Book Review – Angels in the Moonlight by Caimh McDonnell

McDonnell has already written two superb books: A man with one of those faces and The day that never comes and he has made it the hat trick with this little treasure. He is a consistently strong writer who has an eye for the funny in everyday settings. You can see this in the tales that he relates when he is performing on stage – they are hilarious. This natural ability to tell a story has made it through to his books.

This latest work is a prequel featuring the most striking character of the Dublin Trilogy: Bunny McGarry. McGarry is big, rough, feared by the criminals and disliked by his bosses. So far so Vic Mackey or Jack Regan, but McGarry is different. He’s more believable, well rounded and fun. He’s a character that both threatens to dominate the book, yet also one that you can’t get enough of. The bit players add a lot of enjoyment, too, with The Commissioner, Deccie and a sheep having a bad day being stand outs.

The plot is sound and rattles along at a fair old pace. You become really invested in discovering how everything will turn out in the end and you really resent having to put the book down. I’ll be mightily disappointed if there are only four books in this series.

Aficionados of the UK Comedy Circuit will be tickled pink by a couple of Easter eggs in the book. Buy it and enjoy it.

 

 

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Book Review – The day that never comes by Caimh McDonnell

day

Sequels are a tricky business. This is true of films, tv series and books. The general rule seems to be that in the first instalment of a work a group of disparate individuals are forged into a winning team that succeeds in saving the world/finding treasure/righting a wrong, but come part two and they have gone their separate ways and the band needs to be put back together. I’m not a huge fan of this as it is seldom done with any joy, but McDonnell has managed to pull it off with this work. He has made it work both as a work of literature and as something that is a happy reading experience.

Considering just how superb his first book was, he was going to be hard pressed to produce anything as magnificent. I am a massive fan of his first book, A man with one of those Faces, as he got everything right and produced a masterpiece. Whilst this isn’t perhaps as perfect as that work and to be honest, matching it would be nigh on impossible, this is still a fantastic book. As before, the characterisation is spot on. Everyone is believable and feels plausible as a real person, being fully fleshed out, even if they only play a bit part. The observational asides really strike a chime and the scenes are drawn in such a way that you feel as if you are sat there in the midst of the action. Above all, though, the humour isn’t too heavily laid on. There are a lot of strong laughs in this book, but these don’t come at the expense of readability or plausibility. The prose is lovely to read.

The plot is coherent and doesn’t involve any leaps of logic; things build naturally and without any kind of feeling of artificialness, despite everything tying up in a way that must be seldom as neat in real life. The main characters behave as they did in the first book and whilst people have moved on in their lives they haven’t become totally different characters, exhibiting traits that seem unimaginable.

One unusual thing about this book is that there is an odd typo on pg 21, where ‘wapping’ is used instead of whopping, which considering how many times it was probably read through and checked before printing did well to make it into print. Not the end of the world at all and if that’s the only slightly negative thing in a book, then I think most authors will be chuffed.

This is a cracking book and whilst I’d recommend everyone to read A man with one of those Faces first, this isn’t one to miss, either.

The Blessington Carriage – Death (Matt West), Adam Muscat, John James, Tony Cowards (new material), Oscar Roberts, Craig Dixon, Ryan Mold, Gareth Knight, Dan Tiernan and Scott Bennett (new material)

 

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.

Adam Muscat

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.

John James

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.

Oscar Roberts

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.

Craig Dixon

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.

Ryan Mold

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.

Gareth Knight

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.

Dan Tiernan

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.

New Barrack Tavern – Becky Pennington, Ted Thomson, Grenville Glossop, Bridget Pearson, Rory Jones, Charlie Gascoyne, Lauren Walsh, Dan Tiernan and a bonus set from Scott Bennett

Tonight I was in Sheffield at the New Barrack Tavern for the Funhouse comedy gong show. As is usual, this was a sold out gig with plenty of characters in the audience, from the newly married landscape gardener to Dave, sat on the front row and more than happy to join in with Mike’s compering. Spiky Mike did a bit more at the top than was usual, but with so many unfamiliar acts present this was for the best just in case some were gonged off unexpectedly soon. The atmosphere was great and very swiftly the room was ready for the show.

Becky Pennington

Pennington opened the night with jokes about not having a baby. A few of these jokes were a touch obvious, but when it came to the line about meeting new people she was on firmer ground. This was easily the standout line of her set. Pennington wasn’t helped by being stood a bit too far away from the mic, which made it that bit harder to hear what she said and also I didn’t feel that she made a huge connection with the audience. She made the final, though, so the audience were happy with what she did.

