. This set was building steadily and I think an extra 5 minutes would have helped Tavner to make a bigger impact as his performance seemed to be over rather too soon.

Simon Lomas

This was the first time I’d seen Lomas do a fifteen spot and whilst over ten he is probably one of the best comedians in the country, I was curious as to whether he could maintain his deadpan low energy approach for a longer set. The answer is that with extra time he was even better. He came onto the stage and took up his stance, looking to the right of centre and began what was a gloriously slow paced set. Lomas has longer pauses between jokes than anyone else would dare. Most comics would see it as dead time that could be filled with a gag, but instead, Lomas, without saying anything got laughs and built up comedic tension from being stood there and the audience were quickly laughing with anticipation during these moments. After he had established his persona, Lomas chatted to a chap on the front row, which led to a brilliantly conceived opening for an archery joke. There were 8 applause breaks and some of this was due to the audience taking advantage of the pacing between gags to applaud, but these were all earned applause breaks, Lomas was getting or on the verge of getting, applause for everything he said, which is remarkable. When he left the stage it was to the sound of not only applause, but also cheers from a very impressed audience.

Tom Binns

Binns came to the stage announcing that he was doing new material, not really fit for closing the show with and it is a tribute to the confidence that this audience has in him that they were still 100% behind him, even though he was kidding them and it was actually a well rehearsed performance. This was Binns as himself, doing ventriloquism. It was thoroughly enjoyable watching the audience laugh heartily at the show. Everyone enjoyed Binns teasing the room as warned people about how things stood with each character. This was a set that combined craftsmanship, attention to detail, imagination and a huge feel for what is possible. I especially liked the big ending song, which gave the night a tangible feeling of closure.

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Canal House – Nig Lovell, Thomas Rackham, Clayton Jones, Aaron Twitchen, Dan Nicholas, Pat Draper and Ben Briggs (Mc)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night. This was once again packed out, with Elliott having to set out some extra chairs for the audience. The line up was a bit of an unusual one, being all male, but this is far from the norm, as their booking policy is usually more even. Another oddity was the crowd which seemed to consist of a surprising number of first timers.

Ben Briggs (MC)

I was chuffed to see Briggs down as MC. I saw him compere at Bluey’s a few months ago and he had absolutely smashed it, reaching godlike proportions as he worked that room. One of the differences between Bluey’s and the Canal House is that at the former the MC can see every single member of the audience even under the subdued lighting, whereas at the latter only the first few rows are visible owing to it being a bigger room and darker. This leaves probably 85 plus people whom it is hard to engage with, which can be tricky (it may be an idea to move the stage back to the side wall and pack the chairs around it). Briggs opened well, looking happy with a big grin and seeing one chap with three younger ladies with him, he came out with a lovely line about grooming. It was here where the second snag became evident. This audience didn’t want to go with anything dark. Briggs is at his best when he is doing dark material and this robbed him of a lot of his strength. I think the cause of this reluctance was the high proportion of comedy first timers in the room. The end result of all of this was that Briggs had to work extremely hard to get the atmosphere ready and couldn’t use his best material with which to achieve it. This meant spending longer than expected on stage and unfortunately he overran in his sections, because no MC would want to leave a room less than perfect for the acts. Briggs mixed room work and material, but was unlucky in that no one on the first couple of rows really had anything especially usable for him to work with, although the lady who wanted to work with psychopaths could have been useful if the room was going with dark material. Briggs referenced how the audience had a bit of a love hate relationship with him, as he’d win them and then lose them and this can be a good approach, but when you say it half a dozen times I think it runs the risk of the audience agreeing, rather than playing along. This was a tricky room, especially when Briggs couldn’t use his best (darkest) material, but he worked hard and it was nice to see members of the audience shaking his hand at the end of the night.

Nig Lovell

I last saw Lovell in the final of the UK Pun Championships, where he had done well. As an ex student in Nottingham he opened promisingly with a joke about rival town Derby and his local comments all went down very well. A fair bit of his material concerned getting older and going clubbing and this was delivered in a mixture of puns and short set up gags. Lovell wasn’t as punchy as I was expecting and the room didn’t seem to warm to him as much as I thought they would, but I think that this was largely due to him going on first. I thought that the shorter his joke was the better it did. Lovell didn’t do badly, but from what I saw in Leicester at the pun championship, I know he can do better under the right conditions.

Thomas Rackham

Cardigan wearing Rackham had a good night doing new material. There were some very nice elements to his set including the campaign to make cardy’s popular and the fading out gambit, plus relegated was a lovely line. Like Lovell, a lot of his set concerned getting old and going clubbing and this was a bit unfortunate as they were next to each other in the running order, but as both approached it differently this didn’t hurt anyone’s set.

Clayton Jones

I’ve seen English Comedian of the Year finalist Clayton Jones twice in the last couple of weeks and that is no hardship. Resuming after the first intermission, he hit the ground running as he delivered the standout set of the night. Jones has good material and stage presence, but what really sells it to me is his performance. He is fully aware that he is performing in front of a live crowd and his non-verbal audience interactions add so much to his show. The way he nods, looks at people, hushes the crowd to build tension on the African name and the side to side glance and giggle when doing his son’s comment are all absolutely spot on. It’s nice to see a comedian who is not only funny to listen to, but also funny to watch as they deliver their lines.

