Tonight I was in Newcastle Under Lyme for the Funhouse gong show at the Rigger. This was a fairly full room, with a twenty strong birthday party forming a large part of the audience. Despite being sat mostly facing each other, these weren’t especially disruptive, which was a bonus, although they were increasingly given to having quick whispered conversations amongst themselves as the night went on. Mike gave his ankle, newly liberated from its’ pot a workout by announcing himself from the sound guy’s area and then having to across the pub and onto the stage. He had a lot of fun chatting to a stilt walking, fire eating circus performer and a guy who was a harmonica playing session musician. Before long we were ready for our opening act.
Jones began well with a callback to Mike’s compering before giving the room a few routines which mostly concerned incidents arising from him having Parkinson’s. These were all ok, but were more humorous anecdotes than anything especially stand out. Jones’ delivery was interesting. It reminded me of some of the acts from the 70’s, in that he would give a short sentence and then pause completely as if to let it sink in before resuming. This seemed to slow him down and he didn’t get out a huge number of jokes in his time. However, he did enough to get through to the final.
Boileau was an interesting act. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that he has watched a lot of comedy and learnt from it, probably being very good at the theory of what makes something funny, but he hasn’t quite nailed down bringing it all together on stage yet. He opened with remarks about the room, wished the birthday girl a happy birthday and then deplored her taste in coming to this gig. On paper, this was a promising start. He had made topical references that were tangible to the room and had involved the biggest group in the audience in his set. However, none of it seemed to have that bit of bite that would have raised it beyond feeling like admin. His material was intelligent and showed promise, with the oddments of Netflix being especially good. I also liked his ideas about the AA and God. These weren’t particularly punchy for a gong show, but I can imagine both working well over a longer slot. Boileau could do with working on his delivery a touch, as his voice is a bit dry and doesn’t really scream enthusiasm or comedy, but this will come with stage time. He made the final.
Apart from the Lennon gag, which was great, Mullins was let down by weak material. The swapping of locations on Banjo repair probably didn’t surprise many people, jokes about Liverpool being rough or Liverpudlians on the dole felt like they belonged to a past stereotype last seen in Bread. Spotting was very basic with no twist to lift it beyond that and I think we all saw a variety of jokes on Facebook during the world cup about it looking like an EDL march due to the flying of lots of England flags. With stronger material, Mullins would do better.
Baines, despite bumping his head on the way to the stage, had a decent night. He opened well with a good joke about sponsorship and then launched into a set that largely concerned his size. There were three well built lads on the bill who all had a take on this and to some degree he was lucky in being the first of the three, but in all honesty, he had enough stage craft to do well. A reference to Stoke that he had been given to use fell flat, but Baines picked up good laughs for rolling with that. The joke about looking for someone in the pub was especially good. Baines made it through to the final.
Clarke seemed to take a while to settle down and in truth never really looked comfortable on stage. He wasn’t helped by having a poor mic technique, holding it too close to his mouth and speaking too loudly into it. He also spoke too quickly and seemed to trip over his words in his rush to get them out. The material largely covered two areas. Jobs were you wouldn’t expect to hear the word mother-fucker used in and a putative name for a Brazilian footballer. The construction for Mofos was odd; usually a comic will abide by the rule of three, with the third one having the twist that provides the punchline, or if more gifted, the comic would do something creative with it. Instead, Clarke just gave us a list of inappropriate jobs to use that word in. Also, telling the audience three times in less than five minutes that he knew what they were thinking was perhaps a bit much.
Paczkowski did pretty well, with a lot of positives in his set. Benefits was a solid gag that quickly gave him credibility with the audience. Toys contained a nice twist that worked well, Facebook event has a lot of potential and the tale of being woken at 3AM was particularly tip top. Paczkowski also looked relaxed on stage and happy to be there. He was one of the first acts, apart from Baines, to build some momentum. This was a sterling set. He made it through to the final.
Sherlock has potential. His routine concerned school shootings in America and unlike some topics, this isn’t one that many comics are doing material on. As a result it felt fresh and interesting. It was obvious from early on that it was going to be a dark set and probably also intelligent and this drew me in. The fact that Sherlock can do an American accent is a bonus that should have helped his delivery. However, Sherlock’s delivery didn’t really have enough energy to help him sell what he was saying and he seemed to pause a lot. Without the pauses and with a bit more vibrancy he’ll do better.
Dixon had a good night. He began with some dark jokes, hoovering up a lot of laughs and getting the only applause of the show for what was the standout routine of the night – a joke concerning drinks that went down a treat. This is a real keeper. He did come a bit unstuck when he struggled with the names of a couple whom Mike had spoken to at the top of the night and this did hurt his impetus, but he bounced back from it. The royal wedding material was decent, but not of the same quality as his earlier jokes. This was an improved set from Dixon whom the audience took a shine to.
Mackridge became the nth student/ex student to open a set by telling an audience of the impractical degree they are/have studying/studied and then saying how it looked like they weren’t going to get a job or hadn’t spent their money well, etc. This is a well travelled area and it is hard to make it feel different to what we’ve not heard a version of already.
When I last saw Carter here, although he was inexperienced as an act, he had done impressively well and he has progressed nicely since then. He looked plausible from the off, opening with a dark joke and then continuing with fairly short routines that took in the C bomb, gangster kids and ice cream. I enjoyed the actions that Doug would do whilst talking and feel that these added to the performance. There was a superb moment when he broke the fourth wall, bouncing off of the audience and the gig seemed to really come alive. I shouldn’t be surprised if he found that doing this more often would work really well. There was a lot to like in this set and Carter has definitely got presence. He’s a likeable chap and is someone to watch for the future. The last time he was here, he was a contender – tonight he was the champion.
LeVell was an odd act. On the one hand, she’s a pleasant presence and the room warmed to her. She also isn’t afraid to go out on a limb with her comedy, opening in French, killing time doing a power pose and, tonight, wrestling with the mic stand and cable for far longer than most people would have. There is also a happy level of surreality to a lot of her material, where you just don’t know where she is going to take it. However, just when you are expecting a punchline to appear there isn’t one. If she can match some killer reveals to the interesting set ups, she will do well. LeVell made the final.
Thomas was a lovely surprise. He gave a powerful performance with some solid material. He opened by deliberately taking his time methodically untangling the mic stand from the cable and this built up comic tension. I was surprised that he didn’t reference this, as I felt that a well chosen comment would have brought him a huge laugh. He then began his set, doing jokes about his size. This was followed by him talking about being Welsh (he dealt easily with a shout out over this) and his farmer brother. This was all well written and delivered with a calculated slowness. This allowed each gag to almost flow around the room, being savoured by people before he began the next one. He reminded me strongly of Billy Lowther (based on the other side of the country), who has a similar style. Although the room was a bit restive due to it reaching a tipping point, Thomas had enough presence to hold them and quality material to get decent laughs. He made the final.
Carr was very unlucky in being the second act in a row to open with a joke about their size and the third of the show to reference Jacamo. If the running order had been different and he had gone on before the other two, this may have worked in his favour. In an ideal world Carr might have perhaps rejigged his set to take into account what Thomas had spoken about, but it would have been very tricky for someone who despite making progress, hasn’t been going for that long, to change their set 5 minutes before show time. As it was, Carr’s material is well written and he managed to do that routine without suffering too badly from diminishing returns. The rest of the material was nicely different and worked very well, with the list of holiday activities getting a lot of laughs when the reveal came. The punchlines had nice twists to them and this added to their impact. Carr isn’t scared of pausing for comic effect and he made good use of this in his delivery. This was a promising set from an act that I can see making progress. Carr got stronger as his time went on and made the final.