Radio Derby 11/12/18

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06r4r3k#t=44m15s

I was interviewed by Radio Derby again on Monday night, for broadcast on Tuesday. The DJ, Martyn Williams, is interested in comedy within their broadcasting area, ie Derbyshire.

I spoke about the results of the Midlands Comedy Awards, telling people that Barry Dodds and Scott Bennett have upcoming shows in the county and that Doug Carter has played the Bless and will be doing again.

Dave Longley’s book on compering gets a mention (they edited out Freddy’s as he’s not in Derbyshire)

The following nights all got plugged:

Funhouse Blessington Carriage 18/12

NCF Mecca Bingo on the 21/12

Dog and Moon 2/1

Ofton Funny

Bluey’s 29/1

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Blessington Carriage – Champion of Champions Gong Show – Mike Carter, Adam Beardsmore, Lauren Walsh, Paul Campbell, Adam Elmi, Jem Braithwaite, Liam Tuffy, David Smith, Oscar Roberts

Tonight I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for the Funhouse Champion of Champions gong show. Every act on the bill had won at least one gong show and this made for a very strong line up. Just upon seeing the list of acts it was impossible to guess who would win and even whilst the voting was in process it was still too close to call. It was nice to see such a full room for the show, too. There were some very interesting people there for Spiky Mike to chat to as MC, such as Miranda who had moved from a bust exotic pizza parlour (goats cheese and rhubarb toppings) to a champagne bar, and Vaughn who was there with his family. Both of these people were referenced by the acts and this made it feel a wonderfully inclusive gig. It was also nice to see Jack Topher there to support live comedy on a night when he wasn’t gigging. In a change to the usual five minutes max of stage time, it was seven minutes tonight, which made things pretty interesting and ensured that none of the acts could just use the set that got them there.

Mike Carter

Carter began a trifle slowly, but he had plenty of presence and held the room easily whilst they awaited the first big laugh. Whilst the list of names received applause, the topper was the real gold and that really deserved a bigger laugh. I liked how Carter directly spoke to Vaughn, sat on the front row. The tale about the dog was very good, although I did think he had moved a bit away from it during the build, but when he came back to it, he came back strong. Carter set the bar high with this performance. It was a great opening set and if he had gone on later in the night, he would have been a real contender for the win.

Adam Beardsmore

Beardsmore delivered this set with energy, having a loud clear voice that everyone could hear. There was a gratifying amount of new material in this set, too. Cbeebies was good, the assault was a real high point, his multitasking wife, not yet the finished article and the £1 bets was something that built up very nicely. This was a good performance that saw him through into the final.

Lauren Walsh

This was Walsh’s 4th ever performance and it was a real credit to her. She’s naturally funny and this came across well. As you’d expect in someone with so few gigs under their belt, there were a couple of things that you wouldn’t perhaps see in more experienced acts, such as superfluous repeating of a punchline (which, in fairness, can sometimes work well) and saying ‘do you know what I mean?’ a lot. However, there was a heck of a lot here to like. The opening gag about a murderer on the loose was timely and relevant, her skill with accents added a lot, tourettes was interesting and funny. Walsh received a lot of laughs for a set that was delivered with charm. Although she didn’t make the final, with more consistent gigging she’ll do very well in comedy.

Paul Campbell

Campbell came to the stage carrying half a pint of skimmed milk, something that I think everyone was expecting would form part of his act, but he never mentioned it the once, which was a surprise. He began well, getting laughs for just standing there and moving awkwardly whilst he established his comedy persona, that of a loser in life. This is a character that he brings to life remarkably well with both his writing and his mannerisms. I thought the very specific terms of reference, such as Chase and the holiday destination worked really well. The crowd work was also a nice change in pace, whilst still keeping the substance of the act. Although I found the persona to be on the depressing side, the audience really enjoyed it in a big way and Campbell received a lot of laughs. For a while he was a credible contender for the title.

Adam Elmi

Elmi had a great gig. His material was sound and improved from when I saw him the other week ago. Train tickets was sound, race card great and when he singled Vaughn out for a comment it really emphasised just how much of the best stuff in live comedy is in the moment. His enunciation on sign-me-up was absolutely spot on to get a laugh from what would probably read as a straight forwards line. The callback to the ticket situation in the closing routine was smashing and really added a lot to that routine. Elmi emerged as a very deserving runner up.

Jem Braithwaite

Braithwaite gave an impressive performance that despite being easily the most surreal of the night, was one that also kept the majority of the room onboard. Leaning forwards at an alarming angle and swinging from side to side as if he were impersonating a lighthouse, Braithwaite was getting giggles before he even started. These giggles soon became consistent laughs. The material was well thought out and it was great to see some new writing evident. New material is a comedian’s lifeblood and so it’s very encouraging to see. The last time that Braithwaite performed at the Bless, he had run out of material a minute before the end, but still held the room. This time he ran out just 5 seconds before the end, but it did him no harm at all and he bounced back with a very strong minute for the final, finishing the night in third.

Liam Tuffy

After three acts had been voted through in this section, it was inevitable that Tuffy would face a higher level of scrutiny from simple judge psychology – after voting through a few acts, judges tend to get stricter. Despite doing a lot right, such as having a punchy opening, changing the dynamic of his set to introduce more audience work (good shout on speaking to Miranda), Tuffy was voted off. However, even with that in mind, it was easy enough to see his ability.

