Canal House: Matthew McAloone, Chris Fay, Morgan Rees, Rik Carranza, Jay Scott, Phil Yates, Peter de Biasio, Scott Bennett and Steff Todd (MC)

Tonight I was at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, a show that I’ve missed recently due to work. This is a cracking show, with a great mix of new, up and coming and established acts and one never quite knows what you’ll see of a given night. The one common denominator, though, is that it will be great. This was another sold out event and it doesn’t half create a big atmosphere when the room is full – especially for the newer acts who probably haven’t performed in front of 100 plus people before.

Tonight’s MC was Steff Todd, an up and coming act from Sheffield who was in the role of compere for the first time. I was curious as how she would work out in this slot and the answer was pretty good. She got everyone’s names right, did the rules and wasn’t afraid to tell people off for talking nor did she make the night all about her, so this was all as it should be. She even avoided asking people what they did for a living and where they are from, which is something that 99% of MC’s do and which grates on me, as often enough the same people are asked or a non-local compere mangles the place names or confuses the ritzy and shit areas. Todd was also very funny – the Murdoch tweet reveal was brilliant. The only thing I felt that she didn’t quite nail was the balance between material and room work. She used a lot of material, which in fairness she did tie some of this in to conversations with the audience, but a bit more room work would have improved the mix. Apart from that small point, she was a strong MC and I doubt anyone would have realised that she hadn’t done it more often. Todd is an act worth keeping an eye on as she’s got a future in comedy.

The opening act was Ulsterman Matthew McAloone who began well by using one of Todd’s jokes about facebook as a springboard into his first routine. However, from this he continued the almost 100% pattern of Belfast born comedians doing material about their accent being associated with bomb threats – this always gets a laugh, but it does feel like something you can tick off in a game of regional accent comedy bingo. I found McAloone’s material about his haircut to be more original and far stronger. His line about beautiful black man was great, as was the time lapse as it sank in and people got it at their own pace. The routine about emojis was also good and something that I’ve not heard many people do material on. This was a well put together and capable set by a confident performer who earned a lot of laughter and set the bar for the rest of the comedians high. However, it was also a performance that curiously didn’t have much warmth in it – McAloone felt a little bit aloof from the room.

Next was Bristol based Chris Fay, who made a bizarre start to his set by encouraging the audience to tell him to fuck off and then taking this no further, not building anything out of it, or using it as any kind of set up. With nothing else to it, this felt a bit pointless and devoid of any real comedy value. He was unlucky in when announcing where he was from he started a chain of 2-3 audience members declaiming where they were from, but he managed to save himself from getting bogged down. He then went on to deliver material that was pretty bleak and it would have benefited from more to lift it up. This was also a sweary set, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case I don’t think it added anything in the way of emphasis to what he was saying. Fay did well to turn this set around, as at mid point he seemed in danger of losing the room, mostly due to it being bleak with little lightness, and the Yankee Candle routine rescued his set. The line about setting fire to was very good and the stand out of his performance.

The final act of the first section was Morgan Rees, whom I regard as being a good act. I enjoyed the joke about asking someone their favourite animal as the reveal was wonderfully offbeat and caught everyone by surprise. The first three jokes weren’t related, which did give his opening a bit of a disjointed feel, but I was probably the only person who noticed that. This was the first time I’ve heard people guess the Welsh for microwave, which didn’t throw Rees off in the slightest. This was a good performance with material nicely different to what other people are doing.

We resumed after the intermission with Rik Carranza, who mixed a well timed delivery with a set that was partly clever and also in need of improvement. In fairness some of this was new material, but asking people over 30 and under 30 to cheer and announcing that that was the sound of hope is pretty hack and I think he can do better than that. Arguably material on Trump having small hands, whilst not in the same street, is still fairly well travelled. Sci-fi sexual was a great premise and Carranza could have gone further with this by throwing out a bizarre example – this seemed to me like a missed opportunity. Mummy Jacking was great, but the George Takei gag seemed to take more time to set up, albeit with laughs along the way, than what the final reveal was worth and this needed a little bit more. This was a good set and whilst Carranza isn’t the finished article, it’s always nice to see his name on a bill.

Next was Jay Scott, who was performing for his first ever time and thanks to NCF’s policy of encouraging new talent, this was to be in front of over 100 people. No pressure there, obviously. In truth, Scott was a very confident presence and I initially doubted that this was his first time. He was given a big build up by Todd, which helped him launch into his set. For a new act, Scott was very eager to banter with the audience and this could have backfired, but he never looked in danger of that, as he seemed to be mentally that bit in front of everyone he spoke to. He reminded me a lot of Fran Jenking as they both sound similar and perform in the same way. His actual material can be divided into two: superstition, which was decent enough and some bizarre news headlines from around the world which he has found on the internet and read off of his phone. I’m not keen on that kind of material, as I think it’s basically lazy writing, but as a new act Scott gets a free pass on that. Scott was stronger bantering with the room than he was with his material and this is usually the reverse in new acts. Once he has found his feet in comedy I can imagine him making a good MC. This was a creditable and likeable first gig.

