The Gate Inn – Sully O’Sullivan, Pete Teckman and Ignacio Lopez

Last night I was at the Gate Inn, located in Sutton Cum Lound and most definitely not in Retford itself. I was over there for the Funhouse comedy night, which had sold out a fortnight before the gig. This is one of those shows that take place in a well appointed country pub in front of an audience who are really up for the evening, even if a few at the bar and in the tap room side were given to chatter. In fact, the room could be described as being a touch on the lively side, not being afraid to shout out, but very polite about it when they did so and a boon for any act who enjoys a bit of audience interaction. Spiky Mike had fun chatting to the audience and there can’t be many comperes who find themselves talking to people who rent out muck spreaders for a living.

Sully O’Sullivan

I’d only ever seen O’Sullivan compere prior to this and as I had been impressed with the intelligence he brought to that role, I knew that watching him do a set would be good fun. From the off it was plain that he’d been paying attention during Mike’s MC work and he hit the stage fully aware of who was whom, where they were sat and what they did for a living, which gave an added spring to his set. O’Sullivan’s material was lapped up by the audience, especially when it became apparent that there was both a Jock and a Welshman present. It was wonderful watching him working the room, as he fielded the odd shout out, proving himself to be far wittier and faster than anyone else he spoke to. His put downs and comments when he was bantering were all on the inoffensive side, which kept the atmosphere light and they worked a treat. I found O’Sullivan’s manner of speaking to be very interesting; he has a beautifully clear voice and speaks in a well enunciated clipped fashion and his short sentences really added to his performance. This was a great set and the audience were sorry to see him go.

Pete Teckman

Teckman is a nice guy and a good comedian who perhaps could do with pushing himself forwards more when it comes to pursuing opportunities to gig. Last night he initially had a somewhat slower response from the audience than I was expecting, but this was just due to the room taking a little bit of time to settle. After the first few minutes he went from strength to strength and built up no end of momentum so that by the time he reached the climax of his set the laughter was rolling back and forth very nicely indeed. Teckman doesn’t swear much so when he does it adds a nice extra touch to the point he is making. A lot of his material is self-deprecating and given how he uses his appearance for material, it is also easily relatable for the audience. I always enjoy seeing Teckman in action and last night was no exception. He gave the room a thoroughly enjoyable 20 minutes.

Ignacio Lopez

The last time I’d seen Lopez had been at a tricky weekend club gig in Nottingham, where numbers had been far below critical mass and it had seemed that the audience had all agreed to stay miserable for the entire show. That night, Lopez had done very well under the circumstance to squeeze a good amount of laughter out of them. Last night, though, was a totally different gig; with a room chock-full of people who were there to laugh, albeit with a tipping point approaching, especially with the talkative group near the bar. Prior to this set, Mike had been busy tipping Ignacio off to what had been said by the previous acts and alerting him to the presence of the Welsh chap in the audience and this paid a beautiful dividend when Lopez worked him into his set and got loads of laughter for it. This was a very well written set and this skill went beyond the actual jokes – a great deal of thought had gone into the construction of this set. There was a feeling of coherency to it, as a lot of it was linked and there were plenty of callbacks, which is something I adore. Ignacio’s delivery had bags of charm and he’s helped in this by his accent. It always caught me by surprise when he went from a Spanish accent straight into a Welsh one without taking a breath, when discussing aspects of Welsh culture and I found this very endearing (it also reminded me slightly of Julio Geordio). I was a bit surprised that he didn’t close on his song about holidaying Brits, as this would have made for a fantastic closing routine. This was a great set and provided a superb finish to what had been a most enjoyable night.

Grantham – Duncan Oakley, Adam Hastings, Jack Barry and John Robertson

Tonight I was in Grantham for the Funhouse Comedy night. This featured a bill that for reasons beyond the control of anyone had had three of the four acts requiring substitution. Sometimes this can be a bit of a lucky dip, but Spiky Mike came up trumps with this bill which featured a wide variety in styles. The Guildhall attracts a loyal audience and tonight Mike had a bit of trouble in finding people whom he hadn’t spoken to before. As he has been compering the room for a long time this also meant that they had heard most of his material over the years, too, which could have limited his options. This might have been tricky, but he was fortunate enough to find a couple who had been married, gotten a divorce and had then started dating again and this provided plenty for him to work with.

Duncan Oakley

Oakley is a fine act whom I don’t tend to see that much of, despite him only living in Nottingham. The last time I saw him perform it had been in Thorncliffe, where he had given everyone a wonderful time, so I was very happy to see that he was performing tonight. I don’t think that it took any more than a minute for his cheerful charm to win the audience over and he never looked back from there. Although Oakley is best known for being a musical comedian, I found the routines in between the songs to be the most enjoyable, but that is probably because I’m just not that into music. I couldn’t find any fault with his banjo or harmonica playing and definitely enjoyed the nicely visual element of the harmonica routine. This was a totally different set to what I had seen before and whilst one song didn’t perhaps hit home as well as the others, this proved to be a crowd pleasing performance.

Adam Hastings

Hastings is possibly the most Geordie act I’ve ever seen outside of Jimmy Nail in Auf Wiedersehen Pet. He deliberately ramps this up by appearing in an old black and white striped NUFC shirt and speaking in the broadest why aye man accent one can imagine. The end result of this is a combination of a character act, novelty act and a very entertaining comedian. Hastings began by commenting about the rooms fixtures and fittings, which made for very tangible comedy. This was followed by a lot of audience interaction, with him asking for opinions on Alan Shearer, knowing that his accent would make the question almost incomprehensible for a few of his interlocutors. This was a lot of fun and there was a great atmosphere during his set, with some cracking throwaway lines being used. I and the room enjoyed this set and over fifteen minutes his shtick didn’t outstay its welcome.

