The Little Last Laugh – Sally-Anne Hayward, Jack Campbell, Tanyalee Davis and Dave Longley (MC)

Tonight I was back at The Lescar for The Little Last Laugh. Numbers weren’t quite up to the level of last week, where emergency seating had to be brought out, but for August they were pretty good. It was nice to see Tom King there supporting live comedy on a night when he wasn’t gigging.

Dave Longley (MC)

Our compere was Dave Longley and this was the first time I’d seen him perform. I hope I see more of him. He’s a big lad is Dave, but his personality is even bigger and it filled the stage. This wasn’t a case of him making a point about being the alpha male present, this was a far more subtle and nuanced performance. He was almost gentle in how he spoke to people, but it was still very obvious who was the authority in the room. The audience largely seemed to be made up of firefighters (past and present), coppers, engineers and medical types, plus a car salesman, whom much to Longley’s disgust, didn’t have a favourite car. His expression of disbelief was very well acted out, but this was easily topped by his reaction to a chap from Matlock calling his home town of Ilkeston ‘rough’. Longley’s facial expressions were all very well done. Retired firefighter, Des, provided him with a lot of laughs, but he got the balance right in talking to him, but not letting him dominate proceedings. Longley was very fast with his responses and he had a lovely habit of whirling round and pointing to whoever he was speaking to and this didn’t half serve to focus everyone’s attention. The only thing I wasn’t that keen on was him saying that he was there to ‘talk shit’ as I think that that devalued the great work that he was doing. This was great compering and a heck of a lot of fun to watch – there was a lot of laughter.

Sally-Anne Hayward

The last time I’d seen Hayward had been at a rare good night at Jongleurs and she’d done very well then as compere. Tonight she started well and carried on the good work all the way through. The writing in this set was very tight with no wasted words. The material was also very well thought out and there were any number of great lines present. Charity shops was solid at the top, proposals and airbnb were wonderful and the closing routine about minor ailments was champion. This was a set where the jokes came almost at the rate of a one-liner comedian and the laughs came thick and fast.

Jack Campbell

Campbell had a great night, despite a little bit of a slow start. After the first 30 seconds he moved into a much higher gear and built up a lot of momentum. The room took to him in a big way. Posh names was very good, as was village life. I thought he came very close to an applause break for palms at that point. His partner’s name tickled a lot of people, as did kisses at the end of texts. The yoga routine was strong. It perhaps wouldn’t do him any harm to just slow his delivery down a touch, but this is a minor quibble. This was a strong performance from someone who is making progress.

Tanyalee Davis

Davis was instantly funny the moment she took to the stage. The mix of a surprisingly forceful delivery and powerful autobiographical material was a big hit. The room reflected her energy very nicely. Gigs in distant places and travelling were all great routines. Following this Davis asked if she could try some new material, to which the room enthusiastically agreed. This was, as you’d expect, more of a mixed bag. VR was good, shopping better, haunted if it were tighter would be good and the turtle was very good. Davis then switched back to established material and ended the night on a superb callback.

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Ofton Funny at the Schoolhouse – Ellie Pollard, Jack Vincent, Joshua Crosse, Becky Heaviside, Anthony Williams, Nial O’Dwyer, Rob Coleman and Al Grant (MC)

Tonight I was in South Normanton for the Ofton Funny comedy night held at The Schoolhouse. Usually this is compered by Tommy Tomski, but at the moment he is resting. He has asked that it be pointed out that this is due to him being on a detox (mentored by Ian Peskett) due to alcohol issues and would like everyone to know so that they don’t offer him a drink. With a positive approach like that he will hopefully find his situation improves soon.

Al Grant (MC)

Grant is quite new to compering and like anyone else inexperienced, has a bit of a way to go. On the plus side, he’s visually interesting (think Sons of Anarchy), outgoing and has a fair sized personality. Also he’s got a varied approach, with balloon animals and guitar (Spacey was a great song). It was lovely to see him going out of the room to quieten people at the bar, too. However, he’d benefit by not doing material between acts, as it resets the audience, not doing a song just before bringing a musical act on (it wearies the audience’s appetite) and keeping his material tight. Some of his gags were too long to hold the room. Grant brought the audience into the night with balloon animals and through remembering names and this was a nice touch, but he could improve on it by cutting out some of the guitar work as I’m not sure it works well with the energy levels during compering. There was a fair bit to like in what Grant was doing, but he’d perhaps be stronger with a bit of a change around.

Ellie Pollard

I only saw Pollard last week when she’d had a great gig at The Lescar and she continued the good work here. As before, the asides when she broke the fourth wall during the songs were a true joy. It got to the point where you could feel the audience leaning in with anticipation for them. The foot stamping was loud enough tonight that it was hard to hear the lyrics whilst she was rapping, but there’s not a lot that can be done about that. There was an odd shout out during the second song, which sounded unfortunate, but I think it was a case of someone genuinely enjoying it and trying to help her. This was a great set.

