The Saracen’s Head – Laura Lexx, Harvey Hawkins, Dave Thompson and The Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue

Tonight I was in Southwell, fifteen minutes from home, for the Funhouse Comedy gig at The Saracen’s Head. Our compere, Spiky Mike, opened by asking a lady sat on the front row if she was really checking Facebook. This turned out to be a well known local personality, Lady Victoria, whom most of the audience knew very well. From here Mike chatted to Jack, who worked for the CPS. He was very quick on the uptake in answering questions and gave witty, useable replies and this made for a very good opening to the night. The fact that Faye, Jack’s partner, worked with crime scenes was merely the icing on the compering cake. As a member of the CPS, Jack’s opinion on Jo Brand’s recent incident was sought and he was applauded for his announcement that there could be no prosecution, but he was then very quickly booed for mispronouncing Southwell. Very soon the room was ready for our opening act.

Laura Lexx

Lexx is a skilled act who has plenty of ability. She was a bit more sweary than what you usually see in Southwell, but as the audience warmed to her quickly, this didn’t really make any difference. Lexx opened by discussing preconceived opinions about looks and I really liked the line about people having to update their decisions. This was then followed by a fair sized routine about Brexit and where the fault for this lay. The idea underpinning this was interesting and Lexx was scrupulous to poke fun at the extremes of both ends of the spectrum. However, despite the basic honesty of what she was pointing out, it did feel a little bit preachy and whilst the room went with it for most of the way, I think everyone was relieved when she moved onto love, socks, spag bol and gluten. This was solidly relatable stuff and held the best received sections of her set. The routine about the environment was very similar to that on Brexit – truthful, in accordance with many people’s view, but again a little bit too preachy to really enjoy as much as it should have been. Lexx is a lively performer who talks with her hands and I loved the cheeky bow on the pun. This was a funny opening set that strayed a little bit too much into comedy with a message.

Harvey Hawkins

Out of all of the sets tonight, Hawkins’ was the one that I enjoyed the most. He has recently changed his image, losing a bit of weight, having a new hairstyle and wearing a jacket. This makes him look more serious, which matches very well with his delivery style. It also makes him look younger. He opened with a story that drew everyone in, skirted with applause for it, received the applause for his second joke and then more applause for the callback to Lady Victoria. The depth that Hawkins’ delivery gives to the stories is impressive. It gives them an authenticity that helps the audience to invest in what he is saying and then when the punchline comes, it hits like a hammer. I especially enjoyed his nonchalant look on ‘of them’. This was a performance that everyone I spoke to really rated and it’s great to see Hawkins doing well.

Dave Thompson

With his velvet suit, moustache and hair, Thompson was visually interesting and this made a good first impression. His style was short routines and one-liners. There were some good jokes in here, such as the watch and he received laughs for every gag. However, whilst everyone laughed at some jokes, there wasn’t any where everyone in the room laughed and it would have helped him out no end if he had had 2-3 big killer jokes that the whole room laughed at. This was a set that people seemed to dip into, rather than buy into wholeheartedly.

The Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue

I think everyone knew that they were in for something special when the stage was moved and Raymond and Timpkins set up their store of props wearing flat caps and overalls, ala Morecambe and Wise. These two specialise in musical prop jokes and their performance is imaginative, madcap and a spectacle to behold. Their synchronisation is amazing and everything flowed with perfect timing. There was a heck of a lot of laughter during their set, with the jokes coming very quickly. Needless to say, they stormed it and the audience thoroughly enjoyed seeing them.

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Canal House – Tom Lawrinson, Eric Rushton, Sachin Kumarendran, Sean McBurney, Thomas Green, Alex Black, Ben Briggs and Taylor Saranic (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the NCF £1 night at Canal House. Despite it being horrible outside, this venue had sold out and people were having to move into the odd empty spare seats in the middle so as to find room for everyone. It was nice to see Ofton Funny booker Tommy Tomski there as well as a new act (Sarah English) out to support the night. I’m not sure if it was due to having two sizeable birthday contingents present or the sheer number of people there, but there was a real buzz about the room tonight. This was reciprocated by the acts, none of whom had a bad gig. This was probably the best night I’ve been to at Canal House.

Taylor Saranic (MC)

Saranic is a new act and it’s nice to see them given stage time. On the plus side, they have a good level of energy, are likeable and have an engaging personality. This will stand them in good stead for the future. Renaming people was a nice idea and the watch could become a pleasing running joke, rather than an oversight. The things that were less than ideal were all pretty minor and going forwards, are easily re-thought. It’s usually best to do the rules towards the end of the first compering section as they stay with the audience. The science puns were a tad formulaic and it would have been nice to see a twist there, plus the Thompson and Requiem references were pretty niche and this hurt their reception. Generally it’s best to do more room work in the first part and to use more material in the second section of compering. In fairness Canal House is tricky to compere due to the fact that 90% of the audience are sat in darkness, but at times it did feel as though only the first few rows were being addressed. Lucy, one of the two birthday celebrants, was plastered and all too eager to join in with the night. With her being sat on the front row it might have been best to not give her any attention to reinforce the fact that she wasn’t part of the show, because after getting the room to sing happy birthday to her and Greg, she was a persistent shouter out. Getting everyone to shout shame three times to her, though, was a great idea that subdued her for a while. Not remembering who the acts are in a section is a bit of a clanger, but it’s the sort of slip that is only ever going to happen to a compere the once and Saranic will learn from it. Whilst this sounds like a fair sized list of things, in truth Saranic did a decent job and for a new act was better than you’d have thought for the level of experience. Given stage time, they’ll become more than capable.

