An interview with Keith Carter

Keith Carter

1, One of the things that I admire most about you is your performance skills. Both Stacy Silcox and Nige are absolutely compelling to watch and for different reasons. You play Stacy with incredible stillness, letting your face convey all of the emotion and Nige is very changeable, moving at lightning speed and keeping the audience off balance. How did you develop the skills to pull this off so well?

Just a natural thing I’ve always had. ‘I’m a million different people from one day to the next’ as they say. As a kid I’d wake up and be David Niven in my head or Bugs Bunny or Robin Hood. Made the day interesting. When you’re growing up you’re looking for the personality that suits you. I just haven’t grown up and still throw on different personas. Luckily I can make a living out of it. I don’t really think about what I’m doing; I adopt the character and the attitude and go on from there.

2. A few months ago I saw you headlining at the Little Last Laugh and a drunk guy gave a boo. You stopped what you were doing and chatted to him, asking him what he was booing for. He replied that he was scared and your response to this was very tender, almost as if one of your children had been woken up by a nightmare. You then, without belittling the guy, who obviously had a few concerns in life, managed to get a lot of laughs out of just chatting to him. It was a very warm hearted moment and funny for the right reasons. Can you remember what made you play it that way instead of closing him down, which is what most acts would have done?

I try not to put people down on stage. It’s the easy route. I can’t say that I haven’t, but I’ll go for the positive more often as not. Meeting meanness  with love is far more disarming than retaliating with more meanness. As a comic, you’re in charge of the room and the crowd are on your side. Hecklers will never win. You’ve got the advantage so why not use it for good? And I’ve got Spider-Man to thank for that. Another persona I used to wake up and be as a kid. Though I stopped coz I kept falling off walls.

3. Between nightmare Christmas gigs, drunken audiences, bizarre bookings and fellow comics going too far, what has been the biggest WTF moment, or worst car crash of a gig you’ve experienced?

Being told by a landlord if I want to go on after the first stripper or before her. Then being told by him five minutes later that I have to go on now, tell the all male crowd that the first stripper isn’t coming and then do a 45 minute set. That has to be the worst Xmas gig I’ve ever done. I just about escaped. Used my Spider-Man skills there.

4. Although I enjoy your audience work most of all (you’re razor sharp), you have some great routines. I especially liked the verve with which you did the joyful bad news delivery routine. Which of your routines are you the most proud of?

I’m proud of all of them or I wouldn’t do them. Any I’m not, I drop. I always like doing the new stuff. So if I had to choose something, it would be the last thing I’ve written. Which was my shopping list for the week; it’s brilliant. Can’t wait to use it in Aldi later.

5. if you were able to pick who appeared on a bill with you, who would be your dream fellow comedians?

That would change everyday. At the moment it would be Jimi Hendrix, Berk from Trapdoor and Mitch Hedberg.

6. out of all of the people I’ve ever met, you seem to be the most comfortable in your own skin. You exude an almost zen like level of calm. Even 10 minutes before stage time, you look totally relaxed. How do you achieve this?

A good diet, plenty of sleep, not taking it seriously, not following leaders and watching parking meters.

7. what’s your favourite book? The one that you can return to time and time again

Asterix and the Soothsayer. I’m only joking. Any Asterix the Gaul books will do.

8. If you were to go on Mastermind what specialist subjects would you pick?

Useless but interesting facts about pop music from 1962 – 1975.

9. what would be your walk on music if you were a boxer/wrestler?

Rabbit by Chas N Dave.

10. What are you currently working on, or particularly excited about?

I’m in the new Crackerjack as Pip Dempsey Protest Singer (can’t stop laughing about getting that gig), formed Black Liver with fellow comic Ruth Cockburn (we’ve been described as ‘The White Stripes with laughs’) which we’re taking to next year’s Ed Fest. Touring this year’s show ‘Dog Man Stars’ at the moment. BUT what I’m really excited about is going to Aldi with this shopping list. Going to buy myself a Spider-Man outfit.

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The Saracen’s Head – Mandy Muden, Tom Little, Matt Stellingwerf and Andy Askins

Tonight I was in Southwell, not far from home, for the Funhouse Comedy night at The Saracen’s Head. As usual, this was full and there were some interesting people in the audience for Spiky Mike to chat to. The highlight of Mike’s compering was his reaction at discovering a father and son pairing called Tim and Tom. Definitely a recipe for lifelong confusion and even more so as Tim’s middle name was Tom.

Mandy Muden

Opening was comedy magician Mandy Muden. There were three aspects to her performance: the magic, the jokes and her working the audience. The slight of hand was good and the final trick was spectacular. I really enjoyed how all of the loose ends were tied up. The jokes were a bit vintage in places and included ‘put your hands up in the air, spread them out and then lower them into the lap…’ but she delivered them with charm. I did like the little incidental visual gag with the marker pen, though. The strongest part was her audience work. Muden comes over as down to earth and she gloriously ‘mothered’ members of the audience. It was great listening to her asides and comments directed at people. This was a performance that the room certainly enjoyed.

Tom Little

Little is an act I always like to see on a bill. His material is unique and he’s doing stuff on things that no one else is. For anyone who sees a lot of comedy and wants something original, then I can’t recommend him highly enough. He had a good night tonight, getting big laughs. He was particularly adept when he used someone coming back late with a packet of crisps as a route in to his material on flavourings. This gave it a very natural feeling. It’s a shame that he was only doing a shorter set, because his twenty is pure gold and you get 150% more laughter, as it gives him time to take the audience places and then tie it all back in at the end.

