Canal House – Ben Shannon, Hannah Platt, Jamie Hutchinson, Dave Rivers, Rick Carr, Jim Bayes, Tony Wright, Scott Bennett and Thomas Rackham (Mc)

Last night I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the NCF £1 night, an evening that is going from strength to strength. There was over 100 people in last night and I’m wondering if a change in the seating to ensure that no one is sat too far away from the stage may be in order – if it can be done so as not to lose capacity, as this is a gig that is surely only a matter of time away from people having to book in advance. It was nice to see Alex Leam present, even if not gigging. I was much impressed with the list of Elliott and thought it a nice way of making a serious point, but less so with Bobby Roode’s walk on music as it is still running on a loop in my head and seems set to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Thomas Rackham (MC)

Rackham is a very genial compere and whilst he hasn’t got the hard edges that can intimidate an audience into behaving, he has likeability and so the result is the same. One thing that did slightly puzzle me about Rackham’s compering was that he had a very good story about a stag night that had taken place (tonight at least) in Nottingham and he used this in response to a girl being a bridesmaid this weekend coming. I was rather surprised that he didn’t use this sooner as it went down a treat and really gave Rackham a link to the audience. The punters at NCF are comedy literate and see a lot of comperes, so it was great to see some nicely quirky elements to Rackham’s work. These make a nice change to the standard cheer ifs and splitting rooms down the middle and I think the crowd appreciated them, too. The foot massage line was great as was the cake, even if I’m not personally sure of the relative merits of gluton free. It’s a shame that the lights were in Rackham’s eyes, as he did seem to spend a lot of his night with his arm in front of his face, as if ready to shield himself from a blow.

Ben Shannon

Shannon is an act whom I’ve never seen compere, but I would like to. He is quite easily distracted and has a free style that would play well with audience work. Last night he had something of a mixed time. I enjoyed the misdirection gag that he began with, after he had been surprised by a chap popping up on the front row from under a table. This was followed by some material where I had very little idea where Shannon was taking us, but I was very interested in finding out, as it was all pretty intriguing. This reminded me of Dan Nicholas, as he, too, is capable of surprise reveals. This was a set with a lot of ups and downs, the room being with Shannon for some, but not all of his work. However, this was new material and so that is par for the course. Just as Shannon seemed to be getting into a rhythm, there was a brief flash of a light and he mistook this for the end of his time and came off before this set had reached critical mass, which was unlucky.

Hannah Platt

Platt’s set was quite frustrating. On a technical level it was very promising. Structurally, this was a well put together set, she knows the value of a slight pause before the reveal and her energy in delivering it was in synch her material. However, it was mostly depressing in tone – abortion and self-harming aren’t easy to make funny. The darker areas did tee up the lighter topics for a nice contrast and could perhaps be seen more as set ups to these areas. However, I believe that the room kept slipping only for her to have to try to regain it with these lighter areas. This was a set that was clever and awkward in possibly equal measure, but for it to work better it may need something more, such as a longer slot so that the audience can build their confidence in her ability to take them to dark places and for the pay off to be worth the journey; over 8-10 minutes I’m not convinced this occurred.

Jamie Hutchinson

I was really pleased to see Hutchinson on the bill. It had been a year since I’d last seen him and I was very curious as to how he had progressed in the meantime and the answer is he has improved no end. His timing was better and his manner of speaking really added a lot to his set. Hutchinson emphasises the last syllable of a word and whether this is deliberate or natural, the result is a forceful delivery that was very in-keeping with his on stage persona. The material was solid and Hutchinson seemed to be close to an applause break throughout his set. This was very enjoyable.

Dave Rivers

Rivers is another act whom I’d not seen for a fair amount of time, so he was another nice addition to the bill. His set was good, with some very nice touches such as Campaign Mode and his delivery kept the room engaged. I think that Rivers has a lot going for him, but to make the most of this, he’ll need to gig more frequently as he wasn’t quite as sharp as when I’d last seen him.

Rick Carr

Carr was an interesting act. His delivery was smooth and polished and his material was good. There were some very nice bits in his set, such as memorable and the bouncing tales (Raoul Moat is a reference that isn’t going to age well, though). However, there weren’t many surprises in the reveals. It’s not that his set was predictable, because it wasn’t, it was just a case of 1 + 1 coming out at 2 every time and it would have been nice for it to have equalled 3 once with there being a twist in a reveal. This was an enjoyable set and Carr was very amiable with it – I think he has potential.

