Ashby – English Comedian of the Year Semi Final – Mickey Sharma, Paul B Edwards, Freddy Quinne, Rob Mulholland, Clayton Jones, Jon Pearson, Simon Lomas and Vince Atta

Tonight I was in the Lyric Rooms in Ashby for the first of the Funhouse hosted semi finals of the English Comedian of the Year. There were 8 contestants, 4 of whom over a 10 minute set I could see as front runners, but with the remainder being easily good enough to still be in with a shout. This was one of those contests where the place in the running order could make or break someone’s night. A few of the entrants had performed in the Ashby heat, so Mike asked the audience who had been there to see that and the answer out of a well attended night was only a handful. As with all of these shows the voting was very much skewed in favour of the top three acts.

Mickey Sharma

The running order was chosen at random with one exception and I’m not sure whether Sharma volunteering to go on first was a tactical decision on his part, or if he was being chivalrous. Sharma’s best material is sexually explicit and going on early in the night, with daylight outside and an audience yet to fully loosen up was a high risk move. He made a slow start which wasn’t helped with some material about Isis, which may have worked better later in the evening. There was some nice material about online dating, but as a topic this was largely done to death in 2015 and I think this diluted its’ impact. Sharma is a very visual performer and whilst he may stand still, the rest of his body is active, whether he is doing a high five or similarly illustrating a point and this definitely holds people’s attention. This wasn’t a bad set, but it wasn’t strong enough to keep him in with a chance.

Paul B Edwards

Edwards gave the room an enjoyable set with material that consisted of facebook foibles, Fifa election candidates and his garden. I wasn’t too impressed with one line about being single by choice, as I’ve heard a few versions of that joke, but the rest of his material was fun and the garden was nicely different. His delivery was fast and he built up a fair bit of momentum with his good performance skills, but on a bill like this he needed a little bit more.

Freddy Quinne

Quinne began with a solid relatable opening and then never let the pace slacken from there. Despite being the second act in a row to have material about facebook he was such a powerful presence that it still worked like a charm. This was a set with a palpable feeling that it was going somewhere. The material was great and it was lovely to see little added touches, such as when he mimed out sending a tweet and the pause before delivering the reveal on the twitter routine was belting. With a lot of laughter and 4 applause breaks, Quinne was very obviously the man to beat prior to the first break. After seeing all of the other acts I personally still had him in second place, which he missed out on. However, I can see him being a wild card entry for the final.

Rob Mulholland

We resumed after the intermission with Rob Mulholland who after discussing his height did a bit of room work. I liked the naughty Toby Jug reference he made about a chap sat on the front row, but surprisingly Rob didn’t capitalise on what I thought was a good opportunity to work with the audience and he soon launched into material. He gave the room a choice between nice or filth and predictably they went for the filth. The material was good, it built up logically and the topper to the callback was fantastic. However, I don’t think that Mulholland was quite as sharp as I’ve seen him and despite picking up a respectable number of votes he didn’t make it to the final.

Clayton Jones

Jones had a very good night, holding the room well and delivering some nice material. The Yorkie bar was the first heavy hitter of his set, as his vivid descriptions brought his performance to life. One of the things that impressed me the most about Jones was his ability to bring the audience into his show. Some acts don’t acknowledge there are people in the same room, but Jones was nodding to folk, giving them looks and really conveying the feeling that this was live and laid on specially for them. This gave him a wonderful connect to the audience. I enjoyed this set and the rest of the room did, too, voting him through in second place by a comfortable margin.

Jon Pearson

Pearson opened by referencing that Rob had already done tall jokes and then used this as a springboard into the gym routine. This is good material, but tonight it didn’t go down as well as it usually does. I think the reason for this is that he’s performed a few times in Ashby, doing a middle spot not too long ago and it may have been seen before by just enough people to make a difference. Pearson entertained the room but didn’t make it to the final.

Simon Lomas

Lomas is a phenomenon. Tonight the running order was kind to him, but only because it gave his comedy brain the chance to spot a callback to Clayton’s set, which he used to great effect. A lot of acts like to draw the audience in, but Lomas makes a real virtue of keeping them at arms length whilst he stands there, looking like he has accidentally found himself on stage after taking a wrong turn when going to get some crisps from the bar. A lot of comedians like to have a good ratio of laughs per minute and this makes a lot of sense. They will metaphorically jab at the audience with each fast jab delivering a small laugh. In contrast Simon employs a slower delivery with a lot of judiciously timed pauses. A right hook rather than a jab if you like, and everything lands with the force of a knockout punch. The material was incredibly strong and similar to Josh Pugh’s in that the reveals come at you from surprising angles. Within 4 minutes, he was getting laughs for the set ups and it wasn’t long after that that he was getting laughs simply for standing there. Lomas is a deadpan act and with a low energy level it can be hard to keep an audience over a period of time, but I think he may have conquered this problem (at least over 10 minutes) by changing from material to a bit of room work, but keeping the character whilst simultaneously still surprising the audience with an out of character comment. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but he still pulled it off handsomely. There was an absolute gift from the Gods of comedy when he overheard a lady talking in the audience. Simon doesn’t look like the sort of act that it is a big risk to talk in front of (eg, only a fool would talk in front of someone like John Robertson). However, he challenged this lady with a threat (plus topper) that was so incongruous that the room pretty much pissed themselves laughing, I hurt myself because I was laughing so hard at it and Freddy Quinne looked like he was going to fall off of his chair as he was laughing so much. This was a tour de force and when it came to the vote when Mike announced Lomas’s name that many arms went up, it was simply easier to count those who didn’t have him as their favourite. He went through by a total landslide.

Vince Atta

Atta suffered badly going on after Lomas. I thought that he’d be fine and would be able to ride the wave created by Lomas as they are such different acts, but instead it was almost as if the audience were laughed out. Vince got laughs and was the showman that he always is, delivering a performance that was as good as ever, but this is the first time I’ve seen him have anything less than a triumphant gig.

The Maze – Richard Probert, Gary Peterson, Chris Stiles, Matt West, Houssem Rhaiem, Nathan Newton-Willington, David Cox, Jimbo, Sandra Hale, Mo Haroon, Ben Verhoven, Henry Hempstead, Rob Callaghan and Sham Zaman

Tonight I was in Nottingham at The Maze for the Funhouse gong show. It seems like ages since I last went to a gong, so I was really looking forwards to this. There were a bumper 15 acts booked in and since 14 actually turned up, this made for quite a busy night. I’d only seen a few of the acts before and it’s always fun to see new comedians. My only concern was that there were a couple of local acts who had managed to bring a lot of friends with them. This isn’t usually a problem, but if it came to a cheer off we just had to hope they did the square thing and cheered the loudest for talent; something that Mike reminded them of just before the final commenced. The room was initially slow to warm up, but Mike won them over with Lilly proving to be an ideal audience member: one who laughed loudly and often.