Ted Thomson

Next was Thomson, a fairly new act. He made more of a connect with the audience, opening with some seasonal gags. There was a very nice moment when a rather good joke took a while to sink in and then got a big laugh a moment later when he was on the set up to the next one. Thomson had quite a good hit rate to his gags, but unfortunately lost the audience with a longer set up as a vote came up and off he went. Up to that point, he’d been doing well.

Grenville Glossop

Closing the opening section was Glossop, an act I’d seen do well at the New Barrack Tavern previously, but who isn’t as consistent a gigger as he could be. He opened with a seasonal joke, too and whilst Parkinson’s deserved more, it didn’t feel like a concluding gag to a routine, it felt more like one part way through and this meant that his opening routine felt a bit cut off in its’ prime. The serious message about sauce built up very nicely and he is certainly onto something with that. The phonetic alphabet could have been easily improved by picking a few more suggestive letters. I thought he’d make it to the final, but instead, he became a last minute gonging.

Bridget Pearson

We resumed after the intermission with Pearson who was on her first proper gig. She began with a seasonal routine which could have gone very badly, being the 3rd act out of 4 to begin this way, but luckily the intermission gave her a bit of leeway with this. However, her biggest problem was that her set ups were very wordy and simply not punchy enough for a gong show. Generally if you haven’t made the room laugh within the first 30 seconds or so, or got a big laugh within the first minute, you run the risk of the audience losing confidence and voting you off, which is what happened to Pearson. If she were to break her set down into what’s a punchline and what is a set up and work out the minimum set up required to get to the funny, she’d do better. On the upside, she spoke clearly, was calm and came over well. She’ll do better next time.

Rory Jones

Next was Jones, the act who had travelled furthest, which made his West Midlands accent sound almost exotic in Sheffield. From what I’d seen in videos, I regarded Jones as a talented one-liner comic, but this was my first time seeing him live. His first two jokes didn’t do badly, but it was his third that established him with the audience. This gag hit the room hard and he never really looked back. It was nice to see the gags follow on from each other so well. Morning was good, but it was the South American holiday that got the first applause of the night for any of the acts (beyond the usual clapping at the end of a set). The amnesia gag worked very well and if he can write a standout memory gag to close on this would be very satisfying. A few of Jones’ jokes could have potentially been figured out by the audience, but he delivered them with enough pace not to give them time and this worked in his favour as he built up a lot of momentum. Another factor in his favour was that Rory looked like he was really enjoying performing and this can be infectious, with the audience bouncing off of it. There was one moment where one fellow enjoyed a joke so much that he was the sole applauder, as opposed to laugher and it would have been good if Jones had perhaps broken the 4th wall to acknowledge that, as I think he’d have received a good response. Jones easily made the final where he received a very respectable number of votes.

Charlie Gascoyne

It would have been tricky for anyone to follow the high energy quick fire puns of Jones, as a radical change in pace and energy can really affect the audience. Even more so for Gascoyne, as instead of jokes, she had a routine that needed the audience to invest in it and listen to every word to get all of the nuances. This could have been disastrous, but instead she thrived on it, which says a lot about her having some strong skills. This was a routine that was not only performed very dexterously with just enough vowels elongated to build characterisation and some lovely subtle physicality, but it was also well thought out and easy for the room to buy into. Gascoyne did extremely well and held the room’s attention easily with some very good laughs coming her way. This was a very funny and skilful performance that easily made the final.

Lauren Walsh

This was Walsh’s third gig and it was a superb performance that ticked a lot of boxes, including her having a big helping of charm and likeability. She opened with an ad lib addressed to an audience member sat on the front row and this had an incredible feeling of the here and now and the audience loved it. She’d also been listening to all that had been said on stage previously and was able to do some very good callbacks to this. Not many new acts would really want to speak to the audience, or have them participate in the night, as that can be dangerously unpredictable, yet she was confident enough to do so and it paid off. Some of this confidence came from being on home ground with strong family support in the audience, but most probably most of it comes from working behind a bar and dealing with people. It’s great to see a new act who will take a risk and not just read from their hands and hoping that nothing they aren’t prepared for occurs. Walsh is good at thinking on her feet and with talking to a crowd, which with her material (convincingly acted out), made for an intelligent set. Walsh was a narrow winner tonight over the very talented Dan Tiernan, but with consistent gigging she’ll do very well in comedy.

Dan Tiernan

The final contestant was Tiernan, whom I had down as a likely winner. He’s a strong act who is obviously going places and tonight he demonstrated why. He hit the room with tons of energy, earned lots of applause and spectacularly sold his set to the room. His material is solid and his performance skills are outstanding. Tonight he was narrowly pushed into second place, but he’ll be earning a living from comedy much sooner than later.