Aaron Twitchen

Twitchen was doing new material, mostly related to his aerial silk comedy show in Edinburgh. He had a bit of a slow start with what seemed like exposition, but moved on from here as he built up his set. I’d say that Twitchen split the room a bit. I think that this was because a lot of his reference points (Lorraine Kelly etc) were more easily accessible to the ladies in the audience and it took the men a bit longer to get what he was saying. His comments about vaginas were a huge hit with the female half of the audience, but less so with the male side, whereas sad Rachel went down well with everyone. Twitchen was buoyant and fun, but I think he could have done with a longer slot to bring everything out in his set.

Dan Nicholas

Nicholas was also doing new material and it was nice to see him getting giggles before he even spoke. A lot of his material concerned a break up and a simple read through of it would probably sound quite bleak, but as ever with Nicholas, it is his performance that is compelling. He took what could have been depressing and made it feel a lot more lighter in tone. A couple of his references were a little bit niche: Sploshing isn’t something everyone knows about, or will admit to knowing about and I think that paypal might have been more readily understood than bacs. This was an enjoyable set.

Pat Draper

Draper had had an unlucky night in his car breaking down on the way to the gig. He was actually waiting for the AA man to contact him five minutes before he went on stage, so there was always the risk that he’d have to leave part way through (an eventuality that Helen had to work fast to cater for). He opened by explaining this and from here he launched into a very enjoyable set. The dog track material is great and I especially appreciate the callbacks to it. He was a bit unlucky in not being there (delayed due to car troubles) when Briggs had spoken to the credit controller and so there was a slight and unavoidable element of repetition in his asking her what she did, but this wasn’t that jarring. This was a set that went down very well, getting a good number of laughs and with the second dead animal joke as closing routine it definitely had a feel of completeness to it.

Kamikaze Club – Rob Kemp as Stang, Liam Webber, Adele Cliff, Ashley Frieze, Josh Pugh and Thom Hodkinson and Michael Bell (hosts)

Tonight I was in Brum at the Blue Orange Theatre, which is where the Kamikaze Club variety night is held. This is a venue with a lot of potential. It has a proper stage, tiered seating, a sound desk and a green room with probably everything you could ever need (it was nice to see the acts looked after with drinks, snacks and fruit) all laid on. One thing it doesn’t have is an inbuilt audience, as it isn’t attached to a pub or anything similar and I think that the organisers, Michael Bell and Thom Hodkinson must have worked pretty hard to get people in. However, if they can keep people coming and build upon this, then they will have a lovely little gig on their hands. Whilst Thom and Michael host the night, they have Dean on sounds and Colin as announcer. Dean was useful in doing everyone’s walk on music and although he mistimed a gunshot sound effect during a sketch, this wasn’t without comedy value. Colin only had one job and that was to announce the acts, which I think is a nice touch.

Thom Hodkinson and Michael Bell – Hosts

Hodkinson and Bell hosted the evening as a double act and as this was only the third show, they’ve not quite clicked yet. The banter between them didn’t feel especially natural, although I’m sure that this will come in time. They added to this by doing some sketches and playing a game with an audience member. There were some fun elements in their work, such as the guide to comedy (dead pan deserved more) and a running joke in the rules, but I think that they may benefit from keeping it tighter at the top and certainly between the acts. They probably did the best part of thirty minutes throughout the night and this was too much to keep the energy levels up in the room. They both have ability, but I think that this is a case of less will be more. If they were to just do 7-8 to warm up and then a bit more after the intermission I think their work will have a lot more impact.

Rob Kemp as Stang

Tonight I saw Rob Kemp trying some new material where he plays Stang, a Bono like rock star figure, complete with a remarkably good Irish accent. Kemp is a smashing guy, well liked by everyone on the circuit and one of the reasons for this is that he is open and honest with his emotions and he spent his entire set trying not to end up corpsing with laughter at what he was doing. He looked as if he was going to crack up at any moment and the joy of this was infectious. Whilst the material isn’t quite there yet (new material, so that’s more than fair enough) it was still a joy to watch him. Hypocrite received a big laugh and the tsunami line was nice, although it did start tidal wave of suggestions about other countries he may have used instead. This was a work in progress, but an enjoyable one at that.

Liam Webber

Although this is a fair sized room, it is also rather intimate and Webber had no need for a microphone. He made the most of this when he went climbing on some boxes that formed a feature on the stage, climbing from one to the other whilst he writhed in a manner not unlike the opening to Tales of the Unexpected. All the time he was doing this, Webber was delivering a joke about star signs. This was followed by goose and fox based jokes, which worked well, although I did get to one reveal before him. As you’d expect in a comedian with such a strong improv background there were some nice ad libs, such as his friend and I enjoyed the feeling that Webber could have gone off in any direction he chose with his performance. The closing routine was dogs in space, where his acting skills came to the fore. A good set and nicely different.