Richard Probert

Probert wearing a blazer and a big collar was the opening act, beginning with a standard love child of joke. He gave the room an extended anecdote and then a routine about anal sex; both of which suffered from being overly descriptive and too wordy. They would have benefited from being edited down to just enough exposition to set the scene and then he could have hit the room with the funny and built up momentum. Instead the humour ended up lost amongst the verbiage. Although the pull back and reveal on the party got a bit of a laugh, I think he could have done better as I doubt anyone was hugely surprised by the direction he took. Probert’s delivery was clear, but a little bit more warmth in it to draw people in would have been nice. He didn’t do badly, making the final, but I think he could improve.

Gary Peterson

Peterson has good performance skills and has the confidence to work an audience, referencing them in his set. I was very happy to see that he had been listening to Mike’s compering and could address material to individual audience members by name. This definitely helped him to hold the room’s attention. His material wasn’t bad, but could perhaps do with a bit more work and especially a big pay off. The routine based on local place names was fun, but I don’t think it will travel that well as a lot of audiences seem a bit disengaged with material specific to not their town. The section based upon rectal investigations (Peterson was unlucky being the second act in a row to have an anal based routine) was stronger with the roast line being the stand out of the set.

Chris Stiles

Stiles had a good night with the Barnsley pilot consistently proving to be his strongest material. The plumber was good, but needs a bigger closing line. I do think that tonight Stiles missed a trick by not tying his material into the room, but he did well enough to get through to the final.

Matt West

West began weakly with a joke based around his name; he didn’t speak that clearly whilst doing this line and I think that half of the room didn’t quite catch on that it was a joke at first and even having heard it all myself I’d still say that a rewording of it at the least is in order. The rest of West’s set was better, but it only really came to life with him doing the enthusiastic advertiser type voice. This stuff was good and the audience were onboard with it. He built up a lot of momentum with that.

Houssem Rhaiem

Rhaiem has had a funny old week. Six days ago he made it through to the semi finals of the English Comedian of the Year, which is excellent going, but tonight he failed to make it to the final of this gong show. Rhaiem’s material is good, but his delivery seemed a little bit off his normal self. There was an odd moment where he started a routine and then very obviously bailed on it after about 10 seconds, which was unusual as he’s more polished than this. I was still surprised to see him get gonged off at the final hurdle as his material was good enough to justify him getting through and there were certainly weaker acts that made it to the final.

Nathan Newton-Willington

Newton-Willington was performing his first ever gig, the first of two comedy newcomers on the bill. As is usual under these circumstances Mike not only gave him a supportive build up, but also gave him a sweet spot, going on just after an intermission. I’m not going to say his material was especially original – all of these individual topics: an account of losing one’s virginity, pouting duck face and that there are Ladyboys in Thailand have been covered more than a few times. However, he wasn’t bad and for a first attempt he did alright, with a slightly generous audience seeing him through to the final.

David Cox

Cox had an odd night. He began with material on bears and Yellowstone park, which was a bit weak. Not offensively so, but there were just too many gaps between laughs and he may be better off dropping that as the remaining four minutes or so of his set was a quantum leap of improvement. The remainder of Cox’s material concerned activities in space and this had the feel of good, well thought out material. Unicef was a great line and it was nice to see a callback used. The visual closing gag to it, the money shot of the routine, was extremely good. If all of Cox’s set had had the mirth of the space routine then he would be much improved.

Jimbo

I’ve seen Jimbo twice before, but both of those times he was dressed as if going line dancing and he was absolutely plastered. This was the first time I’ve seen him in a normal suit and in any kind of state approaching sobriety. In contrast to the previous occasions he was funny for all of the right reasons. A lot of his jokes were based on his age, but these were generally creative and they struck a chord with the audience, although the terminal illness did go over a few people’s heads. This was a set with a lot of laughter from the audience.

Sandra Hale

Through a quirk of the running order the two oldest entrants were next to each other on the bill and this may have caused a clash if they hadn’t got completely different approaches. Hale began with a callback to Probert’s set, but as a fair amount of time had passed since he had been on, this didn’t land as well as it might have. The visual May observations were timely, but not especially deep. A lot of Hale’s set concerned sex and this material wasn’t bad, but a lot of the laughter came from the surprise of a senior citizen describing a use for sperm rather than the intrinsic comedy value of the material itself. Hale didn’t do badly, she made the room laugh and made the final, but I think her material isn’t as strong as it could be.

Mo Haroon

Haroon had an excellent night. At first I was a bit concerned for him, as the previous four acts had all been voted through to the final. Usually after a long stretch of winners the judges will be that bit harsher, as they realise that they have to vote someone off and I did think that he would have to work harder to counter this psychology. Haroon has some great material; his set is well written and very well thought out. He also had a good awareness of who was whom in the room, using a lady called India as the fulcrum for some material, making it feel very much of the now and highly relevant to the audience. Haroon was the first and only act of the night to get an applause break, earning not just the one, but three in fairly quick succession. This was a very good set that had a lot going for it and he was a very worthy winner of the night. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him and appreciated the work behind the writing.

Ben Verhoven

Verhoven, the second first timer, opened the final section of the night and he had a lot of support from the audience, with perhaps 2/5 of the room being friends of his. For a new act his material wasn’t especially bad, with the punching above his weight line being the stand out. What let him down was his delivery – Verhoven forgot his lines a couple of times and this really robbed him of momentum. However, he was well supported and did make the final, where luckily his friends did the square thing by Haroon and cheered the loudest for the funniest.

Henry Hempstead

Hempstead made the slowest start to any comedy that I have ever seen. He walked onto the stage, looking almost confused as to what he was doing, deliberately cultivating an air of the unusual. He was silent whilst doing this. He then took a drink of water prior to walking the short distance to the other side of the stage to put his glass down and then a slow walk back to the mic, which he then fiddled with in silence. This was then followed by him dodging behind the Funhouse banner, from where he finally began to speak. This all seemed to take more or less forever. Sometimes a silent stunt like this can build up the comedic tension, but in this case all it seemed to do was make some of the room mildly curious as to what he was up to and a lot, I’d imagine, irritated by it. The purpose of this was a low powered joke that opened a satirical routine about Mike Pence (Vice President of the US). A further problem with this is that Mike Pence and any foibles of his aren’t well known enough over here for an audience to readily get the observations or perhaps even to care overly much about them. This entire act was something that might have read well on paper as an arts student concept, but as a comedy set it was horrible.

Rob Callaghan

Callaghan isn’t the most experienced of acts and this came through in just how stilted and awkward he looked stood on stage. His material about his work colleague would be improved if he cut down the number of towns that he mentions, as this list was really strung out far beyond what the joke warranted and this may have explained his gonging.