Jim Bayes

When I first saw Bayes was performing I expected him to be the MC, as this is what he is best known for (not quite pigeon holed, yet, though) and he is very good at it. Hence it was nice to see him doing some new material instead. Bayes is a confident presence and the room quickly warmed to him. His delivery is effervescent and he brightens up any room. Bayes’ material was nicely varied and went down very well.

Tony Wright

I’d seen Wright before, performing in Wollaton and he has come a long way in the six months or so since then. Tonight he was the only act who was smartly dressed, which wouldn’t suit all acts, but in Wright’s case it adds a certain something to his presence. Wright was quietly well spoken, having a very correct form of diction and this, combined with his sartorial taste gave him an air of polish. The material was much improved upon what I’d seen before and this was a set that was very well written indeed. It flowed in a way that was very smooth and there were few bits that didn’t add to the whole. I thought that Tufty could have perhaps been edited down slightly and still got the same result and I was a touch surprised that the Jesus material didn’t contain an Easter reference, as that would have been seasonal, but they were the only two minor things that didn’t please me. This was a very clean set, which made the occasion when Wright did swear all the more effective. There was a lot to like about this set.

Scott Bennett

Bennett came to the stage clipboard in hand, reminding me of an infinitely more funny version of Dennis Norden. This was new material being tried out/polished. It’s very hard to judge Bennett’s new material, as he delivers it so skilfully that even very new routines such as hand car wash feel as if they are well established. The warranty expiration line was superb as was Forsyth. Wet wipes shows promise and the only bit that didn’t really land well (and even this was something of a relative term) was duplo, which was related to a topic just a bit out of step with the rest of the set.

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.

Canal House – Harry Stachini, Matt Hoss, Jack Topher, Rob Coleman, Jane Hill, Joe Jacobs, Elliot Wengler, Stevie Gray and Andy Gleeks (MC)

How difficult can it be to play a kazoo? Tonight I was at my first NCF Canal House gig of the year. This is my favourite comedy night and once again it justified the joy that this night brings me. The room was full, bar a couple of empty seats, with a meet up group block booking the first few rows. With so many new audience members it will be wonderful if they come back and tell their friends what a fun night they had. Our MC was Andy Gleeks.

Gleeks had created a good impression on me before he had even started compering the night. I had seen him talking to the acts and checking how to pronounce uncommon names. This is perhaps basic sense, but it is often overlooked and it was encouraging to see it done. In speaking to a cold room, Gleeks opened by chatting to a posh sounding chap sat on the front row, using both him, a lady from Galway and an unsmiling chap (placed on laughter watch) as his foils for the night. This was all entertaining, but he may have benefited a bit more from involving the back of the room, too, as this seemed a bit isolated, but in fairness, that is far easier to say than to achieve, as the lighting ensures that only the first few rows are visible. Gleeks did mix in some material with the room work and spa day was a lovely line. I was extremely pleased with the claim to fame game, as this is not only such a welcome change to asking people for name, location and occupation, but it gave Gleeks the chance to bounce off of the audience and it also involved the whole room, even if it did perhaps momentarily skate along the edge of people talking to each other about their own claims to fame. There were some cracking ad-libs, such as walk on part, which deserved far more than the audience gave him. This was good compering that kept the night on track and was funny without dominating proceedings to the detriment of the night.

The opening act was the up and coming Harry Stachini, whom I have tipped as a comedian likely to have a good progressive year. He very quickly got the night off to a flying start. His material is very strong and he delivers it with great skill and timing – this is a man who will before long be earning his living through comedy. His description of his mum was very funny and had a belter of a twist to it. The only thing that I felt he missed from this all too short a set was when describing having an uncle in Nagasaki and this possible missing element is only down to his being under 35. Any comedian over 35 wouldn’t have been able to resist saying that they had an uncle called Kendo in Nagasaki. This is no reflection on Stachini’s set and it probably says more about my age. This was a very strong set.

Next was Matt Hoss whose set was plagued by bad luck, some of it created by him, but a lot just plain misfortune. He began with a bit of anti-comedy poetry, which if it were performed in front of an audience not so full of comedy virgins would have gone down better, but instead it just seemed to confuse most of the room. Bad luck or bad judgement starting with that in front of this audience, take your pick. The originator of an obnoxious tweet was predictable, which robbed what could have been a good joke of impact. Following this, Hoss mangled the words to a joke, but that can happen to any act. He was definitely unlucky in high-fiving a chap on the front row and misjudging the distance, falling into the table and breaking it. Although this didn’t derail his set and he bounced back, he did lose sufficient traction that it ensured that he ran out of time before he finished his set, leaving it feeling anti-climatic. This sounds like a litany of disasters and it was a bit like watching a set slowly unravel. However, on a different night, I think we would have seen a far better show from Hoss. Intrinsically the framework to his performance is sound. He delivered his material well, he was skilled at manipulating audience reactions and his closing routine was nicely different and had a lot of potential. I’d like to see Hoss again, as I didn’t think that what we saw tonight was really indicative of what he has to offer and a lot of that was down to just bad luck.

