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

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

Wayne Beese (MC)

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

Jason Neale

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

Sham Zaman

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

Luke Wright

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

Roger Monkhouse

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


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

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

Jim Bayes (MC)

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

Tom Taylor

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

Jack Kirwan and Andy McBurney

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

Seymour Mace

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

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

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

Ben Briggs (MC)

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

Rik Carranza

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

Billy McGuire

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

Jared Shooter

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

Che Burnley

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

Keith Carter as Nige

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

Bluey’s – Carly Smallman, Paul Grundle, Gavin Webster and Sully O’Sullivan (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s Steakhouse for the FaF Promotions Boxing Day gig. This is a little gem of a night. I arrived there way too early, but what I lost in seeing another episode of a Christmas box set, I gained in chatting to Fran Jenking and I count myself up on that. Bizarrely some of the people who had bought tickets didn’t show up, rendering what should have been a packed out room, less busy than usual. However, this was nothing that our MC couldn’t cope with.

Our compere was the articulate Sully O’Sullivan, whom I last saw at a tough drunken bank holiday gig, where he had mixed compering and riot control. Tonight he was able to use his talents more widely. He began well by pointing out the irony in his being a New Zealander and a Vegan in an Australian steakhouse. This was followed by some very good room work, involving delving under the Christmas tree in search of toys and presents which he made full use of. O’Sullivan seemed to find the right balance in ribbing people – being funny and slightly cutting without crossing any lines. This was shown in him getting four people to the stage and having the audience vote for who looked most like they were homeless, a serial killer and a 70’s porn star, etc (I was voted serial killer by a roomful of people, which is a bit disconcerting). This was a wonderful piece of work and really brought the people sat in the room together as an audience. I was especially impressed by how after the first intermission he dealt with a drunk who was prone to shout out – O’Sullivan fished out a Where’s Wally book from under the tree and passed it to the drunk with the instruction to read it whenever he got the urge to talk. This was a night of good compering that melded wit, charm, energy and authority.

The opening act was Carly Smallman, someone whose name I’ve seen online, but whom I’d never seen in person. Smallman has a warm smile and looked happy to be there to perform and this in no small way half won over the room before she had even started. Her set could be split into four parts, room work, song, room work, song and this worked very nicely. In speaking to the audience, she did suffer a bit from not being in tune with the local accent, but she made this into a strength by being honest enough to admit it and making a joke out of it. This worked very well when dealing with a drunk who thought that her set was more interactive than what it was. Smallman was astute enough to feel where the sympathies of the room lay and made the most of this when dealing with him. I especially enjoyed her quick wit in ad-libbing a callback to O’Sullivan’s compering when she spoke to a chap about his impending homelessness. I have said this before, but I will say it again – it’s great when an act has been listening to the MC and knows who is who. The songs were both good, being well written and sung well, with the one about a brother probably being the standout. In fact I would say that both were as strong as anything I’ve heard on the wireless, if perhaps not quite as broadcastable. This was a very enjoyable performance that injected a lot of fun into the room and I don’t think anyone would have objected to her having had more stage time.

Following the intermission there was a magician who had been booked directly by the venue in order to make the night that little bit more special. I’ve very little knowledge concerning magicians, although I have seen some very talented comedy magicians such as Doug Segal, Alan Hudson and Wayne the Weird. This chap, Paul Grundle, was much more of a magician than a comedian, which became apparent when he opened his slot with a couple of old jokes, but from here he wisely stuck to magic. He certainly looked the part in suit and bright waistcoat and the magic was of an high order. The tricks all came off well, apart from where an audience member forgot his card and there were some spectacular moments. Possibly the funniest moment came from a lady he picked in the audience whom he asked to think of a word and the word she picked had Stoney almost falling out of his chair with laughter. Grundle’s delivery was very down to earth and I felt that it might have benefited from something lifting it a bit. He went down well with the room, but owing to the nature of his show, it did take the energy levels down, but these were rescued by O’Sullivan in time for the headliner.

Gavin Webster was the headlining act. I’ve seen him before, when he played Field Mill and he’d had a good night then. Webster is a solid presence who efficiently closed down the drunken heckler with a great return volley concerning kids and football and handled a polite and fun shout out from Mrs Bluey well. Webster did 30 minutes or so and it went quickly with the room thoroughly enjoying it. Although I thought the ghost routine was smashing, he didn’t really do it for me. I could admire his timing and his technical expertise in crafting his set, but I found his running commentary a little bit distracting and to me, it got in the way of the routines. The rest of the room found his asides to be very good, so it’s horses for courses and whilst Webster isn’t really my cup of tea, he was 30 or so other peoples choice of brew and he had a good gig.