Phil Yates was next. This is a comic who has funny bones. He has a slow and dry delivery that adds an extra level of humour to everything he says. Yates had an early applause break and there was a lot of laughter during his performance. He has improved since I last saw him and if he carries on as he is I can imagine him doing a few open 10 spots instead of gongs sooner rather than later. Not everything was plain sailing, he would have been better organising someone to hold the cards up prior to getting on stage, but that’s the sort of thing that you only need to learn once and there were also a fair few erms in his set that slightly hurt his momentum. Neither of these are particularly big criticisms and Yates is definitely a comedian with potential.

Peter de Biasio began the final section, suffering from a delay with getting a song to play on his phone. He made something out of this with a self-deprecating quick ad-lib, but I felt that the Ed Sheeran routine was the weakest part of his material. The head routine was good, especially the parts about work and I also enjoyed his stuff about his sister’s difficulty in navigating. Both of these were very good and the room found them easy to relate to. De Biasio has improved since I last saw him and this was a set with applause and a lot of laughter.

Headlining was Scott Bennett, who was superb. This was new material being honed and since Bennett is a perfectionist it was extremely good, the sort of stuff that a fair number of pro comedians would already be satisfied with. Take me out was great, but Sea Life was fantastic. Bennett was supporting Rob Brydon last week, but I know which one of the two I’d recommend to someone wanting to see cracking comedy and that is Bennett.

Ashby – Mark Nelson, Jim Grant, Chris Stokes and Jonny Awsum

Tonight I was in Ashby de la Zouch for the Funhouse comedy night. As ever, the room was full and the mood was eager for comedy. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, discovering who was whom in the audience and setting up the room for the acts. The first person he spoke to, Ray (not his friend Fake Ray), claimed to have been a professional badminton player, which Mike was highly sceptical of and in questioning who watches that sport he got a lot of comedy value from it. Mike struck gold with the people he chatted to next. It was a couple eight weeks into a relationship and the lady worked for a company that allowed her to take costumes home this led to some very funny queries. The room was soon ready for our first act.

Mark Nelson had a set that was balanced nicely between material and him chatting to the audience to set up his material and he had received his first big laugh within a minute of climbing onto the stage. His set covered accents, gender, sexual orientation, Islamic State birthday parties, things floating in baths and marriage and it flowed along very nicely. He put the young couple sat on the front row that Mike had been chatting to on the spot in a way that I’ve never seen an act do before and received a big laugh for it. When discussing Islamic State birthday parties Nelson used a joke about pass the parcel that I liked and also disliked. I liked it because it was very funny and it fitted like a glove, but I wasn’t too keen on it, because I’ve heard it used for almost every terrorist organisation going. This is a minor quibble on what was an excellent and highly engaging performance that was very well received.

We resumed after the intermission with Jim Grant, who delivered a fast speaking set. Grant has potential, but his set was marred by three things. He began with asking the audience to raise their right hand and then lower it into the lap of the person sat next to them, which is a bit of an old chestnut. He told a gag about being pulled over by the police, with a papers/scissors reveal, which is all over the net and I think he misjudged the mood of the room in delivering a very politically polemical set. I like political comedy (John Scott and Rahul Kohli are stand outs at this) and am on the old left when it comes to my politics, but this felt like Grant was playing to the Socialist Worker’s Party during some routines. Whilst there is an audience for this, middle class Tory voting Ashby isn’t it and I think he was going very much against the mood of the room with it. The stunt with the fork was a nice touch, although he would have benefited by rotating a touch so that all of the room could see it and get the full value from the prop. I was also puzzled about why he chose Leeds for the dodgy city in one joke. I could understand this if he was playing in Lancashire or Sheffield, but it seemed a strange choice for Ashby and his joke, which was a good one, would have had more impact if he had chosen somewhere local like Coalville. This all sounds highly damning, but in truth there was also a lot to like in Grant’s set. Condom party and IS flag were both funny and clever and I really appreciated the callbacks that he used. The areas that I wasn’t keen on are all easily adjusted and Grant has potential. He’s certainly an act I’d like to see again.

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

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

February – acts that have impressed me the most this month

This has been a nice month for comedy, with me seeing over 40 acts. The highlight was the UK Pun Championship and the low was a gong show entrant singing 4 different songs about vaginas on the trot.

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

Archie Maddocks

This was a cracking set and although it occupied the sweet spot of the night, Maddocks managed to be the comedian who stood out on a good bill.

From the night:

Archie Maddocks gave the stand out performance of the night. Although he was introduced by the wrong name (a first for Spiky Mike), he rolled with this and then built upon it as he threw himself into a relaxed, yet fast talking set. Maddocks built up a lot of momentum as every reference hit home, including a Breaking Bad/knitting crossover and in a room 80% full of pensioners, a well received pussy joke. My personal favourite was a toss up between a routine about lineage or his indestructible granddad – both were excellent. In addition to the routines, Maddocks was happy to chat to the audience, although I felt the question asked was better framed as a rhetorical one. He did become one of the few acts I’ve heard booed, even in a friendly manner, when he commented on the number of old people in the room, but he had enough charm and goodwill to maintain his grip upon the room. This was an excellent set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

Simon Lomas

This guy is building a big following and it’s easy to see why. Lomas has bags of talent and writes good material, but the real joy is in his delivery. Simply put, this is a man who has found his calling in life.

