16/10/18 Interview on Radio Derby

Last night I was interviewed by Martyn Williams on Radio Derby about notable comedians that I’d seen in the area. Here is a list of comedians and new nights that I managed to mention:

Rhod Gilbert – secret gig at the Blessington Carriage

Simon Lomas – the greatest rising comedy star in the country

Scott Bennett – similar to Peter Kay, but better with more appetite for comedy

Andrew Bird – the best story teller comedian in the country

Phil Carr – dark and edgy, unbroadcastable on Radio Derby, Masai Graham – seen pensioners laughing at his dark material.

Steff Todd – compering in Ripley on the 19th, one liner artist, Phil Pagett and her must have very funny conversations

Mo Haroon – headlining in Alfreton, good writing

Jon Pearson – running a showcase for comedy nights

New nights mentioned:

19th Ripley

30th Alfreton

Roundhouse Showcase

I’m on from 39 minutes or so in and can be found here on BBC Radio Derby.

Thanks to Graham Newcombe for sending me the link and big thanks to Martyn Williams for having me on. 

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Blessington Carriage – Adam Coumas, Martin Durchov, Phil Carr, Eric Rushton, The Boys from the all night Chemist and Big Lou

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse comedy night. Numbers were pretty reasonable, but oddly the energy levels were a bit low, which was unusual. It was nice to see Radio Derby present recording segments of the night for Martyn Williams’ show on the forthcoming Monday night. Mike had fun compering, with Liam providing him with a nice gift when in response to being asked whom he was sat next to, replied with a friend – at the moment.

Adam Coumas

Opening tonight was a bit of a tough slot and Coumas drew the short straw. He began with a callback to Mike’s compering, which whilst it didn’t quite come off, was still nice to see. The trip to Bristol was building up well, with the chap recognising him as an outsider, but Coumas suddenly changed direction and began to talk about London. This was a shame, as it felt like Bristol was going somewhere. The topic of people marking themselves safe on facebook is a fertile one and I can imagine this being relatable for a long time to come. It’s possible that Coumas might be able to expand that section. The atheist preacher and the baby shower both also show promise. Kennington, however, was a bit of a mystery to the audience and probably would be to a lot of people outside of the South. I think folk worked it out via the context, but if Coumas were to go with somewhere off of a standard game of Monopoly then he would be on safer ground in the North when it comes to areas of London. This wasn’t a bad performance, but Coumas would have done better going on in a later slot as he didn’t make as much of an impact as he otherwise could have done.

Martin Durchov

Hailing from Bulgaria and hardly putting a foot wrong during his set, Durchov gave an impressive performance. The material was strong and felt novel, which was all to the good. There were a lot of strong lines in this set with the lift being nicely logical and sleeves a good visual gag that skated on the edge of applause. Driving licence was wonderfully meta. The only part where Durchov slightly lost his way was over a scenario where someone overlaid. However, he had already achieved a lot and so this slight hiccup didn’t do him any harm. The delivery was enjoyable and I would have liked to have seen more of Duchov.

Phil Carr

We resumed after the intermission with Phil Carr who suffered the bad luck of having two late comers arrive who probably hadn’t been to live comedy before. They whispered to each other throughout his set and then buggered off before anyone could speak to them when the next interval arrived. They didn’t kill off Carr’s set or anything, but they were a nuisance for those sat close to them for the time that they were there.

Carr’s a promising act who writes some joyfully dark material and he had set the tone of his set by his third joke. There was a hell of a lot of good jokes in this performance, some of which got just as many groans from those shocked as huge laughs from those who were on his wavelength and Carr kept the vast majority of the room with him throughout. Well written dark jokes, that are genuinely funny and not there just for the sake of shocking people, can work extremely well and Carr has certainly got it right with his material. His delivery is quite subdued and it works well with his material, but it might prove beneficial in longer sets to show a few chinks in the persona. An aside to the audience after a particularly dark joke, such as ‘even I’m appalled by that one,’ would probably work wonders for him. I really enjoyed this set.

Eric Rushton

Rushton’s an interesting act that I hadn’t seen for quite a long time, although I’d heard some nice things about him on the grapevine. He’s already got his comedy persona nailed down and it is now a case of him polishing it. On stage he plays it as low status, seeking reassurance from the audience and he does this in a way that feels refreshing. It’s good to see him being cheerful about speaking directly to members of the audience, even putting them on the spot, when he seeks their opinions about him. This brings the audience into his show, adds a touch of excitement as he obviously has to deal with whatever is said to him and it keeps the set fresh. Some of the material is a bit wordy, but frankly I think that by and large this works well for Rushton as it fits in well with the persona. The only times I felt he might have been a bit more concise was with the football/nurse routine, where he could have gotten to the pay off faster and got more of an impact and arguably councillor may have been stronger without the explanation as I think 95% of the room got the gag. This was a good set from someone whom I can see progressing sooner rather than later.

The Boys from the all night Chemist

This was a musical duo, who with a guitar each, seemed to fill the stage to capacity. It was good to hear them singing original songs rather than parodies of existing works. The songs were all pretty good, even if a touch long too keep me fully invested in them. What I felt was missing during this ten spot was any interplay between them betwixt songs and audience work. Without any real attempt at performing any lines to the audience or even banter between themselves they felt more like a musical duo who do a few comedy songs dipping their feet into comedy. If they were to broaden their material to include more than just songs then it would prove useful to them.