Jack Vincent

This felt like a set performed by someone who has watched a lot of other comics and has seen what works well for them and hasn’t yet found his own unique voice. He may wish to rethink using the words ‘rhymes with’ to describe something, as that is a bit overused by comedians, or at least give it a twist so it is markedly different. There were three solid gags that didn’t hit as well as they could do, due to the order he had the subject, set up and reveal. At the moment he telegraphs the punchline in the first part when keying up those gags and the audience are then trying to put the jigsaw together in a race to guess the ultimate reveal. If he were to, in the case of his mother’s advice, change it to keep her advice to the end and use that as part of the punchline instead of at the top, it would keep the element of surprise and it would land harder. There was some good stuff in Vincent’s set, but with a bit of work he would be much stronger.

Joshua Crosse

Crosse is coming on nicely, getting better every time I see him, but he’s not yet the finished article. His opening room was pretty decent (he was the first person on the bill to reference the room), but the memory gag was a bit obvious and nowhere near up to the level of a lot of his other material. The second punchline on bread was superb. It was that good, it made me wonder why he even bothered with the first one, as that took away a bit of impetus from the second, more powerful reveal. His material on racism shows a lot of promise, but isn’t there yet. However, he’s certainly onto something with it. The scary story was too bleak and long and hurt the atmosphere – it was probably not worth the punchline. It was great to see Crosse end on a callback. There was quite a lot to like in this set and it’ll be interesting to watch him improve further.

Becky Heaviside

Heaviside had a good night. Her opening, hair based joke, was nicely visual, showman was a solid line and the conversation with her mother was delivered very naturally. The material on her ex was good, as was the kindle joke. This was a well written set. What would have improved it, though, was if Heaviside had tied more of the delivery into the audience, perhaps referenced the odd person, or even asked someone laughing at her mum’s conversation if their mum was like that. This would have helped her in building up more of a rapport with the audience. All the same, this was an enjoyable set.

Anthony Williams

The construction of Williams’ set and performance was impressive. In a contrast to the previous acts, he came to the stage full of beans and began with some sturdy room work, talking about funny things he’d spotted in South Normanton and then the venue itself before he threw in some callbacks to things that other acts had said. He even managed to get the names right of audience members. This showed a deft touch and it all felt highly of the here and now, laid on especially for this room. It also made me wonder how he’d make out as a compere. The material on Derby went down very well, although the only question with one part was if he was talking in pence or pounds and I think he can be more subtle than that. Alexa was nicely novel and the line about the baby was superb, as was portmanteau. The Wetherspoons material could have been a touch tighter, but it was still fun. This was an impressive set.

Nial O’Dwyer

This was O’Dwyer’s 12th gig and he’s got obvious ability. Although he didn’t look as relaxed on stage as he could have done, he’s a cheerful, likeable and disarming presence, plus he’s got a great voice for comedy. His tone lends itself very well to humour. He gave the room short set ups and then punchlines and there were some very pleasing jokes in this set. The misdirection over his name was nice, the interview was good and Amsterdam received a big laugh. His material was all down to earth and felt very real. Hardly any of his gags were obvious. This was a very promising set from someone who should gig a lot more.

Rob Coleman

Coleman had a great night. He is visually arresting and he made the most of this with his first few jokes and these all got big laughs. I especially enjoyed his comments about the hairdresser – his use of language here was absolutely spot on. Coleman’s pacing was very pleasing. Everyone could follow what he was saying and he has a clear voice, which is a big bonus. I enjoyed his material on parents and the callback to cleaning was a great idea, even if it did lead to a tangent. Coleman managed this tangent very well and kept his performance nicely on track. The closing gag was great and it was lovely to hear the chap sat on the row in front of me comment on how excellent Rob’s performance had been.

The Little Last Laugh – Karen Bayley, Ellie Pollard, Debra-Jane Appelby and John Scott (MC)

Tonight I was in Sheffield at The Lescar for The Little Last Laugh. Usually clubs struggle for numbers during August, but this was standing room only, until the emergency chairs were brought out. This helped to create a great atmosphere.

John Scott (MC)

Compering was the very talented John Scott. I’ve seen Scott a lot of times and he’s an act that can always be relied upon to do well. Tonight he was lucky enough to find a Glaswegian lady in the audience and this led naturally into material that was easy for the room to buy into. A few moments later, Scott discovered a German lady and again, this gave him an almost organic route into existing material (Brexit this time). During the second section, Scott went with more material and his political comments are incisive and very funny. He makes genuine points and doesn’t go for easy low hanging fruit. The highlight of Scott’s night was when a lady replied that career-wise, she was a retired prostitute and his reaction to this was champion. Without naming any names, he referenced a spot of comedy industry business from prior in the week and then said don’t say any of this on twitter, which took the roof off with those in the know and also people who couldn’t possibly have gotten all of what he was referring to. This was due to the way in which Scott sold the line, putting the emphasis on keeping it off of twitter, which everyone could understand. This was thoroughly enjoyable compering.

Karen Bayley

Bayley had a good night. She opened by finding a fellow Brummie in the room and then chatting to a young lad at the front before moving into material. There were some great lines in her set, such as the poem, the dress and especially speed dating. On the other hand, I could have lived without her being yet another comic to do a joke about vegetarians not having much energy. This was a good set that had the feel of being well established material. Bayley got a lot of laughs and the audience enjoyed it.