From the night:

Some people look like jokers, others look as if they are purveyors of deep and meaningful poetry and this makes Simon Lomas the clickbait of comedy – he gets on stage and you simply won’t believe what happens next. He performs his set with his body facing right of the audience, with wonderfully slow pacing and fantastic timing on the pauses. Lomas is compelling viewing and he held the room masterfully. This performance was a mix of existing and new material and he hoovered up a lot of laughs. Chicken pox is a work in progress, but everything else was top notch. I’ve already tipped Lomas as a comedian who will have a very progressive year and this has confirmed my opinion that he is going to go far.

Anna King-Jackson

I’ve seen King-Jackson twice this month and both times she impressed me with her quality. For an inexperienced comedian, she is already remarkably well advanced.

From the 2nd night:

Anna King-Jackson is a fairly new act and I believe that she has the ability to do well with comedy. Her set felt joined up, rather than just isolated bits of funny and she delivers it well. I like how she does a short set up and then a reveal, which ensures that she almost has the punchiness of a one-liner comedian, but contained within an actual progressively building set. King-Jackson did end with a few puns and these were knowingly groan worthy, which was ok, but could be improved upon. Although having said that, the Stonehenge Star Wars gag was very nice indeed. I was impressed by King-Jackson not being afraid of chatting to the audience. It’s nice when an act takes a risk like that, rather than staying on a script and it is even better when they can address people spoken to by the MC by name. This was a very good set from someone who shall become even better with more stage time.

UK Pun Championship acts

This was a lovely night and these three acts stood out the most.

Luvdev Barpaiga

He was a worthy winner and the most consistently good pun slinger of the evening.

Julian Lee

Lee was fascinating to watch. He’s a dominating presence and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he does a lot of compering. As it was he mixed his prepared puns and some very good ad libs and there was a palpable feeling of him being able to find a quip for anything.

Iain MacDonald

Although not a finalist, the quietly spoken MacDonald was probably the most impressive act of the night. His writing was superb and his dry, almost understated delivery is certain to build a huge amount of momentum over the course of a set.

Honourable Mentions

Roger Swift, Ben Shannon, Hal Cruttenden,

Grosvenor – Ben Shannon, Anna King-Jackson, Jack Topher, Danny Clives, Hannah Silvester, Scott Bennett and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Funhouse Comedy night at the Grosvenor pub, a place easy to get into, but harder to get home from due to a left hand only and then a no left hand turn set of lanes. I arrived there early enough for there to be a lot of empty chairs and I had a momentary worry that there was going to be a small audience, but instead it was a case of finding extra chairs by the time everyone had arrived. This crowd had perhaps the quickest reset button that I have seen. One minute they would be laughing and then the next minute, total silence and this made them a very tough crowd to impress. The only acts who didn’t seem to fall victim to this were Anna King-Jackson and Scott Bennett.

Our compere was Stevie Gray, who has something of a genius for getting audiences involved in shows and tonight was no exception. He had brought his wife’s best Tefal frying pans with him to assist two audience members in a timed pancake day toss off. This added a large element of fun wackiness to the night and I liked watching it. Rooms warm easily to Gray and this one was no exception, seeming to prefer his banter to material. He did have to remind one girl not to talk whilst the acts were on, as she did get a little bit disruptive, but that is all in a nights’ work for a MC. It was also good to see him chatting to the audience during the intermission, making them feel welcome.

Our opening act was Ben Shannon, who is a comedian that stays nicely on the accessible side of quirky. I enjoy watching Shannon, as I feel that he has the potential to become very good. Tonight things didn’t go as well as I’d have hoped and he certainly wasn’t helped by a lady shouting out a guess at one of his reveals, which hurt his momentum. I’ve seen Shannon do well with his material at quite a few shows, but tonight this audience didn’t seem to go with it and this was a shame.

Anna King-Jackson is a fairly new act and I believe that she has the ability to do well with comedy. Her set felt joined up, rather than just isolated bits of funny and she delivers it well. I like how she does a short set up and then a reveal, which ensures that she almost has the punchiness of a one-liner comedian, but contained within an actual progressively building set. King-Jackson did end with a few puns and these were knowingly groan worthy, which was ok, but could be improved upon. Although having said that, the Stonehenge Star Wars gag was very nice indeed. I was impressed by King-Jackson not being afraid of chatting to the audience. It’s nice when an act takes a risk like that, rather than staying on a script and it is even better when they can address people spoken to by the MC by name. This was a very good set from someone who shall become even better with more stage time.

Jack Topher opened the middle section. Topher is an act who is gigging more regularly and seems that little bit sharper every time I see him. I did feel that he got his opening jokes in the wrong order tonight, as he opened with a joke and then did two jokes about his connections to Nottingham and I think that he would have gotten a better response if he had begun with his local connections. There are some clever touches to the material, such as the people he is with on a night out with and his line about his brother is an absolute joy. As always, there were time lags whilst the jokes sank in and I don’t think that the 2 seconds between joke and resultant laughter on brother will ever get old. Like most acts tonight, Topher suffered a bit from the audience blowing hot and cold, but this was still a good performance from an act who is looking more confident with every gig.

Next was the low energy Danny Clives, who was unfortunately hard to hear at the back of the room. Clives has some good material – shy is a clever line that deserved a lot more than it received. In common with the other acts, the audience seemed to go with some material and then bizarrely not with others that were of equal strength; however, there was plenty of laughter for the jokes that the audience went with.