Big Lou

Headlining the night was Big Lou, who brought the show to an end on a high. There was a lot to like about this set. The delivery was polished and smooth, the material very relatable and down to earth and it was also very adept technically, too. The misdirection on shower scene was very well done and the toppers timed beautifully. This was a set that built up a lot of momentum. Big Lou has a solid feel to him and his confidence transmitted itself to the audience very quickly. The material was well thought out, with Wythenshawe providing a good opening routine (bloom was a cracking line) that he doesn’t flog to death, but instead moved on from to talk about other topics. Shakespeare was good, as was the special guest at the golf club and the closing routine about the swimming baths had a lot going for it. This was a very enjoyable set.

Ashby – English Comedian of the Year Semi Final – Aaron Simmonds, Rahul Kohli, Tom Little, Mo Haroon, Faye Treacy, Stephen Carlin, Tony Cowards and Harvey Hawkins

Tonight I was at the Lyric Rooms in Ashby for one of the Funhouse Comedy hosted English Comedian of the Year semi-finals. Despite this being a venue that easily sells over 100 tickets for the monthly comedy night, numbers weren’t that high tonight and that’s a shame as people missed some brilliant acts. Present in the audience for Spiky Mike to chat to whilst compering were a few interesting people, such as Doug (not to be confused with Doug Lumley of Derby) who had been raised in South Africa, a PE teacher and a professional wrestler who had made a career in Kentucky.

The quality of acts is always great at these nights and tonight was no exception. There were perhaps a couple of comedians who might be expected to do well, but all things being equal, the vast majority of the acts were in with a chance if things fell right for them. As is always the case, the audience were to vote for their favourite acts of the night and this meant that whilst someone could have been high up on everyone’s list, but no-ones top pick, then they would end up with very few votes.

TLDR

Tony Cowards – 41 votes

Rahul Kohli – 39 votes

Both make the final

Stephen Carlin (28 votes) may get a possible wildcard

Aaron Simmonds

Simmonds volunteered to open which was a risky strategy. However, he got the gig off to a flying start. He opened with a callback to the wrestler that Mike had been chatting to during his compering and then followed this up with a strong line describing the non-disabled. I especially liked how Simmonds had been listening to the compering, because he was able to address Doug in the audience by name and this always goes down well. The material was original, well thought out and it built up momentum very nicely. Automatic was a great line, the toppers added a lot to the set, as did the asides and the closing routine about an encounter in a train station was delicious. Simmonds was high energy and went down an absolute storm. I was expecting him to place highly in the votes, but this time that wasn’t to be. Perhaps if he had gone on later he would have been a finalist, despite that, this was a great set by someone to remember for the future.

Rahul Kohli

After Simmond’s strong start, I don’t think that anyone was really relishing going on next, but this task fell to Rahul Kohli, one of the favourites to go through. He had smashed his heat in Sheffield and so it was reasonable to expect more of the same tonight and he didn’t disappoint. He saw Simmond’s energy level and raised it, hitting the room like a whirlwind. This set contained a lot of great stuff as Kohli mixed established material with new, got the right town for the dodgy dealers, chatted with various audience members and even managed to get applause for the topper to a joke that had just received applause. He was very sweary for an Ashby audience, but whilst this might have held some acts back, this didn’t seem to make any impact on Kohli’s appeal. Everyone was probably laughing too much to really notice the mofos. There was a potentially tricky moment where he asked a member of the audience a question and he was badly left hanging for perhaps ten seconds whilst she racked her brains for an answer. However, Kohli bounced straight back from this, which was good going. His closing routine which was a lot more wordy and not as punchy as his earlier material, but again, he pulled it back with a great callback to close on. This was an extremely strong set from someone who is in with a good chance of winning the final. He went through in second place tonight.

Rahul was also responsible for the funniest part of the night. Earlier Aaron Simmonds had commented about how able-bodied people would always sit in his wheelchair and it would just topple back because it is very light. Rahul spotting the empty chair located in a convenient position to see the stage sat in it and was immediately tipped backwards as if the chair had spat him out, going arse over tit and landing on his arse. Whilst painful for his coccyx, it was an amazingly funny but accidental piece of physical comedy. You probably had to be there.

Tom Little

Little was disadvantaged by the running order. After two high energy acts had been on, a change of pace to a lower energy and more measured delivery wasn’t ideal and if he had raised his own energy level then it would probably have been too much of the same for the room to have a great appetite for. Little started with some material about crisps, which he tied in nicely to someone who had just finished a pack off, but unfortunately this didn’t grab the audience. I’ve seen Little a few times and he’s got a belting routine about animal feed (not the most likely of subjects, but it really is good) and I did wonder if he might have been better opening with a cut down version of this, as it would have been relatable to everyone there, instantly gettable and it would have established his credentials. Little’s set came to life with Wordsworth and then took off when he was talking about the longest word in the English dictionary. From here he built up impetus and ended well. I think Little is an act that would have benefited from a longer slot, doing fifteen instead of ten as this would have given him more time to build with. Tonight he didn’t really show the room just what he is capable of.