Jack Barry

I’ve seen Barry before in Derby, where he gave a good performance and it is nice to see him progress to playing a bigger room. He began by discussing his former job, before being brought to a slight halt by a chap shouting out that he’d received vouchers following a complaint he had laid against that firm. This didn’t prove to be a set back to Barry as he used it as a lead into the next part of his routine, that of silly complaints he had received. From here he then spoke about his girlfriend (I’m still not a fan of the mock surprise on him or any other comedian having a girlfriend, as it is getting to be very old hat) and went into what was for Grantham, a fairly sexual routine. Barry began this with a bit of mock hesitation, which could have built up the anticipation, but which tonight I think just took a bit of momentum away from him; not much, but a bit. This went down very well, although perhaps the highlight of his set was his tale of a bus ride, which whilst short was a delightful small routine. This was a buoyant set that the room happily relaxed into.

John Robertson

Robertson is a man with a striking presence. I’ve seen him in a leather jacket looking like an extra from Mad Max; I’ve seen him in a velvet jacket looking like an 80’s Bond villain and tonight he was dressed all in leather, looking like a vampire rock star. This is a man who oozes presence and in a way similar to Ian Cognito and Doug Segal, whatever he did for a living people would always turn around to look when he entered a room. Robertson has a powerful voice and doesn’t require a microphone; his natural level hovering somewhere around 11. Having seen him before I knew what to expect and I was keenly anticipating the effect this whirlwind would have upon the room. It was a joy to watch him striding through the audience, not touching the ground as he moved from the odd empty seat to another. This was 30 minutes of stand out improv with just one possibly discordant note sounding. When improvising a set the act has to think on their feet, which Robertson does with gusto, but there is no save point to restart from if you go with something perhaps unwise and I think the comments about a dead child, which in context were understandable and received good laughs could have been very risky. This was the only part of the set that I wasn’t that keen on, but the other 99% was absolutely tremendous – especially the not in Germany line, which I was still laughing at on the way home.

Canal House, Ant Campbell, Katie Mitchell, Mark Williams, Shell Byron as Ally Allerton, Che Burnley, John Hardy, Phil Pagett, Moses Ali Khan and Josh Pugh (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night, held at the canal house. Numbers weren’t as high as previously, but there were still 60-70 paying customers for a new act/material night, which was tremendous. The bill tonight featured a large contingent from the North West, mostly Liverpool, but luckily when Elliott had worked out the running order he was smart enough to not have all of these acts follow one another without a break, as this would have unbalanced the show. Supporting the night, but not performing were the comedians Harry Sanders (with lady from Doncaster) and Nick Mellors.

Josh Pugh (MC)

Pugh is one of the brightest prospects on the circuit and it can only be a matter of time before he is on panel shows, so it was very nice to see him on this bill. He began with admin, explaining the format of the evening and then he had a chat with a few people in the audience, finding out names and jobs, appointing clappers and so on. The people he spoke to all had saintly occupations, working in charity shops, meeting their partner whilst volunteering in Africa and so on, and this could have proved tricky, but Pugh just took it in his stride. He is talented in working his way to material from the replies he received and as ever, his punchlines came from unexpected angles, which he has made almost an art form. Another nice aspect to his work was keeping the night on time, which is very useful in a compere. Pugh is never anything less than fantastic and tonight he showed that he is sharper than ever.

Pugh is performing at the for NCF at the Derby Comedy festival at 17:40 on the 14th of May at the Carneo Lounge.

Ant Campbell

Campbell opened and the only negative issue I had with his set was some of the topics he used: Trump/Clinton being a lose lose scenario and online dating are both areas that a lot of comedians have mined for material and it is very hard for anyone to find a new angle that hasn’t been done before. The tinder material was funny, but it was something that I have heard a lot of versions of, which robbed it of some of the impact it would otherwise have had. There were a lot of very nice lines in this set, such as JJB, Wand, Bunsen burner and blocked, which all received a good response. Campbell’s delivery was workmanlike and without a lot of flair, but it managed to carry conviction and sold his material well. I enjoyed the callback that he ended on. This was a good opening to the night.

Katie Mitchell

Mitchell had a night of two halves; a decision forced upon her by an art prop she needed not being available and her having to quickly rethink her set. She began by getting the audience divided up to make the noises of a distressed train, May getting into a bath and the Russian Revolution, which whilst fun would have benefited from a big finish. This was followed by a convoluted routine based upon a video game which I can imagine working very well with an audience who have played the game, but which tonight didn’t really catch the mood of the room. This half of her set was largely carried by her personality, which is strong and confident. The second half was new material that had come to her mind only in response to what someone had said earlier and this was a tale from when Mitchell was at school. In its raw form, this story was funny and it held the room, as everyone wanted to know how it would end. This half of her set was very entertaining and with a bit of work and artistic licence I can well imagine this story becoming a closing routine that is accessible to all audiences.

Mark Williams

Williams was a relaxed and pleasant presence who largely bantered with the room, feeding in the odd bit of material every now and again. He’s an unthreatening act whom everyone was happy to chat to, confident that he wouldn’t make them look a wally. I don’t know if he does a lot of compering, but if he doesn’t he should, as I can imagine him having a talent for it. There were some nice lines, such as his comment on it being a £1 comedy night, but not a lot of what he said was that memorable and this is a shame. Everyone will remember him being affable and amiable, but unfortunately they won’t remember a lot else. If Williams can match his easy going and genial presence with material with more bite he will be a strong comic.

Shell Byron as Ally Allerton

Next was Shell Byron performing as Ally Allerton, a character act that was subtle enough for some of the audience to perhaps not realise that this was so. She took a low energy approach, speaking slowly and with quite a long gap between reveals. The motivational speaker material was solid and the smoke alarm stood out for its sheer quality. I did think, though, that despite leading into the next routine, the feeling shit routine was a bit overly drawn out. This was a nice set that built up very well.