Sham Zaman

I’ve had a run of seeing Zaman at almost every other gig during the last few weeks and tonight he was his usual self, surreal, lively and compelling viewing. He held the room and received solid laughs.

Bluey’s – Jason Neale, Sham Zaman, Luke Wright, Roger Monkhouse and Wayne Beese (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s for the FaF Comedy night. It’s always lovely to come here, as the audience are not only up for comedy, but everyone is really well looked after by Leonie and Bluey and it’s great to see the landlord so supportive of the night. Another thing that pleased me about tonight was that all of the acts stayed after their sets to watch each other perform and it’s nice when that happens.

Wayne Beese (MC)

I really rate Beese as a compere. He has excellent people skills and just seems able to get that bit more out of an audience than many others and all without being pushy or in anyone’s face. He has a quiet voice that I’ve never heard him raise and this seems to calm people and draw them in, making listening to him mandatory. Beese also has a natural sense of when to move on – he manages to find the balance between talking to one person and then knowing when it is time to spread his attention further. I was impressed by his ability to remember people whom he spoke to 18 months before, when he last appeared here. Tonight he discovered quite a number of characters in the pub and wove them into his work, building unlikely scenarios for them to be involved in, all of which he managed to keep relatable. There was a lovely little moment when he asked people to cheer if they’d not been before and one lady cheered with enthusiasm and then suddenly realised she was the only person – her ‘Yaaaaaay! Oh!’ was rather nice. Beese had a very good night.

Jason Neale

Neale opened, building nicely upon the goodwill formed by Beese’s compering. He began with a bit of audience participation, which whilst superficially similar to something O’Neil does ended up going in a very different direction. This made for a fun and attention grabbing opening and the jokes that it span off into were strong enough to establish Neale with the audience. Most of Neale’s set concerned trying for a baby and the joy of kids. This was well constructed and had a logical flow with some good callbacks. Skin to skin was decent, but perhaps not quite at the same level as the rest of his material. Neale had a positive delivery and received a lot of laughter; this was an enjoyable set.

Sham Zaman

This is the third time I’ve seen Sham in just over two weeks, but it is also the first time I’ve seen him perform more than seven minutes and at something other than a contest. His set began with a surprise; he thought he was on second after the intermission and so had to jump out of his seat and make ready very quickly before getting to the stage. Sham has a very fast delivery, almost relentless and this helps him no end in building momentum. Tonight the room responded with gusts of laughter, no matter how surreal his material became and he was smashing the gig for perhaps the first 8 minutes of his set, definitely being stronger than at either of the two heats that I’d seen him at recently. However, and it’s possible that I’m wrong, but I rather think that after this time the audience reaction dipped a bit. Not massively, but I’ve a suspicion that his fast speed maybe had them feeling exhausted towards the end of his set. This was a subtle change in the feeling I had coming from the audience and I think it is hard to be definite on that from just one ten spot. Either way, he still did very well.

Luke Wright

Preston based Wright was next and he was a huge change of pace to the turbocharged Sham Zaman. Initially I thought that Wright suffered a bit from this and it may have been better if he had gone on first out of the two, but he swiftly made his presence felt. Wright had a pleasingly slow and engaging delivery that was almost conversational in tone. In this he reminded me of Alun Cochrane and like Cochrane a lot of his potency comes from his material. Wright had a set that was very well put together, indeed. The standout routine was one involving helpful phrases when holidaying overseas and there were numerous ways in which Wright could have taken this. I was very happy that none of them were obvious and with how they built up. This was a very impressive set from a comedian that has definitely got something going for him.

Roger Monkhouse

Monkhouse is a highly skilled act. He has quite convoluted set ups with plenty of extraneous words and quite long gaps between punchlines. On paper this shouldn’t work that well, but Monkhouse does more than merely make it work, he gets a lot of mileage out of it. He is a comedian who looks plausible as he stands on stage with a slightly mischievous grin and after the first couple of fairly quick jokes the audience has enough confidence in him to happily go with the long set ups in the certain knowledge that the reveal will be worth it. Monkhouse looks like he’s having fun on stage and as is often the case, this is infectious and the audience enjoy themselves that bit more. This was another good performance by him.

Panel Beaters – Sam Gore, Freddy Quinne, Will Duggan, Andrew Bird and Death

Tonight I was in Derby for the Funhouse Comedy night at the Blessington Carriage – the final one prior to the Summer move outdoors to Bar One. This was something of a special night with Panel Beaters being performed. This was minus a host following an unavoidable cancellation from Caimh McDonnell, with Death playing himself and also acting as host. Unusually it was an all male line up, which was a surprise as I get the impression that a lot of effort goes into presenting as varied a panel as can be had. There was only one act present that I hadn’t seen before, but knowing the level of talent on the panel this didn’t concern me in the least.

Rob Mulholland (played by Death)

It seemed odd having Death play host as well as doing his usual role and whilst it worked, it didn’t work as well as having a host. I felt that it weakened Death somewhat, as he was quite a jovial host, even if obsessed with lemon and herb. I do prefer it when Death is on the sidelines, coming in with a killer line every so often. That way his impact and authority is always top notch. However, he was still very good comedic value, getting a lot of the best laughs (Buddha converted to Islam was brilliant and I’ve a feeling that will follow a certain contestant for a while) . Despite a hitch with the props, everything else went well. The format was explained and the odd part of the show was repeated for the benefit of the podcast recording. Death kept the night on schedule and ensured that the various rounds, (pitch, party broadcast, slogan, etc) were wrapped up before the contestants ran out of good material.

Sam Gore

I’ve seen Gore twice before. Once at a showcase in Edinburgh, where he did very well and on Panelbeaters a while ago, where he had also had a good night. Tonight he stood out for three very good reasons. One, his material was dark and edgy, which fits in with the premise of the show. Two, he had put a lot of work into preparing for this and had bags of material to choose from on every topic and three, he was very funny. Gore didn’t quite dominate proceedings to the exclusion of the other contestants, but like Bennett two weeks ago, I feel that he had that much material he ended up restraining himself and deliberately foregoing some jokes in order to give other people chance to comment. Even so, it did seem that when each new round was announced the contestants would pause and wait for him to go first. The quality of his material was very strong, with only the odd miss, such as smoke alarm, which was a bit deep. A few jokes such as Pepsi can deserved a lot more. Gore was extremely good and is someone I’d definitely want to see more of.

Will Duggan

Duggan had easily the most cerebral material of the panellists tonight. Some of this was just that bit too clever to be instantly funny, requiring a moment for the audience to get it. This was a shame because although not all of his material was as accessible as the other panellists, it was of a very high calibre. Duggan had a dry delivery, which worked very well with his material and although he was ultimately bumped off by Death, I very much enjoyed what I saw of him.