David Smith

This was a set where the performance was as strong as the material and the resulting combination held a great feeling of it all coming together for Smith. He had a fairly long opening joke about H&S, which felt a bit convoluted until he got to the pay off, which involved an extremely astute local reference that everyone in the audience from Derby (ie, probably 95% of them) could get. This immediately established Smith as a force to be reckoned with and from there it was all a breeze for him. His description of chippy teas was relatable, the bath was vividly drawn, the prop added an extra dimension and the physicality of rearranging his hair was very visual. This was all powerful material. However, as good as the material was, the delivery matched it. Smith had loads of little mannerisms, actions and vocal changes that emphasised the various parts that needed it. His face during the playground routine looked positively villainous. The final minute was timed to perfection and Smith was the convincing winner of the night.

Oscar Roberts

Roberts opened by referencing how although he looks about twelve years old, he is actually eighteen and this was a smart move on his part, because his material was very dark. In fact it can’t be often that Elmi has the second darkest material on a bill. There was some good material here, although I did think that exercise ball split the room a touch. The line about hitting things was good, although I did think it may have been improved, perhaps, if Roberts had said that he hadn’t even hit puberty yet, as this would have worked as a good callback to his earlier material about it. This performance was going very well until he dried up and despite getting a lot of love and encouragement from the audience, Robert’s called it a day at that. Despite how it finished, this was a good set and Roberts shows a lot of potential.

The New Barrack Tavern – Morgan Rees, Billy McGuire, Dan Barnes, Diane Spencer and Tom King (MC)

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse comedy night. As always, this gig was a pleasure. This is a real comedian’s gig, where the audience are up for it and the acts can relax knowing that they are playing to an appreciative room.

Tom King (MC)

King began well with a nice visual joke and then began to talk about his beard. This made for something tangible that the audience could see and relate to when he commented about the various insults that hit has attracted. Being from Sheffield, King did a bit of locally topical material about the tram now going to Rotherham, but unfortunately this didn’t fare so well. Where Tom scored big was in his second section, when he did the meanings of audience member’s surnames. This is something that needs to be carefully timed for the maximum affect of getting people invested in the night and the minimum risk of becoming a free for all. Also, too soon in the night and the audience may be reluctant to talk, too late and people have gone the other way. Tonight, it went well. There was one lady who seemed inclined to dispute the point about her surname, but this was easily handled and Tom did very well with Mr Jahal. The dark stories from the hospital could, with a small bit of work, become excellent. The cannibal restaurant was nicely thought out and funny. This was enjoyable compering, that kept the night on time.

Morgan Rees

Rees had a great night. He began with a solid age gap joke and followed this up with some fast gags that established the audience’s confidence in him. There was a huge laugh when he gave an audience member a fact in return for a question. Welsh stereotypes was done very well and Rees extricated himself with dexterity from what could have been a minefield when he asked a chap from Bradford what the stereotype was there (answer: multicultural). I was surprised that he didn’t get applause for ‘no’ as he seemed to hover on the edge of it, although this did come quickly after for LGBTQ. The jellyfish was something of a highlight and I liked how he leaned in towards the audience when was asking them about Welsh animal names. This little action just seemed to add so much to the mood. The closing routine about his nan was sharper than when I saw it in Ashby and this whole set was a pleasure to see from start to end.

Billy McGuire

It’s been ages since I last saw McGuire and tonight he had a belter of a gig. Even allowing for how nice a room it is and him being on in the sweet spot, this was extremely well received. He opened with puns, all delivered with great timing and a voice that seemed to challenge the audience to dare not to laugh at them and this worked wonderfully well. There was a genuine surprise on best friend and that got a lot of laughter. Hope was a bit of an overused line, though. The big closing routine about the Book S. was done incredibly well. This not only drew people in and built up, but there were plenty of laughs along the way. This was a real audience pleaser of a set and I think everyone was sorry to see McGuire leave the stage.

Dan Barnes

Barnes hasn’t been gigging as frequently lately and this showed a touch tonight. He has the basis of a good set, with some decent routines, but not everything hit home as well as it could have done. The mugging routine is ok, with knock one out being a great line. However, Barnes doesn’t look like a group of people are going to find him an easy target to mug and he may perhaps benefit from when he is saying how rough an area it is, to acknowledge that even someone who looks like… is in danger there. Identikit is a good idea, but a bit wordy for the reveal to really land with a lot of force, so perhaps just cutting to the chase might actually work better for pacing. Safari park is solid. The guide dog has potential, but if he were to edit out the comments about not being a nice person the punchiness would improve and it does feel like a digression after he’s already given just cause in the description of the lady. Similarly, frozen doll could have been made tighter by saying put her favourite Barbie in the freezer. The shot dog line is something that is pretty much guaranteed to lose any dog owners in the room. The twin brother routine was good and shows a lot of promise and I think he could get more out of it. Barnes got laughs and didn’t do badly, but I don’t think he really showed the room what he is capable of doing.