Che Burnley

Burnley had a very good night and he seems to have moved up a gear in the month since I saw him last. He read the room well and came at it with a lot of energy, which was just what was needed as the level had dropped a bit. His set could be split into a 50-50 mix of material and room work and both went down extremely well. A lot of the audience work consisted of Burnley messing around in a creative way. The mic stand split into two halves, which led to an impromptu Freddy Mercury impression that morphed into a well orchestrated brief audience sing-along to the Banana Boat song. I’m not totally convinced the mic stand splitting like that was a total accident, as Burnley was so smooth in segueing into top quality mirth. However, if it was an accident, he’s great at rolling with the unexpected. If it wasn’t an accident, then he’s great at making it look like it was, either way, it is to his credit. The material was delivered with verve and there was a definite feel good factor to this performance; it has certainly made me want to see this Burnley perform more often.

John Hardy

John Hardy was on his fifth gig and whilst inexperienced he did alright. The material was naturally a work in progress, although buffet was nice enough and although the quiet joke was more of a concept than a routine, if he could but find a reveal to it with a twist then it would be a stand out. Hardy is a well built chap, with a largely bald head and his wearing a black jacket had the unlucky side effect of making him look as if he was taking a break from doing the door, which isn’t the end of the world, but perhaps didn’t help him with his visual presence. For a fifth gig this was a credible performance.

Phil Pagett

Pagett opened well with two jokes that he had made up on the night, which pertained to the events of the show and both were hugely relatable to the audience – I really appreciate it when an act can think on their feet like that. From here he stood, clipboard in hand, trialling some new material in preparation for Edinburgh. Pagett is an excellent crafter on one-liners and anything of his is worth listening to, so I was really looking forwards to seeing this. Some of the jokes were brilliant, especially the darker ones, with a few applause breaks being given and even the ones that weren’t quite up there with his best were still good. This section was then followed with a spot of his established material, which gave for a well rounded and very funny performance.

Moses Ali Khan

Moses is another act that I don’t see enough of. He’s a prolific writer and has a good eye for the funny. Tonight he played the room utilising an audible internal monologue, almost giving the audience a peak into his thoughts. Moses is quite a shrewd psychologist when it comes to audiences and this tactic really drew people into his performance. This grasp of how to work an audience was further demonstrated when he was doing some riddles, all of which had a twist that the chap he drew in didn’t anticipate coming. This was a great set from a very clever comedian.

Canal House – Ben Shannon, Hannah Platt, Jamie Hutchinson, Dave Rivers, Rick Carr, Jim Bayes, Tony Wright, Scott Bennett and Thomas Rackham (Mc)

Last night I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, an evening that is going from strength to strength. There was over 100 people in last night and I’m wondering if a change in the seating to ensure that no one is sat too far away from the stage may be in order – if it can be done so as not to lose capacity, as this is a gig that is surely only a matter of time away from people having to book in advance. It was nice to see Alex Leam present, even if not gigging. I was much impressed with the list of Elliott and thought it a nice way of making a serious point, but less so with Bobby Roode’s walk on music as it is still running on a loop in my head and seems set to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Thomas Rackham (MC)

Rackham is a very genial compere and whilst he hasn’t got the hard edges that can intimidate an audience into behaving, he has likeability and so the result is the same. One thing that did slightly puzzle me about Rackham’s compering was that he had a very good story about a stag night that had taken place (tonight at least) in Nottingham and he used this in response to a girl being a bridesmaid this weekend coming. I was rather surprised that he didn’t use this sooner as it went down a treat and really gave Rackham a link to the audience. The punters at NCF are comedy literate and see a lot of comperes, so it was great to see some nicely quirky elements to Rackham’s work. These make a nice change to the standard cheer ifs and splitting rooms down the middle and I think the crowd appreciated them, too. The foot massage line was great as was the cake, even if I’m not personally sure of the relative merits of gluton free. It’s a shame that the lights were in Rackham’s eyes, as he did seem to spend a lot of his night with his arm in front of his face, as if ready to shield himself from a blow.

Ben Shannon

Shannon is an act whom I’ve never seen compere, but I would like to. He is quite easily distracted and has a free style that would play well with audience work. Last night he had something of a mixed time. I enjoyed the misdirection gag that he began with, after he had been surprised by a chap popping up on the front row from under a table. This was followed by some material where I had very little idea where Shannon was taking us, but I was very interested in finding out, as it was all pretty intriguing. This reminded me of Dan Nicholas, as he, too, is capable of surprise reveals. This was a set with a lot of ups and downs, the room being with Shannon for some, but not all of his work. However, this was new material and so that is par for the course. Just as Shannon seemed to be getting into a rhythm, there was a brief flash of a light and he mistook this for the end of his time and came off before this set had reached critical mass, which was unlucky.

Hannah Platt

Platt’s set was quite frustrating. On a technical level it was very promising. Structurally, this was a well put together set, she knows the value of a slight pause before the reveal and her energy in delivering it was in synch her material. However, it was mostly depressing in tone – abortion and self-harming aren’t easy to make funny. The darker areas did tee up the lighter topics for a nice contrast and could perhaps be seen more as set ups to these areas. However, I believe that the room kept slipping only for her to have to try to regain it with these lighter areas. This was a set that was clever and awkward in possibly equal measure, but for it to work better it may need something more, such as a longer slot so that the audience can build their confidence in her ability to take them to dark places and for the pay off to be worth the journey; over 8-10 minutes I’m not convinced this occurred.

Jamie Hutchinson

I was really pleased to see Hutchinson on the bill. It had been a year since I’d last seen him and I was very curious as to how he had progressed in the meantime and the answer is he has improved no end. His timing was better and his manner of speaking really added a lot to his set. Hutchinson emphasises the last syllable of a word and whether this is deliberate or natural, the result is a forceful delivery that was very in-keeping with his on stage persona. The material was solid and Hutchinson seemed to be close to an applause break throughout his set. This was very enjoyable.