Freddy Quinne

I was very pleased to see Quinne on the bill, but I will confess to expecting him to be more active during the first half, where he was relatively quiet (food bank was a definite standout, though). However, in second half he came to life in a big way and came out with a lot of great lines. ‘Sock’ was pretty grim, but also very funny and it was great just watching him banter with everyone else. Quinne did well, but I was expecting just that little bit more from him.

Andrew Bird

The last time I saw Bird was at Mike’s birthday party where he did a short set. I had enjoyed that and so I was curious to see how he’d do tonight. Like Gore he seemed to have loads of material and this was a big positive. As the buzzers were not available each contestant had to make their own noise and Bird was the only one who really transformed that into an opportunity. He chose ‘yes’ for his sound and the varying ways in which he inflected this simple word with emphasis was remarkably funny and since he fully committed to it for the entire show this became a very nice running joke. Out of all of the contestants Bird was probably the most consistently excellent with his answers, getting a laugh for almost everything he said. The only bit of his that I wasn’t keen on was the Dragon’s Den/shot gun joke, which I’ve heard a few versions of. In a nice touch he did the square thing with crediting Brent with suggesting a great line for him to use. This was a strong performance and he was chosen to be saved from Death.

NBT – Deage Paxton, Dan Triscott, Stephen Harper, Ben Wearmouth, Lou Conran, Zahra Barri, Sham Zaman, Steff Todd, Freddy Quinne, Tom Taylor and Masai Graham

Last night I was at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse hosted Sheffield heat of English Comedian of the Year. Every heat I’ve been to has been a cracker and this one was no exception. The NBT is a great venue, with an audience that allows the acts time to show they are funny, instead of making an instant decision, which is always welcome. Strangely the room hadn’t sold out, which was odd, as this is usually one of those places where it’s useful to book a ticket well in advance. As with all of the heats, the voting was heavily skewed towards the top three acts. The format is that every audience member votes for their favourite three comics and this means that 75% of the comedians who thoroughly entertained the room, but weren’t in anyone’s top three go home with very few votes. It must be quite disconcerting to have perhaps been the 4th favourite of 20 people and pick up hardly any votes just through not being in their top three. The running order was chosen by picking cards with lowest to highest in the suite choosing their slots first. This inadvertently led to most of the more experienced and stronger acts going on later in the night and all three ladies picking to perform in the middle section, which did give the show a bit of an unbalanced feel. Mike, in his jazzy shorts, had fun compering the gig, discovering a man with the unlikely profession of currency trader. This prompted a useful correction from Kev the landlord of ‘money launderer!’

Deage Paxton

Paxton didn’t have a great night. He began with 20 seconds of silence whilst he looked around the room and fixed a few people with his stare. This built up a bit of tension, but the time could perhaps have been better spent using material. He followed this with a not too bad ginger joke and some one-liners, all said in an accent that probably had a lot of people trying to work out where he was from and which he may have done well to address. Paxton delivered his material looking directly at certain members of the audience, rather than staring off into the middle distance and this could have helped him to build a connection with the people sat there. Unfortunately a lot of his material wasn’t that strong and he had a slight defensive vibe to his set, where he’d comment on how much he liked his jokes and I think this pushed people away from him. He had the feel of someone who is heavily influenced by American stand ups, but hasn’t yet really mastered how to make it work for him. At around the five minute mark of the seven minute slot, Paxton acknowledged that he wasn’t going to go through and announced that he was just going to do his favourite jokes, which got a great laugh from everyone, especially Mike, who looked in danger of falling off of his chair. Although Paxton didn’t do well, he can learn from his experience and improve for the future.

Daniel Triscott

Triscott, wearing a nice shirt and jacket and polished shoes was visually a cut above most of the contestants. Looking smartly dressed doesn’t make a comedian any funnier, but it can give them an air of seriousness and often an audience will sit up and take note of that. This initially helped Triscott establish himself as he delivered a set that was a mixture of one-liners and short routines. The material was something of a curate’s egg and would benefit from some editing. There were some very good lines, the number plate routine built up very well indeed and the twist at the end was extremely good. However, for every good joke in the arsenal, there was another that wasn’t quite up there. The rake description was ok, but as it needed an explanation, it lost pace and perhaps did more harm than good to the overall set and this was true of a few of the short routines that were just slightly overly wordy. Not massively so, but just enough to rob them of the impact they may have had if they had been more punchy. This wasn’t a bad set, but it was one that with a few tweaks could be a lot better. The framework is there for something rather good.

Stephen Harper

Harper was another act who would be stronger with an editing of his material. He got laughs, but the gaps between the punchlines were too long for him to really gain any momentum and when he did an extended anecdote there was a palpable feeling of the room slipping away from him. This was an act who ran out of steam before his time was finished. However, there were a lot of positives, too. Harper has a nice smile and looked happy to be there and the audience responded well to this by being equally happy to see him – even when he began to lose traction the audience were still cordial towards him. There was evidence of some quick wits in his retort when he was corrected over Dawn’s name and there was a welcome twist on having a girlfriend. With more experience Harper will be an improved act, perhaps an obvious point, but still a valid one.

Ben Wearmouth

Wearmouth was a relaxing presence with his a slow delivery and whilst this didn’t excite the room, he certainly held everyone’s attention. There were some lovely lines, such as sleeping bag and Buckeroo which managed to paint a vivid picture and be surprising at the same time. The bit about odd laws of the Isle of Man was a missed opportunity, as the example given was more of an example rather than being something intrinsically funny in itself and this could be improved upon. Wearmouth has improved since I last saw him and whilst he entertained the room, he just needed that bit more.

Lou Conran

I’ve only ever seen Conran twice and both times she’s impressed me on and off the stage. Simply put, she’s one of those rare people who can just brighten up a room by simply being there. Last night she gave a smashing performance and was the first act to have the entire room rocking with laughter. She mixed good material, great timing and solid performance skills. Conran would address material directly to audience members (remembering people’s names from Mike’s compering), spreading this out amongst those sat at the front and this really brought everyone onboard quickly. Her material is largely based on orifices and over seven minutes this didn’t outstay its’ welcome. The result of this was that she gained bags of momentum and went through to the next round as winner of the heat.

Zahra Barri

Barri had the tricky job of following Conran. Sometimes it is possible to ride the wave created when going on after a strong act, but this works best when the comics are very different in style and last night the differences weren’t marked enough for Barri to really benefit from the running order. In fact, if anything it probably hurt her night. On the positive side Barri has a clear delivery with good diction. There were no ums and erms or awkward pauses. Her material was decent, although she did lack a knockout joke. However, what I felt let her down was the lack of surprises or twists in a lot of her reveals. Whilst the specifics of the reveals weren’t always obvious, the type of punchline was. If you assumed she was heading towards a celebrity nonce, then you might not have got the right prison cell, but your guess was probably in the same wing of the prison. With a few more surprises Barri would make a bigger impact.