Tom Lawrinson

Opening, Lawrinson got the night off to a flying start. He looked plausible from the moment he stepped onto the stage. The material was wonderfully offbeat and he delivered it with panache. Lawrinson has a very expressive face, especially his eyes, and he was able to add a lot of nuance quite subtly to his performance. Baby was good, but mum’s taxi isn’t yet the finished article. The routine about his new family was excellent and there was a heck of a lot of laughter during this set.

Eric Rushton

Rushton was trying out some new material and I’ve found that whatever he does, it will be interesting, even if some of it’s not fully there yet. Big words was great, love is deserved more, porn had a great angle to it, body dysmorphia was good, but bogeys and pot noodles needed more. Rushton is an original thinker and he will find something novel in any topic. His delivery was very confident tonight and every time I see him he has improved.

Sachin Kumarendran

Kumarendran opened by riffing about his name and background. He did this in a pleasingly knowing way and got good laughs for it. When it came to the crash, I half expected an ironic shout of ‘too soon’, but despite the age of the reference, he made quite a bit from it and it was nice to see applause for a well written section. ‘Comedy’s going well’ is an overused line, but fleshlights is a topic that I’ve not seen get much of a mention on stage and this made his material here feel really refreshing. The line about Schroedinger was both clever and funny. Kumarendran’s delivery was quite matter of fact rather than lively, but this seemed to suit his stage persona and I think it added something to his performance. This was a fun set.

Sean McBurney

I only saw McBurney last night, but tonight he did even better and the moments that he broke the 4th wall really helped his set. This was a smashing performance.

Thomas Green

To say that Green smashed it would be an understatement. He took the roof off and it’s a good job that there was an intermission, because he would have been extremely difficult to follow. He began by having to deal with two shout outs, one of ‘Kangaroo’ and one from the plastered Lucy on the front row. He took no prisoners with either, slamming them both to loud applause. Whilst Lucy did shout out later in the set, Green read the room excellently and knew just how far to go with the put downs. His material tonight consisted of some new material and some reworked material with add ons and it came over amazingly well. Pupil and spiders was great, with the line ‘lingerie L*******’ being spot on. The acting out on this pushed the gag no end. In fact, Green’s ability to act out scenes on stage is a massive bonus to his set and it brings his material to life in a big way. Pac Man was another great line. This was a superb set that had everyone laughing their heads off.

Alex Black

I’d not seen Black for a while, so it was nice to see him on the bill. He gave the room a set that consisted of music and props. To begin with it was hard to hear the lyrics of the song over the guitar, but everyone heard the punchline. The other songs all did very well, especially Hamas. The presents made for tangible jokes, but Freudian Slip went over a few heads. Aldi staff being fast at scanning items is a bit of a well travelled area, but Black had a very nice twist on it with the music. This was a pleasant set.

Ben Briggs

After seeing Briggs’ name on the bill, I had been looking forward to seeing him all night and he didn’t let me or anyone else down. He said hello and then immediately ensured that the chatty Lucy would keep silent throughout his set. This was followed by a superbly funny opening routine about walking to the stage. This was immediately relatable and the examples he gave such as the ball and the video were very vivid and easy to picture. I was laughing my head off at the scenes that he was describing. Briggs then began the meat of his set and that was a very intelligent routine about race and racism. Ben made some clever and nuanced points that were thought provoking without losing any comedy value and this isn’t always easy to pull off. Briggs pitched his delivery very astutely, recognising that it had the potential to be a tense topic and using that to bring people in and then disarming the tension through powerful comedy. It was great to see the chap sat next to me spitting half of his drink out as he couldn’t help but laugh during this set. This was a performance where I think everyone wanted to see more of it.

Often Funny at the School House – Paul Mutagejja, Alex Leam, Will Collishaw, Sarah English, Sean McBurney, Ezmee Butterfield, Howard Walker and Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tonight I was just down the road in South Normanton for a new gig run by Tommy Tomski. This was at the school house, which is a nicely quirky room. The audience were to be treasured. They were really up for being entertained and were supportive of all of the acts.

Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tomski is friendly, exuberant and such a cheerful presence that he manages to enthuse audiences. He also has a unique look, which he uses to good effect in his room work. I enjoyed his line of ‘you look like the…’ and this could become a signature piece for him. The fonts was good, but Tesco was even better. The material on Love Island was timely and relevant and it was great to see a compere not asking people what they did for a living (in fairness, he probably knew a lot of the audience and what they did already). Tomski did the rules, explained the format and kept the night on time. This was good compering.

Paul Mutagejja

I’ve seen a lot of Paul recently, so rather than a review, suffice it to say that he was a good choice for opener. He got laughs and did the business.

Alex Leam

It had been a while since I last saw Leam, so it was nice to see him on the bill. His tale of a brutal gig sounded promising and it had everyone interested in how bad a gig could be. He got a laugh for the reaction of the guy at that pub, but from the set up, I think people were expecting more. Considering just how well it did in getting people’s attention, it would be good if he could extend the tale of that gig, as it was building very nicely. Leam received big laughs for his tale about his brother and there was a lot of joy in that routine. He might be wise to switch the name of the shop to a less prestigious one, as that would fit in with the tone better, but this was a good routine, especially for new material. The closing material about call centres was delivered very well, with his ability to do accents a massive bonus.

William Collishaw

Like Mutagejja, I’ve seen a lot of Collishaw recently, so rather than a full review, I’ll say that the mugging section is a real gift. With not knowing how quick on the uptake his volunteer will be, this adds a very nice element of randomness to his set. This was an enjoyable set.