Mo Haroon

Occupying the sweet spot after the intermission was Haroon, who has been having a good year, making the finals of a few competitions and progressing from open middles to paid closing spots for small rooms. Tonight he began with a few callbacks to Kohli’s set before going into his main material. Haroon is a writer of talent and there were a lot of insightful lines in this set. The taxi driver material is a crowd-pleaser that everyone can get on board with. Europe was insightful and the section on Britain stronger for excluding Wales. The comments about Russians were timely and Islamic Estate has a lot of potential, even if it isn’t yet the finished article. There was an odd moment when Haroon said ‘tell the difference’ and from the rhythm of his delivery I and perhaps a few others were expecting a punchline there, but there wasn’t one. The material on the unification of India was clever and the bus shelter was fun, with a possible improvement involving putting messages on walls. This was a promising set. Haroon can clearly write formidable material, but he may benefit from working on his delivery and presence a bit more to get the most from it. Considering the intelligence of his writing, I’m wondering whether wearing a suit would help with establishing his comic persona for the audience?

Faye Treacy

Next was Faye Treacy, the only comedy trombonist in the country, if not the world. Treacy is certainly adept at playing the trombone, but the comedy isn’t as well developed. Her material was largely autobiographical and because she has an interesting backstory it is pretty fascinating, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a lot of comedic bite. Moon crawl was a good line, but seemed to be mostly overlooked by the audience. If she were to work on her writing then she would be a stronger act. However, Treacy is enjoyable and she entertained the room and there is definitely room for unique acts like hers in the comedy world.

Stephen Carlin

Next was Carlin, the most experienced act of the night. Carlin was smartly dressed and looked imposing on stage, which when combined with his polished material made for a good performance. He gave the room largely the same set that he had used in his heat in Ashby, but that was long enough ago not to be an issue. The material was good, with meal deal and priest both being strong lines. Tonight he came third with the chance of a possible wildcard to the final.

Tony Cowards

Looking dapper in his suit, Cowards was the only one-liner comedian on the bill and he had a blinder of a gig. His well paced delivery and very powerful jokes generated consistent loud laughs. Tony would repeat the odd line during the set ups, partly to make it clear what the scenario was, but also perhaps to let people’s brains catch up with his jokes, which were all erudite. Rampant Rabbit and blood groups were both huge hits, but nothing missed, he got laughs for everything. Tony demonstrated his tactical flair by opening up the floor to the audience and inviting them to suggest topics for him to pun on. This was a formidable ploy, because it put him on his mettle. Having an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of jokes is great, but all it takes is one bright spark to double six him for it to all become awkward and of course, for the audience, that is all part of the challenge. On the other hand, it really emphasises Tony’s talent to everyone and goes down an absolute storm when it goes well, which it invariably does. Tonight’s suggestions were South Africa – response: a great joke about Cape Town, Football: two gags for the price of one, Germany: a fast comeback relating to kinder eggs that hit home hard and (unbelievably) the Sinclair C5: a joke concerning a crash on the road. The last one was the only gag that was a bit of a stretch, but Tony got laughs for pointing out the crowbar he’d used to get a joke based on the Sinclair C5. This was a set that was joyously different to the others and got a hell of a lot of laughs. Tony was the winner of the semi and will be in with a chance to win the final, especially if he opens it up to the audience again.

Harvey Hawkins

The closing act was Hawkins whom I last saw in Ashby, where he had had a very good gig. It’s always nice to see how Harvey is getting on, because he has the potential to become a very good story telling comedian. He has mastered the ability to tell a story with the utmost sincerity, sketching it out in such a way that without being verbose, he still manages to make you feel that events are unfolding before your eyes. Even with the room’s energy being low at this point everyone was hanging on his every word. His opening story built up loads of comedic tension that was released with a big laugh. The next few routines were shorter, but played with the comedy conventions and went down a treat. This was a very good performance that tonight didn’t get him through, but in a year or so, I can imagine him being a contender.

The New Barrack Tavern – Tom Taylor, Charlie Hopkinson, Steve Harris and Lukas Kirkby (MC)

Tonight I was up in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse comedy night. Owing to adverse shifts, it’s been a while since I was here and that’s a real shame as this is a lovely pub and the atmosphere is always great. Numbers weren’t bad and it was nice to see Wayne of the Last Laugh in the audience with his partner, Lou. Kev, the landlord, thanked everyone for coming, did the rules and introduced our compere to the stage.

Lukas Kirkby

Kirkby had an interesting night compering. The first lady he chatted to sounded like she was having an attack of the giggles and her friends had to reply on her behalf, outlining what she did for a living. When this lady eventually spoke, she mentioned that she wasn’t keen on being spoken to and so Kirkby did the decent thing and moved on to someone else. This turned out to be a bus driver who whilst pleasant, was pretty taciturn and his replies were brief enough to make getting any material out of him tricky, although Kirkby did managed to weave a fair bit in. Owing to a hiccup there was a bit of space in the second session and Kirkby stepped up to the mark and gave the room some very good material. This consisted of two songs with altered lyrics, both of which were sung very well. Stepping into the audience to sing was a nice touch that added a bit of personality to proceedings and these songs were both creative and fun crowd-pleasers. Anyone who can jog on the spot and sing at the same time is doing well. The only thing I wasn’t too enthralled about was his habit of saying ‘lovely stuff’, but that’s a minor point. Kirkby is likeable and talented and has the makings of a very skilled compere. I’m surprised that this is the first time I’ve seen him perform.