Ellie Pollard

Being aware that Pollard was a fairly new act, John Scott gave her a big supportive build up and she hit the ground running. Pollard is a very bubbly, friendly and nice and this comes over off stage as well as on and the audience warmed to her very quickly. This was a local gig for her and she did have a lot of friends in, but this was a case of everyone liking her, not just them. Pollard is a musical comedian and gave the room two songs. The first was family dinner, which was great. The asides that she used really made this song stand out and provided the bulk of the laughs. The rapping (with audience stamping their feet) provided a nice change of energy. I’m not sure that she needed to repeat the chorus to end, as this didn’t really add anything in the way of a conclusion and there weren’t any extra laughs in it. The second song was also good, but not all of the asides were quite up to the quality of the first one. Between the songs Pollard had some fun material. Syndrome and deleted were both standout lines. When she finished the mood of the room was that they wanted more, which you don’t often get at this stage of the night. Taking to the stage to announce the intermission, Scott commented that Pollard looks as if she may go a long way and after this performance he may well be right.

Debra-Jane Appelby

Closing was Debra-Jane Appelby, who gave the room an extra length set. She began well with some strong room work, almost compering the room for the first few minutes. The material largely concerned age, Yorkshire, aged parents, smoking and health. There was some good stuff in here, such as buses and the secrets of living to a ripe old age. I also enjoyed the way that she would stare at the audience to emphasise a point. Appelby’s delivery was fairly understated and this was a performance that seemed to plateau pretty quickly with no sense of it building to a big joke to close on. It would have been nice if she could have ended the night on a high, though.

Ofton Funny at the Chameleon Arts Cafe – Jay Droch, The Delegate, Lulu Reubens, Colin Hayward, Ian Peskett, Jen Bower, Tom King and Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tonight I was at the Chameleon Arts Cafe, hidden up an alley in the centre of Nottingham for the Ofton Funny comedy night. The gig was located up a couple of flights of stairs in an area nicely closed off from the main cafe. It was very hot there, which was a bit of a disadvantage, but numbers were good and it’s always nice to see Brent at a gig. There was a nice rock vibe to this venue.

Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tomski was an affable compere. He began with a good visual gag, but instead of Ilkeston for the town, he may have been better name-checking a rough part of Nottingham. The light topper, though, was like the badge last week, too soon to make a real impact. Asking people their favourite dead celeb is a smashing idea and not one I’ve seen done before. Tonight’s answer was Adam West, which Tomski got some jokes out of. The existing material worked well, although he probably didn’t need to do as long in the second and third sections. I enjoy Tommy’s compering and feel that his bubbly personality suits his gigs well, but for larger rooms he may need more polish.

Jay Droch

Droch started the night off well. He’s an extremely charismatic act who is nigh on unstoppable at gong shows. He has superb performance skills and manages to bring characters to life almost effortlessly. However, his material still requires work. American customs was superbly delivered, but the actual reveal was totally unsubtle – with a twist to what you’re expecting this could be so much more. Similarly, the blame for America wasn’t quite fully formed. DJ, though, was a real highlight, but mostly because this relied more on Droch’s performance skills. This was a bit of a frustrating set, because Droch is an amazing performer, but if he can only match this with his material, he will go far.

The Delegate

The Delegate is a character act performed by Taylor Saranic. There is a beautiful use of language here. Some of it, such as eldritch edicts, is almost poetic. They’re a high status act who informs us of various things, but unfortunately you tend to lose focus due to the totally surreal content. Surrealism usually works best when it is built up to (such as with King later in the night) or when it is added to something tangible, pushing that into the odd. All of the surreal content in this set felt highly removed from real life and with nothing real to work as a contrast against, this robbed it of any real meaning or consequence and so it quickly became hard to care one way or the other about what was being said. If The Delegate could approach this differently, then they may well be onto something.

Lulu Reubens

There was some good material in Reubens’ set. Parking was good, as was brother and dick pics. Her delivery was pleasant, too. There were only a couple of minor quibbles with this set. She didn’t need to ask where folk were from, as she lost traction there and I don’t think she’d have been any better off if someone was from anywhere more exotic than Lincoln. Bradford doesn’t need this set up. Similarly, asking the audience for horrible brother stories risks opening a can of worms, or getting very little back. Tonight it worked alright, but I’m not sure that her material on her brother needed that set up and she could probably use the time more creatively. This was an enjoyable set that with a few tweaks would be that bit improved.

Colin Hayward

The was some good and bad in Hayward’s set. On the negative side he had a lot of errs and this broke up his flow, but this might be related to the fact that it felt as if he hadn’t put in a lot of preparation with his material. Trump, mental health and guns had the air of something he’d seen on facebook as he was waiting to go on and decided to go with there and then. On the plus side, he was a relaxed confident presence, he spoke in a well paced way and he ended on a belter of a local comedy industry joke that brought the house down with the comics present. If Hayward had been more focussed then he would have been so much better.