Sarah English

English had a very good gig. Her material concerned Lord of the Rings (plus a couple of lovely ad libs, too, which really helped give a feeling of completeness to the whole) and the perils of technology. The tone was different to when I first saw her, being, if not exactly cheerful at least lighter and more welcoming. There was some very nifty writing in evidence here. English received applause for party, which was a solid line, but the rest of it was both funny and interesting. This was an improved set and I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

Sean McBurney

McBurney has been doing well, winning a few competitions here and there and if he continues to gig consistently he’ll do well. Sean can write some excellent dark jokes. Whilst these might lose the odd person in the room, they are well written and funny enough to keep most of the audience. Over time this, combined with more experience performing, will raise the percentage even further. McBurney looks apologetic on stage and he could work with this, breaking the 4th wall more often to reference what he is saying and thinking to great effect. I’m looking going to be very interested in how he develops.

Ezmee Butterfield

Butterfield had a night of two halves. She began by talking about bombing at a previous gig. It’s not generally a good idea to do this at the top, before you’ve convinced the room that you’re funny, as it can plant the seed that you may die tonight, too. This was followed by material that split the room, such as acting out stamping on a cat and my initial impression was that Butterfield was determined to sink the atmosphere through the floor. Material like this can work very well, if it is strong enough and whilst I wasn’t so sure it would work in many rooms, Butterfield did get laughs for it here. The second half of her set concerned a poem, about a drunken night out, delivered as if it were a soliloquy from Macbeth. This took up a good amount of time and if you weren’t onboard in the first few seconds and stayed with it, then there wasn’t a lot in it for you. There were some nice lines here and it was performed well, but it wasn’t for everyone. Butterfield is a good performer and I shouldn’t be surprised if she hasn’t done some drama in the past. This was a set that the rest of the audience enjoyed more than I did.

Howard Walker

Our headlining act was Howard Walker, an act who’s been on my radar for a while, but whom I’d never seen until tonight. His style was short routines and this ensured that his set kept moving forward, without getting bogged down in any particular topic. The first big routine was one about a trip to York with his wife when they were first courting. Walker’s facial expressions sold this very nicely, especially when discussing her ex. The theme of annoyances was a splendid idea. This drew people in and it is a series of topics that he can add and subtract from at will, using whatever is current at the time. Masterchef was fine and tangible for those who have never seen it (like myself), shift work was good and allowed a small bit of room work, which added nicely to it and although he got a bit tongue tied over one line, Walker rolled with that well and it didn’t affect the momentum that he was building. Wellness was a strong routine, but the later reference to the district where the meat counter was, probably had more significance for people near to it than here. The closing routine was very powerful and also oddly uplifting, ending the night on a very pleasant tone. I enjoyed this set.

The Royal Oak at Whitwell – Matt Stellingwerf, Tom Little, Freddy Quinne and Evan Desmarais (MC)

Tonight I was at The Royal Oak in Whitwell, an old pit village 30 minutes from mine. I would never have known about this gig if I hadn’t seen the booker, Robyn Perkins, advertising for acts. The fact that lots of comedians who had played it were saying how good it was spoke volumes. The reason that this gig isn’t so widely known is because it sells out quickly to the regulars and there isn’t really any need to advertise it more widely. The only way I was able to buy a ticket was through asking Robyn if she could message the landlord, Alan, to see if he could squeeze me in and luckily he could. The comedy takes place in a separate room to the side of the main bar and it’s one of those lovely low ceilinged chambers where the energy from 30-40 people makes it feel like an arena audience. This is a gig with a great atmosphere and an up for it crowd who had a slight tendency to shout out at critical moments during sets.

Evan Desmarais (MC)

Our compere was the Canadian Evan Desmarais. He was advantaged through being able to see everyone very clearly, including the chap sat wearing a suit, to his immediate left, whom he announced as being his manager. This was then followed by him chatting to a few people who gave false names, which is something I’ve never really understood. Notable people in the audience were a psychologist, who got in a good comment, a stranger whom Desmarais painted as a wrong ‘un and a gardener in a flowery shirt. Desmarais had some good material, especially the routine about the magician. This was slightly interrupted during the set up by a lady shouting out about knowing the difference with your eyes shut, but Evan came back with a magnificent put down. The routine about the bouncers was a spot of new material that had an interesting premise, but required a stronger reveal. This was enjoyable laid back compering that suited the mood of the room.

Matt Stellingwerf

Stellingwerf began with a bit of unexpected audience work when it was decided that one of the chaps in the audience looked pretty like him. A sort of half brother, rather than a twin. He rolled with this, got laughs and then launched into some powerful material. All Blacks went down a treat and this led nicely into the New Zealand flag referendum. Before long Stellingwerf was generating a lot of momentum. His delivery seemed a touch smoother than when I last saw him, not that there was anything amiss with it, then. I especially enjoyed the routine about accents, but thought that the Proclaimers deserved more. It was good to see Matt get an applause break for America. Stellingwerf is a skilled comedian who perhaps doesn’t have quite the social media presence that you’d expect from someone of his talent. He should be better known in the industry than what he is.

Tom Little

Little had an outstanding night, earning big laughs and having to pause for the laughter to die down. Ironically, though, this is a set that on paper should be challenging to make work. It contains lengthy quotes from Kipling and Wordsworth, extended set ups, repetition of some of the longest words in the English language and a healthy dose of surrealism. However, Little has brought it all together and crafted it into something really outstanding. I’ve seen a lot of Tom and he’s always been good, but it seems like he’s moved up another level with this. I’ve never seen it all gel together so completely before. Kipling and Wordsworth both led into great punchlines, the extended set ups really paid off in a big way with the reveals which hit home hard, the longest word built up no end of momentum (albeit slightly messed about through a shout out) and the surreal trains of thought ensured that it was a lucky person who could guess where the jokes were going. The length of this set gave Little the chance to make the most of his material and the whole truly was greater than the sum of its parts. I’d have liked to have seen more.