Matt Stellingwerf

Stellingwerf has progressed since I last saw him, looking more assured on stage and with richer material. He began with a quick routine on the All Blacks and this was very easy to get on board with. It was fast, accessible and funny. From here he went on to flags, which is a cracking routine and slightly changed since I last saw it. He did get some ooohs for theft, but kept the room easily, despite one guy having a loud laugh that came out at the wrong moment and a couple sat off to one side who were a bit of a pain. The French language routine was very well thought out and I liked the topper. Homeopathy was brilliant and a natural high to close with, so I was a bit surprised when he found time to squeeze in another. This was a cracking set that went down very well.

Andy Askins

Askins headlined in fine style. From within his first couple of jokes he was getting big laughs and applause as his quiet dry delivery worked its stuff. His writing is top notch and incredibly tight with no wasted words. The songs were all good, too, especially the closing number. Askins has short set ups and then a punchline, plus toppers and so the room seemed to be either just finishing laughing or on the verge of starting again. This was great to see. When he finished the set there were a lot of cries for more and I’m surprised that he wasn’t encored.

Canal House – Toussaint Douglas, Tom Little, Rik Carranza, Lauren Bird, Gareth Berliner, David Luck, Mickey Sharma and Tom Lawrinson (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night at Canal House. In contrast to previous visits, the audience were very flat tonight and this made it difficult for everyone to get anything out of them. It’s probably the most subdued audience I’ve seen there.

Tom Lawrinson (MC)

Lawrinson was unlucky in that there wasn’t anyone especially interesting to chat to within the very few rows that he could see and as someone just getting into compering he doesn’t yet have that reservoir of experience to build something out of nothing. Luckily Tom was able to retrieve the situation with strong material that didn’t require a lot of setting up and he got laughs for this. Lawrinson has an air of delightful oddity about him, plus a winning smile and people warm to him easily. If he were to experiment a bit more with questions for the audience beyond their name and how they know their companions, possibly asking about something he is genuinely interested in, I can imagine him doing well. He was savvy enough tonight to do some extra compering to bring the atmosphere back up after an act had left the audience on a downer. I’d like to see him do more compering.

Toussaint Douglas

Douglas didn’t do badly at all, although I wasn’t that impressed by him mentioning his home town and saying the immortal words, ‘yes, that’s what it deserves’. From here it was upwards, with some good questions for a member of the audience and some decent material, including fat, briefcase and brother. I’ve never heard of Ramen (I had to ask Tom Little what it was), but he sold it with enough conviction for me to get the gag all the same. I did think that Douglas ran out of steam a little bit towards the end, but this was a set that the room were happy enough to go with.

Tom Little

A few months ago I saw Little doing an amazingly good twenty and in this he had time to meander about and then weave everything together in a way that was superb. Tonight he was doing new material and whilst it didn’t go down as well as I’d have hoped (not helped by a lady having a badly timed coughing fit), there was some very interesting ideas here. I think that he could be onto something with Vampires. There may well be an extended routine in this and I’ll be fascinated to see the finished article. The disappointment gag was very clever, but didn’t quite land as well as it could have, but it’s easy to admire the creativity behind the wordplay.

Rik Carranza

We resumed after the intermission with Rik Carranza, whose relaxed tone held the room well, even when he was just chitchatting about his age. The mainstay of his set was the tale of a missed delivery and this was a wonderful routine that got regular laughs as he made his way to the finale of it. The ending might benefit from a little bit more, but other than that, this was a solid routine.

Lauren Bird

Bird’s a new act and the audience being so flat was a major disadvantage to her. Bird’s material and delivery could do with a bit of improvement, but as a new act, that’s to be expected.

Gareth Berliner

Berliner is a skilled act that I don’t tend to see much of and that’s a shame. Tonight, even with a quiet audience, his experience and confidence was enough to make people sit up and listen. Berliner has a creative mind and his reverse questions were clever as well as funny. The countdown routine was another winner. This was a good set.

David Luck

Luck had the gig of the night. His deliberately long pauses, stillness, low energy and understated high status really sold his performance. These all forced the audience to focus on what he was saying and how he was saying it. The jokes were strong and his asides/visual actions, which came with just the right regularity not to overexpose them, were totally in character and got just as big a laugh as the jokes. There was a great moment where a lady laughed at the wrong part of a joke and Luck’s physical reaction was totally in keeping with his persona and was a smart bit of ad-libbing. This was a very good set.

Mickey Sharma

By the time Sharma came to the stage I think the audience had reached a tipping point and were ready to call it a night. I’ve seen him do well with some of this material before and despite him doing his best to sell it with sound effects and room work, the audience stayed flat. If he’d been performing at any other night, he would have done as well as usual.

Ofton Funny at The Schoolhouse – Adam Beardsmore, Kate Dolan, Max Poole, Trevor Oakes, Jen Bower, Kevin Daniel, Tony Cowards and Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tonight I was in South Normanton at The Schoolhouse for the Ofton Funny gig. This is a quirky room with a high ceiling and the audience has a fair spread across the demographics. They definitely appreciate a good laugh and that’s very pleasing.

Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tommy’s a fun compere who is a genuinely nice guy and this always comes over well in smaller rooms where his personality has a chance to shine. He mixed material and room work with a bigger emphasis on chatting to people than before and this worked well. There was just one hiccup where he discussed something too grim for the top of the night and this didn’t go down well, but beyond that he had a good time. Since this gig attracts regulars, it may be an idea for him to make a few notes of whom he’s spoken to and what their answers are to things, so that next time he can hit the ground running with them. Unless overused and it becomes niche, things like this can really build a community spirit at a night.

Adam Beardsmore

Tonight Beardsmore was trying some newer material amongst the established routines. He opened by referencing something mentioned by Tommy’s compering and that worked well. Spontaneous Combustion was good, but Staffordshire may have been improved with more of an accent on that word. The routine about his brother built up massively and this went down extremely well. Adam usually closes on that, but wanted to mix it up a bit tonight, which is fair enough, but after the high of that routine whatever came next was bound to feel an anticlimax and this must have made getting a true feel for ‘stock boy’ difficult. That isn’t yet the finished article, but there is certainly something here. There was a beautiful moment when Beardsmore congratulated a guy on being married for forty years and his wife immediately said, ‘Excuse me!’ Adam did well to not only bounce back, but to get laughs from that.