Diane Spencer

Spencer was superb. This was an expertly written set, with barely a wasted word and everything coming together with a tangible feeling of completeness. There was even a cracking Beatles joke that a few people may have missed in the laughter. Spencer established her comedy persona within moments of getting to the stage and without seemingly doing any hard work, either, which usually means that they’ve worked incredibly hard to do it so swiftly. She comes over as well mannered, well educated and slightly naïve about what she is saying and this works extremely well with her material. Quite a bit of what Spencer talked about was very sexual, yet what could have been salacious, or for shock value only, in other acts, felt completely natural and above all clean and even wholesome as she chatted about it in a voice that screamed jollity. I believe that she could make almost any subject seem classy. The delivery massively added to the performance, as Spencer would include thumbs ups, winks, smiles and other actions. The only line I wasn’t keen on was about being available for children’s parties. It’s a well travelled line, although it did get a big laugh. This was a set with consistent loud laughs all the way throughout and Spencer received a lot of love from the audience. This was a superb set from an act I’d very much like to see again.

Barton’s – Julian Deane, Kate Smurthwaite, Robert White and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was in Beeston for the Funhouse comedy gig at Barton’s, a converted bus depot. As you’d expect with a room used for storing buses, it was a big space with high ceilings and this could have made it tricky to play. Instead, though, it was lovely. There were 180 or so people in, all sat facing the stage, the lighting was laid out well, the bar was closed whilst acts were on and the sight lines were great. The pre gig music was mellow, rather than energetic, but I was just grateful it wasn’t Christmas songs.

Stevie Gray (MC)

Wearing a Christmas jumper and oozing energy, Gray took to the stage and got the show on the road by finding other people in the audience dressed in festive apparel. He managed to get a couple of these people to the stage and through showing that he had no qualms about singling people out, he imposed his authority on the room quickly. In truth, I doubt this was ever in question, because as he has compered this room a few times, Gray has already established a strong rapport with the audience and they’re very keen on him. Being based just up the road, Gray has a real edge when it comes to knowing the area and he was able to make a few topical local references. Some of these came from the local paper and they were lapped up, apart from the Jimmy Nail mural, which I think he will say Auf Wiedersehen to. The work song was good, although perhaps the guitar was a bit too loud to make it easy to pick out every word clearly, but it still built up the energy. For his second section, Gray arrived on stage to the sounds of All along the Watchtower, with the unfortunate line, ‘There must be some kind of way out of here’ playing just as he picked up the microphone. Fortunately this didn’t reflect the views of the audience and he continued from where he left off with a brilliant piece of crowd work. Gray has a genius for getting people involved in the night and this time it was a case of him singing 12 days of Christmas and individual members of the audience filling in the lines with either their favourite Christmas present or sex toy. This worked extremely well and everyone played along. This was fun and enjoyable compering.

Julian Deane

Deane opened with a slight gaffe in asking if it was Chilwell or Beeston, but recovered very swiftly with a string of quick gags. Deane’s material is very tightly written and he has gone through it all, punning every line or word that he can. Whilst some of the resulting jokes feel a bit contrived, they work well and the end result was an almost constant series of chuckles from people as he built up to the big gags. This kept the atmosphere buoyant. The jokes themselves were generally very good, with some that were excellent, such as broccoli, tomato and transgender. There were some that would have perhaps benefited from a spot of misdirection, though. The only two jokes that I disliked were one about vegans having no energy and the way that he drove to a speed awareness course. I wasn’t keen on those because I’ve heard a lot said about them by plenty of comedians. These were pretty fresh to the audience, though and Deane got laughs. This was a good set that the audience enjoyed.

Kate Smurthwaite

Smurthwaite was a lively performer who made full use of the stage. She began well, but did get interrupted a couple of times by audience members shouting out during her set. Nothing obnoxious, just unwelcome, like a loud comment about it being cold when she mentioned Sweden. The meat of the set concerned debates that Smurthwaite has been involved in through her appearances on telly debates, the resulting abuse she has had online, her being named in The Guardian as an influencer of pubic fashion and her taking part in a reality TV show. There were some good lines in here, such as those concerning formal sex. However, I didn’t feel that the audience were totally onboard throughout it all. Smurthwaite didn’t do badly at all, but I don’t think she really enthused the room.

Robert White

Visually interesting in checked trousers and a tank top and brimming with what looked like nervous energy, White made an instant positive first impression. He opened with some good puns that were delivered with an infectious enthusiasm and then he began the set. White mixed jokes, singing, music and props in a performance that kept the rooms’ energy levels up high. The songs were pleasing, but his little corrections that he added were a real joy. This was a set with a lot of sexual content and it was all delivered with a tongue in cheek charm that ensured that no one felt that his foil for the night, Will, was being picked on. When White read out a letter, this did perhaps go on a couple of jokes too long, because he wasn’t looking at the audience and maintaining his connection with them whilst he was doing it. The running joke about the previous nights’ gig was a cracker that got funnier throughout the set. The finale involved getting Will up to the stage for a song. This was a very accessible set that received laughter and applause.

The Notts Comedy Review Awards for 2018

These are only open to non-pro acts and this year the categories and prizes are:

Best performance of the year £50

Most improved act of the year £25

New act of the year £25

The prize money will be remitted through Paypal or in cash when I see the act, or if our paths don’t cross, I can pop a cheque in the post to them.

I have excluded pro acts because it is nice to give something to the up and coming acts who don’t (yet) earn a living through comedy. Past winners are excluded so as to give other acts a chance.

Best Performance of the year:

This goes to Lindsey Santoro for her set at the Ashby heat of English Comedian of the Year on the 9th of May. There was a strong line up here that included some very experienced pro acts as well as some powerful up and coming comedians, yet Santoro gave such a mighty performance that she scooped second place with a massive number of votes. The audience in Ashby don’t really go for sexual material unless it is very good and Santoro had them in the palm of her hand, which made her performance all the more impressive. I’m surprised that she isn’t booked more than she is. Lindsey Santoro gets £50 for the best performance of the year.