Ian Peskett

Peskett had a good night. He began with quick jokes and these established that he was worth listening to straight away. There was a lot of great material in this set, such as the effect of drugs, baby-proofing and Trip Adviser, where the use of local areas added a nice level of depth. Birds and bees needed more, as did mail order. Sir was an exceptionally strong joke and earned Peskett the first applause break of the night. Going forward, I’ll be very interested to see what he does with his material on sex toys. He has an original premise here and with a bit of thought, this could become a great routine.

Jen Bower

Bower has a well constructed set, but hasn’t yet found her voice as a comedian. If she could relax into what she is doing then her delivery would feel more natural. She’s a low energy act with fair sized gaps between punchlines and at the moment her material and performance aren’t really strong enough to fill these gaps. Perfect numbers was interesting, but by the time it had been explained, it was no longer funny and this was a shame. There were some nice lines in this set, such as the camel and the quiz, but I think that with more stage time she would be stronger. Bower could be onto something with intelligence, pedantry and being middle class – this may be her comedy niche.

Tom King

It’s been ages since I’ve seen King do a set, rather than compering and this was a belter of a performance. He began with some visual jokes about his trucker look and these were all tangible and funny. From here he did a fast prop gag that received applause and then he was well away into a high energy performance. There was a lot of surreal material in this set, but it started off all being grounded in palpable topics and because he eased people into the more wacky stuff fairly gently he kept everyone with him for it. Even when he was in full on surreal territory, there was enough real world stuff there to keep it grounded. Pigeons was great, soup (probably didn’t need qualifying as Northern) was a wonderful flight of fancy that just grew and grew. Bushes worked well, but might have worked a touch better with a local reference. When King mentioned TV and food, I felt a lovely touch of anticipation. I’ve seen him reference the A Team both on stage and online and I had a feeling that King would have something interesting to say about telly. I wasn’t wrong. His take on Sherlock Holmes was really well thought out. It was also funny and unusual in equal measure. Corned Beef was a brilliant routine and his singing fully deserved the applause it received. King built up absolutely tons of momentum and had a lovely gig.

Acts that have impressed me the most – July

This has been a quiet month in some way as most of the gigs I’ve been to have been Edinburgh previews. The best of these was Peter Brush’s – clever and funny in equal measure. The most disappointing thing this month was an act I was really looking forward to seeing having to drop out of a line up. As always acts who have appeared recently are time barred.

These are the acts that have impressed me the most:

Christian Reilly

This was a cracking set. The next day I actually bumped into a guy who had been in the audience and asked if he’d had a good time and his response was ‘the youth with the guitar was brilliant.’

From the night:

Reilly opened with a great joke and never looked back. This was a well written and thoroughly enjoyable set that was delivered with flair. It’s obvious that Reilly is a huge music lover and this gives him an insight into the topic that translates well to comedy. He manages to get to the nitty gritty of why something is ludicrous and then uses it to great effect. I don’t know anything about music, but I was able to get all of the jokes because he made them accessible. There was loads of laughter during this set. This was a cracking performance and Christian Reilly is the only act I’ve ever seen get encored at The Saracen’s Head.

Doug Carter

This is someone who is making his own way in comedy, getting lots of bookings from people who have seen him perform.

From the night:

This was the first time I’d seen Carter do a headlining set and it won’t be the last. Every time I’ve seen him he’s improved and tonight was no exception. This was a mixture of new and existing material and at first I was puzzled by his linkage strategy, but as this was a run out of some newer stuff this was understandable. This was a set where pretty much every joke got a big laugh and a high percentage received applause, too. The material was strong, but it was the delivery that impressed me the most. Carter is a big solid and even reassuring presence on stage, but he is adept at the little things, like the slightly shifty look on sister, breaking the 4th wall on clinic (this was a wonderful touch and because Carter’s not judgemental, the guy involved didn’t object at all) and the facial expressions that sell what he is saying. Even the acting out on the youth was spot on. The delivery of frame was splendid and the way that he worked it into an exchange with one of the audience member’s was very well done. It was nice to see Doug was fast on the uptake when Dexter, the Alsation, came to visit him on stage. Not a usual occurrence, but one that he handled very smoothly. This was a great 25 minutes. Carter has got what it takes to go a long way.

Tom Houghton

This was a sort of mini-preview and it was marvellous.

From the night:

Our opening act was the very likeable Tom Houghton, who although not previewing his Edinburgh show (That’s what I go to school For), treated the Lescar to a punchy 25 minute section of it. He began by describing himself and his background through a night out with some of his old chums from his public school days (dare was a great line here). This led very nicely into a number of routines about his time at school and there were some brilliant lines in here. Torches was good, the look on the correct way to pray was great and the explanation on the rules of rugby was superb (the No8 joke deserved more appreciation). Houghton certainly brought the milieu to life and made it all feel relevant. I very much enjoyed the running joke concerning double and triple negatives. There was a brief interruption whilst he dealt with a fellow who was talking – his explanation, in broad Yorkshire, was ‘ Ah woz jus fliiiirtin wiv ‘im’ to which Tom responded with the unimprovable retort of ‘I suggest you flirt with grammar.’ Following this Houghton moved onto a slightly different night out, but drew a great number of parallels with his own night out and this was a lovely way to bring everything together. This was a very well constructed set and I can imagine the whole show will be just as good.