Kate Dolan

Dolan opened by talking about break ups, which she tied in to Tommy’s compering. However, a lot of her set ups suffered from being overly wordy with lots of explanation before you got to the punchlines. If she were to tighten these up it would be beneficial. Out of the material, door was the best line of the set. Dolan gave the room a rap, which was ok, but received good laughs for a very enthusiastic performance of a song from Frozen.

Max Poole

Poole opened well and received consistent laughs for his set. I enjoyed what he had and thought the car name was a nice touch. Memory was a bit obvious, though, even if it did still get a laugh and I wonder if instead of calling his mate a bit of a…. he could find a funnier, more incongruous insult, something that gets a laugh in itself? Poole has a quiet delivery that had everyone listening, but he may find it useful to just vary his tone a bit to keep things fresh. This was a good set.

Trevor Oakes

The audience enjoyed Oakes’ set, but I found a lot of the jokes had an air of familiarity about them, like he was doing his version of an old joke. His opening gag was that he asked his wife what she wanted for Christmas and she said a divorce to which the inevitable reply was that he wasn’t thinking of spending that much.

Jen Bower

Having noticed that none of the other acts had really worked the room, Bower astutely opened her set by discussing the unusual fixtures and fittings. She made some good observations here and with a bit more energy these would have hit home a lot harder. Shouting at the telly was a nice way of bringing people onboard a topic and Bower rolled well with a lady who misheard pantry for lavatory. Parsley got a big laugh and this was a fun set.

Kevin Daniel

Considering that this is only his 16th gig, Kevin Daniel had a cracking night. To begin with his set toddled along nicely enough and I was thinking it was pleasant, if a bit wordy (hand luggage was a solid line, mind), but then he started talking about a vasectomy and we were suddenly in the middle of a fully formed routine. It began well, but carried on getting better and better as he built up a good head of steam. He sold ‘swelling’ very well with how he said it, the three B alliteration rolled off his tongue very nicely and the surgeon was great. If he can craft more routines of this standard, then he will do very well.

Tony Cowards

The other week I saw Cowards put in one heck of a performance at Canal House, where he was compering and he continued the good work tonight. He spoke about the ceiling fans and the physicality of him jumping up pushed that observation very nicely. Following this he gave the room well written one-liners and was soon having to pause to let the laughter die down before going for the next joke. I loved the slight pause on ‘jousting’ as the audience got it. Just before he closed with a story, Tony opened the floor up to suggestions on subjects for him to pun. His ability to do this is always hugely impressive and out of all of the proposals, only one tested him. This was a great performance that ended the night with a nice warm feel good factor.

An interview with Scott Bennett

bennett_424

1. One of the things that I admire about you is just how consistently excellent you are. I’ve seen you do new material nights, opening gigs, closing gigs, full length shows, etc and you’ve smashed every one of these. I think a lot of this comes from natural ability, but you’re also a very hard worker, approaching comedy as a job, with long hours put in to crafting your art. We only tend to see the finished product at gigs. Do you have any idea how many hours you spend in preparing this material?

I think the admiration is mutual Peter, I can’t believe how many hours of comedy you sit through!

I haven’t really thought about it to be honest. I just try to write every day, the thing about Stand-up comedy is that a routine or “bit” is never finished, which is what makes it fantastic and frustrating in equal measure. I am still developing routines I wrote way back in 2014. I just keep noodling away at my material, listening to the gigs back in the long car journeys around the country, to find out exactly what is working and what needs further development.

There tends to be a certain mechanism when I come up with ideas for routines. First of all, I want it to be relatable, it has to have a nugget of funny at the core of the piece which people can easily identify with. Then I build the jokes around it, once you have the context, writing the punchlines can often be the easy bit. The hardest thing is tying up the bit neatly, finishing on that big laugh, which in my experience can take anywhere from 6 months to a few years of working the stuff on stage at weekend gigs.

2, Usually I’ll see you open a performance with room work, general observations about the venue and the audience. These are always absolutely on-point and within twenty seconds the room is totally with you. Every gig is different, but is there anything in particular that you look for, when deciding what to use?

I started doing this just to make my performance less scripted and feel more “in the moment” it only works in the more rural ramshackle gigs though! When I do the Glee or The Comedy Store, I can’t walk on and say “look at this, this perfect stage, beautifully lit, with amazing sound!” it doesn’t work. I tend to have a little walk around the venue and the streets nearby, to get a feel for the place. I look at the audience members so I can pick out the characters that I can use to build my routines around, it looks improvised, but the reality is that its all pre-prepared!

I like the more rural venues, because you tend to always find something to reference, whether it be the local notice board in the market square, the décor or that man sat on the front row with his arms folded who was tricked into coming by his wife who told him they were off for a carvery.

3, Between nightmare Christmas gigs, drunken audiences, bizarre bookings and fellow comics going too far, what has been the biggest WTF moment, or worst car crash of a gig you’ve experienced?

So many! Its hard to pick one out really. I remember been brought on after a eulogy once. I can’t remember the exact details but it went something like this “Before we move on to the comedy, can we all just take a moment to reflect on our friend John. I know how fond of him you all were, it just shows you how fickle life is, he had so much to live for, we’ve left his seat by the bar empty as a sign of respect, but he enjoyed a laugh, so he’d have loved this lad, here he is Scott Bennett”

The thing about comedy is that to the uninitiated it looks very low-fi, a simple set up. All you need is a mic and a PA a light and an audience and its amazing how many gigs provide none of these!