Freddy Quinne

Quinne gave the room a headlining performance that contained excellent and possibly thought provoking material. He began well with a local reference about Clowne Duck and never looked back from there. The routines were all uniformly top notch. Trans was funny without punching down and the piece concerning the UK porn block is the first that I’ve heard anyone do about it, which is bizarre considering just how well covered many other topics are. Facebook arguments was extremely relatable to everyone present (to the point where a few people were pointing at folk they were sat with). Abortion sounded like it was going to be challenging, but the pause before he took us in a different direction was brilliant. Referendum was one of the more balanced routines I’ve seen performed concerning this divisive subject, although a shout out got in the way a touch. This resulted in Quinne enquiring why that fellow had voted leave, which Freddy then responded to by pointing out the number of immigrants in the area. Millennials at war was great and trans athletes was very well thought out. There was absolutely loads of good stuff in this set.

The New Barrack Tavern – The Psychic Comedium, Tom Binns, Ivan Brackenbury and Tom King (MC)

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the 10th anniversary special Funhouse comedy gig. Every time I go up there, not only do I have a great night, but I come back buzzing from the mix of great comedy, an up for it audience and the sheer atmosphere. This was a sold out gig, but I’d kindly been reserved a great seat along with Lou and Wayne (Last Laugh). I was especially looking forward to the show. We had a good compere who was playing his home town and had an instinctive understanding of the audience and we had three acts that taken singularly, were all incredible, but were simply amazing when their common denominator was taken into account.

Tom King (MC)

I enjoy seeing King at gigs and tonight he was on top form. He did the ground rules early on and then chatted to people in the audience whilst going back ten years to when this gig first started, with a number of facts from 2009. This was a very nice idea and the looks he gave the room when discussing the merits of the celebrity deaths of that year really sold it. I was especially impressed by a pleasingly daft visual joke that King used. It was simple, but entertaining and got a big laugh. Tom made a wonderful discovery when he found that there were a couple of detectives sat on the 3rd row – Slinger and Shooter – and he launched into an advert (with well timed callback) for an imported high octane cop thriller. This was a great night for King and getting everyone to shout get well soon to Kev, the landlord, was a lovely touch.

The Psychic Comedium

Our opening act was the Psychic Comedium and he had everyone’s attention from the off. The writing was incredibly strong. There wasn’t a single word that didn’t add value to the performance. One of the nicest aspects was that the act himself was visibly enjoying himself and everyone could bounce of his happiness. The use of Rotherham for the local shit town was an inspired choice and that worked very well indeed. This set used three members of the audience, Wayne and two others, whom the Comedium delivered messages from the other side to, readings and guessed what they had drawn. This was done smoothly and with a hell of a lot of laughter.

Tom Binns

After the first intermission we resumed with Tom Binns, a ventriloquist, who had brought a lot of his family with him to perform. There was a cracking running joke in this performance that grew and grew. The supporting characters had poorly legs, but Binns got huge laughs for how he dealt with that. It was great to watch Binns toying with the audience and their expectations. This was a very creative set.

Ivan Brackenbury

Headlining was Ivan Brackenbury, the hospital radio DJ who was engaged in an outside broadcast from the New Barrack Tavern. The characterisation for this act was achieved with great skill. Looking a bit gormless and slow on the uptake, but filled with lots of enthusiasm, the character had tons of charm and was able to deliver the material without it ever feeling like he was taking advantage of his position as a DJ. As always with Brackenbury there was a lovely beat between him delivering the set up and people getting the reveal from the song. This was a set that had people crying with laughter. As with the other performances on the bill, this wasn’t a set that was resting on its laurels. A lot of acts with sets as solid as these would be tempted to keep what they had, but instead all three had new gags and routines and that was amazing to see. This was a superb night of comedy.

May – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a superb month of comedy. I’ve seen over fifty acts and attended some very well run nights.

The highlight was a master class from Scott Bennett. Watching him destroy a room was made all the sweeter by taking an uncle who’s not seen much live comedy and listening to him enthuse about what he’d seen was lovely. The low light was seeing a pro act get himself into a hole thrice and then carry on digging each time.

These are the acts that have impressed me the most:

Al Lubel

Low energy, quietly spoken and looking visually distinctive, Lubel was a change in tone. I’ve seen him a couple of times and whilst I’d enjoyed him, there were bits that I wasn’t previously totally onboard with, but tonight I was knocked back by the quality of his writing and delivery. Lubel has a dextrous mind and this gives his writing an intricacy that is deep, but also easy to follow. There is a strong sense of logic in his material and he can remorselessly deconstruct a premise, reducing it to the absurd, finding laughs along the way. After he has done this, he will utter an almost throwaway line that pushes the humour even further. There were some wonderful routines here, of which the standout was homeless. This was full of logic, original and extremely funny. The construction of this set was most impressive. For me, Al Lubel’s was the set of the night.

Morgan Rees

We resumed after the intermission with Morgan Rees, who had a fantastic gig. Sporting a bit of a rockabilly look, which I thought added quite a lot visually, he began with some quick jokes. These very swiftly established his credibility and the fridge gag is the best joke that I’ve heard all year. From here he moved into routines and these were all top quality, too. Welsh animals was spot on, as was his gran. Rees was sharper than when I saw him last. His timing wasn’t bad before, but it was even better tonight and there were lots of little extras that he had added into his delivery. The way that he’d flash a quick, but eloquent look to the audience with his eyes, almost as if to check that all was well, after a particular line and the asides, all formed a big connection with the room. This was a cracking set and Rees has very much progressed.