Scott Bennett

We ended the night with a bonus length set from Bennett, who is busy working on some new material before he takes it to Edinburgh in August. This man is a perfectionist who is working very hard to succeed and tonight he delivered a show that made it look easy in only the kind of way that someone as good as him can. Even with clipboard and a pen in hand, this show flowed naturally and he gave the audience a real treat. A few bits were a work in progress and whilst still very funny just needed a bit more (Humperdink and balls) and there were some simple improvements that could be made to a couple of lines, such as substituting the odd word to one that provides a callback, but working on these things is the purpose of him performing tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him.

Notts Comedy Review end of year round up and predictions for 2018

This has been another enjoyable year of watching live comedy. Owing to work and so on I only saw 100 or so gigs, but as always, there was a tremendous amount of quality acts on the bills. I’m still amazed that so many people who would say that they enjoy comedy only seem to want to watch it if it is a Netflix special.

Last year I saw eight male acts for every female, whereas this year it is more like six to one, which is a small improvement.

I was very pleased to do the Notts Comedy Review Awards for a third year with:

Simon Lomas getting £50 as funniest act

Stevie Gray £25 for best performance

Jamie Hutchinson £25 as most improved act

The highlights of the year have included the following:

The Elvis Dead – Rob Kemp has something magnificent here.

Panelbeaters, which unfortunately seems to have taken a break for a while, was consistently excellent, although out of the female panellists, it was only Steff Todd who managed to make the most of it.

Freddy Quinne’s solo show work up was a joy to see and the audience agreed – how often do you see someone put £20 in a bucket collection?

Stevie Gray rescuing a gig that was dying – this was a superb feat of performance.

Parapod live – this show was tremendous fun in front of a massively enthusiastic audience.

The Midland’s Comedy Awards ceremony – lovely to see so many comedians all having a lovely night and Barry Dodd’s compering was sublime.

Andy Robinson surely ticking off an item from his bucket list when the very drunken proprietor of a venue interrupted his act and tried to tell him to do what she said, stating that she was the one paying him: to which he replied that he would do what he liked as she was the one that had already paid him….

And a splendidly bonkers night in Chesterfield, where the MC got punched to the ground after asking a boxer to hit his arm, one act cunted the room, another died and stripped off naked and in a great callback to this another act began his set in his pants.

The lowlights of the year have included:

A 7-8 minute spot that morphed into a very long 20 when the act got carried away with the moment and missed the promoter flashing them until they had the house lights turned on.

One gong show entrant who spent their entire five minutes singing three songs in a row all about fannys. They followed this up in the final of the night with a fourth song about foofs.

An especially promising West Mids act having to take a step back from comedy for entirely understandable personal reasons.

The Predictions:

Acts likely to have a breakthrough year:

Simon Lomas – rather than 2017, where he’s been storming middle spots and making it hard for headliners to follow, he will be smashing opening and closing spots instead and getting a lot more industry attention.

Scott Bennett – after turning pro and gaining more time to dedicate to comedy the sky is the limit for him.

Tom Houghton – charismatic, a superb performer, solid material, can sing, excellent with a crowd – this man will go far.

And two acts from whom other comedians could learn a lot: Adam Rowe and Freddy Quinne.

Acts that will make good career progress:

Dan Tiernan, Harvey Hawkins, Hayley Ellis, Jamie Hutchinson, Julian Lee, Kathryn Mather, Mark Grimshaw, Matt Bragg, Morgan Rees, Radu Isac, Richard Massara, Steff Todd, Thomas Green.

Newcomers/inexperienced acts who have impressed:

Adam Beardsmore, Amazon Jackson, Jem Braithwaite, Phil Carr.

Acts that impressed me the most – December

This has been a surprisingly quiet month of comedy for me. Owing to work I’ve only seen 27 acts this month. However, the quality has been superb with some amazingly good acts performing. It was very hard to separate the most impressive acts from those who deserve a honourable mention. However, these are the acts who for various reasons have made the biggest impression on me this month.

Most impressive acts:

Geoff Norcott

I don’t see a lot of Norcott; generally I only see him previewing his Edinburgh shows or through reading his political articles, so it was a real pleasure to watch him doing his set. This was a very strong performance that everyone enjoyed.