Honourable Mention: Aaron Simmonds, Chris Kehoe

Most Improved Act of the Year:

Jack Topher‘s always been a fun act to watch. However, this year he has really discovered his comedy mojo and has visibly progressed in ability. He’s gigging a hell of a lot more and this shows in his performance skills. He’s not yet as good as he will become, but he is on his way. Jack Topher is the most improved act of the year.

Honourable Mention: Brian Bell

New Act of the Year:

This can only go to Doug Carter. He has got an amazing presence and a rawness about him that works really well. Usually when an act is a bit rough around the edges they polish up, but I think in Doug’s case he would lose the uniqueness that comes with his persona. Instead, with more experience, he will gain the ability to sell himself to different audiences and progress to bigger gigs. He is certainly someone to watch. Doug Carter is the Notts Comedy Review new act of the year.

Honourable Mention: Oscar Roberts

Previous winners have included:

2017: Simon Lomas funniest act, Jamie Hutchinson most improved act, Stevie Gray best performance.

2016: Phil Pagett written comedy, Moses Ali Khan most improved act, Jim Bayes best compere, Roger Swift funniest act,

2015: Billy Lowther funniest act, Wayne Beese best compere, Chris Giles most improved gong show act.

NCF, Edwinstowe – Aaron Levene, Mr Anonymous, Chris Jones, Adam Elmi, Tom Houghton and Rik Carranza (MC)

This was a night of polar opposites, with one act storming it and another dying the worst death I’ve ever seen. I was in Edwinstowe for the new NCF gig at Launay’s which is an upmarket restaurant. The room was well set out, with the majority of chairs facing the audience, who were predominantly middle class, albeit not that used to live comedy. However, their behaviour was impeccable, with no rudeness. The only issue was the feedback from the microphone, but this wasn’t the end of the world.

Rik Carranza

Carranza is an up and coming compere. He is methodical in his preparations, checking the pronunciation of names and getting the local shit town right. In addition to this, he has a pleasant demeanour and this comes across well on stage. To begin with, though, he had his work cut out. Things that I’ve seen get an 8 on the laughter scale were coming back with a 6 and it was only when he asked one chap how long he had been married for and he got it wrong, that the audience seemed to loosen up. From here, though, it was all plain sailing for Carranza. During the course of his evening, he talked about his own marriage proposal, moving into a flat and Australia. These are all good, reliable routines that went down well with the audience. Although Rik isn’t a sweary act and he avoided the C bomb, there were perhaps a few too many F’s for the room. That aside, this was enjoyable compering. Carranza had a good feel for the energy levels in the room and was a definite attribute to the night.

Aaron Levene

Levene used Carranza’s talk of weddings as a springboard into his own routine about marriage. This was a nice link and it was a good idea. However, the fourth line or so in the set concerned him losing his virginity to a prostitute in Amsterdam and it was just too early for a middle class virgin comedy audience to want to go with. The material about dating wasn’t enough to lift the mood and there was a moment when Levene hefted the microphone as if he was using it as a dumbbell and this didn’t have much in the way of humour. He got some of the audience back on board when he discussed lookalikes, but it wasn’t enough to inject energy into his set, nor did cancer/aids bring it to life. I know that this was used as part of an explanation for the next routine, but he may have been better keeping the exposition to a minimum and moving straight into the balls routine. This was unique material that by rights should have been great, but instead it ended up dry and medical. Asking someone in the audience cork or plastic was never going to lead to anything worth having. I was surprised that Levene didn’t mention any alternatives that he would have liked installing, such as crystal, or balls of steel, or even gold for a money shot gag. That routine could and should have been a great one, but Levene isn’t getting the most out of it. Levene got laughs, but I think that with tighter and more imaginative writing he would be a lot better.

Mr Anonymous

This was a terrible death. Although, someone did say they heard some laughter, I can’t say I heard anyone laugh for the whole of this set. He performed to the sound of his own voice in a silent room and what made it worse was that this was a polite audience, who just sat there listening and not reacting in any kind of way. He may as well have been performing in a vacuum for all of the reaction he got. As bad as it sounds, at least if someone had got up to go outside, or even check facebook, it would have shown that at least they hadn’t all gone to their own little happy places. This was his second ever gig. He had been booked to do ten off of the back of an astoundingly good open five and whilst it’s nice to see people being given the opportunity to progress, this was perhaps an optimistic booking. Carranza did the square thing and gave him a big, supportive introduction, getting the audience behind him and then he announced him to the stage. As a new act, he misjudged his walk on and was perhaps 8 feet too short for the applause to end naturally as he reached the stage. These things happen. In his first gig, he had improvised a lot and worked the room, but this time, under the pressure of the bright lights, he took a different route. He opened by plugging his podcast, which if done, is something best done at the end of a set when an act has demonstrated that it is worth listening to. At the top, it just feels like an extra set of adverts inflicted on you before the film starts at the cinema. The material concerned his dad and his own career as a lab technician. However, it was mostly a series of anecdotes that would only be of real interest if you knew, or were invested in, the folk involved. There was an awful amount of waffle. If he were to get his set, underline the punchlines, and then delete as much as possible of the set up as he could then it would be punchier. Further to this, he would do better to embellish the stories and exaggerate them more for comic effect. This would get a lot more out of them. Every comedian will die a few times and hopefully he will bounce back.