Hannah Silvester started well, talking quickly and delivering some good material, before the mood of the room dipped during diets, to pick up again with beach and the closing song. The closing song is a good one and I enjoyed the rest of her material, although super fruits was perhaps the weakest part of the set. However, as I’ve already said, the audience seemed unfairly picky about what they were willing to laugh at and this continued during Silverster’s performance.

Our headline act was Scott Bennett, a comedian who will strengthen any line up. He has the ability of an experienced pro act and the enthusiasm for comedy of a new act and this makes for a great combination. I did think that Bennett would be doing new material tonight, but seeing how hit and miss the audience were, he made a wise choice in wheeling out his strongest material. The result was something of a foregone conclusion. Within 5 seconds of walking onto the stage it was obvious the audience were in the palm of his hand and he had an applause break with 2 minutes; one chap was laughing so hard he momentarily choked. The material was all solid and relatable, going down a storm, apart from Postman Pat, which although it’s good and I’ve seen it smash rooms, wasn’t as well received by this audience. The Toby Carvery routine was bought into by everyone and provided a cracking end to the night. During Bennett’s performance the lights momentarily went out, twice in quick succession and then again a third time, which he riffed with, getting laughs, even if it did halt a karate based routine. This was put down to dodgy wiring, but Ben Shannon actually spotted the culprit the third time – it was a chap sat next to the lights who looked to be pushing the plug about. Luckily Shannon didn’t need to have a chat with him, as he desisted and hopefully it was something of an accident. Either way, it didn’t spoil what was a splendid performance.

Grantham – Tanyalee Davis, Andy Stedman, Archie Maddocks and Hal Cruttenden

Last night I was in Grantham at the Funhouse Comedy night. This was a sold out night, but one where the odd person had bought a ticket, but not shown up, which must be frustrating for those who couldn’t get a ticket. Supporting the night, but not performing were Lincoln based comedians Paul Mutagejja and Will Collishaw. Spiky Mike had a great night compering, albeit with one rather awkward slip, where he got the name of an act wrong for the first time. Mike began very well, making timely jokes about Storm Doris, commenting to one chap on the front row that he’d look happy to be blown. This was followed by some very nice lines as he spoke to the audience, finding new people and there was a lot of laughter. Mike looked sharp, built the atmosphere and got the room ready for our opening act.

Tanyalee Davis struck immediate gold from the off by announcing that she was not a pokemon and then launched into a set where the majority and certainly the best of her material concerned her height. This was a geographically diverse set, with Australia, Las Vegas, North Carolina and Norfolk all coming into play. Davis looked as if she was having a good time and the audience responded by enjoying her performance. Her delivery reminded me of Robyn Perkins, but with perhaps a greater work rate. Lee painted a vivid picture during every routine, allowing the room to easily imagine the situations in which she has found herself. This was a very good set.

The first of the middle slots was occupied by the guitar toting Andy Stedman. As I’ve said many a time, I’m far from a fan of musical acts, so I was glad that Stedman had more to offer than just comic songs. The songs were enjoyed by the audience, even if not my cup of tea (2016 was the pick of the bunch). Instead, I was more impressed by the intelligence behind the set. This was well constructed and the string of puns that resulted from singer song-writer was impressive. I was also happy with the little touches, such as referencing people spoken to by Mike during his compering and the movement with the glasses when speaking to a chap on the second row – these all helped to establish a sense of Stedman’s presence. Over 10 short minutes this performance seemed to plateau – there were no ups and downs with the pacing – and concomitantly no sense of it building up momentum into a big closing routine, but I’m sure that over 20 minutes this would differ. This was an enjoyable set that held the room well, but it is also one that would have benefited from that little bit more, such as a bigger ending.

Archie Maddocks gave the stand out performance of the night. Although he was introduced by the wrong name (a first for Spiky Mike), he rolled with this and then built upon it as he threw himself into a relaxed, yet fast talking set. Maddocks built up a lot of momentum as every reference hit home, including a Breaking Bad/knitting crossover and in a room 80% full of pensioners, a well received pussy joke. My personal favourite was a toss up between a routine about lineage or his indestructible granddad – both were excellent. In addition to the routines, Maddocks was happy to chat to the audience, although I felt the question asked was better framed as a rhetorical one. He did become one of the few acts I’ve heard booed, even in a friendly manner, when he commented on the number of old people in the room, but he had enough charm and goodwill to maintain his grip upon the room. This was an excellent set that I’d have liked to have seen more of.

The headliner was the bearded Hal Cruttenden, who demonstrated that solid TV and touring credits haven’t dimmed his enthusiasm for performing. This performance was one that was both excellent and irritating in equal measure. Cruttenden had some great material: his attack on facebook celebrity grief was top notch and highly relatable. The routine about his wife and Northern Ireland was also strong, as was the brief political set. This was all delivered with an enthusiasm and panache that made this feel like it was a gig he cared about, rather than a famous comedian doing his job. Cruttenden showed that he could be easily diverted, which was where it became irritating. There were two people who had passed their tipping point regarding alcohol consumption and their ability to keep quiet and whilst they had behaved up until now, they decided to join in with Cruttenden. This needn’t have been much of an issue, as he shut them down a few times, but unwisely he kept returning to them and spent a lot of time chatting with them. At times the room felt like it had become a counselling session, with him talking to the lady on the front row and the rest of the room left out in the cold. This seemed to eat up a lot of his time and whilst it was funny and Cruttenden always bounced back with flair, it didn’t half detract from him delivering material and this was where the gold was. This was a hugely enjoyable performance, but I do wish he hadn’t allowed a couple of people to divert him from delivering a great set.