Honourable Mentions:

Danny McLoughlin (MC), James Cook, Jo Caulfield, Peter Brush, Phil Carr,

Ofton Funny – Eric Rushton, Gary John, Jas Littler, Lisa Vernon, Phil Carr, Alex Hylton, Ben Briggs and Tommy Tomski (MC)

Tonight I was just down the road in Alfreton at Made@18 for the Ofton funny gig. This is a lovely little night in front of a very appreciative audience. It would benefit from a bit of stage lighting, but as a new gig, this will come in time, I’m sure. The line up tonight was stronger than what I’ve seen before, with two pro acts and a couple of rising semi-pros in addition to the lesser experienced acts.

Tommy Tomski

Tomski is improving as a compere. He did the rules and explained the format of the night without going overboard and his relaxed manner set the tone for the night. The BMW prop was ok, but coming immediately after the plate, it was too soon. If he were to use that in the middle section then it would work as a call back of sorts. The flight of fancy on the wedding was wonderfully OTT and all the better for it. ‘You look like’ is a great line that opens up all sorts of possibilities and this could become a keystone of his work.

Eric Rushton

Rushton looked very confident on stage and owned the room whilst he was there. He was interrupted by a couple of people who had popped out for a sandwich and riffed on the contents of what they had. His stupefaction at the folly of someone not getting a meal deal was very well done and the audience happily went with it. When it came to being single, Rushton used one of the late comers as his foil and grilled him over past relationships. This could have been awkward, but the chap responded well to Eric’s confident line of enquiry and it worked very nicely. The highlight of the performance was when Rushton was chatting to Tommy’s daughter and had to extricate himself from that routine. This part was hilarious – my sides were hurting from laughing. This was a very promising performance.

Rushton is performing in Edinburgh and tickets are available here.

Gary John

Next was the quick talking Gary John. He’s a one-liner comedian who has a well structured set, telling a story through quick gags. This will stand him in good stead for the future. At the moment he’s a new act and so not all of his jokes are superb, but that will change in time. The jokes about the door were all good, though. However, the routine about the sperm sample, which was the meat of his performance, suffers through being something that a few comedians have routines on. Here he described the same things that a dozen others have, largely making the same sort of jokes and that’s unfortunate. Given time, John will develop well.

Jas Littler

Littler’s a new act, but has a base from which to build. Getting the audience to singalong at the top of a set is tricky and may be a higher risk in front of a less up for it audience. It worked tonight, but I’m not sure the punchline is worth the risk of a roomful of people all deciding not to, as it would be hard to come back from that. Yorkshire God was fun, as was lay back and pterodactyl. There were some clever lines in this set, but the best part concerned wifi – this was novel and very good. I’d leave out the line about the Blackpool illuminations, though, as Peter Kay has effectively killed that. This was an enjoyable set.

Lisa Vernon

Vernon was a late booking, but she still managed to give the room a good set, delivering her material calmly and in a clear voice. Stupid questions is a nice idea and the example about Wiht was pleasingly daft. I wasn’t too keen on dyslexic God, as that’s a knowingly old line, but I think with a twist it may work better – the call back was ok, but I still wasn’t sold on it, although the toppers were all good. I liked the scanned gag and the notion of a s….natural birth could be explored further, as I think there is possibly a routine just in that alone. The routine about Turkey was fun, but you can perhaps talk about being a Goth a little bit too much in a set. Vernon held the room well.

Phil Carr

Carr had a great night, although his initial pause might have been a few beats too long. He has gravity and his low energy delivery had everyone listening to what he was saying. There were loads of strong jokes in this set and he consistently received big laughs throughout. There was an especially big laugh on biscuit. So much so that the topper which came after the laughter break really wasn’t needed. The cadaver joke was superb.

Alex Hylton

You can tell that Hylton does a lot of compering. His room work at the top of his set was great and this gave him a lovely opening into his set. Hylton’s material on middle class poor was easy for everyone to get onboard with and led very nicely into life changing money. Vegetarian was another routine that was easy to get invested in. However, child labour was more of a work in progress. I think the set up is good, but the final reveal isn’t yet right. I enjoyed the physicality that Alex brought to his performance and felt that it really reinforced what he was doing.

Hylton is performing in Edinburgh and tickets are available here.

Ben Briggs

I was very interested in seeing Briggs perform. He’s an act who should be better known than what he is and he should also have more of a reputation for clever insightful comedy. He began by talking about applause worthiness, which was good and this led nicely into some great jokes about heads. Briggs then changed direction, talking to the booker Tommy Tomski. The line here about him being undercover was brilliant, as was the ad-libbing over newts. The routine about sexual power was good. So much so that a couple whose taxi had arrived sent it away, deciding it was worth walking home to hear Ben finish his set. Briggs closed with new material about bucket lists. Although we didn’t the full version of this what we did get looked like it had the makings of a top notch routine. It was very different to what anyone else is doing and I’m looking forward to seeing the full version. Whilst Briggs wasn’t as focussed as what I’ve seen him, this was mostly because the mood of the room was relaxed and he responded to it, giving a cracking performance that suited the energy level.