Blueys – Billy Lowther, Jared Shooter, Rich Austin, Seymour Mace and Pete Dobbing (MC)

Tonight I was in Alfreton at Bluey’s for the FaF Promotions gig. This is a night I always look forwards to attending. The atmosphere is great and Mr and Mrs Bluey always make it obvious to the acts that they are valued and welcome, which is a lovely touch. Apart from the headliner, the line up was a complete mystery to me until I arrived, which made for some very pleasant surprises. Our compere was Pete Dobbing.

I have only seen Dobbing once before and that was doing a short ten spot on a showcase bill up in Edinburgh, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to him filling the role of MC. He began by using the status of Bluey’s as a steakhouse as a segue into his material about food (I personally thought that the line about the Australian Steakhouse Circuit deserved more) and cruise ships. This set the tone for his compering, which consisted mostly of material. Dobbing was competent – he got laughs, he set the room up for the acts, remembered to plug the next show and never forgot a name (there was no, ‘the next act needs no introduction…’) – but I would have preferred more ad libbing and audience work beyond him asking rhetorical questions, although in fairness, the broomstick gag was a nice touch. With a bit more of this I think he would have had a better night; this isn’t to say he had a bad night, Dobbing was still good fun.

The opening act was the award winning Billy Lowther, an act that I have a lot of time for. His material is solid and he has a delivery that gets the most from it. His routine about Sunderland provided an easily accessible opening to his set and right from the beginning it was obvious that everyone was onboard. The new material fitted naturally into his set and it is always a pleasure to see a comic know which town to name as the local shit town. Lowther is a well built chap and this features in a few of his jokes, but he has a very broad approach to his gags and is far from being a one issue comedian. Also, in contrast to a lot of one-liner comics, his delivery is slow paced and this suits him a lot better, although part of the slow pacing may be due to the fact that he needed to leave room for a laughter break after every single line. Lowther seemed to be on the verge of an applause break all the way through and the big surprise was him only receiving the one applause break.

We resumed after the intermission with Jared Shooter, who demonstrated a new and improved set. Although he began with some established material it wasn’t long before he was giving the room some new material and this was all good bankable stuff, although naturally with some room for improvement. The fire engine was nicely convoluted, the job application worked well and the danger wank gave him an opportunity to work the room a bit, something that I think adds to a lot to sets, as did his callback. I was a bit puzzled as to him not making a gag out of the price difference between the two lists, but I dare say that will be worked on, as it seemed like a good opportunity to fit something in about the value of a wank opposed to a good takeaway. Shooter’s delivery isn’t as smooth as I’d perhaps like, with a few too many erms, but he’s a charismatic chap whom audiences want to like, so this isn’t disastrous. I enjoyed this set and he’s definitely moved in the right direction with his new material.

Rich Austin followed, looking smart and plausible in his suit. His material was clever and well structured and it’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into it, as there was scarcely a word that didn’t add value to what he was saying. I was especially impressed with the Iams line, as that managed to be simultaneously both clever and daft and also funny. Austin’s closing routine provided comprehensive closure to his set and will be what most people will remember of it. There were two slight things that jarred in this performance. The first one was the routine about Hull and here he was the victim of the running order. Lowther had ticked this box earlier by rubbishing Hull twenty minutes before and although Austin’s material on this subject was good, the impact of it was somewhat diluted. The other thing was Austin’s delivery. It is somewhat grim, which suited his description of cats, but over ten minutes it did began to seem a bit out of synch with the rest of his material and he may have benefited more from lifting his tone a bit. As it was, this was an enjoyable set with strong writing skills in evidence and I’ll be interested to see Austin develop as a comedian.

The headliner was Seymour Mace, who is one of those rare comedians who could never be anything other than a comic. He had a wonderfully ad-libbed opening and within two minutes the audience were eating out of the palm of his hand. His material is top notch and like the very best surrealism it maintains an internal logic that adds no end of credibility to what he is saying – everything, no matter how silly – still makes sense, whether it be about dog muck or Scooby Doo. Only one line didn’t seem to land heavily (councillor) and I thought that that was still a good one. There were a number of stand out routines, such as Scooby Doo, the owl, Gladys Knight, but probably the best was the facebook window. During this routine, Mace just seemed to manage to ratchet up the laughs every time he opened his mouth and added a new twist. This was a splendid set.