Scott Bennett

Bennett opened by discussing the oddities of the venue and his comments were superb. It took him less than twenty seconds to demonstrate his skills and have the room totally with him. This was then followed by a brilliant set that mixed brand new and existing material, with many small changes having been made to the existing. The routine about the motorist crashing into his car at the weekend was spot on, with two distinct but top quality strands of thought in evidence. The Spa day was great and the accent on the masseur sold it well. National Trust isn’t quite there yet, but it most likely will be by the time I see him next. Gaming was strong and whilst it works with two examples a third would probably send it stratospheric. The printer, drunken cooking, red top headlines were all top class. This was a magnificent set.

Steve Day

Listening to him, you wouldn’t have guessed that Day was performing with a sore throat. He managed to somehow ignore it and give a smashing performance. This was a set that was very easy to relax into and it appealed to everyone in the room. He began with some jokes about the venue , the village (the bar gag was a particular joy) and a superb joke about Mike’s shirt, which were all highly relatable and supremely funny. This was then followed by some tightly written routines and the laughs came quickly and without any lulls. Whether it was talking about making up a trio with some other comedians, the London Paralympics, his family or cruises, Day received big laughs. The delivery was well pitched with the right facial expressions and body language for what he was saying. There was nothing that anyone could dislike about this set and a heck of a lot for everyone to enjoy. This was a great performance.

Honourable Mentions

Cokey Falkow, Garrett Millerick, Ian Peskett, Oscar Roberts, Richard Massara, Sol Bernstein, Thomas Green.

Ofton Funny – Jinder Singh, Lyra May, Alex Dunlop, Katie Brown, Gary Peterson, Oscar Roberts, Scott Bennett and Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton for Ofton Funny. As I’ve said before this is a lovely night in front of a very appreciative audience and it’s well worth any comedian enquiring about stage time. Owing to the quality of the headliner, I’d taken a few friends and family along, too, because I knew that they’d be in for a treat.

Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tomski is a nice guy and his affability is probably his greatest asset as a compere. Tonight he opened well with a prop joke that was better than what I saw him do last week and his gag about the bench would work with a different set up, as the reveal itself was fine. I enjoyed Tomski’s ad libs, these worked well.

Jinder Singh

Singh’s set was a mixed bag. He had some nice ideas and there was an intelligence about his writing, but he suffered from his delivery being very matter of fact, almost as if he was presenting, rather than performing and from the material itself needing more. Caste was interesting and narcissism was good. However, the reveal on the kids is one that I’ve seen a few other people use (a case of parallel thinking) and being a sperm donor isn’t a million miles away from giving a a sperm sample, which is a very well travelled area comedically. Singh would benefit from tightening up his set ups, as these were a tad wordy, adding a bit more life to his delivery and putting some twists in his material so that it stands out more. He’s got some good ideas and with a few minor improvements he’ll be a much stronger and more consistent act.

Lyra May

May opened with a rule of three joke, which was okay, but the final part needed a bit more to get the most out of the set up. The routine about hobbies was unique and light-hearted, but any print out really needs to be A3 for everyone to be able to see it easily. During the set up May demonstrated why it is a bad idea to ask an open question – you can’t guarantee you’ll have anything for what comes back. If she had asked a loaded question that directed the response towards material it would have been better. The material concerning LBGTQ was fun and worked well in this room, but saying the Welsh town name outstayed its welcome. May can build from here, though.

Alex Dunlop

When I saw Dunlop in Sheffield he’d been good and tonight he demonstrated that he is improving. This was new material and it felt more like a work in progress, but even so, there was plenty to enjoy in this well thought out set. Dentistry has promise, but needs a bigger reveal and the two guys in Leeds also has a lot of potential, even if it isn’t yet fully formed. This was an enjoyable set.

Katie Brown

Brown came to the stage with a Ukulele. She began by spending a bit of time introducing herself, which wasn’t really needed, but then she got down to business with the first of two songs. This had a good comedy structure to it and it worked well. This was followed by a short bit of material (I’d have liked more) that was pretty nifty and could perhaps have been improved by her being more specific about the Dalai Lama’s exact actions. There was then the second song, which was another good one, but would have perhaps been stronger if Brown hadn’t introduced it with a spoiler. This was a promising set from a new act.

Gary Peterson

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Peterson performing and tonight he opened with some unique material on place name etymology. This worked well with the local names and with a change of place names, would travel well. The material about his operation was ok, but it did make me realise that it’s been a long time since Inner Space was filmed. The parents’ evening is more of an idea at the moment and whilst the punchline was good, the set up was a bit too dark to not feel a bit out of step with the rest of his set. Age and racism is a promising notion that could be developed further. There was more of the feel of a performance to Peterson’s delivery than some of the other acts and this was all to the good.

Oscar Roberts

Roberts had a good night and was quickly getting laughs. His writing is coming on in leaps and bounds. People on buses is a great idea and the later call back was wonderful. The line about caves was spot on and the bathroom routine was excellent. This was a great set.