Dave Rivers

Rivers is another act whom I’d not seen for a fair amount of time, so he was another nice addition to the bill. His set was good, with some very nice touches such as Campaign Mode and his delivery kept the room engaged. I think that Rivers has a lot going for him, but to make the most of this, he’ll need to gig more frequently as he wasn’t quite as sharp as when I’d last seen him.

Rick Carr

Carr was an interesting act. His delivery was smooth and polished and his material was good. There were some very nice bits in his set, such as memorable and the bouncing tales (Raoul Moat is a reference that isn’t going to age well, though). However, there weren’t many surprises in the reveals. It’s not that his set was predictable, because it wasn’t, it was just a case of 1 + 1 coming out at 2 every time and it would have been nice for it to have equalled 3 once with there being a twist in a reveal. This was an enjoyable set and Carr was very amiable with it – I think he has potential.

Jim Bayes

When I first saw Bayes was performing I expected him to be the MC, as this is what he is best known for (not quite pigeon holed, yet, though) and he is very good at it. Hence it was nice to see him doing some new material instead. Bayes is a confident presence and the room quickly warmed to him. His delivery is effervescent and he brightens up any room. Bayes’ material was nicely varied and went down very well.

Tony Wright

I’d seen Wright before, performing in Wollaton and he has come a long way in the six months or so since then. Tonight he was the only act who was smartly dressed, which wouldn’t suit all acts, but in Wright’s case it adds a certain something to his presence. Wright was quietly well spoken, having a very correct form of diction and this, combined with his sartorial taste gave him an air of polish. The material was much improved upon what I’d seen before and this was a set that was very well written indeed. It flowed in a way that was very smooth and there were few bits that didn’t add to the whole. I thought that Tufty could have perhaps been edited down slightly and still got the same result and I was a touch surprised that the Jesus material didn’t contain an Easter reference, as that would have been seasonal, but they were the only two minor things that didn’t please me. This was a very clean set, which made the occasion when Wright did swear all the more effective. There was a lot to like about this set.

Scott Bennett

Bennett came to the stage clipboard in hand, reminding me of an infinitely more funny version of Dennis Norden. This was new material being tried out/polished. It’s very hard to judge Bennett’s new material, as he delivers it so skilfully that even very new routines such as hand car wash feel as if they are well established. The warranty expiration line was superb as was Forsyth. Wet wipes shows promise and the only bit that didn’t really land well (and even this was something of a relative term) was duplo, which was related to a topic just a bit out of step with the rest of the set.

Blessington Carriage – Marc Jennings, Allan Lindsay, Donna Scott, Freddie Farrell, Rik Carranza and Sean Percival

Tonight I was at the Blessington Carriage in Derby for the Funhouse comedy night. In addition to Brent and Helen, it was nice to see comedians Gina Overton and Nick ‘not Egyptian’ Mellors there to support the night. Spiky Mike was full of energy, almost bursting with the stuff, as he took to the stage to warm the room up. Mike had a great time with a student teacher from Derby University and his Filipino partner and this was all the better for the fact that the chap he was speaking to had a great sense of humour.

Marc Jennings

Jennings had what was perhaps the hardest job of the night: opening the show. However, this was no impediment to what was an excellent set. He has a strong Scottish accent, but speaks with crystal clear diction, which made it very easy to follow what he was saying. Unusually, Jennings hardly seemed to blink, which gave his delivery added force and certainly the entire room were listening to him. He began with a solid opening joke and then his set blossomed with some very powerful material coming into play. Stood down was a great premise, the driving instructor was good and drink driving was a fantastic line – one where he would have benefited from leaving more time for the laughter break. I’ve heard a fair few routines about working in a call centre (Wozniak has a very good routine on this) and it was highly gratifying to hear something that felt fresh and was also incredibly funny. The callback to close was the cherry on top of an excellent set.

Allan Lindsay

Lindsay had a tricky job in following Jennings and I didn’t really enjoy the first half of his set. Initially he was stood so that he was facing ¾ of the audience, all but ignoring the ¼ on the right hand side of the room, although this did improve as he went on. I thought that the Trump/Clinton material was a bit last season and the reveals from the American section a bit predictable. However, when it came to discussing driving a cab in Glasgow, Lindsay’s set took off in a big way. There were probably five times more laughs for this than the rest of his set combined. This section was great and a joy to hear. Lindsay has skill and with a rethink of his earlier routines he will be a stronger act.

Donna Scott

Scott left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, her performance skills were good. She certainly held the room and managed to engage well with the audience. On the other hand, her material wasn’t especially strong and bits, such as Guy Fawkes were predictable, as was the rule of three coming into play on Star Trek. The poems, which almost verged on anti-comedy, were nice and each one got applause. I’d like to see Scott again in a year or so, with different material, as tonight the room enjoyed her far more than I did.

Freddie Farrell

Farrell had a good night, looking relaxed whilst he gave the room short routines in a performance that always seemed to be moving and building towards a climax. This was a set that gained a lot of momentum without Farrell having to speak quickly, act dramatically or do anything other than deliver solid material. I was impressed with him knowing the local crap town and using that within his set and this went down wonderfully with the audience as did the topper supplied by Mike. This was a very enjoyable set and also one that seemed smoother than the last time I had seen him.

Rik Carranza

I only saw Carranza last week, where he had done well at a gig in Alfreton. Tonight he continued that good work, building upon what I had seen previously. He utilised callbacks to Scott’s set and took full advantage of there being a Filipino sat on the front row. Both of these gave an air of immediacy to his set and there was a lot of laughter and a few applause breaks. Carranza’s set felt like it had come to a natural end with peanuts, but he wisely didn’t leave the audience with that and carried on with what was almost an epilogue to his set – the quick tale of a bus journey, which provided a more upbeat closing routine. This was another good show from a comedian who is clearly on a roll.

Sean Percival

Headlining was Sean Percival who continued his 100% record of smashing every room I’ve seen him perform in. He went down a treat and had most of the room doubled up with laughter. It was nice to see some updated sections and little changes here and there, but after having seen him a number of times, I’d love to see him expand his repertoire.