Bluey’s – Pat Draper, Pete Selwood, Simon Lomas, Brian and Krysstal and Tony Cowards (MC)

Last night I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy night. I like this gig and I like Bluey’s. I never fail to be impressed by just how up for comedy this venue is. The staff go out of their way to look after the acts and the audience always give the performers a lot of love. They are interested in what they have to say and get involved in following the show. This is in marked contrast to a lot of weekend comedy clubs, where 50% of the audience are only there because it is an outing of some sort. It’s also nice to see glasses collected regularly and a curtain across the bar, screening off the comedy area. Little touches like these all add up.

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that Mr Tony Cowards was our MC for the night. This was for 3 reasons. Prior to walking in I only knew who the headline act was, every other slot was a mystery. Tony is a cracking MC, with a quick fire delivery of puns that builds atmosphere swiftly. And thirdly, by common agreement, he is regarded as one of the nicest people on the circuit (in Edinburgh he organised kick abouts, runs and a litter collection). I was interested in seeing how he would adapt to this gig after his recent Edinburgh Festival run – 105 gigs in front of 4000 people – and the answer was easily. He opened with a brilliant set of puns about blood groups, which I massively appreciated, as did the rest of the audience. From here, it was a case of chatting to people, discovering their jobs and then selecting a joke to match it. Cowards has a great general knowledge, a wide selection of puns and is very skilled in tying all of this together in a way that makes it feel natural. Audiences warm very quickly to a comic who can do this. Tony is a clean comedian; I’ve not heard him swear or tell anything especially blue or questionable, although I’m sure that if he chose, he could do some very nice stuff along these lines. Instead, he concentrates on jokes of a very high order and he isn’t worried about being too clever for the audience to follow. His Picasso and Proctologist jokes both worked very well. In addition to his puns, the highlight was either when he was asked whether Wiltshire ham actually came from Wiltshire – a question that no one expects – or his interaction with a Cockney on the front row. Alfreton is a small (ex) mining town and not the sort of place one would expect to find a Cockney. The football loving Cowards homed in on this chaps’ Spurs shirt and he very quickly painted a convincing portrait of him as a geezer, almost an exile from a Guy Ritchie film. This construct was wonderfully burst amidst big laughs, when the man admitted that instead of being the local king pin, he merely worked for the Co Op. This was very enjoyable compering.

Our opening act was Pat Draper. I’ve seen a lot of Draper this year and that is no bad thing. His style is dead pan, but with enough of a twinkle in his eye for audiences to know that he is very much tongue in cheek. Tonight he showed a lot of small improvements in his material, with, amongst others, an added line after his joke about the erection. This was a set that went down very nicely and for some parts, he received laughs for simply standing there looking at the room. I was impressed with his joke about the yawn. I had seen this first performed on a new material night a couple of months ago, where although raw, it held promise and it is very nice to see that that has been realised. Draper had a good night and received a lot of laughs.

The middle section began with Pete Selwood. As he made his way to the stage and indeed, during his set, he radiated confidence, far more than what one would expect for someone so new to comedy. This is a man with swagger and it isn’t misplaced, either. Selwood gave a very strong performance. He began by addressing a physical issue that he has, which was a clever move, as it dealt with both the issue of people being distracted by it and it also showed that if he can laugh and make light of it, then it is ok for everyone else to laugh during his set. In contrast to some comedians, he didn’t make his set all about this single issue and instead he talked about a variety of topics. I was impressed by his joke about magnums, his proving that his dad was correct about it and then getting a third laugh from this one area as it rolled along very nicely, building impetus. Although facebook and parents is something that is overused, he also had a decent section on it. Selwood wasn’t helped with the microphone cutting out during the set up to his finale, but it was definitely worth the wait for the reveal. This is a comedian who shows a lot of promise.

The next act was Simon Lomas, who was on a technical level the more interesting of the two (laughter wise, the middle section was equally matched). His appearance, unlike Selwood, doesn’t inspire confidence. He initially gives the room the impression that there was a clerical error when he was booked and that somewhere else there is a comedian taking his place in an Alan Bennett play. However, this is all a very clever construct that Lomas makes a lot of capital from. Rather than try to engage with the audience, he is deliberately aloof, staring off to one side throughout his performance, which given his intentional awkwardness, works wonders for his delivery. I was further impressed by his ability to make the most of a silence. If a comedian can get a laugh during the spaces between jokes, then he is doing very well. Lomas’ material involves him setting up an implausible scenario, some misdirection and then a wonderfully offbeat reveal. This went down a storm. Apart from the Xbox, where I got there just before he did, I had no idea what the reveal would be on any of them. My only (slight) criticism of this set was that Lomas broke out of his fixed position where he was staring off into the middle distance to one side of the room, 3-4 times to check either the time or his hand for material. I felt that this very slightly weakened the impact of what he was doing, but in truth, I was probably the only person who noticed. However, considering that Selwood has a good gag about not being able to write material on his left hand and that these two often gig together, I shouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t room for a very strong callback to be fitted in here. This was a set that was splendidly different and very funny.