The Maze, Oscar Reed, Alex Black, Salim Sidat, Chris Stiles, Orrion Kalidowski, Anna King-Jackson, Dave Luck, Anthony Burgess, Ben Shannon, Sue la Rue, Matt West and Bambam Shaikh

Tonight I was in the Maze in Nottingham for the Funhouse Gong Show. This is a pleasant contest in a rock pub and there was a decent sized audience there to see it. Originally the glow sticks were hard to see in the dark, but Spiky Mike wisely swapped these for the easier to see cards during the first intermission. Mike had a fun night compering, with a repeat slip of the tongue when he encouraged the audience to put their hands in the air, rather than in the clapping position.

Our opening act was Oscar Reed, who when I had seen him in Sheffield, had given a good performance. Tonight he had rejigged his set and whilst his opening routine isn’t there yet, the rest of his set holds promise. His material about being a philosopher was great and it felt like he reached a higher gear with this section. Unfortunately he was gonged off before he had a real chance to shine.

Next was Alex Black whom I’ve seen three times in the last year or so and it is pleasing to say that he has made a visible improvement in that time. His strongest material is about children, but it was nice to see some local material utilised, which gave his performance a more bespoke and personal to this gig feel than many. Ghandhi was interestingly, but requires more before it becomes stage ready. In contrast to when I saw him last, Black achieved better pacing with the minute allowed for the final, but hasn’t quite got a killer punch for that bit. Black’s delivery was good, but he did have an unfortunate habit of commenting about the occasions when a joke didn’t quite land, which I thought put him in danger of persuading the audience that he was doing badly when he wasn’t.

Salim Sidat, our first one-liner comic of the night was next. I have mixed feelings about him, as some of his gags were good, such as a play on his resemblance to Keith Vaz and an Escort. However, he used a joke about a camel with four humps being a Saudi Quattro, which is all over the internet. A few of his gags had a familiar ring to them and I’d much rather comedians ensure that all of their set is written by them.

Closing the first section was Yorkshireman Chris Stiles, an act whom I don’t see gigging as often as I’d like. I enjoyed the Barnsley pilot and the subsequent routine about posh plumbers, but he was a surprise early gonging. Stiles hadn’t done anything to alienate the audience and looked to be building up nicely when he was voted off out of the blue.

Orrion Kalidowski has a strong West Country accent that made it hard for me to understand what he was saying at first. He looked confident on stage as he opened by talking about his name, but although he made the final, I was surprised at this as the gaps were too long between him saying anything funny. This was a set with a lot of talking, but not a lot in the way of punchlines

Anna King-Jackson was the standout act of the night. This was a performance that combined an engaging delivery, material that held together well and some good writing. The choice of priest for one reveal was nicely novel and King-Jackson was on the verge of an applause break for the affordable holiday. During the minute allocated for the final she went with some dark material that could have split the room and risked losing the goodwill of the audience, but fortunately her earlier sterling work won through. This was an impressive performance and I’d like to see more of her.

Dave Luck, on his second gig, had a very good night delivering one-liners. He rushed his first one, not leaving enough of a gap for the period reveal to land with full force. However, after this, things went more his way, although at first he didn’t have much linking his gags. Towards the end, though, he had a string of linked gags and built up a lot of momentum with these. There was a great time delay on sales/sails, as half of the room thought it out before laughing. The quality of the gags was a tad variable, but for a second gig this was extremely encouraging performance. Sales/sails, bag for life and counterproductive were all excellent.

Anthony Burgess promised more than he delivered. He looked plausible and seemed confident, but was an early gonging. He began with a you are what you eat gag, but this was one that the self-appointed workplace funny man would say rather than being anything no one had heard before. This was followed by a premise stretched too far and off he went.

The final act of the middle section was the up and coming Ben Shannon, who was along with Jay, the only act who didn’t really need a microphone. I like Shannon, as he has a real joy of being alive and he brightens up gigs. His material is quirky, but it stays on the funny side of this and remains accessible. The ham based routine was enjoyable and I was expecting him to go through to the final. However, Shannon misjudged his timing and finished his material 30 seconds or so before his time and left in limbo without enough time to jump into a routine and he went with a couple of shorts which the room didn’t go for and so was a late gonging.

Sue la Rue (with Peter Ningita on guitar) opened the final section. Musical acts don’t often do well in gongs, but la Rue bucked this trend by making it through to the final. She began by singing a song about vaginas before doing another about vaginas and then carrying on with a third vaginal song and then during the final treated the audience to another vagina song. Although the line about weetabix was good, this was most definitely a performance that the room enjoyed more than I did. I’m not a fan of musical acts, but an act that sings just about vaginas for 5 minutes plus another 60 seconds in the final is much more than I’d like on a comedy night. It wasn’t so much crass or anything, it just got very samey quickly and it made la Rue seem more like a novelty act that a comedian.