Scott Bennett

Bennett opened by discussing the oddities of the venue and his comments were superb. It took him less than twenty seconds to demonstrate his skills and have the room totally with him. This was then followed by a brilliant set that mixed brand new and existing material, with many small changes having been made to the existing. The routine about the motorist crashing into his car at the weekend was spot on, with two distinct but top quality strands of thought in evidence. The Spa day was great and the accent on the masseur sold it well. National Trust isn’t quite there yet, but it most likely will be by the time I see him next. Gaming was strong and whilst it works with two examples a third would probably send it stratospheric. The printer, drunken cooking, red top headlines were all top class. This was a magnificent set

The Maze – Jaspal Singh, Nick Gwynne, Josh Crosse, Wendy Leadbetter, Ryan Lewis, Peter Barnes, Tommy Tomski, Callum Battlemuch, Matt Edmonds, Romaine, Ian Peskett, Richard Newell, Lulu Reubens, Jay Droch

Tonight I was at The Maze for the final ever Funhouse Comedy gig there. It’s a shame that this venue is closing down, it’ll be missed, but at least it went out in style. Number’s weren’t bad either and it was nice to see Michelle Harrison supporting the night, too. Spiky Mike had a fun time compering, discovering a lady who dealt with sex offenders, which prompted his next question, to her boyfriend, enquiring if that was how they met. There was a lady who dealt with holistic beauty, which involved something to do with electricity and a guy with the fake names of Eric and Leroy. Very quickly, the room was read for the first of our fourteen acts.

Jaspal Singh

Wearing a suit, which reflected his job in banking, Singh came to the stage and pretty much compered the room, improvising a lot of stuff from people Mike had been chatting to a few moments before. On the plus side, this did feel of the here and now and it was relatable, but on the minus side, it made his actual material feel very flat. Singh repeated himself, almost doing a recap of what he had said so far of his material, after a few of the spots of room work and this didn’t help him build momentum. The end result was that this didn’t feel like a set that was going anywhere and he was voted off.

Nick Gwynne

Gwynne’s set had potential. He had material about having OCD, Dyspraxia and Asperger’s, plus a nice line in jokes that edged towards the darker end of the spectrum. Most got laughs, some got groans and a few got a mix of both. A few even received applause. He has the basis of some decent material here. His down at heel persona didn’t quite sell all of his material, but he didn’t have a bad gig, being a late gonging. However, calling a member of the audience a sex offender, even in jest, is a high risk move. Luckily for Gwynne he picked an act and booker who is good natured, but even so, I doubt calling him a sex offender is the best way of getting onto one of his nights.

Josh Crosse

Crosse is much improved over when I last saw him. The writing was more inventive and he had more stage presence. The opening gag was an odd one. It was a rule of three, with no 2 being predictable (out of character, considering the freshness of the rest of the set), but no 3 being well thought out. Crosse made the final without any trouble and gave the room a great routine there.

Wendy Leadbetter

Leadbetter opened by singing the first lines of Que Sera, Sera and it was pretty obvious where she was going with it. Unfortunately this could be said about a lot of the rest of the set. It was thin on surprises. Whilst you might not guess the exact punchline, it wasn’t hard to spot where Leadbetter was going. She did lose her place, but in a new act that wasn’t the end of the world and it did win the sympathy of the audience. However, it couldn’t compensate for the lack of energy or lift in the delivery. Leadbetter also delivered her set whilst backing away from the audience and this just made it look as if she was trying to leave the stage. Largely thanks to generous judging, Leadbetter made the final.

Ryan Lewis

Lewis came to the stage full of confidence and performed his set without needing to use the microphone. I say performed rather than delivered, because the feeling was less of a comic and more of an actor filling a role. The material was ok, especially the bit about gongs and gongings, but it was the sense of performance that stood out. This was still a fun set and Lewis made the final, but there wasn’t a great feeling of comedy in this performance.

Peter Barnes

This was Barnes’ first ever gig and he didn’t do badly. He received laughs, but the material would require a bit of a rethink if he were to continue. Alluding to Grantham as being anywhere unpalatable to live in a town that is worse isn’t ever going to ring true and whilst his material on Thatcher being a bit unpleasant got a lot of support, there was a definite sound of low hanging fruit being plucked. Newton was more original and I was interested in where Barnes was taking us with his routine about teaching in Germany, but he ran out of steam here and was gonged.

Tommy Tomski

Tomski has a pleasingly eclectic approach to material and I like that. It’s refreshing. Unfortunately tonight he did manage to miss an open goal, though. Act 2, Nick Gwynne, had pointed out Tomski as looking like a sex offender and he could have used this to win the support of the audience, through some timely and relevant callbacks to it. Unluckily for Tommy he didn’t tee it up by reminding the room of what had occurred one break and 4-5 acts ago and so when he got his reply in, it felt like he was attacking an act at random. This was a shame, because he’s a likeable chap and this would have helped him win over the room.

Callum Battlemuch

This was Battlemuch’s second ever performance and first ever gig and he was splendid. Wearing a dickie bow, jazzy shirt and a waistcoat he looked like a comedy magician and I was surprised to find that he wasn’t. He opened by referencing his attire, got big laughs for it and never really looked back. Granted, he had friends in the audience, but he wasn’t gifted laughs, he earned them with some strong material and a very engaging delivery. Battlemuch managed to nail how to use the tone of his voice and which syllables he laid the stress on in a word to get the most out of what he was saying. I was gobsmacked when he was voted off at the last minute, as was much of the audience. This was an incredible split decision by the judges. If Battlemuch can do so much correctly so early on, then with consistent gigging, he could well have a career in comedy.

Matt Edmonds

Edmonds suffered a bit from following Battlemuch. This was Edmonds 6th or 7th gig and whilst his material at the moment isn’t quite punchy enough to stand out at a gong show, he is a good writer and this will stand him in good stead. Edmonds got a big laugh for his first joke after the audience had had a few seconds to digest it and he was doing alright, but lost a bit of momentum before a vote and off he went.

Romaine (Sandra Hale)

Next was a character act, Romaine, who was Londoner with a slightly questionable domestic life. There were some nice lines in here, such as the names of the kids – the third artist was a great joke – and it was a pleasingly upbeat set. Personally, I wasn’t that keen on it, but the audience liked it and I was surprised that she was another late gonging.