The New Barrack Tavern – Diane Spencer and Peter Brush, Edinburgh Previews

This afternoon I was up in Sheffield at The NBT to see a couple of Edinburgh previews. There were three acts whose previews I was especially looking forward to this year and two of them were on the bill today, so I was very pleased about how this had worked out.

Diane Spencer – Work in Progress

Like a few other acts (Bennett, Pearson, etc) Spencer isn’t going to Edinburgh this year, but has already begun preparing for 2020 and so this was a work in progress, where she ran out a series of ideas. She had a few people in the audience who had seen her club set and had enjoyed it enough to come and see this and it’s lovely when people remember an act and want to see more. I was pretty much in the same boat myself. I had seen Spencer’s set at the start of the year and it was tremendous and so I naturally wanted to see what she had to offer today.

At the moment she’s not yet hit on a theme for the show, but there were a lot of gems amongst the component pieces. Her mum’s board game is a great idea and there are some very funny lines in here, especially when it comes to the respective airlines. The running joke about the Bayeux Tapestry is superb. I don’t know if it would work well as filmed comic inserts, with Diane dressed up for it (final shot to show a tapestry featuring callbacks to the main parts of the show, maybe?), but I can imagine that being a lot of fun. The trip to Pompeii is another standout; from the girl full of comments, through the instagram account right to the brothel, it is wonderful. The third area that I thought was a definite keeper was when she applied for a regular spot at a show. This was very interesting, made some good points, but above all was very funny.

What made this work through even better was Spencer herself. She’s got a great eye for dark and sexual lines, but never comes close to making it feel less than good clean fun. She is also very good with accents and managed to pick the right ones for everyone, which gave depth to whom she portrayed, particularly the troll instagram account.

This isn’t yet the show it will be in 2020, but I already want to see the completed product.

Peter Brush – Present. Tense.

I’ve seen every Edinburgh show of Brush’s since I started reviewing in 2015 and thoroughly enjoyed them all. A lot of this is due to the intelligence he brings to his writing – you have to listen to the set ups, but you don’t half feel a huge sense of reward and joy when you get to the punchlines. His construction is also highly impressive. The way that he has structured Present. Tense. with the reasons for living in the present forming the backbone and the call backs, a change of pace in the middle and everything coming together at the end, could be considered a textbook example of how to do it well.

This was a very funny show. The set ups were fairly lengthy, but that was due to the depth of thought that went into every joke and the pay off was almost invariably a huge laugh from the whole audience. There were a lot of jokes that merited applause and they all had a superb offbeat logic to them with nothing being obvious. My personal favourite was the enquiry from his footballing friend. I also really appreciated his tone on your jobs, which was spot on.

The show was broken up in the middle by a nice section involving improv. This had the audience filling in the blanks on 3 pieces of paper to give Brush a complete sentence to work with. I think we can all agree that if he had a bit of time to ponder it, he’d come up with a killer line, but thinking on his feet like this leaves him at the mercy of whatever comes his way and whilst he didn’t quite pull a rabbit out of the hat today, he still received plenty of laughs. This part nicely recharged everyone’s batteries for the remainder of the show.

The set piece involving the first recording was brilliant and really gave the show a feeling of completeness. The final joke, courtesy of his dad was just the cherry on the cake. This might be the best show that I’ve seen of Brush’s and that is high praise. This is something well worth seeing.

Tickets can be found here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/peter-brush-present-tense

The Little Last Laugh – Tom Houghton, Vikki Stone (Edinburgh Preview) and Danny McLoughlin (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield for the Little Last Laugh at the Lescar. I should have been at work, but I had to use up some holidays and this was a great way to use them. There was a full house present, which is good going when the local students aren’t at Uni. It was nice to take my folks there, as I really like seeing them enjoying the comedians.

Danny McLoughlin (MC)

Our compere for the night was Danny McLoughlin who is a cracking act that I don’t tend to see much of and that’s a shame. He began by chatting to a large group of 26 people who were on some kind of outing. These people all tried to give evasive answers as to who they were and what they did, although bee keeping did sound momentarily plausible for one of them. I’ve no idea why people have to mess MCs around like that. Unless they are the baby eating bishop of Bath and Wells, no one is going to be that interested in what they do and they come out of it far better by just being straightforward. McLoughlin is very astute and realised that these people were more trouble to talk to than what they were worth and moved onto the other side of the room. Here he found a lady who had her own dog grooming service and he got a lot of laughter from just chatting to her. I really like how McLoughlin is so down to earth in his interactions – it relaxes you and then he’ll come out with a brilliant line, such as the later call back involving dog years, which was perhaps a bit too quick witted for everyone to follow. When chatting about names and their meaning, his downward ‘Oooooh, no!’ on discovering a Mark with a C was brilliantly delivered and in those two syllables told you all you needed to know about the acceptability of it. This was a lot of fun and I’d like to see much more of McLoughlin.