The closing act was Brian Damage and Krysstal. I’ve never seen this duo have a bad night and very soon they were hoovering up laughs. Brian is a master of sarcastic and disparaging asides and Krysstal manages to play being 2 stages detached from proceedings very well. I think it is easy to overlook the strength of their material in the sheer joy of watching them deliver it. The manner in which Brian looms over the audience, looking slightly rum during the penultimate song really sells it, as does Krysstal’s looks of disgust to his advances. As ever, they gave a cracking performance.

Blueys: Tom Houghton, Peter McCole, Thomas Rackham, Milo McCabe as Troy and Carl Jones (MC)

Tonight I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy night. This is a gig with bags of delight. Although the audience wasn’t huge, for a wet Tuesday night it was very respectable and most importantly of all, this was a crowd that were there for the comedy and wanted to laugh. I’ll take this over a big, but indifferent crowd any day of the week. Bluey’s is an Australian themed steak house, with a couple of wonderful little quirks. There is a lady with a loud and very infectious laugh, who sounds as if she is sat on a feather. This is very endearing. Also, Bluey himself is the only person who tends to heckle and he saves this for the MC, being funny when he does shout out. Not a combination that many hecklers manage to achieve. Tonight was one of those gigs where everyone had a very good night, both audience and comics. Our MC was Mr Carl Jones.

I’ve only seen Jones MC once before and that was when he was the compere of choice for the NCF comedian of the year awards. He’d had a good night then, so was a reassuring presence on the bill. Jones is a clever comedian, one of those chaps who could probably rise up the rungs of any profession he decides to have a go at. Tonight, this intelligence demonstrated itself in two ways. Firstly, he avoided politics like the plague, only making one passing reference to the new exchange rate, a mention that was very funny and non-contentious. Instead, he concentrated on England being bundled out of the European Football. This gave him ample scope to chat to people about how they watched the match, if indeed they had. This did lead to one blind alley, where he quickly cut his losses and moved on and this succeeded in creating a nice fun atmosphere and it also created a lot of material for acts to work with later in the night. Jones is a local lad and was able to use this to great effect, in making jokes comparing Alfreton to his home town, which is a distance of about 5 miles away. I especially enjoyed how Jones would provide a funny line and then almost as an after-thought, he would hit the room with a second reveal, which ramped up the mirth. Jones had a good night and it was a pleasure to see him again.

The opening act was Tom Houghton, who I last saw at a Funhouse night in Loughborough, where he had been excellent. That night, he had largely ad-libbed his way through a 20 spot in magnificent fashion. Tonight, his set was based more upon material, rather than crowd work. He made a big entry onto the stage, emphasising his campiness for the benefit of the room. This lead into an account of how he became the man he is today, where he managed to avoid the all too often used routine about not being a man’s man, followed by joke about putting up shelves. This was then followed by a spot concerning a posh girlfriend, where his use of a cockney accent on ‘Don’t want to talk abaht it’ really sold the line. His five stages of answerphone message provided a very good set piece to his show. This was a performance that had the room laughing hard, impressed everyone present and seemed to fly by all too quickly.

After the intermission we resumed with Peter McCole, who is the second Liverpool based comedian I’ve seen this week and indeed within the last couple of months. I have to confess, I wasn’t familiar with McCole until I saw his name on the bill, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew he’d be good, otherwise he wouldn’t have been booked, but this still added a little bit of excitement to the night. McCole came onto the stage and ad-libbed the first couple of minutes to good effect, generating laughs quickly. Within 3-4 minutes, he had the entire pub hanging on his every word, as he delivered his material with a great deal of charm. I was especially taken by his story of a séance, which built up nicely as he delivered it. The reveal was saved from being foreseeable by a lovely twist. His closing routine involved a sex tape, which is something that has been covered a couple of times by comics, but which gave the room real pleasure as McCole acted out the scene on the tape and the reaction from his parents. This was a well thought out set, with both good material and a well pitched delivery. I hope to see more of McCole.