For a night to work there is a balance of factors, things have to be finely tuned and delicately engineered to create the perfect atmosphere for comedy to flourish. Some promoters would put comedy on in an abattoir in December if they were offered the right budget. I’m all for punk spirit, but if you’ve got acts trying to do comedy amongst hanging meat, lit by a single 60W bulb to a few confused punters in scarfs and fleeces, its not going to work.

4, You’re got a cracking style that mixes story telling and relatable observations, but with the punchline hit rate of a one-liner comedian. That can’t be easy to pull off. How did you develop this technique?

It comes from a fear of silence Peter! I don’t like a moment without a laugh, because that’s when I hear the voices. I don’t know how that style developed, I just like punchy, gag driven comedy. I have an eclectic taste in stand-up and I like everyone from Peter Kay to Bill Burr and Emo Philips. Its just that perfect balance of great writing with performance, which is what I want to achieve.

5, If you were able to pick who appeared on a bill with you, who would be your dream fellow comedians?

Jerry Seinfeld, Mitch Hedberg and Harry Hill, with Joan Rivers as the MC.

6, Away from comedy, what do you do to relax?

Sit in my shed and pretend I’m working.

7, what’s your favourite book? The one that you can return to time and time again?

As a father to two kids under the age of ten and with an average hourly sleep rate of anything from 4-6 I can’t remember when I last finished a book. I just go to bed to read the same sentence I have been falling asleep to since January 2013.

I am really into rock autobiographies at the moment. I enjoyed “The Dirt” which is the one about Motley Crue, and as a member of the National Trust with a shed and five years warranty on a Kia Sportswagon, with roof box attachments; I can really identify with the debauched hedonistic lifestyle those guys led.

8, If you were to go on Mastermind what specialist subjects would you pick?

The greatest film of all time, “Jaws” and “Shed specifications and designs since 2002”

9, What’s your biggest unfulfilled comedy ambition?

To get a chance to audition for “Live at The Apollo” and build up my writing career to get my own TV sitcom and radio show commissioned.

10, What are you currently working on, or particularly excited about?

I am trying to build my own audience by doing one off tour shows and solo shows this year. Its something I’ve always wanted to do, details here 😉 www.scottbennettcomedy.co.uk/tour.html

I am also working on some really exciting writing projects with fellow comedians Daliso Chaponda and Jason Cook, guest writing on some TV shows and radio comedies as well as developing some more short sketches of my own with my small team of directors and videographers and my super talented wife Jemma.

I am also launching a brand new Podcast with fellow comedian and Beautifully Bearded Beeston resident, Thomas Green.

Tour Dates

2019

October

10th Last Laugh at the Lescar Hotel Sheffield Book TicketsBook Tickets
16th Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford Book TicketsBook Tickets
17th The Squire performing Arts Centre, Nottingham Book TicketsBook Tickets
23rd Cambridge Festival of Ideas Book TicketsBook Tickets
31st The Potters Arms Amersham Book TicketsBook Tickets

November

14th The Platform, Lincoln Book TicketsBook Tickets
17th Hot Water Comedy Club, Liverpool Book TicketsBook Tickets
28th Cardiff Comedy Club – Tiny Rebel Brewary Book TicketsBook Tickets

The Lyric Rooms – Roger Monkhouse, Jamie Hutchinson, Clayton Jones and Martin Mor

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. This was a packed out show and everyone was in for a real treat. Spiky Mike had a fun night compering, chatting to a guy in a polo shirt who turned out not to be as posh as expected, a couple of accountants and a chap called Avi, whom Mike got the room to boo on account of his job. It didn’t take long at all for everyone to be ready for our opening act.

Roger Monkhouse

Monkhouse opened by building on Mike’s compering and weaving material into what had been discovered. He was very smooth with this and it looked as if he was ad-libbing, when in reality it was finely honed material. This had a powerful effect and it wasn’t long before he was getting applause breaks. Monkhouse is a pretty clean act and so when he did swear it had a big impact. He’s also got a wonderful way of constructing his sentences and I could listen to him all day. This was a cracking opening set.

Jamie Hutchinson

Sometimes you don’t see an act for a while and they’ve improved a bit, other times they’ve improved a lot, but this was a quantum leap in quality from someone who was already a good act. Tonight Hutchinson was simply phenomenal. Spiky Mike had to reset the room after he had finished. He began well by getting applause for his first joke and from here he went from strength to strength. The facial expressions he pulled conveyed exactly the right picture to get the biggest laughs. Jamie delivered key bits of his material directly to individuals and this was extremely powerful and personal in a way that really sold what he was saying. It made the material feel intimate, but also important. The idea for work was a solid one that built up loads of momentum, but this was topped by a brilliantly delivered routine concerning collections. During this last one, he built up absolutely oodles of tension and each punchline hit with a bang. Hutchinson gave one of the top three performances that I have seen this year and that includes established pro acts. This was simply phenomenal.

Clayton Jones

Jones is a good act who is progressing nicely up the comedy ladder. Tonight he received applause for his first joke and then followed it with a clever callback to Monkhouse’s set. The visual gag on bargain was great and this helped a lot with him getting everyone onboard. There was a lot of good stuff in this set, such as the asides to Avi, the songs, which mixed visuals and good material and in particular his letter of complaint. This was a strong set.

Martin Mor

The incredibly genial Mor headlined the night in fine style, giving the room a free flowing example of how to mix room work with material. He simply hoovered up laughs as he loosely used material and chatted to people in the audience. He had a particular gift in a lady who was chatty and just on the right side of drunk to be useable for great comic effect. The more he spoke to her and eventually her husband, the bigger the laughs became. His material involved, age, firsts, hen nights and yetis and this was interspersed with callbacks he was creating on the spot. Mor saw what had been a superb night out on a huge high.