Tom Houghton

Our opening act was the very likeable Tom Houghton, who although not previewing his Edinburgh show (That’s what I go to school For), treated the Lescar to a punchy 25 minute section of it. He began by describing himself and his background through a night out with some of his old chums from his public school days (dare was a great line here). This led very nicely into a number of routines about his time at school and there were some brilliant lines in here. Torches was good, the look on the correct way to pray was great and the explanation on the rules of rugby was superb (the No8 joke deserved more appreciation). Houghton certainly brought the milieu to life and made it all feel relevant. I very much enjoyed the running joke concerning double and triple negatives. There was a brief interruption whilst he dealt with a fellow who was talking – his explanation, in broad Yorkshire, was ‘ Ah wus jus fliiiirtin wiv ‘im’ to which Tom responded with the unimprovable retort of ‘I suggest you flirt with grammar.’ Following this Houghton moved onto a slightly different night out, but drew a great number of parallels with his own night out and this was a lovely way to bring everything together. This was a very well constructed set and I can imagine the whole show will be just as good.

Tickets for Tom’s show can be found here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/tom-houghton-that-s-what-i-go-to-school-for

Vikki Stone (Song Bird – Edinburgh Preview)

Closing was Vikki Stone who was previewing her Edinburgh show, Song Bird. She walked to the stage to the tune of the Birdie Song and took up position behind a keyboard to give us the first song of the performance. This was a show full of songs, which were quite eclectic in topic, covering smell, pens, online behaviour and Bert. Stone was very expressive whilst singing, which injected some personality into it all, but a lot of the songs were fairly lengthy without being immediately funny. If you weren’t onboard after the first couple of songs, then this show was very much not for you. I was one of these people. Whilst it wasn’t my cup of tea, plenty of other people seemed to be enjoying it and it wouldn’t do for us all to like the same stuff.

Tickets for Vikki’s show can be found here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/vikki-stone-song-bird

New Barrack Tavern – Edinburgh Previews – Vince Atta and Martin Mor

This afternoon I was up in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern to see a couple of the Funhouse Comedy Edinburgh Previews. Numbers were good for this, which helped to create a nice mellow atmosphere. Amongst the audience were Wayne Bamforth (Last Laugh) and a couple of very comedy literate laughter fans that were sat behind me. It’s lovely when you chat to people in an audience and find that they go to a lot of gigs and are really into live comedy. It was great to see Kev, the landlord, back on his feet and looking younger and fitter than before his op.

Vince Atta – Massive Attack

The first show was from Vince Atta. This wasn’t the full show, as he didn’t have a screen to show a clip, nor did he do the rap battles, but you could see enough to know that the basic structure is sound. Atta began by introducing himself and describing what he does: beatbox and using a looper. When talking about the mechanics of this he got a very Yorkshire, ‘buts n cat’ from Steve, sat on the front row, which everyone enjoyed. This led into the first of 2 beatboxing sessions and these were both great. Vince is really top notch at that. His enthusiasm and joy of doing it is simply infectious and the whole audience can bounce off of it. Also his ability to assimilate local references and work them into the ghetto song is amazing and it will be interesting to see how that works in Edinburgh with a more varied audience. One downside to Atta being so great with the looper is that no matter what he was talking about, I was hoping he’d beatbox it.

The theme of the show is some horrible events that have occurred to Vince in the last few years and his ultimate discovery of what it is that makes life worth living. This isn’t someone who’s just had a disappointing gap year, but a guy who has had some genuinely horrible things happen and that gives the show depth. He chatted about being beige and there was some good stuff in here, especially when talking about a particular couple of words – black enough was a superb line and I really liked the material on gammons. His time growing up in Blackley (that prop was on A4 today, but will probably be on the screen in Edinburgh) wasn’t a particularly good time for him. If he has any photos from that period, it would be nice to see them on the screen in Edinburgh, too, as that would help to draw people in. We then fast forwarded to the events of the last few years. This began with his time on a dating show (the chicken shop pay off was great) and built up to the attacks on his well being. By this time, you’re pretty invested in Atta and it is genuinely uplifting when he tells you of how he came through and had a triumph in front of his son.

At the moment this is a work in progress and so you’d expect there to be a few things that aren’t quite there yet. I’d like to have seen the rap battles, because if they were interspersed amongst the show that will keep the energy levels up and help him play to his musical strengths. The actual routines, Bond, Dorian Gray and First Dates could have been a bit more tightly worded, but this will come and when it does, he’ll have a cracking show on his hands. Definitely one to see.

Martin Mor – Instigator

Mor received some fairly good news about a prostrate cancer worry a few weeks ago and had changed his show in response to this. Rather than go to Edinburgh with the laudable aim of just making people laugh, he was now going to go there with the intention of making folk laugh and to encourage them to get checked out. You can’t argue with that being a good idea.

Mor is a big genial Ulsterman whom audiences warm to quickly and today was an example of a comedian being very fast out of the blocks in winning the confidence of the room. Within moments of getting to the stage he had everyone with him. Mor worked hard in talking to individuals and tying what he was saying to them, whether it was a guy surprised by the cordless mic, an ex nurse, a lady with mustard coloured trousers on or a lad and his possible father in law, he brought them into his set and made everyone feel part of a shared experience.

