Tonight I was at my second strong gong show in two nights. It was the Funhouse comedy gong show at the Blessington Carriage, where on a cold and dismal January night a nicely sized crowd had assembled. One of the best things about this venue is the regular audience members. They have a great mix of being thoroughly decent people, welcoming to new folk and above all, up for comedy and this makes for a great time. Tonight Mike had a lot of fun chatting with a forklift instructor and a young prison office who almost unbelievably hadn’t heard of Porridge.
Death (Matt West)
We opened the show with a character act. Matt West made his way to the stage as Death, dressed in hooded robe, carrying a scythe in his gloved hands. He certainly looked and sounded the part. However, the superb Rob Mulholland has played Death as part of the Panelbeaters show in that room several times and has more or less made the role his own, so I suspected that West was going to have to work very hard to overcome that. West began well by wrong footing the audience and then he began a monologue that to begin with was funny in parts, but not the whole. He got some good giggles for this, but having his face cowled made it very hard for him to form any bond with the audience, which is doubly unfortunate in a vote based competition. Death may have warmed up if he had been kept on longer and we may have seen some stronger material, but as it was, he was an early gonging, prompting Spiky Mike to announce that Death had just died.
I saw Muscat in Sheffield late last year and he had performed a very promising set there. Tonight he continued the good work in his own laid back chilled style. If he could look any more relaxed on stage he would have to lie down on it. It’s great to watch Muscat deliver his set in such a way and the crowd found it easy to get onboard. He has a strong ability with accents and impersonations and this adds a lot to what he is doing; if used well I can see it helping him stand out, too. The material about Trump didn’t contain anything that no one else has said, but was delivered with such rawness that it still felt fresh, which was good going and the impersonation was the icing on the cake. I enjoyed the joke featuring a doctor, but did wonder if a mechanic may have possibly worked better. Muscat made it through to the final without breaking a sweat.
Next was John James who tonight didn’t really seem to find his feet. He began with a quick visual gag that took a moment for the audience to twig onto – I’m not sure everyone expected him to begin so swiftly from picking the mic up and so were still settling down. This was followed by a prop gag with a clever topper. Not a bad start, but from here James did a number of jokes about being a man of advancing years, but as this is such a well travelled topic by male comedians of advancing years it struggled to hit home. His delivery wasn’t as fluid as it might have been, seeming if not tongue tied, perhaps a bit dry mouthed and on the verge of tripping on his words. The combination of so so material and his delivery ensured that he didn’t make the final.
Tony Cowards (new material)
Seeing Tony Cowards here was a lovely surprise. He was doing new material under gong show conditions, which is as good a way of road testing five minutes of jokes as any, as the feedback is more or less instantaneous. He hit the ground running and produced strings of gags on a number of topics and it was wonderful to see how quickly he got into that lovely rhythm of telling a joke and then everyone laughing. Some of the jokes were dark, but it made no difference, he got huge laughs and 5 green cards all the way through his five minutes. Despite being voted into the final without a dissenting card, Tony did the square thing and relinquished his final spot to the other acts. This was a smashing try out of new material.
We resumed after the intermission with a first timer, Oscar Roberts, who is only 17 and looks so much younger I’m surprised he didn’t have trouble getting into the venue. Mike gave him a big build up and the audience were fully prepared to support him. Sometimes this can result in an inexperienced act being kept on longer than is warranted simply not to upset them. However, tonight Roberts fully deserved his stage time. He has the rhythm of a trans-Atlantic act and I shouldn’t be surprised if he is a big fan of Netflix comedy specials. This rhythm stood him in good stead as he delivered some very well thought out material that managed to be relatable, tangible and funny all in the same breath. Roberts understandably looked a bit nervous, but was confident enough to ask the audience to back him up on things, which helped to bring people further into his set and mitigated some of the harm caused by him not making much eye contact with people. In addition, his mic technique requires a bit of work, as he held it way too low, but that will come with time and is a minor point. This was a well constructed set, with some very nice callbacks and a good turn of phrase. Roberts made it through to the final with ease, being one of the few acts to get applause and although he didn’t win tonight, he definitely has a lot of potential and should gig as often as he can.
Roberts had had a very good gig and Dixon was shrewd to open by referencing this. From here he gave the room the darkest and nearest the knuckle set of the night. There were a lot of quality dark jokes here and he kept the vast majority of the room with him all the way throughout his set, which is unlike a lot of comics with similar material who seem to alienate a fair few people. I think I got to the reveal on Killers before him, but I was probably the only person who did and it was a good line anyway (the topper was even better). Netflix and Chill made a bit of a slow start, but came alive with Star Wars. I was a bit nonplussed about the Redditch line, as I know nothing about the place apart from it’s in the West Midlands. This was a joke where the gag gave context to Redditch, rather than Redditch giving context to the gag, but it may work better for people who know the place. Dixon’s delivery was forceful and in a small room like this, it dominated it, which was in synch with his tone and aided the performance. Dixon made the final, placing second, and there was a lot to like in this set.
Mold gave the room a strong performance, which went down very well. He had the audience doing the sound effects whilst he acted out a routine and this was nicely refreshing. However, the material itself was reasonable instead of mighty. The odd items contained within Aldi has been covered a few times before and I don’t think that Mold really broke any new ground with that or the enthusiasm of their staff in scanning goods. This was an enjoyable set, but that was due to Mold’s performance instead of the material. With different material he would be a much more powerful act. He was still entertaining, though, and he made it through to the final.
The Australian Knight was next and despite having a soft Aussie accent he never referenced it, which probably ensured that a lot of the audience spent time playing at guessing where he was from. He began by acting nervous, which I wasn’t that keen on and I think that his subdued style suffered by going on after the lively Mold. Knight received laughs, but there seemed to be too long a gap between one laugh and the next and he was voted off after the second vote.
I only saw Tiernan last night, so won’t review him in full here. However, I will say that he got huge laughs and demonstrated his quality. He was a narrow second last night and won tonight. I’m sure I’ll see him next doing a ten spot somewhere.
Scott Bennett (new material)
Last night I saw Bennett storming it at the New Barrack Tavern with some new material and tonight he literally carried on from where he had gotten to on his clipboard with much the same result. It’s a fascinating process watching Bennett trying to whittle down two shows worth of first class material into just one show. It is no longer comedy engineering; it is beyond that – it is now the further refinement of stuff that is already refined. There are no weak routines, it is instead a question of finding a stronger or shorter way of saying things whilst keeping to the theme and avoiding overlap or suggestions of tonal shift. There were few parts that suggested easy improvement, perhaps funeral needed more and possibly flipflops, too. Guatemalan may be changeable to Brazilian, as it is a bit of a niche reference and that ties in to the next joke better and there is a possible link from warnings into another routine, but either way Bennett is well on his way to crafting a superb show.