Sham Zaman

Zaman is an high energy act whose delivery reminds me of Tim Fitzhigham. They both talk nineteen to the dozen, repeat a few lines here and there and both build up a lot of impetus. Zaman gave the room fifteen minutes of material in seven, talking directly to the odd audience member. He is a bubbly presence and although sometimes it’s possible to lose track of the odd sentence due to how fast he speaks, Zaman has a great rhythm in his delivery and remains funny even if you may be hard pressed for the specifics of why you are laughing. This was a fun set that the room enjoyed a lot.

Steff Todd

Sheffield born Todd had the accent to match the venue, talking about her ‘fern’ rather than phone, which tickled me for all of the right reasons. I found her accent to be very endearing and it definitely adds to her presence. Todd was an act who built up a lot of momentum as she delivered a set that included some great one-liners and some impressions. The impressions were all of celebrities whom I’ve never ever heard speak, but because Todd spoke the words that you could easily imagine these people saying they still worked very nicely. This kept her set fresh and added a nice touch of variety to her act. This was a very enjoyable performance that gained a lot of laughter from the audience (all apart from one lady who was the exception, not laughing at anything) and seemed to end all too soon for my liking. After Conran Todd had been the most popular act of the night to this point.

Freddy Quinne

On any bill Quinne would have to be a serious contender. Over twenty minutes I’d consider him quite possibly unbeatable, but I was curious as to whether seven minutes would be enough for him to build up a head of steam. As it happened, he powered through the room making it through to the next round and being the act I most enjoyed. He began with a fairly long set up, which seemed to eat time until he got to the funny bit which amply justified the investment in it. This was just the start of a performance that included three or four routines that all landed knockout blows. Any one of these routines would have stood out for quality and squeezing them all into the one set was highly impressive. The delivery fully did justice to the material, being slightly camp when talking about his sister and having great tonal quality. It’s lovely when an act manages to place the stress on the correct syllable of certain words to get the maximum emphasis of what they are saying – it’s a subtle touch but one that massively adds value and clarity to their delivery. Also, it is usually the comedians who speak quietly that draw the audience in, but Quinne managed to achieve that by talking loudly, which is pretty exceptional. This was a stand out performance that saw Quinne through to the next round.

Tom Taylor

Taylor is a delightfully surreal act who is consistently very good. He is also perceptive when it comes to constructing his set and this is demonstrated in the quality of his work. In seven minutes he managed to find time for some sharp observations about the room, some great jokes and some lovely short songs and this was seven minutes that went by rather quickly. What I appreciated the most about this set was that he constantly wrong footed the audience. They would follow the set up and reach one conclusion, whereas Taylor would then reveal a punchline that was unexpected and which landed all the more because of it. I don’t think that there was a single line or moment that didn’t add mirth during this performance. Taylor comfortably made it through to the next round.

Masai Graham

Graham was a comedian whom I think everyone saw as a real contender to make it through to the next round. Unfortunately despite putting in a strong showing he didn’t make it and this could be due to a paradox in his material. Masai is at his best when he is doing dark material, yet his darker stuff slightly split the room. Not massively so, but I think it just stopped enough people voting for him to hurt his chances. Naturally if he’d been squeaky clean he wouldn’t have been as funny as he was, so it’s a bit of an Hobson’s choice. Masai got a lot of laughs from the off with his joke about the cat and there were some fantastic gags in his set. The new chemist based joke worked well on facebook and works even better live, being a highlight of the night. It’s superb how Masai let the audience think they’d got to the punchline before him and then proving otherwise. This was a great performance from an act who did very well.

Acts that impressed me the most – May

This has been a fun month for comedy, with me attending the Derby Comedy Festival and seeing some very enjoyable contest heats in Leek and Leicester, plus the usual club nights. In fact it made it tricky to narrow down who has impressed me the most. I could quite easily have included both Kev’s Komedy Kitchen and Rob Kemp’s The Elvis Dead as they are brilliant shows.

These are the comedians who have impressed me the most:

Darius Davies

This was from the Leek heat of English Comedian of the Year.

From the night:

I’d not seen Davies prior to last night, but he’d been tipped as one of the men to beat, so I was very interested in seeing how he made out. He began by working the room, pointing out the oddities of the night and effortlessly working in callbacks to Radu’s set and a shout out that had been received. This was very much of the moment and the audience really went with it. This was then followed by material which Davies delivered fast with a powerful voice. He built up bags of momentum, which combined with standout material and a strong presence saw Davies through to the next round as he narrowly took first place. This was a cracking set.

Adam Rowe

Another one from the Leek heat of English Comedian of the Year:

I was very pleased to see Rowe on the bill. He’s got a career in comedy ahead of him, but as he’s from the other side of the country to me, I don’t tend to see much of him. Last night he treated the room to a polished set and a sharp delivery. His voice found the perfect pitch when commenting about his jacket and his material flowed very well indeed. Out of all of the contestants he felt the most like a pro act cutting down a longer set to fit the contests’ odd seven minute time slot. It was no surprise to see him go through and he was only one vote behind Davies.

Radu Isac

I saw Isac at the English Comedian of the Year, which featured a very strong line up.

From the night:

Radu is a man who always has an amused look in his eyes, almost as if he can see the funny in everything that he sees and this is reflected in his strong writing and stagecraft. Last night he had a slower start than I was expecting, as the room seemed a little bit unsure of him for the first 40 seconds or so. However, he quickly won them round with some very good material, a lot of which I’d not heard before. I’ve seen Radu perform a few times and I was expecting to see a fair bit of the routines that won him the Funhouse Champion of Champions award last year, so it was much to his credit that he performed a largely different set to that. This was a performance that went down very well and Radu finished a very strong 3rd, going through to the semi finals.

Freddy Quinne

This was a set the length of an Edinburgh preview, but rather than going to Edinburgh Quinne is filming a dvd, which is probably a better course of action.

From the night:

This was an hour that flew by. Sometimes an hour long show feels like an hour and occasionally it can feel like more, but this never came close to outstaying its welcome and I don’t think anyone would have objected if there had been more. It was extremely funny and the nice warm feeling that a great show imparts stayed with me all of the way home. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it, the rest of the audience seemed to feel the same way and it isn’t often that you see someone put a £20 note in a bucket collection. This is a cracking show.

Vince Atta

I saw Atta at a rowdy bank holiday Sunday gig, where it had felt like touch and go whether the room was even playable.