Tom Taylor

To say that Tom Taylor had a good night would be putting it mildly. The room took to him from the off and one lady sat behind me was laughing her head off as soon as he walked into the room. Taylor began powerfully with some great jokes and then when he started with the songs everyone was enthralled and were all invested in seeing just what he was going to do next. Taylor’s stage persona is of someone who is delightfully unusual and this was a real winner as it gave him ample scope to play with the conventions of comedy. One of the highlights of the entire night was Tom jumping off of the stage and sitting in a spare chair on the front row and clapping a song before getting back on the stage and carrying on. Taylor very much had his wits about him tonight, with a joke about the street that the New Barrack Tavern was on, an aside concerning a lady’s prominent cackle and a great ad-lib remarking on a passing ambulance. All of this helped him build up loads of momentum, but in truth the heavy work had already been done by a cracking mix of great material and a well honed delivery. Taylor was the only act who could have done equally well opening or closing and in a lot of ways the show peaked with his performance. This was a splendid set and he was simply on fire tonight.

Charlie Hopkinson

Hopkinson is an accomplished impressionist and he’s smart enough to season this with a framework of good material. I especially enjoyed the dark pay off on his first impression and the callback to Kirkby’s singing was very timely. I appreciated the Peaky Blinder’s material as I’ve not heard many acts doing stuff about that programme and it fitted in well with the topic he was discussing, feeling part of it, rather than crowbarred in. The section where Hopkinson taught the audience a few impressions was pleasantly interactive and made the fun seem nicely communal. This was ten minutes that passed pretty quickly and I shouldn’t have minded him doing more. Although Hopkinson isn’t yet the finished article, he’s on his way and is certainly bookable.

Steve Harris

The closing act was Steve Harris, who split the room a touch. The physical side of his delivery was top notch and amongst the best that I’ve seen. He knew exactly what sort of face to pull, how to lean backwards or forwards, when to glance to one side or look scared and the timing on the pauses was superb. This could be because it is an established set that is well practised or it could be that he has put a lot of work into perfecting the performance so that it totally compliments the material. However, any set that involves a couple of counts of bestiality, drowning a daughter and drops the c bomb on the 3rd line with the liberal use of swearing thereafter is bound to challenge opinions. Harris kept the majority of the room with the more challenging material (there was a heck of a lot of laughter from this group), but did far better with the general and cleaner topics. The story of the gig in Afghanistan and the subsequent events was great and far stronger than the routines that weren’t for everyone. He received applause for the joke that he performed at Camp Leatherneck and the routine about London flooding built up a lot of impetus.

Two Gates, Tamworth – Dave Dinsdale, Wilson Milton, Phil Butler and Andy White (MC)

Tonight I was down in Tamworth for the Morti-fied comedy night. I’d decided that I was coming here at the start of the week and hadn’t checked back since, so I had missed the fact that it had sold out. Luckily a space was found for me, which was highly fortunate and ruddy convenient as it is a good way from home. This was a gala charity night and when I sat down, the booker, Darren Mortiboy, was hosting a game of bingo in aid of St Giles Hospice. I was expecting a bit of a break between the bingo and the comedy as it can be hard to go straight from one to the other, but I think that owing to time constraints the show had to follow.

Andy White (MC)

I was looking forwards to seeing White. When I last saw him performing in Nottingham he had had a cracking night and so I was expecting to have just as good a time. Tonight, rather than opening or closing, he was compering and he made a very good job of it, indeed. He began by referencing the bingo game and then mixed material with crowd work. The venue has a proper stage that’s high up and I think that this makes it tricky for the performers to interact with a large part of the audience, so White did well to bring everyone into the night. Being from Birmingham, just down the road, his comments about that city were close enough to be relatable and to feel relevant, with the Brummie Lord of the Rings being a huge hit. The material concerning the comb was great, but perhaps my favourite was his joke about Pistorius and his escape from execution. This was delightfully dark and hilarious. The oohs and ahs helped to build up the energy before the first act came on and he finished on a high. This was good compering.

Dave Dinsdale

For Dinsdale this was a fairly local gig and he made the most of that by mentioning most of the towns and most of the major football teams in the West Midlands during the course of his set. This went down very well with the audience. If he could work in so many local references for gigs in further flung places then it would work equally well for him, but naturally if he were to do a Brum centric set in Yorkshire or somewhere more than 20 miles from Birmingham then it would be a much harder sell. The game of higher or lower got everyone’s interest (the twist on card four was great, although it might only have a shelf life of a few more years), but it perhaps went on a bit too long to keep that interest all the way through. Some of the reference points in the rest of the set were probably lost on anyone under their forties, as it has been a while since anyone has heard the Waltons mentioned or Bo Derek used as shorthand for an attractive woman and even Bo Selecta was on telly a good fifteen years or so ago. This was a performance that felt a bit old fashioned in other ways, too, with ‘gypo’ used as part of a joke, a gag based on an Indian name, a fat woman being the butt of another, plus bandit being mentioned alongside ‘no – not that kind’. Ironically, the actual joke about the bandit was very good and everyone liked it. Whilst this set wasn’t for me, a lot of the room enjoyed it and Dinsdale got laughs, but I did feel that it wasn’t for everyone in there.