Next was Thomas Rackham, an act that I am always pleased to see. Rackham is a prolific writer and if one sees him in May, then by June, you can pretty much guarantee that 60% of his set will be new. This isn’t new as in try it and see if it works, new. This is new as in new and very good, new. He began with a fantastic gambit. There was a chap on the front row who had arrived straight from work, sans tea. Rackham carried out a bowl of crisps, supplied by Bluey’s for the acts and offered this chap a crisp for every time he laughed. A simple idea in many ways, but one which struck a chord with the room and in a small way showed that this was a unique event and not just something he does every night, as if on autopilot. A lot of Rackham’s new material concerned football, which was very enjoyable. He then moved on to close with some established material: nights out and jazz, which all landed well, getting consistent laughs. Rackham has a natural delivery and I’ve never seen him have a bad night.

Our closing act was Milo McCabe as Troy Hawke. Hawke strolled onto the stage, looking like Douglas Fairbanks relaxing on a film set, bedecked in a silk top, cravat, moustache and brylcreemed hair. His use of language and speech patterns were reminiscent of a PG Wodehouse character, but with more credibility. This was used to marvellous effect, as a set that was 50% based upon facts elicited by Jones’ compering and 50% material was delivered to the room. I was very impressed with how Hawke managed to work in so much improvised material and judging by the sounds of laughter, the rest of the audience were extremely enthusiastic, too. The pre-existing material, which discussed football and his interactions with various people were of a uniformly great quality, but pushed a lot further by a very strong delivery, that stayed in character throughout. The closing routine was simply magnificent. This involved Hawke working in a call back to everyone who had been spoken to during the course of the night. This earned him a series of applause breaks. I’ve never seen anyone manage to pull this off before. The closest I’ve seen to it was on television, when Bob Monkhouse improvised a series of links between audience members in one of his shows. It was at this stage that Hawke was delivered a googly in the form of a shout out/call back to his own material and was asked to sing a song. He dealt with this request with aplomb and some very quick thinking. This was a fantastic set.

Il Rosso – Nick Page, Seymour Mace and Roger Monkhouse (MC)

Tonight I was at a gig in my home town. I was at FaF’ Comedy’s night at Il Rosso, which is probably two miles from my door step. This is a very nice gig, that for some reason has been intermittent, but which I’m hoping now becomes a regular fixture. It is one of those nights where the ticket price includes food. In this case tapas. I think I first heard of tapas two years ago and I wouldn’t have been able to state exactly what it consisted of. Having seen 5-6 bowls of stuff I still can’t say what it is. As I dislike eating something that I have no idea what it is or was, I cheerfully gifted mine to a friend of Stoney’s and thanked my lucky stars I’d had a good tea before I came out. By all accounts the food was great, but that’s no surprise, as Il Rosso is quite probably the most stylish pub in town. This was reflected in the amount of money invested in the place and the type of audience it had attracted. Tonight’s MC was Roger Monkhouse.

Monkhouse is a name I see on a fair few gig posters, but as these are mostly for events down South, this is actually the first time I’ve seen him. Owing to a combination of loud music and a ten minutes until show time that stretched to closer to twenty, he came out on stage to a lukewarm welcome, almost as if no one was really expecting him to appear. He made the most of this and then had a quick search in the audience for prey. He found this in the shape of a foursome sat at the front. This consisted of two striking ladies and two elder gentlemen. Monkhouse pointed out that they looked royal, in the sort of gangster fled to Spain kind of way. This received a big laugh, not least from that table and was swiftly followed by 5-6 quick comments building upon this. He returned to this table throughout the night, which gave a nice sense of continuity to his compering and as he easily stayed on the right side of any line, so this never felt like they were being picked on. He asked if anyone was local, then if anyone was from outside Mansfield, passing the local geography test, by stating that Sutton was part of Mansfield when someone shouted their location. There was a minor dip during the set up, when Monkhouse went into some material on global warming, but this somewhat grim set up was worth it for the reveal. His routine about pedo certificates was great and landed well and I enjoyed how swiftly and funnily he disposed of people whom he resembles, as during the last few weeks I feel as if I’ve heard 7-8 comedians describing who they look like at great length. Monkhouse’s line about there not being a meat raffle went down a treat, as although every other pub in town seems to have one, this is definitely too classy an establishment for that. This compering was very enjoyable and also well timed. Monkhouse neither stayed on too long to the detriment of the acts, nor did he skimp on his stage time. Instead he timed it perfectly and it was a joy to see Stoney wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.