Matt West had a topsy-turvy night. He began weakly by talking about nerves (from a new act this bit didn’t inspire confidence, even when it is put on), although in fairness this did lead into some darker and much funnier material. West then got into a bit of a rut with a joke about the beach. In context, I can understand repeating the joke in full, although he could have got away with just the first line second time round, as it was quite a time eater, but to repeat it in full a third time was certainly overkill. West then made the fatal mistake of turning his back on the audience whilst delivering some material and this broke the connect with them just as a vote came up and off he went.

Bambam Shaikh closed the night in style. Bambam is a quality character act who delivers an intelligently structured set with something in it for pretty much everyone. As is to be expected this was a strong performance by Jay and it was a joy to see him again.

Book Review – A Man with one of those Faces by Caimh McDonnell

A Man with one of those Faces by Caimh McDonnell is a most excellent read. McDonnell has a rare talent as an author – he manages to tick four important boxes: accessibility, authenticity, characterisation and being extremely funny.

The pages to this book almost turn themselves and because of his great eye for the minutiae of life every scene feels very real. In contrast to some books, where all but the main people seem like shadows, each person has the feel of an individual actual real person and above all McDonnell has injected some amazing humour into the story. Getting the comedy balance right in a book is a tricky business. Jerome K Jerome’s Three men in a boat and Spike Milligan’s books have a laugh on nearly every line, but at the expense of readability. One can get laughed out very quickly after a short period, making the work something that you dip into. Instead the comedy in A man with one of those Faces is more evenly spaced and readability doesn’t suffer. If anything, it encourages you to keep turning the page in search of the next belly laugh.

The story is gripping and there are no huge leaps of logic or plausibility. McDonnell doesn’t indulge the reader with great masses of exposition and one is left to discover the answers to questions as you proceed through the book and this is a very nice touch. All questions and queries are eventually addressed and nothing is left hanging, which makes for a very satisfying story.

This is a wonderful book and come Christmas I can easily see myself buying a few copies for my friends as this is a work than I think most people will enjoy reading. I’d love to see it turned into a mini-series as a film wouldn’t do the story justice. Brendan Gleeson would be a shoo in for playing Bunny McGarry, although I do understand that Colin Farrell is rumoured to be interested….

The UK Pun Championship – Richard Pulsford, Luvdev Barpaiga, Iain MacDonald, Nigel Lovell, Roger Swift, Colin Leggo, Julian Lee, Samantha Baines and Jason Byrne (host)

Tonight I was at the UK Pun Championship at the Leicester comedy festival. This was a gig that I didn’t expect to be going to, as my brakes had failed and owing to my mechanic being on holiday at the worst possible moment and the main dealer having to get the parts in I was car less. A friend had suggested going by train as the venue (De Montfort Hall) is close by the station, but getting a train from Mansfield to Nottingham to Leicester and then back again struck me as a night on a park bench just waiting to happen. Luckily Big Jon Pearson came to the rescue offering to give me a lift to and from Leicester, which was lovely of him.

De Montfort Hall was decked out a treat for the show, with a boxing ring in the centre of the room. I wouldn’t say that my seat was the best, but luckily it gave me a great view of the ring. The contestants were Samantha ‘Puntergatherer’ Baines, Iain ‘Crapunzel’ MacDonald, Luvdev ‘The Punjabi Warrior’ Barpaiga, Colin ”Punstoppable’ Leggo, Nigel ‘Leytonstone Lip’ Lovell, Richard ‘Puntagenet’ Pulsford, Julian ‘Pun DMC’ Lee and Roger ‘Punderstudy Swift. Prior to this, I’d only seen Barpaiga, who possibly has the most misspelt and mispronounced name in comedy, Lovell, who has some great gags on facebook and Swift whom I’ve found builds up a lot of momentum, if given the chance. I wouldn’t have liked to speculate on the winner prior to the gig, although Pearson was confident that Barpaiga would win.

Our host was Jason Byrne, who didn’t have the best of nights. He began by getting people to clap to the music and exhorting people to have fun. This seemed a little forced, but he was bubbly and energetic enough to carry it through. He then explained the format, which would be four head to head battles, a break, the semi finals and then the final. This was followed by a spot of audience work, which can’t have been easy with people sat on all four sides of the ring, but which in truth was still pretty underwhelming. Byrne wasn’t helped in this by only seeming to have a sketchy idea of the local towns and him mishearing where people lived. I shouldn’t expect him to know all of the villages, but he seemed to struggle more than most and just saying Shepshep in a puzzled voice a few times didn’t make up for this. In addition there were a few times where Byrne lost count of how many times a contestant had gone on a given subject, meaning that some had four puns and others only three. I don’t think that this affected any results, but it could have been improved. When it came to the final, which was a dead heat, Byrne seemed to run out of ideas quickly and rather than asking people to cheer only for the finalist they thought was the winner, rather than cheering for each one, as Spiky Mike does when his gong shows are tied, he just asked each side of the room to cheer, which merely perpetuated the stalemate. Byrne was lively and kept things moving, but relied on energy to get through the night.

The opening round was Pulsford v Barpaiga

The first category was Gorillas and then Oscars soon followed. Barpaiga, looking a little bit like a genie, gave a solid opening pun and seemed the more naturally the funnier of the two. Pulsford took longer with his set ups and despite applause they appeared more laboured than Luvdev’s puns. On the subject of Oscars, Barpaiga scored with a knockout pun that took him through the cheer off into the semis.