Closing the opening section was Jack Topher, who I’m used to seeing at gong shows (invariably he is either winner or runner up) and I was interested in seeing him without there being a clock ticking down. Topher was probably the most inexperienced act on the bill, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from watching him. He was a trifle unlucky in being the 3rd act in a row to reference having a shit degree, but as a new act with limited material he couldn’t really chop that bit out, instead wisely changing his degree subject so it was a different one to act no 2. Topher managed to combine good original material with a powerful delivery. There were a lot of little touches, such as the genuflection when he quotes, the pauses and the look to the audience on brother as if he was unaware there was a gag in what he had just said and these all added up to make this a great set. Topher gained the first laughter break of the night and is an act with a lot of potential.

We resumed after the first intermission with Rob Coleman, one of the few acts who can receive laughs merely for standing in view of the audience. His conclusion regarding the work of his barber works wonderfully well delivered deadpan. Whilst Pearl Harbour was foreseeable, the rest of the puns that Coleman gave the room were of a high order, with some being extremely good. Unfortunately the audience didn’t seem to buy into Coleman’s set and he received a more patchy response than he deserved.

Next was Jane Hill who received a laughter break for her opening joke. This was a well written set that developed logically without jarring changes of pace and Hill has an eye for an elegant turn of phrase. The lines about green triangles and close work were both gems. 18 and a half seemed to end without a concluding line to it, but this was no big deal and only I probably noticed. There were some surprisingly dark elements to this set, but it remained buoyant throughout. Hill’s delivery was low key and conversational and although there was a bit of a dip in the energy levels of the audience towards the last minute or so, she managed to bring the entire room onboard. This was a set that was a like a good episode of the Detectorists – not ribticklingly funny, but charming, endearing, entertaining and it undoubtedly made the world a little bit of a better place for that ten minutes.

Joe Jacobs made a confident start with his best asset being his ability to do accents and voices. His vocal talents enabled him to get a lot more out of his material than what any other comic would be able to. A lot of his material was competent, rather than standout, apart from hypothetical arguments, which was a great line. The room enjoyed his set, but this was more for his verbal dexterity than the material itself. Whilst everyone will remember his skill with voices, I think 90% of the audience will be hard pressed to remember any of his actual jokes.

The final session was opened by Elliot Wengler. There are some comedians who command attention, such as Ian Cognito, or Doug Segal and then there are others who don’t have the kind of presence that makes people stop and listen. Unfortunately Wengler is young looking and very softly spoken without any hard edges, which doesn’t scream funny and this is a shame, as it means that he starts at something of a disadvantage. Wearing a suit and looking smart is a sensible way of limiting this damage, but it still means that he has to work harder than anyone else on the bill. Tonight Wengler didn’t have a great night. His material was pleasant and his props were nicely visible from the back, but the audience didn’t seem to take him to their hearts. Partly this may be because High Wycombe sounds lovely and the idea of it having a wood that’s a bit stabby seems very much a first world problem in the North. However, what I think caused the disconnect was that Wengler was quite verbose in his delivery and the funny got lost in the flowery descriptions and weight of words. If this set were stripped down to the essentials then it would generate a lot more momentum.

Stevie Gray closed the night with an engaging high energy set that involved the audience and sent everyone out on a high. Gray wasn’t the original closer and had been intending to do new material, but owing to illness he had moved up the bill to cover. Unfortunately this meant that he wasn’t able to test out his new material and also that he hadn’t brought his guitar with him. Instead, he opted to do a song without a guitar, improvising it. To pull this off took confidence and stage presence and Gray managed this easily. He selected two people from the audience, one to play a pirate and another to play the Kazoo and he soon had the audience clapping away whilst he sang with Dave playing pirate and myself totally failing to get that damn kazoo to play a note. A kazoo is a simple instrument, there are no moving parts, you blow in one end, a noise comes out the other, it’s that simple. It’s idiot proof. Could I heck as like get it to make a single note. Gray tried and it sang beautifully. He passed it back to me and no, not a thing. Until the end, when I got one note out of it and even now I’m totally in the dark as to how I managed to achieve that. No matter, Gray managed to get good laughs from his material and had some cracking ad-libs regarding my efforts. This was a very good set, with Gray showing himself to be a real audience pleaser.