Wilson Milton

Milton had a great night. This was a performance where you could feel the applause building up throughout, with a few more people clapping after each joke. Eventually this built to a point where he was getting full applause for the jokes. Milton began well with a quick joke that had everyone with him. This was then followed by a fair few routines, some longer than others, that took in a lot of topics. These included, amongst others, ageing people who still speak in a gangster patois, South London, school, foreign cultures, films, his dad, his partner, driving and a trip abroad. This was quite a varied list and whilst I wasn’t too keen on the school pullback and reveal (the room loved it), the quality was consistently very strong. When Milton was talking about the best parts of movies it was nice to see people in the audience pointing at their neighbours with a ‘you do this’ expression on their faces. I could see potential in a few of the routines being expanded, which was great. Milton’s routine about driving was perhaps my favourite, with the later callback being a joy. His delivery was leisured and he spoke very clearly which allowed everyone to hear and get what he was saying. This was a very enjoyable set and Milton certainly has a future in comedy.

Phil Butler

Butler was perhaps the most surprising act of the night. With his black suit, white shirt and black tie he had the look of a funeral director and not having seen him before I was expecting a deadpan act. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Butler hit the stage with a load of energy and then built this up further by getting the audience to join in with some cheering. Once he had done this he began his performance and revealed himself to be a one man variety act. He has a great range that he uses throughout his set. There were props, audience interaction, jokes and what could have been a touch of magic. This was a performance where no one could guess which direction Butler was going to go in next. It never seemed to stand still and as a result after twenty five minutes it still felt totally fresh. The routine featuring Siri was a lot of fun; it was well acted out, with Butler demonstrating great timing with his ‘not far’ and it came to a logical closure. The trick with the £5 note something that had everyone guessing all the way through to the end. Pleasingly, the mystery envelope was big enough for everyone to see, which was an advantage. The closing routine using the props from Mothercare gave this performance a strong ending. This was a very good set that kept everyone’s attention.

Acts that have impressed me the most – September

This month has been great. I’ve seen forty-five acts and the quality has been fantastic.

The highlight of the month was chatting on Radio Derby about comedy in the area. I’ve been invited back and this looks like it will become a monthly thing. The lowlight was a first time ever performance, that even after making every allowance, was still 3 jokes that took 5 very long minutes to get out.

These are the acts that have impressed me the most:

Aaron Simmonds

This was a performance that demonstrated that Simmonds is making great progress. I’ve seen him do two different tens and I think the next time I see him, he’ll be doing a twenty.

From the night:

Simmonds had a smashing night. He opened with a reference to Mike being on crutches, immediately announcing that he was the second most disabled act of the night, which gained him a big round of applause and the immediate confidence of the audience. He never let up from this, as he began a string of strong routines that concerned a date gone awry, his girlfriend and an encounter with her father. This was a different set to what I saw in Wollaton a few months ago and it is greatly to Simmonds’ credit that he has so much first class material. He’s plainly someone to watch for the future. The delivery was good too (great pause on lied), although he did have a slight habit of saying right a few times, but this smoothed itself out after the first few minutes. I was impressed with how well everything in the set came together as a whole. Simmonds got three lots of applause and I’d have happily liked to have seen him on stage for longer.

Andrew Bird

This comic should be a household name. I’ve never seen him do anything less than take the roof off.

From the night:

Headlining was one of my favourite acts, Andrew Bird. He’s a prolific writer of new material and he has an uncanny ability to bring a routine to a crescendo and to then slide in a topper that ramps the mirth up to yet another level. His writing is amazingly strong, with no end of surprises and little twists to the stories that keep the laughter going. The delivery is also great, with very slight pauses to let the audience keep up and Andrew acting out what he is saying. Tonight he got off to a bit of a false start when mid joke one chap, late back from the bar and bent over with his head tucked into his shoulders to make him invisible, dashed across the corner of the stage to take his seat. Bird paused in what he was doing and much to everyone’s delight and without any malice, he made this trespasser to the stage his topic for the next couple of minutes. The material was great, with every routine a winner. My favourite, out of a cracking field, would be the Millwall supporter. This is a routine that I would happily hear Bird do at every gig. This was a splendiferous performance.

Christian Reilly

A brilliant act who had something for everyone to enjoy.