Bluey’s – Rik Carranza, Billy McGuire, Jared Shooter, Che Burnley, Keith Carter and Ben Briggs (MC)

Last night I was at Bluey’s, the only Australian steakhouse in Alfreton for the FaF Promotions comedy night. This is a gem of a gig that proves that good comedy can be found in places that one wouldn’t necessarily expect it from a first impression. Rich, who formed the front row by being sat on his own, is a man who stands out. He has green hair and looks as alternative as they come. Luckily he’s good natured and has a sense of humour, because last night he became the foil used by most of the comedians, not least our MC, Ben Briggs.

Ben Briggs (MC)

Briggs has performed at Bluey’s before and I shouldn’t be surprised if he was re-booked by popular demand. He came to the stage with a swagger and immediately took charge of the room by making a provocative reference to sheep as we were in Derbyshire and then soon after commenting on the unlikely way the audience pronounced the name of the town. I was very happy to see Briggs had a good memory for faces and was able to recognise people he had spoken to the last time he was there – it means a lot to people when they are remembered. Rich, sat on the front, proved to be a great gift to Briggs, who cheerfully took the P out of his job, his looks and his love of Celtic Folk Punk. He could have tapped out at that and not spoken about Easter eggs, as the room was ready for the first act, but perhaps feeling how strongly the room was with him, Briggs gave them an extra five minutes. This was an overrun that wasn’t really necessary, but the audience were loving everything he did and it didn’t unbalance the night. Briggs built up no end of momentum. His room work was great and there was a huge sense that he could have done or said anything and make it funny. Against this, Briggs was a bit overly sweary, using ‘fuck’ almost like other people use commas and he could perhaps have cut out a few and kept the same force of delivery. This was massively enjoyable compering from an act who was pretty much a force of nature. His room work reminded me of Ian Cognito and that is no mean compliment.

Rik Carranza

Carranza opened speaking fast and giving a buoyant high energy performance. He was very animated with his hands, arms and body, which gave added life to what was a strong delivery. A lot of his material concerned race, but this was complimented by a very nice section about his partner’s nut allergy, which gave his set a nicely balanced feel. He took a bit of a gamble with a section on Australian racism, which given it was being performed in an Aussie bar, may have been taken badly, but this paid off nicely. I enjoyed the comment about a nanny, as this was wonderfully timely and very much of the social media zeitgeist. This was a very good set and Carranza had a sharpness that I’d not seen before.

Billy McGuire

McGuire was a confident presence and he carried on the good work from Carranza, earning a couple of applause breaks. I appreciated how McGuire would change the pace of his jokes, with some having long set ups and some very short and this ensured that the audience were never sure when to expect the reveal. Despite, or perhaps because of, the long set up JFK went down a treat. My personal favourite though, was the caught penis. This was a well delivered set from an act who certainly knows how to work a room.

Jared Shooter

Shooter made a great start with a callback to Celtic Folk Punk as having actually seen Ferocious Dog, as mentioned by Rich on the front row. This was followed up by some very nice room work with comments about how he’d only come for the free tea. Jared was a lot stronger in ad-libbing and finding comedy on the hoof than when I had seen him before and he has made a big leap forwards in his ability to make up comedy as he goes along. It was lucky that he went with a fair bit of room work, as it was six months ago that he last played Bluey’s and this helped to keep his set fresh. Despite speaking a little bit too quickly at times, he was a charismatic presence and gave everyone a good time.

Che Burnley

Burnley opened with a reference to Celtic Folk Punk, which was something of a very enjoyable running joke for the night. From here he went on to deliver a set that was adroit. There was a lot to like in this set, but there were also a few things that I wasn’t so keen on, but they were all quite minor. On the plus side, this was a well written set that was a lot of fun and contained some great lines, such as no score draw and the callbacks to winning an argument were very much appreciated. On the downside, and this isn’t something unique to Burnley, ‘tell you a bit about myself’ and miming kicking a ball when a joke lands are a bit overused. The ending was a trifle anti-climatic after the build up and this was a missed opportunity to finish what had been a highly congenial set on a high.

Keith Carter as Nige

This performance was a true highlight to what had been a great night. Carter plays Nige very well, pitching the character at the right level to carry conviction, but without making people nervous by the aggressive changes in voice or his mannerisms. This was a set that mixed room work and material in a way that not only kept everyone alert, but which also made the time fly by. The way that Nige interacted with the audience was fantastic and there was plenty of evidence of lightning fast thinking. When he reached the guitar solo of a song, telling Rich on the front row that he had time to go and get a beer (and he did actually tootle to the bar and back) was genius. The material was very strong and varied, with plenty of nuance to it. This was a performance that worked on a lot of levels and was simply excellent. I wasn’t in the least surprised when he was requested to do an encore.

New Barrack Tavern – Ben Briggs, Mark Kennedy, Julian Lee, Scott Bennett and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was at the New Barrack Tavern in Sheffield for the Funhouse comedy night. This is a fantastic gig with an audience that are more than up for the show. Kev, the landlord, played host, announcing our MC, Steff Todd onto the stage. This was Todd’s 3rd stint as compere and whilst not the finished article, she is moving in the right direction. I was rather surprised she didn’t reference the fact that she is local to Sheffield, but either way she covered everything that a compere needed to do. She got the room cheering to loosen up a few vocal chords, did the rules, explained the format and found a few people to chat to. The audience members that Todd spoke to largely served as foils for her material. She would do a one-liner and then tie it into one of the people she had been chatting with and this made the night feel nicely inclusive. I still thought that the room work/material balance was a bit skewed in favour of material, but it worked very well and the audience quickly warmed to her.