The opening act was Nick Page, who I’ve seen twice before and who was excellent each time. Tonight he made it a hat trick. He began with a small routine based around Schrodinger’s Cat, which contained not only impeccable logic, but was also a unique opening to a show. This was followed by Page explaining his approach to comedy, listing what he didn’t do. This was almost anti-comedy, but which was pushed along nicely by his quick illustrations of some of the things he wasn’t going to do. Page received his first applause break for his notions of how Scotland could be treated regarding their referendum. His comments about festival wrist bands were thoroughly enjoyable, the more so because the promoter is a fan of these. His section on planning permission was great, as was his joke about eugenics and perhaps more so as it went over a few people’s heads. None of Page’s routines failed to land and his remarks about parcel force were a particular joy. He built up such a strong picture of his travails, that it was easy to picture him in a depot 22 miles from home. Page got into his flow and moved quickly, delivering his material with the sort of intensity that made it compulsive listening for the audience. This wasn’t a set where people were looking at their phones, instead everyone was focussed upon the stage. This was an excellent set and Page is a comedian who I hope to see a lot more of.

The closing act was Seymour Mace, who had the room laughing, just by being stood on stage at the start of his set. Mace has a unique look, with silver shoes and the sort of suit that makes him look like a spiv selling knocked off ration cards during the war. Mace’s material covered a lot of ground and combined the fantastic with the down at home, often both within the same sentence. From speed walking, to owls, Scooby Doo and disappearing shit, this was a set that was performed, rather than delivered. Mace made full use of the sizeable stage to alternatively dance, prance and sing his way through his set. This was a high energy performance that made the most of his surreal material. I enjoyed his very timely reference to Elton John, the song about 70’s celebrities and thought that his closing routine as a backing singer made for a wonderful end to the night.

Ironville – Ian D Montfort, Jamie Hutchinson, Tom Binns, Ivan Brackenbury and Sully O’Sullivan (MC)

Tonight I was in Ironville for the FaF comedy night. This place is only about 10 miles from my house, so it’s more or less in my backyard, however, it had been a while since I’d seen Stoney, so I left 45 minutes early to get there in time for a chat before the gig. I don’t use a satnav, instead I draw maps of where I need to be and it works well enough, although my wife seems to think I’m either a muppet for doing this, or some kind of throwback to the 1920s. Tonight is where I came unstuck. It took a mind boggling and incredibly frustrating 75 minutes to find the place. I somehow managed to draw my map in such a way as to show everything apart from the correct route. I ended up going on a tour of old pit villages on the Nott’s/Derbyshire border, using roads that Colin McRae would have considered hard work. I’d list the number of villages I went through and even without including those I saw more than once, it would be a lot of typing. As I eventually found the right place (very bloody eventually), my MP3 player started playing the theme to Where Eagles Dare, which just seemed to be taking the piss after my last hour.

The venue is an old miner’s welfare, that with a bit of bunting and a few posters of Lord Kitchener would easily double for a 1915 recruiting hall. I’m ashamed to say that I arrived half an hour late and was a bit concerned about walking in mid routine. As it was, the place was what could euphemistically be described as, ‘lively’. Or rather from where I was stood, it looked like an ants nest that had had a brick lobbed at it. Every 30 seconds, someone would get up and go to the bar, or pop outside for a cigarette, or just start a conversation. This wasn’t limited to just the people at the back, but it was also the people sat at the front, which must have been very distracting for the acts. All of this was in-between the bar’s telephone ringing. As this was a bank holiday Sunday, it seemed that a lot of people had been on an all dayer and it wasn’t hard to guess who. A fair amount of people wanted to see and hear the acts, but this was definitely made tricky by the well lubricated crowd. The MC, Sully O’Sullivan, certainly had his work cut out.

I missed O’Sullivan’s first session and if what I saw is anything to go by, then I missed a very entertaining time. I did, however, see his work after the first and second intermissions. His approach was forceful, but without being abrasive, mixing the odd bit of pre-prepared material that he made relevant and some good improv. O’Sullivan managed to name check people and get the names right, which night after night, in noisy rooms is more difficult to do than it sounds. He produced some timely material about drinking and sleeping with ugly people that deserved a lot more than he received. He did struggle a bit to get the room to settle down, but this wasn’t due to any lack of skill or effort on his part – far from it. This was simply one of those gigs where if the MC had had the ability to call in an airstrike, it would have been a real bonus. There was one noisy drunk in particular, who seemed intent on joining in and as seems to go hand in fist, she had no self awareness of just how much of a pain she was being. At one point, O’Sullivan was getting laughs from talking to a girl who was miming shagging, only to hear this drunken lady shout from the back, ‘Oi! That’s my daughter you’re talking to!’ He neutralised her, somewhat, by getting the entire room, on a count of three, to tell her to shut the fuck up. I enjoyed what I saw of O’Sullivan and I really wish I had been able to find the venue in time to see all of his work. As it was, I arrived 2/3 of the way through the opening act, Ian D Montfort.