From the night:

Headlining was Christian Reilly, wearing spectacular golden shoes and his straw hat. Reilly is a great singer who has the ability to sing with various accents whilst, when it suits, screwing his face up or marching on the spot. All of this adds no end of value to the performance as he manages to impart a lot of characterisation without ever having to go over the top doing so. I’m not that into music, yet tonight I found it extremely easy to get onboard – the rest of the room were already there, giving big laughs right from the start of his set. A lot of consideration has gone into these songs and they are put together extraordinarily well. They were all pretty much bang up to date, too, with a wonderful Tommy Robinson song that could only have been written in the last couple of months. To me, the standout was the song about Trump, as this not only seemed to hit the political nail on the head, but it was hilarious, too. At the end of what had been a superb performance Reilly finished to loud cries for more.

Martin Mor

Versatile and extremely funny.

From the night:

Looking slimmer and fitter, Mor came to the stage and delivered a set that was charming, interesting and incredibly funny. There are some people who are living an interesting life and you could listen to them just chat for hours without getting bored. Bob Slayer, Nick Page and Phil Nicol all spring to mind. All three of these can captivate a room just by telling what they have been up to for the last month or so. Martin Mor is similar. Tonight he spoke about Trump and protests, using this as a framework whilst he addressed comments to audience members rolling with whatever came up from these brief conversations. This was a powerful approach, as it left him free to go in whatever direction he wanted and it also felt very much of the here and now. There were tons of great moments, such as Mor dashing off of the stage to shake the Canadian’s hand, the discussion about what was Bramhall Lane, foot jobs, the value of a history degree and the bafflement concerning a degree in human geography. In-between all of this, he would come back to his material about his dispute with Trump and a protest. This was a belter of a set.

Honourable Mentions

Alex Farrow, Cally Beaton, Che Burnley, Doug Carter, Jonny Awsum, Radu Isac

The Rigger: Ian Jones, John Boileau, Ciaran Mullins, Dan Baines, Paul Clarke, Shaun Paczkowski, Ben Sherlock, Craig Dixon, Patrick Mackridge, Doug Carter, Louise LeVell, Stuart Thomas, Phil Carr

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.

Ian Jones

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.

John Boileau

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.

Ciaran Mullins

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.

Dan Baines

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.

Paul Clarke

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.

Shaun Paczkowski

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.

Ben Sherlock

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.

Craig Dixon

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.

Patrick Mackridge

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.

Doug Carter

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.

Louise LeVell

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.

Stuart Thomas

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.

Phil Carr

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.

The Little Last Laugh – Josh Pugh, Martin Mor, Christian Reilly and Big Shaun (MC)

Tonight, on a stormy and wet night, I was up in Sheffield for the Little Last Laugh at the Lescar. I did wonder if the weather might have put a few people off, but as usual, numbers were pretty damn good.

Big Shaun (MC)

Big Shaun had a fun night compering. He began by chatting to the three lads sat at the front, getting a break when one of them revealed that he worked for Wetherspoons. Shaun, asked which one and this was a further gift, that gave him plenty of stuff to talk about. Shaun knows Sheffield like the back of his hand and this is where he is strongest. I doubt there are many pubs or districts that he hasn’t heard of, or knows the character of and if he can capitalise on this knowledge then he will always be able to find something relatable and funny to say to people in the room. I especially liked how he dropped into a Manc accent when talking about the party. Shaun’s ability in chatting to folk is coming on and as ever, I’ll be interested in seeing how he does the next time I see him.

Josh Pugh

Pugh is a cracking act who is destined to go far. He has a style all of his own. He’s an original thinker, who if you gave the same topic to 100 comics to write a joke about, you could put money on his being different to anyone else’s. Pugh manages to temper his offbeat style with an accessibility that ensures that he doesn’t lose the audience when he plays with their expectations. The jokes have short set ups and this meant that in twenty minutes, he gave the room a lot of jokes with a very good hit rate. The only one that vanished into the ether was calligraphy – a rare miss. Probably the biggest laugh came for his suggestion of the best place to end it all. This was a very enjoyable opening set that left the people sat near me commenting on how good it was. It’s lovely when you hear people sat in the audience saying nice things about the acts.

Martin Mor

Looking slimmer and fitter, Mor came to the stage and delivered a set that was charming, interesting and incredibly funny. There are some people who are living an interesting life and you could listen to them just chat for hours without getting bored. Bob Slayer, Nick Page and Phil Nicol all spring to mind. All three of these can captivate a room just by telling what they have been up to for the last month or so. Martin Mor is similar. Tonight he spoke about Trump and protests, using this as a framework whilst he addressed comments to audience members rolling with whatever came up from these brief conversations. This was a powerful approach, as it left him free to go in whatever direction he wanted and it also felt very much of the here and now. There were tons of great moments, such as Mor dashing off of the stage to shake the Canadian’s hand, the discussion about what was Bramhall Lane, foot jobs, the value of a history degree and the bafflement concerning a degree in human geography. In-between all of this, he would come back to his material about his dispute with Trump and a protest. This was a belter of a set.

Christian Reilly

Headlining was Christian Reilly, wearing spectacular golden shoes and his straw hat. Reilly is a great singer who has the ability to sing with various accents whilst, when it suits, screwing his face up or marching on the spot. All of this adds no end of value to the performance as he manages to impart a lot of characterisation without ever having to go over the top doing so. I’m not that into music, yet tonight I found it extremely easy to get onboard – the rest of the room were already there, giving big laughs right from the start of his set. A lot of consideration has gone into these songs and they are put together extraordinarily well. They were all pretty much bang up to date, too, with a wonderful Tommy Robinson song that could only have been written in the last couple of months. To me, the standout was the song about Trump, as this not only seemed to hit the political nail on the head, but it was hilarious, too. At the end of what had been a superb performance Reilly finished to loud cries for more.