Ben Briggs

Briggs opened strongly and was playfully provocative in his comments about the age of some of the audience members. He divided the room by cheers into those over and under 40, which was a nice way into the routine, but I felt that he could have been more creative than going with ‘the sound of hope’ – a well used line. It’s odd that he used that line, as Briggs is an original act with a lot of thought to his material. The routines were as you’d expect, dark in tone and the audience stayed with him all the way. I really appreciate seeing Briggs, as he will push people’s expectations of what is and what isn’t funny. Sometimes a comedian can be controversial for the sake of it, but there was far more intelligence behind the writing in this set than that. The observations that he makes are sharp and readily identifiable. When he announced that he was going to see how far he could push it there was a definite sense of anticipation in the room. There was one odd moment were Briggs referenced Peter Sutcliffe, but didn’t pursue it, swiftly moving on, making this seem like a throwaway comment, but it didn’t interfere with the flow of the set. Having not seen him for a while I could see lots of little improvements and tighter wording in this set. Briggs delivers his material with vigour and joy and it is always interesting to see him perform.

Mark Kennedy

We resumed after the intermission with Mark Kennedy, who had quite a contrasting style to Todd and Briggs. Kennedy was low energy and softly spoken with a rather quiet voice. His set was based around short set ups and then the reveal. The material was well written with some well thought out jokes, such as Cigar, which in hindsight was straight forwards but in the way that it takes someone rather smart to think of it in the first place. One man show was a bit obvious, but this was the only line that was. The reveal on bridesmaid worked wonderfully, as it was totally unexpected. I enjoyed the callback to films and felt that this was a very good set from a clever writer.

Julian Lee

I’d only seen Lee once before and that was at the Pun Championship, where despite being runner up, he had given a commanding performance. I was curious as how he would fare tonight, as Todd had used a lot of one-liners and Kennedy had done short set up and reveal jokes and I did wonder if the audience would be happy with puns or want something more long form. The answer is that Lee had a good night, although he did become the millionth comedian to use the line ‘tell you a bit about myself’. The puns were mostly 1st class, especially the opening pun about the Union. The odd one didn’t land and these were of the kind that were more intelligent than funny, but given Lee’s work rate the few that didn’t do well made very little difference to the overall feel of the set, which was one of momentum building. I was particularly pleased with the asides and off the cuff comments made by Lee as puns landed and these did a lot to establish his presence and added to the impact of his set. This was a very enjoyable routine and he is a comedian with a big stage presence.

Scott Bennett

Closing the gig was Scott Bennett, who began by working the room and having some fun with Kev the landlord. His observations were very perceptive and delivered in a totally disarming manner that had everyone onboard within seconds of him beginning his set. Despite only having seen Bennett a few weeks back there was obvious improvement in his routines, just the odd word changed here and there, but it was enough to make tangible gains. The movements from topic to topic were flawless and imperceptible. This was a tremendous set from a superb comedian.

March – end of month review

This has been a great month for comedy; I’ve seen 50 or so acts, ranging from gong shows to a very good English Comedian of the year heat. The highlight was probably ‘Fake Ray’ stealing the show when Jonny Awsum got a volunteer onto the stage to assist with his set – how Jonny kept a straight face I’ll never know. The low point was seeing a gong show entrant do a set based around them having a serious illness, which went from being depressing to bleak in the time it took for them to be voted off.

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

Vince Atta

This was at the English comedian of the year heat. Atta gave a fantastic performance.

From the night:

The final section was opened by Vince Atta. Atta was more or less a shoo in to do well in this contest, the only question I had was over the length of the spot, as I doubt Atta has done anything less than a 20 minute opening or closing slot in years. Atta began by explaining how beat boxing worked at top speed before doing a highly abbreviated version of his usual set. I was sorry he didn’t do resting bitch face, as that is my favourite routine of his. The routine where Atta used Derby was absolutely perfect for this heat and went down a dream. Everything that Atta said or did received a laugh – the meaning of his name in Urdu getting a huge response. Vince brings a real feel good factor into the room and I felt that tonight if just one person had given him a standing ovation the rest of the room would have joined in. This was a great set and he went through as winner of the night.

Jonny Awsum

Similar to Vince Atta in his ability to brighten up a room and make everyone significantly happier than they were before they left the home.

From the night:

Jonny Awsum closed the night and he’s ideal for sending an audience out on a high. There is a huge feel good factor to his work and it is very upbeat. There is also a lot of stagecraft involved, too and Awsum showed how quick on the uptake he was when he was chatting to the couple of the front row. Despite being on a double, he realised straight away that they had probably already been spoken to and the likely questions they had been asked and backed away, moving on to talk to other people. Awsum sings, which he does with verve and he involves the entire room in the songs, which gives his set a great feeling of inclusivity. The highlight of his set was when he got ‘Fake Ray’ on stage to play the harmonica. Getting people on stage must be like minesweeping, as there is always the chance that you’ll pick someone uncomfortably uncooperative, or even worse someone who disrupts the show. Fake Ray turned out to be brilliantly up for the idea. In a way that wasn’t over powering, or especially disruptive, for 5 minutes he managed to steal the show from Awsum, as he joined in mimicking the chord that Jonny was playing. This ended wonderfully with a version of duelling banjos and this was a truly great moment. It was nice to see Awsum do a very welcome encore.

Chris Stokes

A superb set.

From the night:

Chris Stokes had a fantastic night. He started by referencing how young he looked before going on to chat about his life. He made a quiet start chatting away, but this was a set that built up all the way throughout. Stokes demonstrated that he had been listening closely to everything that had been said before and I love it when a comedian can reference people and gags as it makes the night feel bigger than the sum of its parts. He received an applause break for a callback to Nelson’s set and even managed to chat to a couple who knew the small village where he had grown up without losing momentum, although by rights the surprise probably would have wrong footed many other acts. In contrast, Stokes didn’t put a foot wrong throughout his set. There was a lot of good quality writing in evidence and his delivery was perfectly pitched to what he was saying. With his soft West Midlands accent and his pattern and rhythm of speech, Stokes reminded me a lot of Thomas Rackham, as they both sound identical. This was a performance that never came close to outstaying its welcome and Stokes was tremendous.