Ian D Montfort is one of four acts that have made me laugh that hard I’ve hurt myself. Tonight he was as good as ever. His timing was perfect, the number of double-entendres incredible, his characterisation absolutely believable and the triple reveal on the closing joke massively impressive. Despite the room being hard to work with, he went down very well, getting excellent laughs and providing great entertainment.

Following the intermission it was Jamie Hutchinson, who I’ve seen twice before and like a lot. He may not be as familiar to people as Tom Binns, but he is an act with a good future and was a shrewd booking on the part of Stoney. Considering how disruptive the room was, when he strode onto the stage, he must have felt like he was entering a bear pit. As it was, the room magically shut up and settled down. For all of two minutes. Then people started going to the bar, popping outside and so on. Unbelievable. People have paid to see comedy, they have a night full of talent and instead they decide it’s time for a cigarette. Hutchinson referenced the fact that it was a noisy room and got laughs for it, which I felt was brave, because a lot of people would have simply just got their heads down and hurried through and then had a stiff drink. Some of his jokes seemed to go over the heads of the audience, which he had in common with Binns. This was a crowd that would be classed as mixed ability, with people getting the jokes at very different speeds and perhaps a few having to have them explained on the walk home. Hutchinson’s material was very good and his facial expressions were funny in themselves – a case there of the material being almost, but not quite, just the cherry on top. What pleased me the most about this set was the very visible improvements he has made since I last saw him about 5-6 weeks ago. He had tightened up some of his wording, he had introduced new bits and his routine about Ikea is now a strong closer to what is a good solid set.

Next up was Tom Binns, who is a comedian with a lot of fame and recognition amongst the comedy literate. When I get to gigs, I like to chat to other people in the audience as it’s interesting to ask who they’ve seen, who they like, who they would like to see and so on. It’s amazing how often they don’t mention names of people who do arenas. Instead, the one man who people from 20 to 80 consistently talk about as being excellent is Tom Binns. Tonight he began by telling a persistently disruptive drunken lady to shut up. This went down very well, as it was obvious he had the room totally with him. Amazingly, just after he announced that he was about to do some ventriloquism, this same lady then shouted, ‘Yes!’ in a way that completely missed the irony involved. The rest of the room got this and all Binns had to do was to look at the audience, for the laughter to roll. The ventriloquism set is extremely good and contains the sort of levels of creativity and planning that makes you think that if Binns ever wants to change direction, he should consider becoming Keyser Soze. There is a lovely running gag about the dolls having various impediments that seems to just build with each different play on it. The delivery is flawless and the number of different dolls he uses ensures that the whole set stays fresh. A lot of acts would be pleased to have just one fantastic set that brings them work. Binns has three and I shouldn’t be surprised if he has more that he has thought of. With Binns, you are definitely in the presence of genius.

The headlining act was Ivan Brackenbury, the hospital radio DJ. In his recent television show, this was Binns’ character who was perhaps the easiest to transplant onto that medium, as he doesn’t require the set up of D Montfort and the jokes are perhaps that bit less subtle and so more suitable for the medium. Tonight began with a microphone issue, much to Stoney’s embarrassment, as he was expecting the headset to be used and had switched off the stand microphone. It’s always interesting to watch the audience’s reaction when Brackenbury is on. You can almost guarantee that there will be two separate laughs to each reveal, as some of the room will get the joke from the intro of a song, whereas others, unfamiliar with the tune, have to wait until it is performed before they get the joke. As with D Montfort, the characterisation is absolutely compelling. The impression of a big fish in a small pond who is completely out of his depth in a paddling pool is incredibly strong. The room lapped it all up and had a wonderful time. What had been a very difficult gig, somehow became totally different during this set, with the audience being much more attentive and appreciative. Brackenbury left the stage to cries of more, after giving a superb performance.

Despite taking 75 minutes to get there and issues with the room, this turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable gig and I am very glad that I found the place. It only took 20 minutes to get home, once I knew the way.