The Saracen’s Head – James Dowdeswell, Aaron Simmonds, Al Lubel and Noel James

Tonight I was in Southwell at the Saracen’s Head for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a cracking gig made all the more sweeter by being so close to home. Mike had a great time compering in his home village, especially chatting to a family who had named their (now grown up) children, Sissy, Cash and Clemmy. The story of Mike’s broken ankle picked up a lot of laughs, as did him using his crutches to point at people.

James Dowdeswell

With his gentle Somerset accent, smooth delivery and colourful descriptions, Dowdeswell gave the room a strong opening set. He began by referencing his lazy eye and followed this with enough jokes about it to get a good routine out of it. The fact that he would talk directly to certain members of the audience helped to bring people onboard. I especially enjoyed his depiction of his parents’ pub and the characters who drink in it. Perhaps because he has spent time in a village, Dowdeswell seemed to have a greater appreciation of the ins and outs of Southwell than many other acts and this helped him in pitching his material. The story of the mugging was delightful, with a lot of good lines, although I may be in the minority in preferring that to the rapping that he did to close. The only thing that struck me as odd about this set was when he referred to the group of electricians who worked for the national grid, who were sat on the second row, as working for the gas board , but this didn’t make much of a difference. This was a clean set that everyone could enjoy.

Aaron Simmonds

Simmonds had a smashing night. He opened with a reference to Mike being on crutches, immediately announcing that he was the second most disabled act of the night, which gained him a big round of applause and the immediate confidence of the audience. He never let up from this, as he began a string of strong routines that concerned a date gone awry, his girlfriend and an encounter with her father. This was a different set to what I saw in Wollaton a few months ago and it is greatly to Simmonds’ credit that he has so much first class material. He’s plainly someone to watch for the future. The delivery was good too (great pause on lied), although he did have a slight habit of saying right a few times, but this smoothed itself out after the first few minutes. I was impressed with how well everything in the set came together as a whole. Simmonds got three lots of applause and I’d have happily liked to have seen him on stage for longer.

Al Lubel

I saw Lubel a few months ago in Derby, where he had opened by singing. Tonight he was more conventional in his opening and I think that he had read the room and changed the tone of his set as a sensible response, making it slightly less surreal. Lubel’s material has an impeccable logic to it and he reminds me of Dave Allen in his deconstruction of life. It was interesting to hear people sat near me saying things like, ‘that is so true!’ The homeless material was great, although I did wonder if there was a slight slip, as he gave the room the opening line to his routine about his name and then immediately changed direction and resumed with a bit more about homelessness before resuming talking about his name. The routine about his name was one that built up a lot of impetus, although I preferred his material about his days as a lawyer, as this was wonderfully funny as well as snappier. Lubel closed with a few cracking jokes about flying which got a big round of applause.

Noel James

James had a very good night. His style is a lot of short jokes and puns delivered quickly, but with enough on every topic to give him a whole routine on each. This made for a powerful style performance and if a particular joke wasn’t for you, then another one would be coming along in a few seconds. I’d hate to hazard a guess at how many individual gags there were in this set, but the number was extremely high. Some you might be able to guess, a few were groaners, but most were clever and well thought out. Whilst the odd joke didn’t please someone, there wasn’t anything that pleased no one and as a result there was consistent laughter throughout the set. The impressions were fun, but I thoroughly enjoyed his non use of the guitar. That was creative, surreal and remarkably funny. This was a performance that the audience really bought into.

Canal House – Phil Alexander, Chelsea Birkby, Alex Farrow, Joe Melton, Kushai Agrawal, Luke Adams, Sam Moult, Elliot Wengler and Thomas Green (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House in Nottingham for the famous NCF £1 night. This is a new act/new material night that consistently gets a big audience in. 110, this evening, with Katie and Sarah having to turn people away when it reached capacity.

Thomas Green (MC)

I massively rate Green as both an act and a compere and seeing him on the bill was a nice little bonus. He had a great night as well, getting a lot of laughs for both audience work and material. I thought that he struck a good balance between both and it was very pleasing to see him helping out the acts in the middle section, which with the exception of Farrow, were all relatively new, by doing that little bit more to give them a boost. The people sat in the first couple of rows all seemed to be doctors, nurses, lawyers and teachers. As a former teacher, with parents in the medical profession and material on both, this was a gift to Green who made the most of it. I did think that he showed great restraint when dealing with the reiki holistic healer, though, as a lot of compere’s would have gone to town on her. Green was fairly sweary tonight, but he had read the room well and they responded well to this. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Green in action. 

Green is appearing in the Nottingham Festival here.