Honourable Mentions

Clayton Jones, Dave Fensome, Gary Meikle, Phil Pagett, Sean Turner, Steff Todd (MC).

Blessington Carriage – English Comedian of the year heat – Thomas Rackham, Clayton Jones, Phil Pagett, Harry Sanders, Sean Turner, Stephen Cookson, Tom Young, Vince Atta, Sam Pressdee and Harriet Dyer

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy night at the Blessington Carriage for the English Comedian of the Year heat. These are good nights with a wide mix of acts on and tonight was no exception. There were ten acts (three going through to the next round), ranging from the highly experienced Vince Atta to acts who have only been going for a few years. One thing I have noticed in all of these heats is that since the audience can only vote for their favourite three acts there are definitely some injustices done to acts whom they have laughed at, but who haven’t made anyone’s top three. This was particularly true in two cases tonight, where talented acts failed to reap anywhere near to the number of votes they deserved. Spiky Mike received a gift from the Gods in the form of Brad and his friend. When Mike asked if they were together, Brad replied yes, they were dating. Mike then asked Ash about their relationship and she informed the room that they were not together and he was very firmly friend zoned. This was something that the room really enjoyed, but which will no doubt make for a few awkward moments for Brad and Ash when they are both at work for the same company tomorrow. Mike was less lucky with his material about Guinness where in response to his question of who had been out drinking on St Patrick’s Day a room full of fibbers stayed silent, leaving him hanging. This got a big laugh in itself.

Drawing first place on the bill was Thomas Rackham. Rackham’s a decent act who began with a bit of room work before moving into his established material. I’ve not seen him for a while, but it was nice to see little improvements here and there in the wording and I enjoyed his short section on his recent birthday. There was some good material in evidence, but also a few bits that weren’t quite on the same level, but this was still an enjoyable set.

Next was Clayton Jones. I felt that he began slowly – I’ll tell you a bit about myself is probably the most overused line in comedy, apart from my girlfriend, yes she is real. Following this, the African version of his name was ok and it got a laugh, but I felt it a bit obvious. The Pat Jennings reference was nice if you are of a certain age and it was useful that most of the room got the joke more from the context than the reference. At this point Jones began to talk about his two children, one nice, one demonic and at this his set kicked into gear. The tale of being tripped was well acted out and very convincing and easy to relate to (we’ve all had that escalating series of looks at one time or another) and the reveal on the final part of this was very good. This was topped by the correspondence with Durex. Whilst I didn’t rate the first part of his set that highly, the second half was great and this saw Jones through to the next round in 3rd place.

Phil Pagett, whom I regard as a very sharp writer of jokes was next. He gave the room his trademark one-liners, which included a musical gag, which despite the long-ish set up was well worth the pay off. I and the rest of the room found the callback to Brad to be very funny. There are definite shades of Delaney in the quality of Pagett’s writing, the only thing that is missing is Delaney’s sheer joy in getting to deliver jokes. Pagett is quite dry and cerebral and it’s possible that if he were to capture that sheer infectious joy that Delaney has then his performance would receive a massive boost.

We resumed after the intermission with Harry Sanders, another good writer. My only worry with Sanders was that he has performed in Derby a few times and familiarity may have worked against him on the night. Sanders began well with a good lead into his material on Loughborough. Sanders is strongest when he is doing darker material, which is risky in a contest and so he stayed away from this, mostly going with material that would appeal to all. This led to a set that had some good stuff and some not quite there yet stuff. I enjoyed the presents material, but that could be cut down to just showing the titles for the joke to work and maintain the pacing, as the chapter headings were fun, but didn’t add a lot that people didn’t expect. I’m looking forwards to watching Sanders grow as a comic.

Sean Turner opened by asking if everyone was all reet in a strong Geordie accent, which momentarily made me wonder if he was going to do a set full of references to him being a Geordie. Instead he gave the room something a lot more creative. The watch was nicely visual and set up a fun callback for later. The reveal on Hitchiker’s was unexpected and worked very well. Turner even did well with material on having had his prostrate examined, which has been done by 4-5 male comics his age. In style he reminded me of Gavin Webster, as both will tell a joke and then go for a second bite of the cherry by slowly explaining it. This was a very good performance that the room warmed to very quickly. I was very surprised when Turner didn’t make the top three.

Stephen Cookson would perhaps benefit from mixing up his approach to writing a little. A lot of his jokes involved taking something commonplace, such as a saying and then applying the literal meaning to it. Some of these were good, such as static caravan, but over time he suffered from this largely being one joke reworked too many times. It got to the point where not only did the law of diminishing returns kick in, but I think a lot of the audience were playing guess the punchline to the set up. Having a few that aren’t literal would break this up. Cookson’s delivery was low energy and he seemed to be focussed on a spot 2′ above the heads of the audience which wasn’t the end of the world, but I don’t think that it helped him form a bond with the audience during this contest.

Tom Young with his big smile made a lively start and instantly engaged with the room. He had a timely callback to Mike’s compering and since Pagett and he were dressed in the same coloured waistcoats, 6’7 Young had a wonderful line about being a king size version of Pagett. This made for a very energetic start and Young was definitely doing well. However, his actual material was a lot weaker than the stuff he had made up during the last half hour, lacking punch. This was definitely a case of him having stronger skills with delivery and ad-libbing than with writing. It would have been interesting to have seen Young do more room work, as he was on firmer footing there.

The final section was opened by Vince Atta. Atta was more or less a shoo in to do well in this contest, the only question I had was over the length of the spot, as I doubt Atta has done anything less than a 20 minute opening or closing slot in years. Atta began by explaining how beat boxing worked at top speed before doing a highly abbreviated version of his usual set. I was sorry he didn’t do resting bitch face, as that is my favourite routine of his. The routine where Atta used Derby was absolutely perfect for this heat and went down a dream. Everything that Atta said or did received a laugh – the meaning of his name in Urdu getting a huge response. Vince brings a real feel good factor into the room and I felt that tonight if just one person had given him a standing ovation the rest of the room would have joined in. This was a great set and he went through as winner of the night.