The first part of the show involved him giving examples of firsts from the Big Shell book of Firsts, asking the audience to guess the first date of various inventions or activities. This gave him quite a lot of scope to chat and go off on some glorious tangents. After a while, Mor tied this in to his age and that led into the meat of the show: him having to get his prostrate checked following a scare. Prostrate examinations are a bit of a staple for male comics aged over 40. In fact, it’s only last week that I saw Rob Rouse‘s take on it. What made this a first was the depth that Mor went into it all. Not only did he bring the material to life, but in discussing the ins and outs, he added something to it. In addition to this, there was a juggling set piece, which was ok and fun, but I’m not sure that that part will make it to Edinburgh. Mor closed the show with a rousing call for everyone to get checked out. This was all very sensible and worthy, but it can be tricky to be worth and funny at the same time, so was it?

The answer is a big yes. Even with a show that is so fresh, Mor has the presence, experience and stagecraft to construct something enjoyable. His ability to make the audience feel involved is remarkable. His ability to get so much out of what people said made this show great fun. It’s not tightly scripted, but that’s where the joy lies: it’s a skilled performer creating 50% of the laughs on the spot and I liked that.

Southwell, Jo Caulfield (Edinburgh Preview), Pat Draper, Christian Reilly

Tonight I was at The Saracen’s Head in Southwell, for the Funhouse Comedy night. This was something of a special night with there being an Edinburgh preview in addition to other performances. It was a busy one, too, with extra chairs being put out and people having to make space for the number of people there. It was also something of a Friday night audience for Southwell, with just a couple of people who were chatty. Spiky Mike had a lot of fun compering, speaking to a guy with a big ginger beard sat on the front row, who had travelled down from Sheffield and Alex, who was on holiday from Los Angeles. I was very much taken with Mike’s bow on the tennis pun.

Jo Caulfield (Voodoo Doll – Edinburgh Preview)

Caulfield opened by talking about Southwell, which provoked a slight debate about how the name of the village is pronounced, but this was a rare slip in a very skilful performance. Her comments about the village were spot on and relaxed everyone at the top of her show, the title of which is Voodoo Doll. She explained how this came about and its relevance.

The upshot of this was that she had a list of things that annoyed her. I assumed that working through this would form the bulk of the performance, but instead, it was disposed of pretty quickly, which was a nice surprise. There were a number of short, but excellent jokes and mini routines about each item and it was here that she added a second and (at this point) mostly unrelated layer to the performance. This consisted of a nascent sitcom starring some of the audience. There was a fair bit of her chatting to people, discovering names and making up micro backstories, all of which were jotted down. The idea being to tie everything up (and possibly resolve the annoyances on the list?) in a dinner party, starring these audience members. This is a great proposition – there is the list framework with great material to build the dinner party around and it should all come together in the end in a way that involves the audience and feels special to them.

Tonight the sitcom didn’t really come off, but I think this was due to the pacing not being there yet and this will be resolved soon enough, I’m sure.

What we were left with was excellent, though. Caulfield has the stage persona of a super nanny. She is eminently practical, down to earth and performs from a high status, almost perpetually disappointed by those around her. Coming from this position gave her enough standing to be cutting at times in a way that people happily took, rather than be offended by and I really enjoyed the professionalism she brought to the performance. This was a show where it was clear cut where the funny was and there was a heck of a lot of funny involved, with plenty of twists, such as on Aberdeen. The bag joke split the room a bit, but it was so well done that it was a real gem. I thought the dog owner gag deserved a lot more laughter, too, even if the topper wasn’t really anything. The almost anthropological take on the ‘lads’ night out was great.

This was a show that whilst it isn’t all what it will be, was already extremely entertaining.

Pat Draper

We resumed after the intermission with Pat Draper, a marvellously dry act. He began with a slight bit of room work, which made it evident that he knew exactly who was whom. Upon announcing that he was from Hull, Pat was the subject of a shout out (very rare in Southwell) from a guy sat at the back. He fielded this, received applause and carried on. Upon asking if there was anyone Scottish present, this same guy answered that he was and when a highly sceptical Draper queried his total lack of an accent, the chap replied that he’d moved away 28 years ago. He was very talkative, but Draper just took what he needed from him and closed him down, which was a wise choice. This was used as part of the set up to a very entertaining routine involving large, easily visible props (I wish more people invested in proper sized props instead of A4 prints). There were loud laughs for all of this, despite a small hiccup with one prop slipping when it was picked up. This was a performance that I enjoyed watching on more than one level. Not only was it funny, but it was good on a technical level, too. It was nice to see Draper ad-libbing. His reply to the accusation that the loud Scotsman was a plant was elegant and hilarious.

Christian Reilly

Reilly opened with a great joke and never looked back. This was a well written and thoroughly enjoyable set that was delivered with flair. It’s obvious that Reilly is a huge music lover and this gives him an insight into the topic that translates well to comedy. He manages to get to the nitty gritty of why something is ludicrous and then uses it to great effect. I don’t know anything about music, but I was able to get all of the jokes because he made them accessible. There was loads of laughter during this set. This was a cracking performance and Christian Reilly is the only act I’ve ever seen get encored at The Saracen’s Head.