Ofton Funny at the King Billy – Mark Hinds, Anne Docherty, Kathy Giddins, Tom Dewar, Jeremy Arblaster, Andrew Baker, Chris Purchase and Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the King Billy for the Ofton Funny comedy night. The comedy takes place upstairs in a room hived off from the rest of the pub and it’s not a bad room at all for it, although it would be much improved with a couple of spot lights. It’s the sort of room where if it were full then the energy would be tremendous.

Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tomski had a great time tonight. The third thought on his first day sober was pretty damn good, as was internal narrator. That is something that I think really helped to bring everyone into the gig. In the third section when he went with material that went down very well. Tommy’s a genial guy and this room liked what they saw of him.

Mark Hinds

Opening was Hinds, a cockney and now living in Warwickshire. He had some decent jokes and naked attraction struck a real chord with one lady sat at the front. The turtle gag had one heck of a depressing set up, though and it’s a shame that that was integral to the joke. Vasectomy was good even if a bit graphic in places.

Anne Docherty

Docherty wasn’t bad at all. She opened by talking about her kids and the spy notion was a nice idea that had legs, but favourite is a bit of a well travelled line. Date night had potential and I enjoyed the take on swans. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if Docherty were to work a bit on her delivery, as it was all said in the same tone and a few changes of pitch would help her to add emphasis.

Kathy Giddins

We resumed after the intermission with the musical act Kathy Giddins, who to begin with pretended that she was from another planet. This felt very am-dram, but luckily she moved on into other areas very quickly. The ‘incompetent’ remark was very good and her backstory was also interesting, even if she didn’t need to use the phrase ‘I know what you’re thinking’, The first of the songs was strong, but the pacing might have been improved a little bit if it had been a touch shorter. This was a pleasant set that everyone enjoyed.

Tom Dewar

I really enjoyed Dewar’s set. He had a nice opening joke and despite his writing not being as tight as it could be, there was a lot of promising stuff here. The farm material was great, but a shorter pause on countryside might help, as I think he left just that bit long enough for people to have a guess at the reveal. Dewar felt polished and his material fresh. This was a set where I’d have liked to have seen more.

Jeremy Arblaster

The birthday boy took to the stage and got applause for his opening joke and from there he gave the room material that was a mix of good stuff to a few bits that were in its’ early days. His wife’s support was good, basketball was ok and questioning was good. When it came to ‘P’ even if you couldn’t guess the exact ending, you had a reasonable idea of where it was going and so a bit of misdirection might help with that. This was a good set.

Andrew Baker

Baker was energetic and delivered his material instead of speaking it, which made for a good first impression. Shake was a great gag and there was a nice logic to speed. However, speed awareness courses are a bit of a comic staple and it’s hard to find anything new to say about them. In fairness, people’s excuses was a decent attempt at that. It’s found comedy, but with a bit of tinkering and perhaps editing down, Baker could well have something there.

Chris Purchase

Purchase looked happy to be there and the audience reflected that back at him. It’s far easier to get on-board with a cheerful comedian than one who’s dour. He began with a bit of room work (including a callback to Tommy’s compering) and this went down very nicely. After he had received enough laughs to get a feel for the balance of the audience Purchase began with trying out some new material. There were some definite keepers in here. Coffee was definitely good and his material on calories shows a lot of potential. The riff on Eagle, whilst situational, got a lot of laughs and perhaps a constructed riff might be something that works very well for him. This was a cracking set for new material.

Champion of Champions gong show – Ian Peskett, Usama Khan, Sean McBurney, Nick Ahad, Tal Davies, Doug Carter, Daf Rhys, Houssem Rhaiem and Dan Collins

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse gong show. Despite the weather being bloody horrible, this was a sold out gig. We had audience members who had come from not only the surrounding area, but also from Corby and even a party who were here from South Africa visiting family (Doug and Elaine). BBC Radio Derby were there to record snippets of the acts and it was also nice to see Anthony Williams present to support his fellow comedians, even if he wasn’t performing this time. Spiky Mike had a fun time compering, even getting a red card from a Derby County fan for one very timely joke about their driving. Very quickly we were ready for our opening act.

Ian Peskett

The first act was Peskett, who has been a consistently good performer at every gig I’ve seen him at. Tonight he was fast out of the blocks with some quick one-liners to begin with before he moved onto some longer jokes. He has a good construction and this paid off with a lot of laughter and even applause on baby-proofing. I really liked the quitting joke. Peskett continued his 100% record of making finals. Here for the last minute he gave the room a punchy couple of gags. Although he didn’t win, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of that was due to the running order. This was a strong showing.

Usama Khan

Khan did very well and it’s possible that on a different night, he may have won. The audience liked him and he got some big laughs. However, I found him the most frustrating act of the night. On the plus side he’s got loads of ability. His pacing was spot on, perhaps even the best of the night. His writing of individual jokes was also very strong. However, on the debit side, his set left no cliché unturned. It was a tick list of stereotypes, from going on stage with a rucksack, curries, arranged marriages, Allahu Akbar, etc. The only one not mentioned during his set was bombing….which he kept back for the final minute. I’ve seen loads of Asian/Muslim acts do very similar jokes, if not on this scale, and none of this felt fresh. Given his obvious talent it’s a crying shame that Khan is just going for such low hanging fruit for his material.

Sean McBurney

McBurney specialises in dark one-liners and being on in the first section was a definite disadvantage. He has some well written jokes, but being a one-liner comic can make gong shows tricky, because people tend to dip in and out of them, rather than getting sucked into a longer routine. Tonight he got consistent laughs, but not from everyone for all of the jokes, but even so, with a few more occasions where he apologetically broke the 4th wall (these were always great) he may have made the final. As it was, McBurney was unlucky with the timing of the 3rd (and final) vote, which came just after a gag had split the room a touch and off he went.