The second round was Iain MacDonald v Nigel Lovell (sporting boxing gloves and robe)

The categories were Birds and Country Music. This was a clash of styles. Lovell delivered his puns as if he was on stage, whereas MacDonald remained still and calm, telling his jokes in a slow Scottish drawl. Despite the talent shown by Lovell, MacDonald’s writing was superior and this won out over Lovell’s superior delivery.

The third round was Roger Swift, who clambered into the ring by sliding under the bottom rope, pushing his suitcase before him, v Colin Leggo.

The topics were beer and mindfulness. Leggo looked relaxed and confident, in contrast to Swift who looked edgy and eager. Leggo made a clever start, but some of his puns were a bit convoluted. Swift pulled ahead with the first two puns, had a miss with the third, but hit the room with a cracker of a pun about senses to win through to the semis.

The fourth round was Julian Lee v Samantha Baines

The subjects were dogs and America. This was a very one-sided contest with Lee steamrollering over Baines. Although Baines corpsed a lot at her own gags and lost a bit of impetuous she did well to recover when some sod in the audience shouted out his own punchline to one of her puns before she delivered her reveal. Lee, playing on his Geordie accent with his first pun, quickly established himself as the man to beat and his combination of strong material and good delivery made him a favourite to win.

The first semi final was Barpaiga v MacDonald

The topics were veganism and trains and this was an evenly matched affair. Both comedians had some good puns and Luvdev was the narrow winner on the cheer off. I was very impressed by MacDonald and felt that his slow and ultra dry delivery would work wonders building over a longer set instead of having to stop after each pun.

The second semi final was Roger Swift v Julian Lee

The categories were Star Wars, Boxing and then in extra time, Brexit. Swift made for a compelling sight as he clambered into the ring, sliding under the bottom rope, pushing more stuff than some people take with them on a weekend away. Star Wars was a bit of a God send for Swift and he hit the room with some very strong puns and prop puns (as some of his props were double sided, it was hard to work out which picture we were meant to be looking at, at first). Lee countered this with perhaps weaker puns, but a stronger delivery. Swift then built up a lot of momentum in Boxing by a string of puns set in a restaurant. Lee was unlucky to mangle the set up to his first boxing joke, but remained in the game, so much so that this was the first contest to require an extra category: Brexit. Although Swift made a strong showing, Lee once again powered through, still looking very much the man to beat.

The Final was Luvdev Barpaiga v Julian Lee

This bout utilised every category left – baking, facebook, clouds, parents, monarchs, snow and pizza. This was a contest that rolled back and forth. Lee was patchier than before, with some really good jokes landing heavily, but also a few weaker ones creeping in, whereas Barpaiga, whilst perhaps not hitting the highs that Lee did, managed to avoid having anything miss too badly, instead maintaining a constant level. The result of this was stalemate, with Byrne having a number of cheer offs and failing to get any closer to a resolution. This was beginning to look rather awkward. Suddenly someone in the audience shouted out ‘Free style!’ and the audience took up the chant with almost everyone chanting ‘free style’ at Byrne who went with the flow. Here the idea was that the contestant would announce the topic they were returning to, which included any used during the night and they would then do a pun. Barpaiga started with America, which Lee countered by building upon Luvdev’s jokes and coming out ahead. Drugs and then Chips followed as topics with Barpaiga’s material being the stronger. Lee made up for this by his ad-libs. Whenever there was silence, he’d pop out an extra line and the constant mirth not only demonstrated how quick he was on his feet mentally, but also showed his natural funniness. This, though, still left everything delicately poised. Byrne then resolved to settle the night by each contestant delivering one final gag and then putting the mic down. Lee went first and ended on a strong one, but Barpaiga finished with a huge bang, landing his strongest joke and topper of the night. It might have been a narrow win, but Luvdev did well and was a worthy winner.

Punchbowl – Morgan Rees, Paul B. Edwards, Jack Topher, Stevie Gray and Pat Draper

Tonight I’ve had a lovely time at the Funhouse comedy gig at the Punchbowl in Nottingham. Last month there were 60 people here; tonight owing to various factors numbers were smaller, which gave the night a very intimate feel and for some of the less experienced acts on the bill, provided experience in how to play to a small audience. Mike, sporting a subdued stripy t-shirt, made the most of the audience, chatting to people and warming the room up. He acknowledged that the night was something of an unusual one, but in going ahead and taking it seriously he also made it playable. The room was soon ready for comedy.

Morgan Rees, on a double with the Funhouse Wollaton gig, opened with material, when perhaps he might have been better with going with a spot of banter first to ease the audience into his set. I’ve seen Rees before in Sheffield, where he had done well and tonight it was easy to see why. He has some good material – the park bench routine is sound as is the alternative name for the postman and the Welsh words will always prove to be a winner (this is a routine that could be expanded or modified). However, he did use the line we’ll call him Andy, because that his is name, which I thought was the same line that 90% of comedians would use and I think he could improve upon this. This wasn’t the night that Rees was expecting, but it was still good to see him.

Next was the experienced Paul B. Edwards, who has recently moved to Nottingham. He began with a couple of standard lines, that are quite commonly used, but luckily soon moved up a gear. His material about pound shops was good and the routine about satin sheets was very entertaining. However, the thing that most impressed me about Edwards was his delivery. This was fast, almost at the pace of a man holding a meat auction (see also Roland Gent) and this was absolutely spot on for the night. He held the room very well and built up a big head of steam. Edwards had judged the room well and had chosen wisely in how he pitched his set. This was very enjoyable.