Chris Jones

Following the opening acts not doing as well as could be hoped, Jones was moved up the running order. He’s a comedian who more people should know about and the idea was that a strong performance from him would set the night back to rights. Jones opened with a good callback to Rik also being Scottish and never looked back from there. Stood on stage with a big smile and a slow, clear delivery, he radiated confidence and it was great to see him getting applause early on with the joke about his name. This was a well written set, with drone strikes being a lovely line that struck an especial chord with those who had neighbours with cats. The story of a friend of his who did well out of a trip to Denmark was great and the use of music really added a nice little extra to this set. This was a cracking performance that the whole room enjoyed.

Adam Elmi

Elmi was moved down the bill as his dark material would have more chance of success following Jones instead of going on after an act had died. This worked out very well, as Elmi had the best gig I’ve seen him have. Adam has some acute observations and an original eye and this comes out in his material. Lie in was good, spreadsheet was great, he got applause for 2-2 and pretty much everything seemed to land well. His delivery was more engaging than last time. Elmi received some big laughs. The closing routine about the gig in Liverpool still needs more, though. Perhaps if he were to make the callback to fares stronger and end on that it may work better. This was a good set.

Tom Houghton

Houghton gave the room a smashing performance and was the perfect booking for an audience largely made up of comedy virgins. His charisma had everyone with him from the off. He opened by commenting on how posh the area is and this was a great lead into his routine about posh names and being posh himself. Instead of the room resenting his good fortune, they loved him for it. He is such a likeable man who is completely at ease with himself that it’s impossible for a room to not take him to their hearts. The material was amazingly strong with the Tower of London being a standout. The line about Thomas More was genius and daft in equal measure, but totally brilliant. I liked how everything in this set came together and it felt less like a club set and more like a mini-show in a lot of ways and every single way being to the benefit of the night. Houghton closed with a song, which gave the evening the ideal big ending.

November – acts that have impressed me the most

This has been a fun month for comedy. I’ve seen 48 acts and the Nottingham Comedy Festival was a great success. In fact the highlight of the month was seeing The Parapod during the festival – I’ve never seen such enthusiasm and affection for the acts from an audience before and it was a great experience. Other festival shows that stood out were those by Phil Nichol and Scott Bennett. Nichol’s was textbook perfect and Bennett’s was superbly funny. The low light of the month was when I saw an act deliver some new material so aggressively as to be totally off putting.

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

Daniel Eagle

From the night: Eagle opened by talking about being blind and the different perspectives this gives. He then followed this up with some other examples, which were all very good, although Darlington may have been one example too many. This was then followed by some very strong material about being in Australia, which he sold well with a credible Australian accent. The chat up lines were superb. Braille was another good routine, which although it might have been a bit snappier, still generated a lot of laughs. It’s possible that using ‘reveal’ instead of ‘punchline’ for braille on his knob might work even better, but that’s just a thought. This was a very well written set, where even the set ups were enjoyable to hear. Eagle has a similar voice to Wrigglesworth and the construction of his set is also fairly similar and this made for a lovely combination. Eagle won the audience vote by a mile and was voted overall winner by the judges, taking home a trophy and a crate of Castle Rock beer. Eagle shows a lot of promise and is well worth booking.

Nick Page

From the night: Page is one of my favourite acts, but it’s been a while since I’d last seen him. In the meantime, he’s won the English Comedian of the Year contest and has had a fantastic run on Britain’s Got Talent, so I was especially interested in seeing him perform. Nick is a superb writer and all of his routines have a lovely internal logic to them, which he then takes to its ultimate conclusion, hoovering up big laughs along the way. The topics he discussed about were all seen from unique angles and this made his material even stronger. Tonight he spoke about cats, politics, Christmas, cycling, bell ringing, meals arriving on things other than plates (a hell of a lot of sympathy for this from the audience), planning applications and saving the environment. A lot of this material was new to me and it was very impressive. There were some great lines in this set, such as plank and warlord, which both stood out. Page delivers his material at a nice steady pace, with a cynical air and this works wonderfully. This was a cracking set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

Tez Ilyas

From the night: I’d not seen Ilyas before, although I’d heard a lot of positive things about him. His delivery was unhurried and conversational and everyone was able to settle into his set very nicely. Ilyas showed a skilful touch in how he used his voice to emphasise the emotions of what he was saying, with his inflection on downside really pushing that line. Similarly, he was able to get the most out of changing the energy level to suit what he was saying. Ilyas has very strong performance skills. The material was solid, too, OM being well considered, Benidorm good, the balloon superb and the closing routine was magnificent. I wasn’t that keen on him using the well worn line, ‘because that’s her name’, as too many people have already said it, but that’s not the end of the world. This was a set that gave the night the feel of there being an extra headliner on the bill.