Nick Ahad

We resumed after the intermission with Ahad, who began by doing jokes about his looks. These were all decent enough and served as a way of getting to know his backstory. He then became the second Asian background act on the bill to do a terrorism gag. However, he hit better ground when he spoke about a mishap at 11 (nice visual gag on 11). This was a wonderfully involved story that had everyone hooked. The age changes he slipped in didn’t add anything and although the story was superb, it needs a bigger ending. If he could get that, then he’d do well. Ahad made the final, where he delivered some good material, but on a bill like tonight, he really needed just that bit more to stand out.

Tal Davies

Davies is a low energy slightly self-deprecating act and her material rolls along very nicely. It’s easy to get on-board with and she paints a vivid and relatable picture of what is occurring. All without becoming verbose and losing the funny amongst the words. That’s good going. Giveth and taketh was great, especially with the slightly despondent tone she adopted for it. It was obvious from the performance that the audience really liked Davies and she made it through to the final. Here she didn’t use all of her time, but instead went with a couple of snappy and powerful jokes. These, combined with her earlier work saw her as deserved winner of the night without any need for a cheer off or a counting of hands. This was a belter of a performance.

Doug Carter

Despite not doing his solid set and going with new material and risking some room work, Carter still made a great showing and was probably the act to beat. He opened by asking a lady in the audience a question about music and usually in a gong show this is a high risk move. If they pause or freeze the clock is still ticking and this is actually what occurred, but Doug was quick enough on the uptake to smooth it over and to go into material on Michael Jackson, which got a big laugh. The new material about tattoos went down very well as did everything else. When Carter’s time was up, midway through a story, the room was genuinely disappointed to see his time end. So when he came back for the final minute, he resumed where he left off. This was a great performance and although Carter didn’t win, if I had to put money on any of the acts present making a living from comedy, he’s the person I’d bet on.

Daf Rhys

Rhys is a young looking pleasant Welsh act. His material concerns, Wales, the rough area he works and how young he looks. It’s not bad, but it wasn’t especially strong and tonight I think more people will remember his accent than much of what he spoke about. In fairness, he got laughs, though and made the final.

Houssem Rhaiem

Rhaiem had a good night. He was the second one-liner comedian of the show and luckily enough time had elapsed so as for him not to be hurt by McBurney being on earlier. He had some good jokes, especially selfies and Samaritans, which was a real stand out. There was one lady who was massively on his wavelength and she filled the room with laughter. Rhaiem made the final and didn’t do badly there, but to make the most of his writing he will need to work more on the performance side and get the room to buy into him as a person.

Dan Collins

Stylistically you never knew where you stood with Collins. He began by coming to the stage as a southern preacher character before binning that and going into a routine about saying hello. This was then followed by short jokes with him shouting out the odd line. Collins was energetic, but it was hard to buy into a performance that felt so changeable. Whilst the dance joke was good, the material about his granddad being German was war jokes about ze Germans and these felt massively dated. It’s 80 years since the war. I was particularly surprised that Collins kept in a gag about a doctor, which although the reveal was different, construction wise was exactly the same as one of Rhaiem’s 5 minutes previously. They’ve both independently developed the joke, but it was too similar to really work so soon after. Collins has got potential, but if he could settle on a style, or work on the changes to make them easier to go with then he would perhaps do better.

Acts that have impressed me the most – September

This has been a cracking month. The highlight was probably watching Ben Briggs fielding ‘any questions’ from the audience. It was totally brilliant watching him thinking on his feet and ad libbing some great responses. The lowlight was a gig where a table of 16 had a leader who didn’t want to be there and they just made life more difficult than it should have been. In other news, the first of my interviews has been uploaded. This is with Paul Savage and it is well worth reading what he has to say.

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

Ben Briggs

To say that I loved this set would be an understatement. I hurt myself laughing. The second time that this has happened with Briggs. Originally he was meant to be closing, but swapped places with Thomas Green, possibly so that he could try out material that may not have ended the night on the right note. Given how much laughter there was in this set, I think he’d have been fine. Briggs began with a short routine about applause and this proved his credentials before he went into the material that he wanted to try. This concerned bucket lists. It was dark, but also very well considered and with a nuanced angle to it. There were some great lines in here, such as at the metre mark and the notes. During part of the set, when he was discussing people telling him of their ideas, Briggs gave a great smile that really summed up the inner boredom, but outer interest that folk show in these conversations and I thought that that worked a treat, almost summing up the whole thing in one move. Towards the end, Ben asked if anyone had any questions, to which one lady asked if he was from Birmingham, because of his accent. His reply to this was tremendous and was only topped by what he had to say about developing a Peterborough accent. This was an amazing set.

Lindsey Santoro

One of the nicest things about going to a lot of comedy is watching acts develop and improve over time. Tonight Lindsey Santoro showed that she has moved to a whole new level since I last saw her. To begin with it looked like she was in for a rough night as the party sat at the front who weren’t there for the comedy shouted out an answer to a rhetorical question. The leader of this bunch was a big beefy guy who was sat with his back to the stage and rather than try to play through this, Lindsey took him on and got him to turn around and in that instant she had the room with her. The material on selfies was relatable, but when she moved onto drunken sex that was when people started pointing at their other halves. The room really came to life for this performance, but pushing things further, Lindsey even challenged one guy who got up to go to the toilet and got laughs and appreciation for it. I did think, though, that the Jeremy Kyle reference may be on borrowed time now that the show has been cancelled. The closing routine concerning the hotel visit was superb. There was even a routine within a routine with the bath bomb (I did think that one woman was taking the petition a bit literally) and Lindsey’s physicality with suction was absolutely top notch. There was a woman near me who looked like she was going to do herself an injury laughing. This was a cracking performance and Santoro came off the stage to applause and cheers.