From the night:

After the intermission Atta closed the show. Initially the room were slow to settle down, but within two minutes of Vince demonstrating his gift with the beatbox, they were his. Paradoxically for such an audio based act, a lot of the best laughs come from Atta’s facial expressions whilst performing. The way he looks when doing resting bitch face is almost worth the ticket price alone. In fact it was whilst he was doing this routine that he received a comedic gift. One chap, totally ignoring the notice that Helen had placed on the door next to the stage, blithely wandered in and foolishly asked Vince who the fuck he was, to which quick as a flash, he replied, ‘the man with the microphone, whilst you’re the guy with the……’ at which point he hit the loop button, which played, ‘resting bitch face’. This was cracking timing and it was a stand out moment that went down very well. For the finale Atta may have been taking a risk in getting three drunken audience members up on stage and I’ll confess that it was a bit unusual watching one volunteer licking the bald head of another. However, this worked out very well in the end, with everyone playing along nicely. This was a good set and one that I think everyone enjoyed a lot. Atta is a unique act, but also a very talented one.

Honourable mentions:

Andy Askins, Danny Clives, Joe Bowley, Liam Jeavons, Mat Taylor, Tom King,

Hawthorns – Tom King, Harry Sanders, Sarah Johnson, Vince Atta and Tony Basnett (MC)

Tonight I was in South Normanton at the Hawthorns for an NCF gig. Bank holiday Sunday gigs are always tough, as most of the audience have been drinking all day. Or if like me, they’ve bought a ticket in advance, there is always a chance that they won’t make it due to various reasons. Tonight the venue didn’t appear to have pushed the show. If you are able to walk into a pub and it looks like you are going to have to ask at the bar if they have comedy on and if so where, then the venue really need to make more of an effort. The result of this was that there wasn’t a huge audience at the beginning of the show. In fact it was mostly one extended group until people began to pop in from the main lounge after Tom King’s set. This initial group had that unhappy combination of not being regular comedy goers and a small village close knit unit attitude that made them confident to shout out, heckle each other and generally make this gig look like a car crash waiting to happen. This probably explained why the seated comedians resembled a group of gladiators who were waiting to be thrown to the wolves.

I arrived late to this show because I assumed that the 1900 time on the website was for doors and it would be a 2000 start. Luckily the show had been a little bit delayed and I wasn’t that late. Annoyingly, though, I only just caught the last few minutes of Tony Basnett’s compering. This was frustrating because what I saw looked to be pretty good and it would have been nice to have seen it from the beginning. I saw him do the rules and explain the night, give a great retort to a man who shouted out about using his phone and get a nice amount of laughter whilst he prepared the room for our opening act. I wish I’d seen him from the beginning.

Tom King

By going on first, King took a bullet for the team and he never complained or moaned about how he’d have been better in a later slot, which is a credit to him. He even managed to get some snippets of material out before he decided to cut his losses and banter with the audience. At this stage, there was just the one extended group in the room and they wanted the night to be about themselves. If Tom had asked which one of them they wanted him to roast and what ammunition they had for him, they would have been in heaven. What they didn’t want was material or to give someone else attention. This was unfortunate, because King has a lot to offer, but tonight he demonstrated that he is also comfortable chatting away and winging it. There was a lovely moment when he tried to do material about his beard and one lady shouted out that it could be worse, it could be ginger, to which he replied, deadpan, ‘fuck off, it is ginger!’ This was followed by more audience work, with the landlord then announcing that he was sending through another couple of punters and could Tom rip the piss out of them for him? King didn’t have the sort of night that he might have hoped for, but he handled it well.

Harry Sanders

I was a bit concerned for Sanders, as he doesn’t have the presence that King has and I was worried that this rowdy audience would act up even more. However, by this time enough people had filtered into the room to dilute the effect of the rowdy group and whilst they never really settled down all night, they did start to get behind the show. Some of this was down to Sanders’ material, which can be divided into two types. Anything remotely cerebral that Harry did was a dead loss. Sanders is a smart chap and this is reflected in his writing. He has some good lines that work well, provided the audience is clever enough or sober enough to get them. Tonight these sank without trace, which made the delivery rhythm odd for me, because where he was leaving gaps for laughter in these bits there wasn’t any. However, Sanders has some very nice dark material, too. He has a mind that works well along these lines and his darker stuff went down a treat, especially the Harris books. I liked the new topper on the striped pyjamas routine, too. The end result of this was that Sanders got something like a gig out of tonight.

Sarah Johnson

I’ve only seen Johnson once before, so out of all of the acts, she’s the one that it is the most difficult to tell how much the rowdy crowd interfered with her performance. She began well with a bit of local knowledge and this was followed by a set where the room largely gave her attention. Johnson is a confident presence and has a positive delivery which helped her a lot. There was some nice material being used, such as the birth routine and the holiday with her friend. These both had some nice touches. However, there were other bits, such as bending noise, take that as a maybe and so on that I’ve heard other people do similar versions of. This didn’t make them bad lines, but I did think if she could strengthen her material a bit to match her delivery she would do well.

Vince Atta

After the intermission Atta closed the show. Initially the room were slow to settle down, but within two minutes of Vince demonstrating his gift with the beatbox, they were his. Paradoxically for such an audio based act, a lot of the best laughs come from Atta’s facial expressions whilst performing. The way he looks when doing resting bitch face is almost worth the ticket price alone. In fact it was whilst he was doing this routine that he received a comedic gift. One chap, totally ignoring the notice that Helen had placed on the door next to the stage, blithely wandered in and foolishly asked Vince who the fuck he was, to which quick as a flash, he replied, ‘the man with the microphone, whilst you’re the guy with the……’ at which point he hit the loop button, which played, ‘resting bitch face’. This was cracking timing and it was a stand out moment that went down very well. For the finale Atta may have been taking a risk in getting three drunken audience members up on stage and I’ll confess that it was a bit unusual watching one volunteer licking the bald head of another. However, this worked out very well in the end, with everyone playing along nicely. This was a good set and one that I think everyone enjoyed a lot. Atta is a unique act, but also a very talented one.

Panelbeaters – hosted by Caimh McDonnell, feat. Scott Bennett, Karen Bayley, Phil Pagett, Peter Brush and with Rob Mulholland as Death

Last night I was in Derby at the Blessington Carriage for another Funhouse organised episode of Panelbeaters. It was very nice to see Brent and Spiky Mike putting out extra chairs for this show, although the extra people didn’t help keep the place any cooler. This was a room that seemed to heat up very quickly and I really did feel for the contestants sat under the lights. It was great to see Harry Sanders there to watch and I was surprised that there weren’t more comedians watching the performance, as this really is something special. The last time I saw the show, they had recently had an interesting time in Liverpool and the same was true of this one and their comments about the Liverpudlian audience were hilarious and provided a wonderful, if inadvertent touch of continuity. This was a show where it was useful that the audience had a good general knowledge and grasp of current affairs, as there was a lot of satire and references that may have been missed by the odd person.