The hard job of following Vince Atta fell to Sam Pressdee. Pressdee’s set can be split into two halves: The Black Country and things that are personal to her. The Yam Yam translated into English didn’t achieve a lot, as no one really seemed that interested in a dialect that wasn’t local to Derby or far enough away to be exotic. This bit was more factual than comedy. The potted history of the Black Country and how it got its name would fall under this heading, too, although staying in that area, the line about benefits was decent enough. The other half of the set concerned an ex of Pressdee’s and a condition that she has. There wasn’t a lot of comedy in this; it felt like she was just making the most of the chance to talk about her ex in front of people rather than it being material. Pressdee’s performance would benefit from sounding less like a read through and more like an actual delivery.

The final act was Harriet Dyer, another favourite to go through. Dyer gave a very memorable performance. She was never still for an instant, jerking this way and then the next, almost as if she had been given a new body that afternoon and hadn’t quite worked out the instructions yet. This proved to be highly engaging and the room were quite fascinated by her. In addition to this, Dyer seemed to have three different people trying to do a set at once, with innumerable asides and tangents being followed. This was a case where no one had any idea what would be said next and it worked extremely well, with her totally holding the audience. The jokes were good and no one could have predicted anything that she said. Dyer easily made it through to the next round in second place.

Gainsborough Town Hall – Wayne the Weird, Rob Mulholland and Tony Burgess

Last night I was at the Funhouse comedy night at Gainsborough’s town hall. Originally this was to be in the side room, but the town hall management had moved the show into the main room, which made the night harder work for all concerned than what it would have been. The main room was huge, it is easily the largest space I’ve seen live comedy performed in outside of theatres. The ceiling was perhaps 20′ high, the stage large enough to put a brass band on and a good portion of the 100 strong audience were sat quite a way away on the other side of a bannister. Spiky Mike did what he could by setting out chairs and tables at the front and moving people forwards, but it was obvious that this was going to be something of an uphill struggle to get and maintain an atmosphere, whereas ironically, 100 people in the smaller room would have made it electric. Things weren’t helped by the front row being made up of an entire rugby team who early on divested themselves of much of an interest in the show and left the acts playing to the remaining audience. As it turned out, everyone apart from the rugby team had a really good night and were very complimentary after the show. However, although the night was fun, this was something of a missed opportunity for Gainsborough, because in the smaller room this had the potential to have been a much better gig.

The opening act was Wayne the Weird, a comedy magician. He began quickly with two fast jokes delivered perhaps a little bit before the room had adjusted to him being on stage and these seemed to get missed by a lot of the audience. Wayne was on firmer ground with his first volunteer, Abi, who was a giggler. She was the ideal assistant, giggling, looking happy to be on stage and quick enough on the uptake not to drag things out. He wasn’t so lucky with his other volunteers who just seemed that bit too slow in doing the various tasks, but I think getting anyone on stage is always going to be that bit dicey. The magic was good, with no flaws and I was impressed with just how much Wayne could express through his eyes and physicality on the last trick. I enjoyed the twists on each trick and the finale is excellent – no one was expecting the big reveal at the end. This was a good set, but one that could be improved with a few tweaks. Wayne would benefit from a mic that clips to his jacket, as he would occasionally step away from the microphone to do a trick or set up an assistant and it was hard to hear what he was saying. The comments of the various assistants were all but impossible to hear and Wayne may have done well to repeat what they were saying if it was relevant or perhaps to kill the odd bit of dead time. There was a fair bit of dead time, where a trick was being set up (especially the card trick when the volunteers were handing out cards to the audience) and some of this may be due to the size of the room, but a little bit of patter would have kept the energy going. This was a nicely enjoyable set.

Rob Mulholland, taking a night off from having the time of his life playing Death in Panel Beaters, was on in the middle. Most comics have a stage persona that is to some degree an exaggerated version of themselves, but with Mulholland he’s the same on or off stage. He is something of a force of nature and what you see is what you get. He’s not so much a big cheeky lad, but instead someone who is happy to push things and see how far they can go (incidentally, this is probably why he is superb on Panel Beaters). Last night, though, his material was quite restrained and easily accessible to the audience. He began by informing the audience that this was his second visit to Gainsborough in 24 hours, due to him mistaking the booking and coming a day early. This went down well as did the twirling and the taxi driver. The cat routine was the standout, but although he didn’t perform it last night, I’ve always thought that his routine about suicide is the stronger of the two, even if it isn’t an ideal closing. Mulholland’s delivery was fast and since moving to Manchester he’s picked up a bit of a Manc twang, which would occasionally come out on certain words. Owing to the disinterest of the rugby team, he ended up playing to the remaining audience who were very much with him. There was a lot of laughter and he was on the verge of an applause break more than once. There was just one discordant note and that was when Mulholland put down a loud talker on the front row. This he did effectively enough to make sure that the rest of the rugby team talked quietly, but he a bit more forceful with his comments than what he needed to be. The rest of the audience cheered though and he most definitely got away with it. Mulholland is a cracking act who will have a career in comedy for as long as he wants.

Tony Burgess closed the gig. He was quietly spoken, almost whispering into the microphone. This helped to encourage the room to listen to him, but was largely lost on the rugby team and so he wisely concentrated on the rest of the audience. Burgess’ material concerned odd things found in Aldi, turning 40, drugs and a head. The drugs material I couldn’t engage with as it is a topic I know nothing about and even with Burgess making it accessible, I still struggled to feel much interest in it. Fortunately the rest of the audience were thoroughly enjoying it. Life changes at 40 is something I’ve heard a lot of comedians do material on and I didn’t feel he’d said anything especially new on it. However, the routine about the head was extremely good – this was very enjoyable and funny. Burgess had a good night and went down well.