Honourable Mentions

Alex Hylton, Christian Reilly, David Luck, Jeff Innocent, Lukas Kirby, Rik Carranza

The Rigger – Diane Fitton, Liam O’Brien, Henry Churniavasky, Kevin Berry, Sam Hughes, Stuart Smith, David Bawden, Joseph Dalton, Darcie Silver, Ryan Wordsmith, Josh Crosse, Liam Tuffy

Tonight I was in Newcastle under Lyme for the Funhouse gong show. This was a night where pretty much everything minor that could go wrong did, but everyone coped all right. Spiky Mike had left his MP3 player at home and so the regular music wasn’t available for gongings or celebrations and this gave the night an odd feel. Also the microphone wouldn’t work to begin with, but this was replaced before Mike had gone too far into compering. The major problem was the lighting. The Rigger is a rock pub (lovely venue) and had had some new lights, which no one had quite worked out how to use and until the tech guy had them settled, the stage would change colour every 30 seconds or so. The audience were as nice as ever, with Chris just about staying on the entertaining side of drunk. It was nice to see a birthday group in, although I think everyone was surprised to discover that the birthday girl’s mother had bought her a vibrator as a present. The judging was fairly generous tonight with not many red cards being given and a few acts getting through to the final that probably wouldn’t have otherwise. The judges did seem to wake up a bit as the night went on and there was one gonging that was a bit harsh.

Diane Fitton

Opening was Fitton whom I’d last seen compering in Derby. A fair bit of her material concerned dating and she opened by telling the bar man, 30 years or so her junior, that she had her eye on him. This didn’t land hugely, nor did it link in that well to her next lines, which were about having been a girl guide. There was a string of fish puns, but these were mostly just names of fish crowbarred into a routine, similar to when a few people on facebook are trying to outdo each other after someone’s posted ‘I’m herring you’ in response to a friend’s update that ‘they’re having a whale of a time’. These jokes weren’t that strong, but then neither was the rest of the set. Fitton was fairly amiable and managed to make the final.

Liam O’Brien

O’Brien had a good night. His material was good and this did most of the heavy work in his performance. Free range was fine, he managed to make material about his home town not feel parochial and his weariness of his kids was well realised. There was a tiny bit of a lull when he mentioned his job on one set up, but that was a minor point. I enjoyed the spinach joke, although that might work better later on in some rooms. O’Brien got consistent laughs and with more experience his delivery will catch up with his writing skills. This was an enjoyable set and O’Brien made the final

Henry Churniavasky

Henry C had some strong material and his relaxed presence helped him to deliver it. He began with two puns and then followed them with a couple of routines involving cameras delving into holes and dodgy nightclubs. The nuclear explosion was a vivid picture that worked well and the knife line was quality. There were some good jokes in this set and although I got to some of the reveals before he did, there was plenty of laughter. Mr C was well supported by the audience and received loud cheers in the final.

Kevin Berry

Usually in gong shows if three acts in a row are voted through, then the fourth has an uphill struggle, as the judges seem to wake up to the fact that someone has to be voted off. However, Berry had some quality about him and deservedly made the final. He talked about living with three daughters and his partner, lying to children and yoghurt and made all of these feel new and refreshing. Berry had some nice ideas and this came through very well. The subjects of lying to children about were funny and delivered in a way to generate momentum. The yoghurt line was good, but could have perhaps been improved with a callback, as the direction he went did seem to be a bit out of left field. This was an impressive set.

Sam Hughes

Hughes opened with a I know what you’re all thinking routine and this has been done so many times that unless this is outstanding, it’s hard to get much from it. This was then followed by porn, which is another well travelled topic. In fairness, he had a great line about a senior citizen, but when he went on to talk about trans porn, I did wonder how that would fare with another performer there, who is transitioning from male to female. The routine about prison and bestiality was lighter than it sounds. However, after seeing Fitton struggle with fish based puns, regardless of their intrinsic worth, he may have been better off ditching them instead of giving the room more or less the same fish, but in a different order and setting. Hughes kept the audience with him until he lost his place and he was gonged soon afterwards.

Stuart Smith

Smith is a gag teller with a slow low energy delivery, meandering set ups and not a huge amount of stage presence. For this to work well his material would have to be outstanding. However, his jokes weren’t especially strong and although he reached the final, I doubt if anyone in the audience will be able to remember a single thing he said, apart from needing the petrol money for his car share home. If Smith were to write some more powerful jokes, then his delivery would work better with it, or if he were to add more life into his delivery he may push the existing jokes further, but at the moment he seems to have the worst of the combination.

David Bawden

Bawden was happy to chat to individual members of the audience and he had a few good comments to make. However, he did suffer from the running order. Being the second act to mention that he was a man growing breasts robbed it of impact and a few of the other acts had run down Merseyside already and so this felt a bit wearing by the time Bawden got to it.

Joseph Dalton

Dalton began by commenting about having to make the ‘bastards’ laugh, or something similar, and this wasn’t an ideal way to win the room over at the top, nor was it funny, so it’s a line probably best never said again. Easy Jet, excess baggage and their meanness has been done a lot of times and as the audience discovered, Dalton wasn’t saying anything no one else has said something similar to before. The use of welcome signs on the nearby towns was ok, but not that punchy and then there came a weird moment, where Dalton just stopped dead. He was stood still, for long enough that I was beginning to wonder if he’d had a medical issue, but instead he was just trying to remember his next bit. These things happen, but he was so silent, so still, for so long, it was a worry. The next routine was worth remembering and he perhaps should have opened with it, as it was his best material, that of Osama’s bodyguard. Dalton didn’t make the final.

Darcie Silver

The final act of the middle section was Silver, who was above par for someone who’s not that experienced. There were some good lines in this set, with gynaecologist being a great stand out. The material about transitioning was interesting and novel. The line about putting a dog down was one that I can see alienating a lot of animal lovers, even though the context makes it clear it is a joke. Darcie could strengthen her delivery by adding some emphasis to the punchlines, as tonight she went the other way and was quieter with these and I think a few people were expecting more due to this. Silver did run out of material towards the end, which probably cost her a place in the final and this was the one gonging that I felt was harsh, as there were acts who had made the audience laugh less who had been voted through.