Bluey’s – Josh Pugh, Andy Woolston, Ryan Brown, Steve Shanyaski and Jim Bayes (MC)

Tonight I was at Bluey’s in Alfreton for the FaF Comedy Night. FaF have some very nice gigs, in particular, this one and Thorncliffe. Both venues have a bit in common in as far as neither sound like an obvious comedy hotspot. However, both have not only an audience that really enjoy the show, but they also have a really nice feel to the rooms. Bluey’s is a very welcoming establishment, with the owner himself personally thanking all of the acts and there was a very kind barmaid (with the sort of laugh that comedians wish they could bottle and take to other gigs) who made sure that all of the comics were well looked after. This included the present, but sadly not on the bill, Jed Salisbury who has had a very good week with a funny comment of his going viral. The numbers weren’t massive tonight, but luckily it never became anything other than a lovely room thanks to the compere, Jim Bayes.

Bayes was a real asset in bringing everyone together and making the night feel inclusive. He began with a high energy opening and between his onstage lunging, which made it look as if he were working out and his fast thinking, he seemed to radiate enthusiasm for comedy. His crowd work took in most of the room and he could do this not because it was that small a crowd, but simply because he never got bogged down spending 5 minutes failing to get someone’s real name (his reference to Namey McNameface was wonderfully timely). Bayes avoided this, through a natural grasp of when to move on. I was also extremely happy that he never asked anyone what they did for a living, this is a most welcome change to the standard approach. Asking a chap what his favourite dog breed was led into a solid piece of material. The audience enjoyed his work, he remembered to do the rules and he kept the night on track. This was a good performance.

The poster for the night contained that tantalising lucky dip that is ‘with support’. The first person I saw when I entered the pub was Josh Pugh, which immediately confirmed that all was well. I like Pugh, he has a lot of style and is consistently funny. I really enjoy how the reveals are totally unexpected. Considering he has only been going for 2 years he has done well and he is very much one of the comedians of the future. This was the first time I’d seen him open and whilst a pit village may not be considered the natural home of off beat comedy with a touch of surrealism, he has the skill to make it work and by heck did he! Pugh had an applause break within the first minute, a laughter break 30 seconds later and before long he had the room laughing at the set ups, as well as the reveals. Tonight he made it look effortless in a way that only someone who is at the top of their game can. I’ve always liked Pugh and felt him a strong act, but tonight he seemed to have stepped up a gear. This is a man to watch.

Following the intermission it was Andy Woolston. His material and performance was decent enough, but not a lot seemed to land heavily. He received laughs and whilst he didn’t have a bad night, the room just didn’t seem to go for him in a big way. The only reason I can think of for this was that whilst his material was decent, nothing seemed to be especially stand out. There was a nice routine about other people’s kids, but this is a fairly well travelled area, which may have diluted its’ impact. This was a shame as I felt that he has talent and I’m hoping to see him again.

Ryan Brown closed the middle section. He came onto the stage wearing a fedora, a striped shirt and what 60 years ago would have been described as a demob suit. This gave him the look of a rather dapper Tommy Trinder or Jack Leonard and the effect was to make him stand out before he had even picked the microphone up. Having a unique look is a definite asset and I liked it. I had seen Brown before at Roger Swift’s best of the year gig in Telford, so I was looking forwards to him. Brown is a one-liner merchant, who has the endearing habit of corpsing just before he delivers a pun. This aids his delivery and works well in building up the momentum. He received big laughs throughout his set, getting a well earned applause break. I particularly enjoyed how Brown strung a series of puns together to get an even bigger laugh. I would have been happier with a few more call backs, but the two he did were splendid. Brown had a great night and made 10 minutes pass very quickly.

The headliner was Steve Shanyaski, who I’d not seen him before. Stoney was really enthusiastic about having booked him, which had definitely whetted my appetite. I’ve got to say that Shanyaski hit the ground running and went from strength to strength. He began with some very strong room work, he weaved in a bit of material and the audience lapped it up. Shanyaski has an infectious mischievous grin that is half way to selling whatever he is saying before he has even said it. When this is combined with him acting out the routines on stage, his whole set seems to spring to life with the result that it goes through the stratosphere. Shanyaski also has some highly impressive improv skills and was able to take anything that was shouted out by a chap on the front row and weave comedy gold out of it and all without causing any ill-feeling with his interlocutor. In places Shanyaski was a touch surreal, but this was something he built up to, one layer at a time, making it a natural progression and this really suited his style. This was an excellent set and ended with something I’ve only seen the once during a year or so of reviewing – calls for an encore. I’ve seen plenty of these in arenas and theatres, where they are de-rigour, but not in 130 or so gigs I’ve reviewed. This was something new and summed up the impact that he had had upon the audience.