From the night:

By any measure Norcott has had an absolutely smashing year. His Edinburgh show was very well received (last year’s was a good one, too), he’s written articles for more papers than I can think of, he’s been on Question Time more than once and in a fortnight he’ll be on Live at the Apollo. He is also an act that I’ve seen three times doing Edinburgh shows, but hadn’t seen do his normal set until tonight. I was very interested in this, because I’ve always enjoyed his Edinburgh shows. Mike gave Geoff a great introduction, managing to not only build a joke out of announcing his telly achievements and get in a polite jibe at Geoff’s politics, but to also squeeze in two references to Funhouse gigs in Southwell almost all at once, which must have taken some thinking on his feet. Norcott opened by carrying on this good work and talking about what the producers of Question Time wanted from him, the nuisance that is the general public obsessed with their own parochial concerns and the tweets he received following his appearance. I liked this, but didn’t think the room was totally with him. However, after this he hit his stride and the room fully invested in his performance. Electrician was a lovely line and got a big laugh. The material about teaching was well thought out and chimed with the audience. When it came to Brexit, which can be a tricky subject if handled badly (ie, by calling 50% of the room racists or something similar), Norcott handled this very deftly by avoiding the motives of voters or the merits of the decision and discussing protest chants (fit bits was a great line) and Spain. He built up bags of momentum with this. The structure of the set had a lovely level of coherency, as he moved logically from topic to topic without any awkward pauses or lulls in the energy and this kept everyone onboard. The use an occasional pause to let the audience fill in the missing word was very well done. It was also smart of Norcott to keep the swearing down, as I think that in this room, it would have detracted from what he was saying. I’m not sure which part of this was my favourite. It’s a toss up between his dad’s comments on the Paralympics, or the cruise, which got a lot of laughs of recognition. This was a splendid performance.

Silky

This was a cracking performance and I especially admired his quick thinking.

From the night:

Closing was Silky, an act that I’d not seen before. To begin with the tech was plagued by an attack of gremlins, but rather than have a strop, prevaricate or restart, Silky just ad-libbed his way through it and simply put this was glorious. He gave an incredibly strong impression of being 2 steps ahead of everyone in the room. Silky has that combination of spotting what is occurring, thinking up a line whilst noticing it and the comic ability to bring this together to create mirth; something not easily mastered. There was a courting couple whose inhibitions had loosened, which when mixed with a total inability to whisper in any way which wouldn’t be heard 2 miles away could have made things awkward, but it was handled beautifully. Silky suggested that they go somewhere else and begin work on conception, which brought the house down and this was followed up by some lovely jokes which worked the oracle in getting them to pay attention without being harsh or losing anyone. This was a set with a lot of room work and this gave the performance a huge feel of being laid on especially for that audience and it was a very powerful to experience. It was hard to spot what was an ad-libbed line and what was actually material modified slightly to account for the room. I’ve seen acts hold audiences through the fear of being spoken to, but with Silky, he held the room through respect for his art and a shared interest in what he was doing. The set was ended by three songs and I’m not that huge a fan of musical comedy, but even so, it was as pleasure to watch him at work. This was a magnificent set from a comedian who is absolutely razor sharp.

Thomas Green

How this comedian doesn’t have a bigger profile is a mystery to me.

From the night:

Headlining was the Australian Viking lookalike Thomas Green, an act who really should be better known in the industry than what he is. I think he’s a smashing act who matches natural charisma to a buoyant delivery, good material and a razor sharp awareness of the audience. However, for some reason he’s not got the name recognition of acts that are far less talented than him. By the time he came to the stage two of the drunken teachers had gone way beyond their personal tipping point and were interrupting on such a level that he could not only get away with telling paying audience members to shut the f*** up, but thrive on it. I think a lot of acts would have been content to have just got through twenty minutes of interruptions, but remarkably Green built up loads of momentum. Partly this was because he has changed his stage persona. Previously he was a more affable presence, whereas tonight he had adopted a higher status and more abrasive and edgy persona, being quick witted with his comments and occasional put downs when talking with the audience. Sometimes giving a mild insult to someone slow on the uptake can be risky, but Green has enough charm and is funny enough to do it well. This was a set where there was a lot of audience interaction, some unwelcome, such as with the drunks, but a lot of it welcomed in the form of answers to questions and queries and throughout all of this Green was firmly in control and command of the room. This set, barring 30 seconds of material was a brand new 20 and it’s a very good one. This was a cracking performance from someone who I think could go a long way in comedy.

Tom Houghton

A superb act who is well on his way.

From the night:

Owing to an act unavoidably having to drop out, Houghton was offered the extra stage time and by heck was that a good shout by Mike. Houghton has probably one of the poshest backgrounds on the circuit and sometimes an act having had a privileged upbringing can alienate an audience, but in Tom’s case he has both boyish good looks and absolutely bags of charisma and this totally disarms any possible resentment towards him. Tonight he bounded onto the stage full of energy, looking bright and bubbly and within 10 seconds he had won the room over. In addition to this charisma is a huge talent for performance. Houghton really pushes his material to the audience, investing almost every line with an action, be it a movement of an arm, a dance or a direct look at someone sat near the front. This certainly brings the room into his set. The same can be said of his choice of accent for a farmer. Most comics would have gone with a generic West Country accent, but in a fit of genius, Tom went Cockney Villain and this ramped up the laughter no end as he acted out the scene. The material, probably 60% of which was new to me from when I saw him last (an act having that much new first class material so soon is impressive in itself), was absolutely sound. It was all strong stuff. It isn’t often that you see any audience having a singalong whilst someone on the front row is hugged. This was a magnificent set.