Ian Peskett

I only saw Peskett last week and he continued the good work this week with an eloquent performance tonight. He gave what was probably the best judged final minute of the show. Peskett was runner up tonight.

Richard Newell

Newell had a great night. There was a heck of a lot to like in this set and he looked plausible from the off. Newell delivered his material partly bent towards the audience and this helped to make a connection with the room. On top of this he made good use of his vocal range and this added life to what he was saying. He also has likeability, which did him no harm at all. Beyond that, was a well constructed set with some strong material. The comment about the person on the stag night L….. was a superb line. This was a polished performance and Newell breezed into the final.

Lulu Reubens

Reubens gave the room a strong set. In a show with a fair few good performances this was another one that might have won on a different night. The opening joke was fun and there was a lot of great stuff here, such as Bradford, hair, brother and especially dick pics. I did get to the bath reveal first and Trump is a slightly easy target, but these both got big laughs. Reubens made the final and was well supported there. I’ll be interested in seeing her develop as a comic.

Jay Droch

Droch is a natural performer and audience’s take to him in a big way. His room work was well thought out and landed heavily – he even managed to get an Amen from everyone. Droch has improved his material and whilst it isn’t yet the finished article, it is far better than when I saw him in Leicester. This is a performer who oozes energy and atmosphere and who could probably make reading a shopping list exciting. Droch was the winner of the show.

The Kayal – Ben Aveling, Alexis Coward, Max Hallam, Ian Peskett, Sergi Polo, Mo Magaleo, Huw Saunders, Jacob Hussain, Alyn Ashby, Oscar Roberts, Jenny BSide, Marvin Alan and Houssem Rhaiem

Tonight I was at the Kayal in Leicester to see the Funhouse Comedy gong show. There was a pleasant audience that comprised digger drivers, a European officer, an engineer and a young lad who worked with endangered animals, such as Snapping Turtles. It was great to see Jack Topher and Ishi Khan there to support the night.

Ben Aveling

Aveling had some nice ideas, but his material is badly in need of an edit. He spoke a lot, but the set ups were a bit wordy and the gaps between punchlines were, at times, lengthy. Helmets was a decent line, as was the sponsored run (good call back there), but the idea of Easter being a stag weekend is something that I’ve seen a few variations on facebook over the last few weeks and it didn’t feel especially new. Aveling improved the longer he was on and he made the final.

Alexis Coward

I don’t know if Coward has done any acting, but her performance felt more like an actor delivering their lines to an audience rather than a comedian doing a set. The material was ok, with some decent ideas, although it could have done with more punch. However, the delivery let her down and I don’t think she really formed a connection with the audience.

Max Hallam

Hallam was another act who had long set ups that could do with editing down so that the punchlines hit harder and came faster. The joke about the brother’s names was good and he had some interesting ideas concerning qualifications, but ultimately the material was not strong enough to keep him on and nor did his delivery have enough bounce to rescue him.

Ian Peskett

There was a lot to like in Peskett’s set and he shows promise. His opening joke was good and it sounded like it was something he was going to return to later in his set. For his second joke, he received the first applause of the evening. Bees was a novel routine and the material about drugs was powerful. The section on his surname was decent, but would have benefited from a stronger final reveal and the horse felt a touch laboured. Peskett has a good command of the English language and the construction of this set showed that a fair bit of care and attention had gone into it. His delivery was well pitched; visually he looks a tough customer and this helps to give his delivery a bit of an edge. He also has a grin that is pretty infectious. Tonight Peskett was joint runner up and he’s certainly worth giving stage time to.

Sergi Polo

From London by way of Barcelona, Polo had material that on a simple read through, shouldn’t have worked. It was bleak and involved the deaths of animals and should have been very challenging. However, he delivers it with enough charm to make it work and it is very funny to listen to. He got big laughs throughout his set for this mix of original and dark writing and his buoyant playful delivery. Polo was the deserved winner of the night.

Mo Magaleo

Magaleo was another act who had a good night. He had some engaging material concerning his face, being Muslim, Moroccan news and dictatorships/democracy. This material felt fresh and there was no end of great stuff in this set. I especially enjoyed his thoughts on serial killers and I was impressed by his route from pork into slaying extra people. This was a good performance that easily made the final.

Huw Saunders

Saunders didn’t have a great night. He opened with a prop joke that probably read well on paper, but which felt a bit neither here nor there on stage. The fact that this joke didn’t feel like part of the rest of his set only added to the feeling that it was a bit throwaway. The meat of Saunder’s set concerned him having OCD, but unfortunately the humour didn’t really flow that well and the overall feeling was of a talk with a few jokes here and there.

Jacob Hussain

Hussain’s material seemed to veer between old to merely a few years behind the curve. He began with a 1980’s joke where the punchline was that blondes aren’t meant to be that bright. This was then followed by a I’m single, so ladies…. comment that was also well travelled and he got as far as not needing a satnav when he has a girlfriend, which was something that a few comedians talked about a decade or so ago. There wasn’t really anything here that no one hadn’t heard a version of before and so he didn’t make the final.

Alyn Ashby

Ashby stood out on this bill for his gravity, his timing and his deliberately miserable stage persona. This persona helped him to sell his material and really suited his dry sense of humour. The belt routine was good, as was his ability to get the audience invested in his set. Ashby made the final.

Oscar Roberts

Roberts continues to improve. Tonight he was more confident and had almost a swagger to his delivery and this was great to see. The material has been worked on and is more punchy and he got big laughs all the way through his set. I particularly liked his new bit on buying pants, as did the rest of the audience. Roberts was joint runner up.