After the intermission we resumed with Jack Topher, an act that I am looking forwards to watching develop. He began with a bit of room work and received good laughs for this before moving onto a new joke, which has potential, especially as I thought he was going to take us in a totally different direction (size 16, wears a 10). His reveal was bleaker, but delivered with enough panache to keep it funny. From then it was into his usual set, which was delivered with skill and he coped very well with a smaller audience than usual. This was a nice performance.

Stevie Gray, who was also on a double with Wollaton, was next. Gray is great at working with an audience and it’s always a pleasure watching him bring the room into a gig. Tonight he started by getting me on the stage to dance as it is my birthday. Unfortunately I can’t dance to save my life and my musical tastes are limited to Wagner’s Ring Cycle and ELO, so being asked to dance Gangland style flummoxed me. Luckily Gray got Jasmine, who worked in the pub, to join me on stage and teach me how to dance a Macarena. This went down well with audience and acts, with Jack Topher commandeering my notebook to write a review of it for me. I believe there is a video of this on Facebook showing why my wife thinks I should be barred from every dance floor. From here Gray had a chat about Secret Santa’s and a game of legal/illegal to close his set. I always enjoy watching Gray – this is a chap whose sense of fun is infectious and he can brighten up any room.

Closing was the slimmed down Pat Draper, whose dry wit and well crafted set provided a fitting end to what had been a lovely gig. Draper was airing some new material and this was all very pleasant. I was especially impressed with the string of callbacks that he almost closed on. These were excellent and are a definite banker. As this had wrapped up his set and gave it an air of completeness I thought he’d tap out on that, but instead he finished on a song, which harked back to his earlier one. This was a nice set and I’d like to see Draper gig more.

The Oaktree – Jack Topher, Simon Lomas, Alex Love, Danny Deegan, Barry Dodds and Stevie Gray (MC)

Tonight I was at a gig 2 minutes or so from my house, which makes for a lovely change. This was the new Funhouse gig at The Oaktree in Mansfield. As an opening night, numbers were small, but what the venue lacked in volume, it made up for in intimacy. Our compere for the night was Stevie Gray.

Gray put a lot of effort into making the night a success. He welcomed the audience, chatted with them before the gig, during the intermissions and afterwards, making everyone feel at home. He also began the night on time and kept the breaks under control ensuring that everyone got home at a very reasonable time. With his powerful voice, Gray didn’t really need a microphone and he mixed room work with material, drawing everyone into the show. I was particularly pleased to see him do the Pirate Song, as that always adds a lot to the atmosphere and there was an unexpected pleasure to this when the chap he picked was Craig, an old school friend of mine. Gray explained how the night would work, did the rules and remained a thoroughly affable MC throughout the night and all with no Kazoo in sight.

The opening act was Jack Topher, who although inexperienced, has funny bones. He made a bit of a quiet start and I think that this was largely due to the change in pace from Gray’s room work to his doing material, but before long he was getting laughs. Not everything landed as well as it usually does – jokes that I’ve previously seen do well seemed to score lower tonight; for example, ‘how religion started’ went over a lot of heads at first. As ever there was a nice time lag between the reveal of a pun about his brother and the audience twigging on. It’s good to see Topher gigging more frequently.

Some people look like jokers, others look as if they are purveyors of deep and meaningful poetry and this makes Simon Lomas the clickbait of comedy – he gets on stage and you simply won’t believe what happens next. He performs his set with his body facing right of the audience, with wonderfully slow pacing and fantastic timing on the pauses. Lomas is compelling viewing and he held the room masterfully. This performance was a mix of existing and new material and he hoovered up a lot of laughs. Chicken pox is a work in progress, but everything else was top notch. I’ve already tipped Lomas as a comedian who will have a very progressive year and this has confirmed my opinion that he is going to go far.

The relaxed looking Alex Love began with a joke about his appearance and then a string of three puns before moving onto short routines. Love delivered his material directly to the audience, at times addressing individual audience members. This helped to make his material look more like room work than actual material and he got a fair amount of laughs for this. However, despite a bubbly delivery, there was no one moment that really stood out and he would have benefited from a big climatic gag.

The impressive Danny Deegan was next, trialling a new arrangement of some existing material; seeing how part of his Edinburgh show worked as a ten spot. It is a work in progress and needs something at about the halfway mark to add to the humour. As it stands 60 seconds was a great line and the final reveal was very good. After Deegan had finished the new material he spent a couple of minutes chatting with the room and came out with some excellent ad-libs. These were great and just had the effect of making me wish he gigged around here more often.

Barry Dodds, with his cherubic face, closed the night. Dodds is a rock solid act whom I’d love to see on telly. Tonight he moved seemlessy from banter into material and although I only saw him last Friday, he delivered largely the same set with a freshness that made it feel almost spontaneous. Barry also demonstrated great adaptability in reworking his routines in the face of things that the audience had to say and the result of all of this was that he went down a treat. There was one moment that could have been awkward and this was where a chap in the audience ambushed him with an anecdote by way of reply to a largely confirmatory question, but luckily Dodds was wise enough not to cut the fellow down as this would have been very much against the mood of the room. I’ve got a lot of time for Dodds, he’s a fantastic act.