Honourable Mentions:

Chris Norton-Walker, Dominic Holland, Jed Salisbury, Rosco McClelland, Sean Percival,

Southwell – George Zach, Tom Houghton and Geoff Norcott

There is a regular Funhouse gig on the second Thursday of every month here at the Admiral Rodney, but this was a special one squeezed in between Christmas and the New Year and as such there was an element of illicit joy in being here, when we normally wouldn’t. Holiday season gigs can cut both ways, with either no one being interested or instead, people being more than happy to escape out of the house and go and do something. Tonight it worked out very well with pretty much a full house. At first Spiky Mike drew a couple of blanks when chatting to the audience, finding a chap who worked in IT and then a lady who taught disabled children and initially it wasn’t looking that promising when he spoke to a business lawyer from Belgium who had picked Southwell as an unlikely holiday destination. However, Mike managed to get some good laughs from him and certainly found the funny in him visiting relatives here. Very quickly we were ready for our opening act.

George Zach

I’d not seen Zach before and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. He began by talking about his accent, which was wise, as otherwise a fair percentage of the audience would likely enough have spent a lot of his set trying to guess where he was from. Following this he launched into his set and initially I found it strangely hard to focus on what he was saying. My attention seemed to keep wandering away from him and I think this was because I didn’t find his early material that compelling. Zach got a good laugh from the audience for plates, but it would be nice, just once, to hear a comedian with a connection to Greece not doing a plate smashing gag. When it came to the routine about the British Museum, this set came to life in a big way for me. This was a superb routine that Zach sold extremely well. I also thoroughly enjoyed the pay off on the two people routine and that definitely deserved more applause than it received. This was a set that I enjoyed, but not as much as the rest of the room, who were really into it.

Tom Houghton

Owing to an act unavoidably having to drop out, Houghton was offered the extra stage time and by heck was that a good shout by Mike. Houghton has probably one of the poshest backgrounds on the circuit and sometimes an act having had a privileged upbringing can alienate an audience, but in Tom’s case he has both boyish good looks and absolutely bags of charisma and this totally disarms any possible resentment towards him. Tonight he bounded onto the stage full of energy, looking bright and bubbly and within 10 seconds he had won the room over. In addition to this charisma is a huge talent for performance. Houghton really pushes his material to the audience, investing almost every line with an action, be it a movement of an arm, a dance or a direct look at someone sat near the front. This certainly brings the room into his set. The same can be said of his choice of accent for a farmer. Most comics would have gone with a generic West Country accent, but in a fit of genius, Tom went Cockney Villain and this ramped up the laughter no end as he acted out the scene. The material, probably 60% of which was new to me from when I saw him last (an act having that much new first class material so soon is impressive in itself), was absolutely sound. It was all strong stuff. It isn’t often that you see any audience having a singalong whilst someone on the front row is hugged. This was a magnificent set.

Geoff Norcott

By any measure Norcott has had an absolutely smashing year. His Edinburgh show was very well received (last year’s was a good one, too), he’s written articles for more papers than I can think of, he’s been on Question Time more than once and in a fortnight he’ll be on Live at the Apollo. He is also an act that I’ve seen three times doing Edinburgh shows, but hadn’t seen do his normal set until tonight. I was very interested in this, because I’ve always enjoyed his Edinburgh shows. Mike gave Geoff a great introduction, managing to not only build a joke out of announcing his telly achievements and get in a polite jibe at Geoff’s politics, but to also squeeze in two references to Funhouse gigs in Southwell almost all at once, which must have taken some thinking on his feet. Norcott opened by carrying on this good work and talking about what the producers of Question Time wanted from him, the nuisance that is the general public obsessed with their own parochial concerns and the tweets he received following his appearance. I liked this, but didn’t think the room was totally with him. However, after this he hit his stride and the room fully invested in his performance. Electrician was a lovely line and got a big laugh. The material about teaching was well thought out and chimed with the audience. When it came to Brexit, which can be a tricky subject if handled badly (ie, by calling 50% of the room racists or something similar), Norcott handled this very deftly by avoiding the motives of voters or the merits of the decision and discussing protest chants (fit bits was a great line) and Spain. He built up bags of momentum with this. The structure of the set had a lovely level of coherency, as he moved logically from topic to topic without any awkward pauses or lulls in the energy and this kept everyone onboard. The use an occasional pause to let the audience fill in the missing word was very well done. It was also smart of Norcott to keep the swearing down, as I think that in this room, it would have detracted from what he was saying. I’m not sure which part of this was my favourite. It’s a toss up between his dad’s comments on the Paralympics, or the cruise, which got a lot of laughs of recognition. This was a splendid performance.