Tony Cowards (MC)

Cowards had a superb night. He began as you’d expect from him, with a couple of fast jokes to get laughs and establish himself with the audience. From here he went into audience work and his basic niceness helped everyone warm to him in next to no time at all. There were some great moments during the night where someone would have a job that led directly into a gag of Tony’s and these all hit home hard. There were a few interesting people in the audience, such as Andre, the Slovakian casino worker on the front row and after the intermission, a guy who was doing a PhD in meteology (the length of things). Tony hit a massive run of gold with this chap, getting huge laughs for questioning the ins and outs of this. The opening act was another one-liner comedian, so it was good to see Cowards not do too many of them in the first part of the night so as not to steal any of his thunder. This was all round great compering and hugely enjoyable to see.

Honourable Mentions

Chris Norton-Walker, Lovdev Barpaga, Lovell Smith, Stevie Gray, Thomas Green

An interview with Paul Savage

Mr Savage

1, Every time I see you I’m amazed at the quality of your writing. You have some great routines, such as multicultural school in Brum, an unusual South American bar, the gig at the sex club, etc. I know that between gin and the art, you are busy with a lot of things, but how on earth is it that you aren’t better known?

That is very sweet of you to say. I feel quite generic as a comic, like there are loads of straight white men who are whinging about nowt, so I tend to write about things I have experienced rather than opinions I have or topical stuff. I can’t honestly say the gin business or the comics have been detrimental to me being better known, they were just little side projects.

I do wish I was better known, I’ve done great gigs for big clubs, made little things that have gone properly viral, done tour support for cool people, done really good hour long shows at festivals, and not been able to capitalise on it in the same way others have. It was a little bit upsetting coming back from a tour of the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne Comedy Festival where I did a show (All The Jokes In The Bible) that numerous people have told me is perfect for Radio 4, but the two radio 4 producers I spoke to have told me I don’t have the profile to pitch. Not to make, just to pitch it.

I’ve become more physical in the last year, try and get my performance to match my writing. I enjoy the writing side of comedy, especially for others, so I am trying to transition to that.

Also, I just got a diagnosis that I have ADHD, and so a lot of the admin side of things, of putting myself out there for gigs to get seen and so on, tends to get missed. That may be a reason. Or it may be an excuse, but it’s one I will milk.

2, I’ve only seen Hell to Play the once, but I was massively impressed about how strong the format was. To some degree, the guests were just the icing on the cake, because you and the rest of the crew were so into what you were doing that your enthusiasm was infectious. How did this show come about?

Alexander Bennett had the idea from watching a documentary where Bernard Manning, before he died, commentated on his own death and funeral, which they then overlaid on footage of him when he was dead. Alexander really liked the idea of terrible people being able to litigate their own legacies. He approached me, and a bunch of London alt comedy staples, to play characters in it. Me and him wrote up a script, full of lots of very dark jokes, and sent it to the cast at about 11pm. Overnight, they all dropped out. So, we got Joe Hart, and we basically performed it to him in the pub next to Euston station, and then he got the things we were playing with. It’s a horrible show on paper, the fact we are winking all the way through is what allows us to do very mean gags. I really enjoy it as a sluice for my unwanted thoughts, as I can’t put most of them in my stand up.

As regards to the guests being icing, we agreed midway through the third version. We did two trials in Leicester with just characters that could do audience games, and the most recent run in Edinburgh was solely audience. It makes for a better show. We’re filming a version of it in London soon (Mon Oct 28th) and then hopefully show it to some production companies. It would be really nice to make it into a TV show, especially if we could use all the people who’ve done various versions, as Joe Hart did the first two fringe runs and Rob Mulholland has been in it for the last two versions. It’s got to the point where we have nearly 4 hours of material in that format, so it needs turning into something.

3, Between nightmare Christmas gigs, drunken audiences, bizarre bookings and fellow comics going too far, what has been the biggest WTF moment, or worst car crash of a gig you’ve experienced?

There’s loads of weird ones, but I don’t think I will ever top the night where Tom Allsopp and I once picked up a promoter for a one off gig from outside a hospital. The promoter was really altered, and it turned out he had been sectioned and we had essentially done a jailbreak on a psychiatric ward. The gig was intense because they had cancelled it and didn’t know we were on, so we ended up playing the show outdoors at the barbecue they were having instead, stood by the bins under the security light as that was the only way to be seen. Then we had to get the promoter back to the hospital, avoiding loads of police cars, because it turned out they closed the entire city centre on a Saturday night looking for him. It was amongst the most stressful moments of my entire life.

4, I really admire your take on ‘self depreciation’. It was clever, funny and made a point. However, which of your routines are you the most proud of?

That’s a nice one, because it comes so early on. I always think that a comedian’s opening gag should do a lot of the heavy lifting of telling them exactly who they are. I always liked Gary Delaney’s opener “Nice to be here. Last time I was here, a girl asked me for sex. I had to disappoint her. We had sex”. It really gives you the gist of his status, plus it’s a belting gag.

There’s routines I love, obviously. I really like the Kindle routine I do because it’s just about 9 versions of the same gag. (Lot of convoluted set up and then loads of things you can say about vaginas and books). I do like that sort of joke. I don’t know if it has an actual name but it’s the sort of cross purposes that they used on every episode of Frasier. It’s also saved my arse on more than one occasion. If you see me do it and it’s not the bit I close on, know I’m struggling and need an injection of laughs.

Sometimes the bits I’m proud of aren’t stuff you notice. I tend to give the best lines in Hell To Play to other people. It’s sometimes not about the 30 yard screamer you scored, but the winning the ball back in midfield and setting up the pass for the screamer. Someone once described me in that as “the Gattuso of comedy” and I love it. I think the bit I was proudest of in my solo show DoGooder was actually structural: it was making the end solidify with 3 callbacks, all ending in bang so you know the show is over. It finished with me getting the audience to chant “Stop tryna fix, Mental illness with your dicks” in a round to close the show. It really worked, and I’ve been told by more than one person it’s now got stuck in their head and they sing it whilst doing the washing up, or hoovering, or what have you.