Phil Alexander

Our opening act was the musical comedian, Phil Alexander, who came to the stage carrying a guitar. He began by spending most of his first minute in explaining that the audience could shout cleaner or ruder to determine the level of his next song. This was a decent gimmick, but it did eat up time that he could have made more of. Alexander gave us three songs. These were alright, they had some decent lines in them, but I didn’t think they were that punchy. All of them were fairly long and if they had been shorter they would have made the same point and gotten laughs quicker. Jonny Awsum, one of the best practitioners of this style scarcely has a song that takes more than a minute and it works all the better for it. Also, Alexander would have benefited from having something funny to say between the songs, as this was really under-exploited and his performance came over more as a musician with some amusing songs, than as an actual comedian. Despite a couple of mishaps with the guitar and words, Alexander was a proficient musician with a good voice and he was pleasant enough company, if not, at present, especially funny.

Chelsea Birkby

Next was Birkby, who announced at the top of her set what it would contain. This was ok, but being a bit picky, I’d rather see that time used for something funny, rather than a contents page, unless a joke can be made out of it, as it is dead time otherwise. Birkby’s material wasn’t all relatable. Rappers and rap in general, didn’t go down that well; whereas in contrast, the more tangible elements did very well indeed. I don’t think many people in the audience had heard of a rapper called Pitbull, but as soon as she moved onto more general jokes concerning him, such as googling him and then workplace disputes, everyone could (and did) get on board. Birkby’s stage persona was that of someone a bit nervous and she would raise her voice to emphasise things and this didn’t really sell what she was saying as well as what it could. I think with a bit of a tweak to the delivery she would do better.

Alex Farrow

Farrow gave the audience the stand out set of the night. He crammed a lot into ten minutes or so. He had kept his eyes open since getting there and his wits about him and so he was able to make some funny and relatable comments about the room and mention audience members by name. It was nice to see someone whom you didn’t feel was following a set script. This was great, it emphasised that this was live comedy and it certainly got everyone’s attention. The material was intelligently written and was strong. American English was funny in short order, without dragging the idea out unduly and the tale of the school book built nicely, with the prop being a nice addition to it. I really enjoyed this set, apart from the line about laughing and learning, which is overused by acts. This was a very impressive set and I think I’ll be seeing a lot more of Farrow in the coming years.

Joe Melton

This was 17 year old Melton’s fourth gig and it didn’t go that badly. The material about imagining the audience naked wasn’t that strong, but it did alright. More promising was his routine about Englishness. This had more depth to it and it felt more distinctive. When mentioning the Australians it would have perhaps been nice if he could have tied that in to our compere, Thomas Green, who is Australian, but things like that will come with time. Melton has a base from which to build.

Kushai Agrawal

From India, living in Germany and with an accent that fluctuated between both with a bit of American thrown in, Agrawal wasn’t on the bill. Instead he had turned up to see the show and gotten chatting to the acts, talking about how he’d always wanted to have a go at comedy. In response, Helen had done him a kindness and had given him a bit of stage time. Dressed in a suit, Agrawal didn’t look out of place on stage and with a big build up from Green, the audience were totally behind him. In a film, this would have ended with him smashing it. However, this is reality and what we got was three jokes that could have been told in a minute or so that somehow managed to fill five minutes. It was nice that Agrawal got to fulfil an ambition and it was very good that he was given chance and I don’t know many people who could go on stage relatively unprepared for the first time ever and be outstanding, but it did seem a long five minutes.

Luke Adams

Closing the middle section was Adams. He began with double and triple negatives, which was a good premise that he might have been able to make more of. The later callback to it was very nice, though. The story of a mugging was ok, but needed more to make it really work as material. As it was, it sounded more like an anecdote that someone would relay at work when asked what they’d been up to last night. With a bit of work on the delivery and some more work on that tale, Adams will do better. He got laughs, but has a bit more to do, which as a fairly new act is fair enough.

Sam Moult

We began the final section with Sam Moult, who was stepping in at very short notice to replace an act who had dropped out. Moult was working with some new material. Some of this was in his notebook, which is fine and other parts were so new, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he had thought about them whilst having his tea, which again isn’t a problem. Moult has a good confident stage presence and he dealt well with the ups and downs of how the material fared. As new material, it would be unrealistic to expect it all to be golden, but there were definitely a few nuggets there. Fish and chips has a certain amount of mileage (whale and the gags that went with that were very good), but the real gold is with following pornstars on social media. I think he can craft something that becomes a standout routine with that. This was a fun set that promises a lot more for the future.

Sam Moult is appearing twice in the Nottingham Comedy Festival, here and here.

Elliot Wengler

Wengler has improved since I last saw him. Tonight he was more confident, with better material and a sharper delivery. He began well by managing to extricate himself from a conversation about birthdays and his native High Wycombe which had come about following his query about whether anyone else in the room was from there. He probably didn’t need to ask the question in the first place, but to be fair it was still impressive how he managed to avoid getting bogged down. Primark was a nicely relatable topic that everyone was able to follow and the flip flop was a good piece of material. Hangers was ok (nice to see a prop, even if only the first few rows got the full advantage of seeing it used), but it probably ate up more time than the routine deserved, even if it was delivered with passion. Pokemon was particularly good and with a few exceptions, it’s not an area that is spoken about by many comedians, so it felt fresh. This was an improved performance.

Elliot Wengler is appearing n the Nottingham Comedy Festival here