Southwell, Sean Percival, Roger Swift, Peter McCole and Dominic Holland

Tonight I took my mum and dad to Southwell to the Funhouse Comedy Night. I was especially interested in them seeing Roger Swift as it is an experience, but naturally the rest of the bill was also an attractive prospect, too. The seating had been slightly rearranged to give a better view of the stage and at first I thought that that might have been done to make Roger’s props more visible, but on reflection, I think it may have been done to fit more customers in, as this was a sold out gig. It was nice to see Nick Mellors there with a party of friends, but the star of the audience was a deaf James Brown lookalike called Denny, who was very funny in his own right. Mike had a lot of fun chatting to him and very quickly the room was up for the comedy. In addition to the show, there was also a charity collection for the Homeless, which was well supported by the audience.

Sean Percival

Opening was Sean Percival who continued his 100% record of smashing every room I’ve seen him perform in. He came to the stage and immediately started in top gear and he bounded through his set, building up no end of momentum. There was a lot of laughter and the room thoroughly enjoyed him. I really appreciated his audience work with Denise who was sat on the front row, who is now the owner of a new nickname. This was a very good set that was delivered with lots of energy.

Roger Swift

We resumed after the intermission with Roger Swift, who tonight didn’t so much split the room as polarise it. Normally there is a middle who would quietly enjoy the performance, but not tonight; it was all one or the other. Some people were laughing at what he was wearing before he had even begun and this section of the crowd were with him. They enjoyed his set immensely, laughing at the jokes, with the prop gags getting bigger laughs than the puns. The other half of the room, surprisingly for such a comedy literate audience, didn’t ever seem to get what the set was about, missing the irony and staying resolutely miserable. This was a bit odd, as there are some great gags in this set and I’ve seen it slay rooms before. However, the audience here is quite senior and I do wonder if that might have been a factor in there not being enough people going with it for Roger to get to critical mass. I enjoyed watching Swift and so did my mum. Whilst Roger was putting his props away he managed to smash the glass of a woman who hadn’t enjoyed his set, making it even less likely that he would ever get a Christmas card from her.

Peter McCole

McCole was a radical change of pace to the swiftly moving Roger and the energetic delivery of Percival, but this didn’t do him any harm. He opened by chatting a bit about where he was from, which owing to the Monopoly analogy was easily tangible. He then followed this by two pretty long stories. These were both very well thought out, with lots of little laughs along the way before they built up to a climax and received big laughs. McCole held the room easily whilst telling them and I was especially impressed by his tone of voice on ‘really?‘ which sold that line extremely well. He did have a bit of a tic in saying ‘right’ a lot, which is something to perhaps think about. McCole gave the room a good show, working in some very nice callbacks to Roger’s performance and received big laughs. In a nice move, which I don’t think he knows I saw, on his way out, he put a tenner into the charity collection, which I think was a lovely thing for him to do.

Dominic Holland

Headlining was Dominic Holland, who had had a superb gig when I last saw him in Ashby. The audience in Southwell are never rude, but can sometimes get lively and tonight they were lively. When Holland took to the stage he opened with a few intelligent comments about the venue and then mentioned that it had taken him 4-5 hours to drive there, which immediately resulted in a shout of ‘Tha should have got a train, youth!’ This was then answered by someone on the other side of the room who pointed out that there wasn’t a station in Southwell. Whilst this was occurring Holland stood, mouth comically open, rotating so that the room could take in his expression. He managed to nail a look of surprise, despair and a request to be beamed up all in one, which went down a storm. This was then followed by a set that was wonderfully dry, sarcastic, tightly written and splendidly performed. I thought that the way he discussed his eldest sons career was funnier in Ashby, where his most well known job was kept till last, but considering just how famous Tom now is,I doubt that it would still work that way, as the surprise is no longer there. Holland mixed his material with some very powerful room work and this kept everything fresh and moving. Probably the highlight of the set and indeed of the night, was when Holland was wrapping up, discussing the show and his 4-5 hour journey back down South. As soon as he mentioned his journey time, his friend from earlier informed him, ‘Tha should have took that train!’ which got both laughter and applause. This was a brilliant performance.

Canal House, Graham Milton, Matt Hoss, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Jem Braithwaite, Jack Shanik, Phil Carr, Thomas Green and Rob Coleman (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the final NCF £1 comedy night of the year. Numbers weren’t bad, but were down on what was expected, as a few people had booked and then not turned up. Unfortunately for all concerned the front row was largely made up of some teachers on a night out. They were originally merry, but got drunker as the night went on and generally made life difficult for the acts by doing a loud running commentary throughout sets. There was a lot of satisfaction when the headline act, Thomas Green, descended on them like an Ofsted inspector from hell and told them to shut the f*** up. These people aside, this was a lovely night.