5, if you were able to pick who appeared on a bill with you, who would be your dream fellow comedians?

There’s gonna be some cheating, because one of them is dead and another requires time travel.

But assuming we’re going with the classic MC, opener, two middles, headliner, I think I would go with Frank Skinner to MC. I have seen him a few times, and met him once, when I told him his book was the reason I first started doing comedy. Before reading that I assumed you had to go to Oxbridge and do Footlights and win the Perrier and get a radio 4 series, and here’s this guy who grew up less that 10 miles from me (he’s West Brom, I grew up in Wolverhampton) who started doing comedy in a load of pubs I was drinking in. So that was very exciting for me. I’ve heard from people his gigs when he started in Brum in the late 80’s and early 90’s were electric, proper fun atmosphere but with a bit of needle and people crammed into little fire hazard spaces, sweat dripping off the walls. He gets a lot of credit for his warmth and his everyman persona but I don’t think many people realise the depth of his writing is so strong. Look up his bit about jealousy for how to do comedy properly, it sublime, just building a bit and letting it come out through your pores.

Opening act we will need a time machine for, but it’s Louis CK before the allegations, when it was still possible to enjoy the disturbed mind of a pervert because you didn’t think he meant it. It’s impossible to justify the way he made women feel unsafe, and so we need to all go back to when he was just a bit of a character of a slightly sad man talking us through his life. I saw him live when he did the 02 dates and it was proper brilliant, even though I don’t think comedy works in those spaces. I’d love to have seen him a proper small room with a low ceiling and the audience a bit merry.

Middle act, if I am being one, the other would be Laura Lexx. Laura’s brilliant, got that real skill of being friendly, firey, intellectually rigorous but with a vein of silliness underneath. Plus she’s got gags. I have had a bunch of my friends go on to TV success and I am proud of all of them, but her ascendancy in the last year is the one that was most pleasing. It just feels right. We’ve talked about one day writing a sitcom together and it keeps not happening because she’s got loads of actual projects on the go.

And then Headliner, the late, great, Ian Cognito. We booked him a few times when I was still involved in promoting gigs and we’d say to him: you’re off the leash. Go nuts. Although I would insist he does the hammer opening and tell the Eskimo joke at some point. Last time I booked him he missed the last train home and I ended up taking him round to my parent’s house, who were away that weekend, and we got drunk together on my fruit gin and chatted comedy. In fact, lets do that with all the acts, so we’ll need a time machine for when Frank was still drinking.

6, away from comedy, what do you do to relax?

I don’t know that I ever do relax. That’s a lie, but I have had to retrain myself. The comics started as a hobby, and then people told me to make a book of them, and they’d buy it, and that became a job. And I’d started making gin infusions, and then people offered to buy them, and that became a job. I’m writing little bits and bobs, not for anything, yet, but just my own amusement. And I’m doing up a canal boat, not for relaxation, but because I live on it and it is hilariously broken. But it does have a log fire on it and I find getting a log fire going and then watching it is very relaxing. My old house had one, in the lounge, and a big window into the porch. My housemates came in one day and watched me, knelt in front of the fire with a poker in my hand wordlessly staring at it, and they assumed I’d just done a hideous murder and was getting rid of the evidence.

7, what’s your favourite book? The one that you can return to time and time again?

I don’t tend to reread books, but one I have read repeatedly is Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs. It has my all time favourite joke in “The poet Rilke said that no artist would mind going to jail, for they would have time to explore the treasure house of their memory. In many ways, Rilke was a prick”. It has so many lovely lines, and it’s weird that it can make you feel nostalgia for a time and place (50’s suburban Sydney) that I could never experience but would quite like to.

8, If you were to go on Mastermind what specialist subjects would you pick?

I really do want to go on Mastermind. In fact I helped two other people revise by setting questions (Mohan Mudigonda, who got the best score in the final on specialist subject in 2017, I think, and Darren Harriott, who I got over my dislike of Kanye West to set him 25 hard questions on for Celebrity Mastermind. That’s not been on though yet).

I would probably pick the Golden Age of The Simpsons (seasons 2-8) because I have watched all of them hundreds of times and they are deep in my DNA by this point. I’d also choose Peep Show, as I think it’s brilliant, and rewatching it as revision wouldn’t be a chore, and I would also choose “the West Midlands Comedy Scene 2009-2015 with special emphasis on beefs” as I love bitching about people. It’s why I’m still going, frankly.

9, what’s your biggest unfulfilled comedy ambition?

I’d like to do it all, stand up tour, chat show, radio show, write a sitcom, be in a  sitcom, be in the porn parody of the sitcom, animated series that I also draw for, try and break Hollywood, fail, be in a televised charity football match and absolutely cripple Barron Trump. Be a gif. Loads. But my main one is finishing my book, which is about applying game theory to mediaeval warfare as seen through the eyes of court jesters. It’s been in the works for about 6 years and at some point I will lock myself away for 6 months and come out with a manuscript and still have not grown a proper beard.

10, What are you currently working on, or particularly excited about?

We’re filming Hell To Play, then that can be put to bed for a while, and then I’m not doing Edinburgh next year, which I’m very excited about. I’ve done 6 solo shows in 7 years and I need some time off to write, and have experiences. So I’m going to the Olympics in Tokyo next summer so I won’t be tempted to do anything daft like write a show from nothing. Hopefully got a couple of kids books in the works too, I just need to sort out with an illustrator what is happening.

Photo courtesy of Duncan Oakley.

 

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