The host tonight was Caimh McDonnell, the owner of an infectious giggle. He began by explaining the format and how it was all going to work, in the process warming up the audience. This didn’t take long and we were soon into the show. Caimh kept everything to a tight schedule whilst simultaneously checking that everyone had nothing else to add in any of the rounds. This was impressive, as it is natural for people to want to get in one last line and this never ever came close to degenerating into comics trying to shout over each other. McDonnell and Death (Rob Mulholland) bounce off of each other very well and it’s fun just watching them take the piss out of each other. A lot of the joy of this show came simply from watching top notch comedians just bantering away with each other and in the case of McDonnell telling a funny anecdote about a bit of audience interaction that went awry in Coventry.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Rob Mulholland playing Death. Mulholland has a creative mind that naturally pushes the envelope as far as it will go. However, this is allied to an intelligence and self-awareness that ensures that he isn’t dark or edgy for the sake of it. Instead, he manages to skate along the edges, but retains the audience whilst being very funny. I’m particularly happy about how Mulholland plays death as an overworked tradesman, almost slightly miffed about getting jobs outside of his normal workload. Last night Death got a lot of applause for his endorsement of the Tory party, which was a great touch.

The panellists were Scott Bennett, who spent the first part sat mostly behind a speaker, Karen Bayley with Bertie the dog, Phil Pagett and Peter Brush. All of these brought something different to the mix.

Bennett might have been the most regular guest on the roster and I could see why he’s often invited to take part. He had loads of material for each category. This is a comic who had put a lot of work into getting material for the questions that may come up and this was evident in both the volume and quality of his output. Bennett paints a vivid picture and it was very easy for the audience to get on board with him when he launched into what were almost miniature routines, such as the ‘Turd Card’, which I’m hoping he develops further, as it is a cracking premise. Bennett was also incredibly fast on the buzzer and at times seemed to be restraining himself from jumping in too often. In addition to this, it was obvious that Scott was fully with the idea behind the show and was being deliberately dark and provocative with his jokes. He did this so well that on the way home I had to explain to my cousin that this was actually very far removed Bennett’s normal stock in trade, which is family friendly.

Karen Bayley made a slow start in the show, not really establishing her presence until the second half. She did well with the jokes about her gran, but in contrast to the other contestants she wasn’t very dark or edgy and this may not have helped her to stand out.

Phil Pagett had a good night, with the ‘I wouldn’t say….’ round almost being tailor made for this one-liner expert. There were some rather splendid ad-libs present, such as Barkalepsy and the rolling series of gags about Hungary were spot on. Whilst Bennett scored with mini routines, Pagett gained his laughter from some very sharply observed comments and this all added to the variety of the panel.

Peter Brush is a very intelligent comedian who writes clever routines which he delivers from a low status perspective. In some ways, this made him almost the odd one out, as he would pause and then give his line at his own pace and this was not only a nice contrast, but it also proved that good things came to those who waited. Brush’s notion about people having one vote was a genius idea and following recent elections and plebiscites one that a lot of people were in sympathy with. It was clear that Brush had done his research on Derby and was able to slide in a provocative comment about Clough doing his best work in local rivals, Nottingham. A few of his references were missed by some of the audience, such as the Fake Sheikh, but for those who did get them they were extremely impressive. Bush’s line about the pussy was so incongruous to be splendiferously hilarious.

So you think you’re Funny? – Terry and Ted, Chelsea Thompson, Joe Bowley, Carla Pol, Moses Francis, Claire Keegan, Luca Love, Hannah Platt, Mathew Taylor, Sham Zaman and James

Tonight I was in Leicester for the So you think you’re Funny? heat, organised by Funhouse Comedy. This involved an early start for the show which was much appreciated by those acts who had to be at work the next day. This contest is open to comedians who have been gigging for a year and they have seven minutes for their performance. There was to be no winner announced after the show, instead the judges were to make their announcements later in the year, after other heats. This meant that they were free to send a few acts through if they had been impressed by more than one, or perhaps none, if no one was what they were looking for. Whilst there weren’t many acts on the bill that I’d seen before, it was a wonderfully diverse line up with a good gender balance and a selection of musical, character, prop, double and one liner acts. The room was cold to begin with and seemed reluctant to warm up, with Spiky Mike having to work hard to inject energy into the audience.

Terry and Ted

The opening act was a double act. It was only yesterday that I was saying how infrequent these are on the circuit and then lo and behold, two in two days. These two Geordies performed as characters, with Ted in shorts and a sports top and Terry dressed up like an 80’s radio star. They began with the well used trope of one wanting to do one thing (life coaching) and the other another thing (inventions) and the set went from one topic to the other. However, despite their energy levels they did suffer from most of their material not being that strong. Their best joke was a breakfast based prop gag, but the majority of their stuff sank in a room that still seemed reticent about laughing.

Chelsea Thompson

With her quiet Liverpudlian voice and low powered start Thompson seemed to begin on the back foot. She had a smooth delivery, but unfortunately it sounded more like a read through than a performance in front of a live audience and in this she wasn’t helped by her material. These were mostly lengthy anecdotes with too long a gap between the jokes. Thompson was humorous rather than funny and there was a definite feel of the room slipping away from her. With more punchy material she would be a stronger act.

Joe Bowley

Bowley made for an intriguing figure as he was stood on stage with 3D glasses sat over his real spectacles. He built on this with the most varied approach in style of the night. His seven minutes included magic, props, music and jokes and he managed to feel fresh all of the way throughout. This was a highly visual set, where one didn’t want to take one’s eyes away from the stage in case of missing something. I especially enjoyed the non-sequiturs, these added a lot of mirth to his set. There was one slip up with his phone not playing a bit of music, but he handled that so smoothly that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was part of his act. Bowley closed with a risky song, one that could have seen him sent off if this had been a gong show, but just as the mood of the room began to shift he turned it around with a great twist to the song. This was a very good set. Bowley isn’t the finished article, but he’s got a lot going for him.

Carla Pol

The Russian accented Italian Carla Pol had a good night. Her lively presence won the room over very quickly and they seemed to warm to her faster than any of the other acts. To begin with her material wasn’t hugely stand out, but the further she got into her set the stronger her material became – Brexit was very good indeed. This was a very enjoyable set from someone who has funny bones.

Moses Francis

We resumed after the intermission with Moses Francis who had a mixed night. He began well with the coolest walk onto the stage of anyone present. Following this he demonstrated a good ability with accents and solid performance skills. These added a lot of depth to his set, but his material let him down. This wasn’t that great. I think a lot of people will remember his stage presence, but will not be able to recall a lot of what he actually said. Francis misjudged his timing and massively under ran, which gave his set the feel of a missed opportunity. I’d like to see him again, though.