Rob Coleman (MC)

Coleman had a night of two halves. To begin with the audience wasn’t that helpful in providing him with anything that was easy to make funny and every conversation seemed isolated from the others. He got laughs, but there wasn’t a lot of atmosphere being built. However, in the second section he spoke to Grace who gave him a lot to work with, a man with spectacular hair and even better was one chap who unwisely confessed to not having washed his hands after visiting the loo. Coleman got a fair bit out of these three, which added to the ambiance. I think that Rob might have fared better in the first section if he had done more material, but he obviously wasn’t to know that no one on the first (and visible) couple of rows would be comedically interesting. Coleman didn’t do too badly all the same, he did the rules, plugged the next few nights and kept things to schedule.

Graham Milton

It’s been quite a while since I’d last seen Milton and so it was nice to see him on the bill. Tonight he was doing new material. His downbeat and world weary approach struck a chord with the room and he tried out four or five routines. Two of these concerned his cock, which gave it a bit of an imbalance, but this was new material, so that’s not massively important. A few of the set ups were a bit wordy, but this will no doubt be ironed out. Living room VCRs and porn have been covered a fair few times by comedians aged 30 and over, so it was nice to see a new take on it. The final reveal on that was splendid. I was rather surprised that Home Alone didn’t get referenced during the set up, though. Scurvy was more of an observation than a finished article, but again, that can be honed. The final routine, about a massage built very nicely, but would have benefited from a bigger ending. This was a nicely delivered set and I’ll be very interested to see what he does with the material.

Matt Hoss

Next was Matt Hoss, who whenever I see him normally seems to get mixed up in some kind of fiasco, whether it be misjudging a high five and crashing through a table, smashing a light with a mic stand or following a patchy audience reception stripping off naked on stage. I’m sure that he was beginning to think that I was some kind of performance Jonah. I’m happy to say that he’s broken that string of bad luck and that he had a good gig tonight. In fact it was the best I’ve ever seen him. The reason behind this was partly that his set featured a lot of audience interaction and this brought everyone onboard and created a good atmosphere. There were still a few things that could have been improved, such as him doing a few jokes before announcing his degree, as this would have given it more credibility. The tweets were good, but the 9/11 one was a bit bald and would have been better if he’d made a funny comment about it. As ever, the final one was a bit predictable and I’d like to see a rethink on the sender to make it someone totally unexpected. Hoss did well and received good laughs from the audience, with everyone enjoying his set.

Jeanette Bird-Bradley

We resumed after the intermission JBB who was doing new material. This got off to a false start when a mobile phone rang loudly on the second row, with the owner having no idea how to silence it, but as JBB is unflappable, this didn’t mess her set up. She began with some nicely seasonal material about how she is turning into her mum, which went down well and this led nicely into a routine about hoovering. This was quite promising, but needed a bigger ending – possibly if she did do her neighbour’s flat, too, that might lead into one, especially if she were to do the routine about having elderly neighbours during the same set. The baby pigeon was a very nice one liner and she delivered it with the exact level of dismissal and this might have got the biggest laugh of her set. The final routine was quite a lengthy affair, travelling from stink bombs to gangland, through a South African advert. This was new material, so I can imagine it getting edited down quite dramatically to maintain the momentum of her set. This was a fun performance.

Jem Braithwaite

Next was the Midlands Comedy Awards New Comedian of the Year, Jem Braithwaite, who was well supported by friends in the audience. However, although their laughter helped to create a good atmosphere, the entire room (barring the four teachers at the front) were fully behind Braithwaite and he received consistent big laughs throughout. It was fun watching him trying not to corpse, which he more or less succeeded in keeping at bay. His delivery felt a touch more polished than when I last saw him and it’s nice to see improvement in a good act. I did think that he might have been better with a brown cloak for one of the gags, but that’s a minor point and there is room for a nice visual touch if he were to hold the mic in one hand and dangle the cable from his other when talking about a puppet. This was a very enjoyable set.

Jack Shanik

Shanik took to the stage wearing jazzy trousers and immediately stood out. He began with some nicely tangible bald jokes, from which slid got the biggest laugh. These were then followed by a few more gags, some of which were ruined by the now drunken teachers who received some very good put downs. The box is a splendid idea and it worked well – possibly having the audience pick a piece of paper, read it out and then pass the box on one would work even better in bringing everyone in, although I can imagine it would mean a lot of hassle in re-writing the unreturned slips. A lot of these jokes were very clever, such as Phoenix and Prince Harry, but were under appreciated by the audience. Cinders was a good joke, but due to the demise of coal fires probably only people over 40 were thinking along those lines and everyone younger probably guessed the correct direction he was going in rather quickly. Towards the end of his set Shanik chatted a bit with the audience and this went very well. I’m wondering if he had done more of that at the top whether he’d have formed a quicker bond with the room. There was a lot to like in this set.