Jenny Bside

Carrying her guitar to the stage, Jenny immediately looked visually different as the only musical act on the bill. She began promisingly with a good song and continued this with some short tunes that worked well as punchlines to what she was saying. The song about sex was longer and wasn’t as immediately funny as the previous tracks, but still received good laughs. Jenny added a nice touch of variety to the show and between the good singing and delivery she held the room, making the final.

Marvin Alan

The last time I saw Alan he had done a comedy magic act where everything possible had gone wrong. This was hilarious, but not in the way that he intended it. Tonight he did straight stand up, but unfortunately his ideas concerning a non-Irish accent fell flat and he didn’t make the final.

Houssem Rhaiem

Rhaiem had a cracking night. He gave the audience one-liners and these worked really well for him, with laughs for every joke. This is probably the strongest performance I’ve seen him give. He made the final, but didn’t quite get the support that I thought he’d get.

Platform One – Shepshed – Edd Hedges, Michael Dryburgh, Hannah Silvester, Garrett Millerick and Thomas Green (MC)

Tonight I was in Shepshed at the Pied Bull for the Platform One comedy night. This is a nice old pub and the comedy takes place out in the marque extension at the rear. The audience was made up of people who knew each other and this gave them a confidence to shout out a lot. A heck of a lot. At times the front row seemed to be blissfully unaware of just how much they were getting in the way of the comedians getting their material out. No one was unpleasant or rude, they were friendly and the atmosphere was buoyant, but it would be nice to see a bit more discipline in the future.

Thomas Green (MC)

I shouldn’t be surprised if Green ends up with a residency. The audience loved him. Green’s a charismatic act and this was fully in evidence tonight. He chatted with a few people, found out who did what and so on and he smoothly used this to steer the talk towards his material. Green got to Vegan extremely deftly. The audience were very happy to interact with him and Green got a lot out of these exchanges. There was a great moment in the second section, where the term ‘Tena lady’ was sprung on Green and it being new to him, he thought the man had said ‘tenner lady’ and started an impromptu auction for the lass in question. It was nice to see Green listening to the other acts and watching the audience’s reactions and this helped him with immediately relatable comments, such as one off of the back of the high five. It might have been beneficial if Green at the end of his compering, had stressed the no talking rules, but given how chirpy (Michael Dryburgh hit the nail on the head with that description) this audience was, I’m not sure it would have quietened them for long. As always, it was a joy to see Green.

Edd Hedges

There was a lot of laughter during Hedges’ set, but the majority of it was caused by members of the audience rather than him. He began by talking directly to people, almost as if he were continuing Green’s compering. However, despite having been in the room when people were spoken to, he had to search them out and this felt a bit jarring. One of the chaps was a young farmer and talking to him was presumably going to be used as a lead in to Hedges’ material on being from a rural area. However, this guy turned out to be an ex-farmer and so he was asked why he wasn’t farming any more. This was a risky question, with a low chance of a funny answer and the comedy Gods weren’t with Edd, because the answer was that the guy lost his job through illness. Most acts would have cut their losses here, but Hedges carried on, asking what the malady was and as it was a serious case of glandular fever there wasn’t any humour in this, all he seemed to be doing was digging himself in deeper. Lightning can strike twice, because very soon after, Hedges was talking to another guy about his partner giving birth and was getting nothing back at all, but carried on digging there, too, well after it had become apparent that it was a dead end. Following this, Edd opened up a conversation with the front row. These were very much given to shouting out and he probably would have been better off not encouraging them to think they were involved in the show. However, he asked one lad a sexual question and with perfect timing, this chap strung out his answer and when he delivered it with total conviction, the audience went nuts. It was a great fake answer that brought the roof down and left Hedges looking flat footed and totally outwitted. Showing the same misplaced perseverance as earlier, Edd then moved on and asked the same question to another chap who turned out to be the first guy’s brother, again chasing it down well beyond the time that he should have given it up for a lost cause. This was a set where Hedges seemed to be more a facilitator for the audience being funnier than himself.

Michael Dryburgh

Acknowledging the weirdness of the gig, Dryburgh began by leaning back and giving the audience a long, wary, silent stare. This worked well in getting a big opening laugh and combined with him slowing his pace a touch and not speaking too much directly to talkative punters, he got people listening to him. After Hedges it was nice to see an act getting to deliver material. It wasn’t all gravy, he did have to silence a chap on the front row, but it was done effectively and without much risk, as Michael had got the room with him by then. There was some decent material here. Child birth was good, but it was the activity day that really drew everyone in. This was a good set.

Hannah Silvester

Silvester is a skilled act, but for the first quarter of her set, the audience didn’t get the full benefit of her ability due to a couple of people chatting and a few folk getting up to go to the loo. This was a shame, because there was some good material for them to listen to. However, due to the disruptions this wasn’t happening. Hannah took on the two conversationalists, asking if they were alright. With such a close knit audience this could have been tricky, but she got their attention, which helped everyone else to buy into her set. This exchange was then quickly followed by a cracker of a routine about visiting a shop and all of a sudden everything was plain sailing for her. She picked up a lot of laughs throughout the rest of the performance and closed on a song.

Garrett Millerick

Visually imposing (similar in looks to Doug Segal) and with a style not a million miles different to Nick Page, Millerick was always going to stand out. His powerful voice and polished delivery did full justice to a well written set that was chock-full of well developed routines. The topics covered included parents, technology, flights and military gigs. Some of these have been covered by other comics, but Millerick seemed to dig deeper and find a unique view point. The only gag that I felt I got to a reveal in front of him involved fraud, but even here you could enjoy the delivery – his change of tone on the word ‘fraud’ was magnificent. The office scene was brought to life in a big way. In fact, all of the routines felt tangible due to intelligent writing and solid performance skills. This was an excellent set.