Claire Keegan

I’d seen Keegan before at the Funhouse gong show at the Rigger, near Stoke. Here she delivered a set that veered from being bleak to merely being depressing, so I was curious as to what we would get tonight. Unfortunately it was largely more of the same, with a dislocated hip, IBS and having her cervix cauterised providing a lot of her material. I found these to be depressing topics and her delivery didn’t add any lift to them. However, despite this, I did enjoy her reply to a note received from some old neighbours. Keegan was an act that split the room, with the female half finding her set funnier than the male half.

Luca Love

Roger Swift is a prop act who does deliberately bad puns with such energy and verve to make him a wonderful act. Instead, Love was a prop act who was just doing bad puns. Unfortunately he didn’t have the energy or presence to make them work and groans far outnumbered laughs. I did enjoy bolognese, though, that was a fun gag and was also the highlight of his set. Love is a new act and the only way is up.

Hannah Platt

I’d seen Platt before at the Canal House and she was a frustrating act then and she was frustrating tonight, too. She has obvious ability. Her timing is good, her construction is also good and it’s nice to see a deadpan delivery. However, this is all thrown back by her choice of topics that she mines for material – self harm, abortion and suicide. These are all depressing and I feel that with more upbeat material, or at least something less bleak, she would be much improved. As it was, she got a lot of laughs from the comedians, but didn’t seem to fare so well with the actual audience.

Mathew Taylor

Taylor had a very good night, getting laughs by the bucket load. Taylor demonstrated some very high quality writing in his one-liners. A lot of these were very clever and the odd joke that didn’t get as big a laugh as it might was usually because it took a moment to sink in, such as the Mayo gag. It was nice to see an act have to pause for the laughter to subside. Taylor does have to work on his stage presence though, as he didn’t look comfortable and seemed to be unsure of what to do with his hands, putting them in his pockets every so often. I thoroughly enjoyed Taylor’s set; his writing was excellent. After 16 gigs, mostly at the Roadhouse, he would benefit from gigging more widely and I’d like to see how he develops as a comedian.

Sham Zaman

Sham Zaman was another act who had a good night. He has a bubbly stage presence and was able to get laughs even when the quality of his material occasionally slipped a touch. Zaman was fast speaking, delivering ten minutes of material in seven at the speed of a man holding an auction. He built up a lot of momentum and was rewarded with a lot of laughter. This was a set where the audience had to listen carefully to get everything he said and there was a lot to enjoy in this set. Zaman was one of the four acts that the audience really seemed to go with.

James

The well dressed James gave the room two songs. He didn’t really come across as a comedian, but instead seemed more like a musician who was dipping his toes into comedy songs. The two songs were well sung, but the lyrics were humorous instead of funny. If he had bantered before and between songs then he may have done better, but instead it was more like a musical turn had stumbled onto the bill instead of a comedian.

The Shinnon – Tom Taylor, Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney, Seymour Mace and Jim Bayes (MC)

Tonight I was in North Wingfield at The Shinnon for the FaF Comedy night. This is a show that always sells out and it’s easy to see why. The room will hold about 75 people, but with the low ceiling and acoustics it generates an atmosphere far larger than one would expect. This was a bit of an unusual bill in some ways, because apart from Bayes as MC all of the acts were either slightly unusual or at the least different to the usual of a comic standing there telling jokes. It was a fine tribute to the spirit of this audience that it all worked out so well.

Jim Bayes (MC)

I missed part of the first section of Bayes’ work, which was very unfortunate, because what I did see was very good. He found a few prominent people to chat to, whom he’d return to every so often and this worked very well as he gently teased them. Bayes has a big welcoming smile and definitely has a lot of likeability, which combined with a good level of wit gave the net result of the room being ready very quickly. Bayes was also very disciplined. He explained the format, did the rules and didn’t spend that much time on stage that the show became all about him.

Tom Taylor

Taylor is an interesting act, playing it with a very memorable comedy persona that is almost on the level of a character act. With his lively jumper, nervous laugh, faux nerves and occasional commentary on his own jokes he stands out for his oddness. A lot of his set is delivered sat down, whilst he plays his keyboard and this can make it hard to see him, but as most of the fun is in listening to him this isn’t a huge issue. There were some very strong lines in this set, such as tomato and transvestite and it was nice to see him get the local shit town correct. I was less impressed with the inclusion of Jeremy Kyle’s waiting room as a line, but he did rescue that overused reference with a nice twist to it. There were a lot of jokes here that were offbeat and it was nice to be surprised with the direction he took them in. About 60% of the set was jokes and the remaining 40% short songs, almost ditties that he’d accompany with his keyboard work. This helped to keep his set fresh and it was one that the room certainly went with.

Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney

There aren’t many double acts gigging on the circuit – Raymond and Timpkins, The Monks and the Two Syds are the only other ones who spring readily to mind. Originally I thought that Kirwan and McBurney were going to be reprising Padding and Bantz, which they performed a bespoke version of at the Midlands Comedy Awards last year (a definite highlight of that night), but instead it was to be as themselves, with a sketch to close on. This sounded pretty good to me and judging by the audience’s laughter, it came over pretty well to the rest of the room, too. Most of the double acts that have been on TV have relied on two very different performers, one tall, the other short or fat, or one the funny man and the other the straight man, feeding lines to the funny man. These two are more equally matched, with both being similar in build and also both getting an equal share of the best lines. Where they both differ is in accents, Kirwan has a Black Country accent and McBurney a surprisingly soft Scottish accent for a man born in Glasgow. This difference in accents added an extra emphasis to their delivery, especially when they were taking the piss out of each other. There is also a great chemistry between the two. They are relaxed together on stage and trust each other to be funny which gave their set a nice flow as there was no awkwardness in the delivery; it wasn’t stilted in any way. I’m quite surprised that they haven’t known each other longer than four years. The material itself was quite new, occasionally a bit surreal and in some places a bit raw, but they had more than enough presence for this not to make any real difference to the night. There was a nice applause break for McBurney demonstrating to Kirwan how to chat to the audience and there were some solid lines in here. Gogglebox was a very clever line that even though it got a big laugh arguably deserved more. I was impressed by the looks of disbelief they could both utilise, such as McBurney’s look of disbelief at Kirwan’s singing. The sketch that they closed on had the odd moment where the energy dropped, but it was good fun and a nice way to end a set that everyone enjoyed.

Seymour Mace

Mace had a good night, but I think if he’d gone on much later the room would have reached its tipping point. He began well with a bit of surreal room work and continued with offbeat material throughout his set. There were a couple of occasions where the audience got jokes at their own pace, such as the Top 10, but generally everyone was there with him. Mace is a man who dresses up to look funny or at the least unusual, with a checked suit and a sheriffs badge. He never referred to this badge the once, which to me just added to how amusing its presence on his suit was. Mace’s delivery is very animated and he made full use of all of the stage as he alternatively sang, danced and acted out parts of his show. His closing routine was a fitting finale to what had been a very nice night.