Phil Carr

We began the final section with Carr, who was on his 14th gig. I doubt whether anyone in the room would have believed that. He has the presence and authority of a much more established act. As you’d expect with such a new act, the set was largely the same, albeit with some nicely promising new bits. Despite having seen him three times in short succession, I still really enjoyed it and I can see him doing well with his good material and well paced delivery. Out of all of the acts tonight he was one of the few who wasn’t messed around by the drunks on the front row. Keeping their attention was no mean feat. This was a performance that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Thomas Green

Headlining was the Australian Viking lookalike Thomas Green, an act who really should be better known in the industry than what he is. I think he’s a smashing act who matches natural charisma to a buoyant delivery, good material and a razor sharp awareness of the audience. However, for some reason he’s not got the name recognition of acts that are far less talented than him. By the time he came to the stage two of the drunken teachers had gone way beyond their personal tipping point and were interrupting on such a level that he could not only get away with telling paying audience members to shut the f*** up, but thrive on it. I think a lot of acts would have been content to have just got through twenty minutes of interruptions, but remarkably Green built up loads of momentum. Partly this was because he has changed his stage persona. Previously he was a more affable presence, whereas tonight he had adopted a higher status and more abrasive and edgy persona, being quick witted with his comments and occasional put downs when talking with the audience. Sometimes giving a mild insult to someone slow on the uptake can be risky, but Green has enough charm and is funny enough to do it well. This was a set where there was a lot of audience interaction, some unwelcome, such as with the drunks, but a lot of it welcomed in the form of answers to questions and queries and throughout all of this Green was firmly in control and command of the room. This set, barring 30 seconds of material was a brand new 20 and it’s a very good one. This was a cracking performance from someone who I think could go a long way in comedy.

Notts Comedy Review awards for 2017

These are only open to non-pro acts and this year there are three categories:

Funniest act (£50 prize)

Best performance (£25 prize)

Most improved act (£25 prize)

The prize money will be remitted through paypal or in cash when I see the act.

I have excluded pro acts because I want this to be a nice little bonus for those acts who don’t (yet) earn their living through performing comedy. Previous winners are also excluded, as it’s not fair on others to award prizes to the same performers.

Funniest act (£50 prize)

This was initially a two horse race and for a while it was looking like I’d have to declare it a draw and double the prize money as it was so hard to choose between them. There are two acts who have smashed every gig I’ve seen them at and I’ve probably seen them half a dozen times each and such consistency is fantastic. One of them, Scott Bennett, has turned pro and so is unfortunately ineligible, but the other, although the biggest rising star of the circuit is still semi-pro. Simon Lomas wins £50 as the funniest act.

Best performance (£25 prize)

I considered two acts for this: Rob Kemp and Stevie Gray. With The Elvis Dead, Rob Kemp has developed a masterpiece, but what makes it work is his performance. He is massively committed to the role and gives it his all. How he’s not broke a few ribs I’ll never know. In addition to this he pitches it just right and the result has been a cult hit. When I’ve seen the show, he has been performing it in front of a polite, well mannered and very up for it audience and whilst this doesn’t take anything away from his skills, it does make things more conducive. In contrast I saw Stevie Gray at what was an awful gig. The MC was inexperienced, the room was large with open curtains, the first act, good as he is, was too low energy to bring people into it and the audience (comedy first timers) was dreadful. There were only a handful of people in a space that could hold forty or so. They were spread out, the people at the back just chatted amongst themselves a lot, I think someone had some food arrive and in short, through a perfect storm of circumstances, it was looking likely that at the intermission people would leave and not bother coming back. Most nights can survive a few of these factors, but all of them combined made it a terrible atmosphere. I believe Gray was down to close the gig, but instead he volunteered to go on second and through hard work, force of personality and sheer performance he saved the gig and made it playable. This means that Stevie Gray wins the Best Performance award.

Most improved act (£25 prize)

This was between Daniel Triscott who has been making great strides in becoming a stronger act and Jamie Hutchinson, who whilst already a good act has moved up several gears. Whilst Triscott has improved and is definitely far better, the scale of improvement I witnessed the last time I saw Hutchinson was simply amazing. His new style of delivery was superb, his material much more powerful and as a result, his performance was fantastic. Jamie Hutchinson gets the award for Most Improved Act.

Previous winners can be found here and here