Ryan Wordsmith

Wearing a colourful jacket and a purple wig, Wordsmith was visually interesting even before he began his set. He came rushing onto the stage full of energy and sounded a klaxon as he told his first joke, which unfortunately was lost in the noise of the klaxon. From here he launched into a string of gags with gusto. These were about the death of Princess Diana, prompting a wonderfully timed sarcastic heckle of ‘Too soon!’. The line about why did she cross the road was a true belter, but this joke is all over the internet. The gag about Egyptians and being in denial was probably first told by Cleopatra and wasn’t new to anyone in the the Rigger. Wordsmith then began singing a version of Purple Rain, with props, getting through three verses (with duet with Chris in the audience) before he was gonged. I was highly surprised by the Purple Rain material, as it had no comedy in it beyond changing a few words and having props to illustrate the change. Upon being gonged, Wordsmith promptly left the building and was probably sat in his car within 30 seconds of the decision, which seemed unsporting as others had taken the votes in good heart. If Wordsmith were to harness his superb energy to some cracking jokes he would do much better.

Josh Crosse

Crosse suffered from an absence of punchlines. He talked about notes left about the house, plus did a list of things people remember, but just when you were expecting a reveal, there wasn’t one. When it came to losing fifty pound the misdirection was very easy to spot and this really hurt that joke. Crosse didn’t make the final.

Liam Tuffy

Oddly Tuffy looked plausible from the moment he walked onto the stage. This might be because he had a slow confident walk and looked like he knew what he was doing, or it might just have been my imagination, but he inspired confidence from the off. We weren’t let down, either, as he was one of the few acts who gave the room a performance that had the feel of belonging in an actual set. The material was well written and he had turned his less than forceful appearance into an asset. Tuffy’s set could have been derailed by Chris who joined in with a large part of it and for the final minute and a half it became something of a double act. Liam was perhaps a bit heavy with the put downs to Chris, but did well to hold it all together when many acts would have been spun out by someone on the front row joining in. Tuffy made the final and was a worthy winner of the night.

The Little Last Laugh – Tom Houghton, Anthony J Brown, Lloyd Langford, Christian Reilly and Big Shaun (MC)

Tonight I was at the Lescar for the Little Last Laugh. Originally this was booked as three acts and compere, but owing to a horrible crash shutting the M1, it was going to be touch and go whether or not Christian Reilly could make it and so Anthony J Brown was booked as a replacement. As it turned out, Reilly made it just in time to feature as a bonus headliner, which worked out very nicely for everyone in this appreciative audience.

Big Shaun (MC)

Looking relaxed and more confident, Shaun took to the stage and began chatting to people, seeing who did what and who had travelled the furthest. Usually most of the audience are from within twenty miles of Sheffield, but tonight Shaun discovered a work party of IT technicians who had travelled from India to do a month or so at their Sheffield office and no one was going to beat travelling from Bangalore, although Shaun did get a laugh for still asking. Big Shaun chatted to a girl who was an astrophysics PhD student and this led into some good stuff. I was a bit surprised that he didn’t mention Theresa May until the last section, as there is plenty of material to be had on her at the moment and it did feel odd for her troubles not to feature. This was decent compering that was well timed to keep things moving.

Tom Houghton

Houghton is an act that I always enjoy seeing on a bill. I really like his style, his material and the way he delivers it. Tonight was a largely new set, consisting of parts of his Edinburgh show that I saw previewed and material about boarding school. The end result, was strong, although it would have been nice if he could have ended on a killer routine. To open with, Houghton looked for posh people and this led very nicely into posh names. This made for a gentle, but entertaining opening, which not only gave him scope to show his performance skills, but also set the tone for the next twenty minutes. Boarding school was a good routine, with torches being well realised and then the later section about drinks followed this in a very coherent way. I wasn’t too sure about trying to get people singing a hymn, but the praying routine was fun, with his facial expressions helping to sell it. Houghton has quick wits and when someone’s phone rang during this section he immediately incorporated it into the routine. This was an enjoyable set from an act who is happy and very comfortable in his own skin. Houghton received a lot of laughter for his work.

Anthony J Brown

The dapper Brown came to the stage and made a deliberately slow start to the night, fiddling with the microphone, the stand and then pausing to take a sip of his drink just when you expected him to begin. This built up tension and he received laughs for it. Usually I’d question if the time taken was worth the number of laughs, but this is all part of his comedy persona and it helped to set the energy level for him. Brown’s style is one-liners, delivered slowly, with pauses whilst he caresses the microphone stand and it all came together nicely. The jokes were all pretty strong, although the slower paced delivery did perhaps give a few people time to guess the misdirection on the odd gag, but everything still landed well. I was especially impressed with the joke about Kerry Katona’s book, which I thought was an absolutely smashing joke, although in a couple of years the name may need updating. The routine about my home town, Mansfield, was very funny and struck a chord with the room, as Mansfield is close enough to Sheffield for it to resonate with folk. The poem was a good touch and the callbacks were very pleasing. This was a funny set that had the audience listening intently throughout.