Adele Cliff

We resumed after the intermission with Cliff, a talented one-liner comedian who was doing some new material, formed on her recent holiday in America. The quality of this was pretty good, with the superiority complex gag being the stand out, although it was the angle joke that got the applause. Cliff wasn’t as sharp as what I’ve seen her in the past and I’m not sure she did the full ten, but I enjoyed what I saw.

Ashley Frieze

It’s possible that Frieze was asked to do a longer set than the previous acts as he gave the room a lengthier performance than any of the acts so far. Frieze is a musical comedian and he arrived on stage with a guitar. He opened with a relevant lookalike joke based upon the hosts and this worked very well. From here he hit the ground running with a series of jokes based around the song That’s Amore. Rather than labour the point, once the format was established, he let the audience suggest alternative lines, which ended up going off at a nice tangent when he received a very middle class suggestion. This was fun and helped the room to become engaged with his set. This was then followed by a medley of songs and comedy which the room enjoyed, the standout being Rainbow, which was a definite crowd pleaser.

Josh Pugh

Pugh was the headliner and he is a quality act. He has splendid material, unexpected reveals and a smooth delivery. I’ve not seen him that much recently and it was easy to spot the improvements to his set. This was a very good performance.

Southwell – John Scott, Jack Campbell, Jenny Collier and Paul Sinha

Last night I was at the Admiral Rodney in Southwell for the Funhouse Comedy gig. It’s great to see a venue sold out like this; partly due to the presence of Paul Sinha on the bill, but mostly simply because it’s a well supported gig. Spiky Mike had a very good night compering, he had a real bounce in his step and loads of energy. He discovered a lady who worked for a local village hall and had some fun with her until he spoke to a gynaecologist, which led to a superb line about a ventriloquist act that he’d like to see. Very soon, the room was ready for the opening act.

John Scott

I’d persuaded my mum and dad to come to this gig mostly because Sinha was on the bill, but I had more than a sneaking suspicion that they’d enjoy Scott’s political comedy more. There are some very good political comedians in this country, but for my money, Scott, with his acute observations is one of the best. However, despite or probably because of there being so much politics in the news recently, Scott didn’t deliver a political set. He made a few probes in that direction, with comments about the DUP, but the room didn’t seem up for it and so he stayed more general in topic. As much as I was looking forwards to hearing his thoughts on the election, I think Scott made the correct decision and had read the room well. This was especially clear when he asked how Southwell had gone with Brexit and momentarily sparked a mini debate. The topics that Scott went with were getting old, his partner, health and Scotland and the result was a thoroughly enjoyable set. The backhanded insult stood out as a fantastic line. This was a set that built up a fair amount of impetus.

Jack Campbell

Campbell’s not an act that I see much of, despite him only being based in Leicester, so as a result, I perhaps see him once or twice a year. This means that it is easier to spot how he’s progressing. The last time I saw him was in Grantham and he’d improved then. This time he was even better. His material was noticeably stronger; not so much because he was talking about totally different topics, but more because it had become that bit more polished, with perhaps just the odd word changed here and there. His stage presence was greater, too. I would say his delivery was more confident, but that doesn’t really cover it; instead he was more forceful and he held the room a lot more easily. It was nice to see him talking to people and knowing who was whom; this made his set feel a lot more personal. Campbell would repeat the odd word, not as much as Fitzhigham who does this a lot, and I don’t think that this did him any harm at all. There were a lot of nice touches to this set, such as the joke about Southwell and the train names. This was a set that built up a lot of momentum and felt like it was going somewhere. It was also a set that seemed to end all too quickly. I dare say it will be another six months or so until I see Campbell again, but I’ll be looking forwards to seeing how much further he has improved in that time.

Jenny Collier

Collier with her big smile was an endearing presence. Her material concerned the Welsh language, farting, her self and a job that she had in London at a posh bathroom showroom. This latter routine formed the basis of a nice running joke as every so often she would pronounce words with added r’s. Her delivery was at a conversational level, which was pleasant but didn’t sell what she was saying as much as what she perhaps might have. Collier’s set hung together well, but it seemed to plateau early on and there wasn’t much of a feeling of it building. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t enjoyable, because it was. She received consistent laughs and entertained people, but she would benefit from a big hard hitting joke. If her set were a television show, then it would be like The Detectorists – no one bust a gut laughing, but she quietly made the world a nicer place whilst she was on.

Paul Sinha

Sinha had a very good night. It began, however, with something of a first at a Funhouse gig: someone attempting to film a comedian at work. I was amazed to see this, as was I think Sinha. In fairness, the filmer was young, drunk and perhaps a first timer at a gig, so she didn’t realise that this wasn’t on and as she was sat on the front row it was immediately obvious what was afoot. Sinha dealt with this politely and firmly and then made a joke about it which got the room back and also emphasised where the sympathy of the audience lay. The rest of the performance went very smoothly, with him delivering an autobiographical set. Despite the ups and downs of his life, the tone of this stayed upbeat and optimistic and as well as being funny, I think he managed to lift people with his happiness. There were a lot of references in this set that required the audience to have a moment of work to get them and this was lovely. I like it when you have to think about the material to get the most from it. This was a good set and closed off a very nice night.