Lloyd Langford

Langford opened by referencing his voice, which is a wise move for anyone with an interesting accent. From here he gave the audience a powerful performance that featured American info-mercials, smashed eggs, dodgy hotels in Brum, questionable Christmas presents and paedo hunting. This material was all of a high quality and intelligently written, but what stood out was Langford’s committed delivery. He delivered this material with conviction and without overdoing it, a tiny bit of panache. Out of all of the topics he spoke about, the egg smashing test was the one that tickled me the most. There was one odd moment during the set when Langford held an enquiry into who in the audience was shushing whom and whilst this didn’t help him build momentum, it didn’t do him as much harm as it could have done. This was a well written set.

Christian Reilly

Arriving at The Lescar after a nightmare seven hour journey and then going onto the stage after a brief few minutes of setting up must have been a challenge, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching Reilly. He performed his set almost as if he was rested and full of energy, which was an achievement. Reilly is a musical comedian and is wonderfully creative with his material. Throughout his performance he managed to maintain a great consistency in quality. The Michael Jackson opening was good, his facial expressions on guitar chords was great, especially intrigue, Bon Jovi was examined from a logical perspective and there was something for everyone in his choice of songs. The Theresa May song was very timely, but I shouldn’t wonder if that now has a much shorter shelf life than a day ago. Even after the room had seen an extra act and time was marching on, Reilly still left the stage to shouts for an encore. This was a set that gave a very upbeat ending to what had been a great night of comedy.

The Saracen’s Head – Nick Page, Lukas Kirkby, George Lewis and Alun Cochrane

Tonight I was in Southwell for the Funhouse Comedy gig at the Saracen’s Head. This is a pretty big room that consistently sells out to a polite and mature comedy savvy crowd. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, chatting to Tony who was renovating a house, getting a big laugh for his comment to Beth about her keeping back some of the uniform samples that she was a buyer of and topping a witty reply of another Mike who claimed that he couldn’t close his legs, with the word ‘arthritis’.

Nick Page

Page is one of my favourite acts, but it’s been a while since I’d last seen him. In the meantime, he’s won the English Comedian of the Year contest and has had a fantastic run on Britain’s Got Talent, so I was especially interested in seeing him perform. Nick is a superb writer and all of his routines have a lovely internal logic to them, which he then takes to its ultimate conclusion, hoovering up big laughs along the way. The topics he discussed were all seen from unique angles and this made his material even stronger. Tonight he spoke about cats, politics, Christmas, cycling, bell ringing, meals arriving on things other than plates (a hell of a lot of sympathy for this from the audience), planning applications and saving the environment. A lot of this material was new to me and it was very impressive. There were some great lines in this set, such as plank and warlord, which both stood out. Page delivers his material at a nice steady pace, with a cynical air and this works wonderfully. This was a cracking set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

Lukas Kirkby

I’d last seen Kirkby only a few weeks ago where he had been doing a great job of compering at the New Barrack Tavern and so it was nice to see him do a set. Kirkby is a good singer and he made skilled use of this by giving the room three cleverly written parody songs interspersed with some decent jokes. The first song is maths related and whilst it isn’t immediately punchy it only took a verse before everybody was onboard and into it. The second song is fantastic and I had a lovely thrill of anticipation, because I knew what was coming and my parents, sat next to me, didn’t. It’s great when you know that there is a real treat on the way and can sit back and enjoy people’s reaction to it. This second song featured Paula Radcliffe and it is incredibly funny (my mum laughing heartily to it made my night all the better). Getting the audience to join in on the final line was an inspired act by Lukas. The opening line of the third song, by an amazing coincidence, made it sound as if it had been written especially for the night, because there can’t be many places with a minster in England. This final song was another gem that had the room filled with laughter. This was a set that the audience adored and I think it fair to say that Kirkby smashed it.

George Lewis

Lewis opened well by explaining that having Southwell Saracen’s written in his diary had made him think that he was playing a sports club. This got everyone onside very quickly, as anything that can be tied in to a particular gig without using a crowbar and is also funny is always welcome. There were a lot of good routines in this set, such as his girlfriend and also the massage, which built up very nicely indeed. It was nice to see Lewis get applause for the misheard present, but I did think that tax avoider deserved a bigger laugh than it received. There was quite a lot of misdirection jokes in this set. Probably 7-8, but as they were spread out over twenty minutes or so they didn’t overshadow the rest of the set, although I think a few more and people may have begun to try to play at spotting the twist. Lewis had a very pleasant delivery. He looked cheerful and happy, which came over well and the audience responded in the same way. I also liked his habit of occasionally chuckling at a line and also his practice of flashing a quick smile at the room. This was appealing and helped to create a congenial atmosphere. The closing routine, the rap, was very well thought out and tied together his set nicely, giving a strong conclusion to what had been a good set.

Alun Cochrane

I’ve seen Cochrane a couple of times, but not at all recently and so this was a nice bonus to what had already been a great night. Cochrane is an experienced act and he is smart enough to do a spot of homework before stepping onto the stage. He had plenty of references to the demographic of the audience and had enough knowledge of what had been said before he had arrived at the gig to work in some clever callbacks to them. This helped to make the show feel bigger than the sum of its parts. Cochrane is a low energy, laid back comedian, who utilises long set ups. This can be a challenging combination, but with powerful writing, the result is splendid and Cochrane had reveals that landed like hammer blows. Dedications made for a pleasing callback, religion was made fun, knife was timely and the warnings on railways was excellent. This was a strong set.