Sandiacre – Jason Neale, Dave Pollard, The Monks, Lauren Pattison, Tom Houghton and Paul Savage (MC)

Tonight I was in Sandiacre at the NCF comedy night. This takes place within a converted church that still contains the lancet arches over the doors and plenty of ornamental woodwork, making it an odd, but also strangely welcoming venue. There was a gratifyingly large audience, which included the comedian Sarah Johnson and the former comedian, who should really get back into it, Chris Richmond, who were kindly supporting the night as spectators. The audience had that annoying habit of avoiding the front two rows like the plague, although my personal bugbear was the lady sat in front of me, who kept nodding her head from side to side, and making me have to move my own head as if I’d got water in my ears, just so I could regain a view of the stage.

Our MC was Paul Savage, who used a mixture of room work and material throughout the night to warm the room up. He opened with a few give me a cheers and followed this with an accessible chemistry gag. I thought that his self-depreciating line was a little gem. Savage did the rules and explained the format of the night, which is something oft overlooked by a compere. I was pleased that he deliberately ignored the front two rows that had been slow to fill and instead, concentrated on talking to the 3rd row – hopefully a case of pour les encourager les autres for the next gig there. When he was bantering with the audience, Savage had a good sense of knowing when it was time to move on and this was nice. Every so often his voice would speed up and so people would miss the odd word here and there and I think that this robbed a few of his comments of the impact they might otherwise have had and this was a shame. During the middle section Savage used a couple of long pieces of material and this was probably not the best material for him to have gone with, as I know he’s got shorter and snappier pieces (gig at a sex club is a big standout) and whilst both stories were definitely entertaining, they did lower the energy levels when I’d have expected him to raise them. However, in fairness, in the final section he kept it very tight and demonstrated remarkably good judgement in bringing Tom Houghton back on stage for an encore. Savage had definitely read the mood of the room like a book here. This was skilled compering, with just a couple of things that could have been changed to improve it further.

The opening act was Jason Neale, whom I’ve not seen perform for over a year and that is unfortunate as I think he’s got a fair bit of potential. In the meantime, he has become a father and as is traditional for perhaps 90% of comics in this position, it has become a rich source of material for him. Herein lies the problem – how do you deliver a routine where the basic mechanics (trying for a baby, the birth and then sleepless nights) will contain similar building blocks to every other comic’s material on this subject? The answer is by choosing your phrasing carefully and working with what is singular to yourself. ‘Daddy’s Sauce’ was a cracking line and the rationale for the number of people in the operating room was also extremely good – both got big laughs, as did hoovering. I was also very pleased that the more painful birth/kick in the bollocks question only got a passing mention, as that has been covered too many times to be resurrected. When talking about his partner being a social worker and never being asked to perform a work based favour, Neale has some unique material and if this section could be expanded, then I can see it becoming a real stand out. This was an enjoyable performance that was well received by the audience.

Dave Pollard was next, giving the room a nicely varied approach that managed to stay fresh throughout his set. His performance contained visual jokes, an old style gag, emails that he read out and some well written material. I did think he might have split the room a bit with dog wanking, but he almost received an applause break for the email. Personally, my favourite is probably the Frankenstein’s hand gag, as that is very simple in concept and also incredibly funny. However, the use of a bald cap is the real highlight. I can’t see that getting old any time soon and I’m really pleased to see that he has managed to build upon this and take it further.

After the intermission we resumed with The Monks, a Christian sketch act pairing. There are a few Christian acts on the circuit, but not many announce themselves as being Christian at the top of their set. I feel that this creates an expectation that they will either be proselytizing at worst, or at best it will be a set with message and this may initially get in the way of the audience taking them as they are. The Monks began with a line about being booed out of a gig – if the terribly predictable reveal about the venue had turned out to be anything other than it being a Mosque then I would have been amazed. In fairness, whilst I was gnashing my teeth in frustration at having seen it coming so easily, the rest of the room were laughing. This was followed by getting the audience to name Commandments, with £10 prizes and then in obedience to the rule of three, a different prize for the person who named a third. The Monks’ performance of Thou shalt not kill was darker than I was expecting and it was also good fun. The pair work well together and it was nice to see them receive good laughs for their set, my personal highlight was the ad lib about someone being off carbs. The collection at the end enabled them to work in a good callback to their earlier material and provided a logical closing to the set.

Next was Lauren Pattison who is regarded as an up and coming comedian. Pattison has recently moved from Newcastle to London and I was grateful that her set was not London-centric, because it doesn’t always translate well outside of the metropolis. Instead a lot of it concerned her being criticised for swearing too much. I found this hard to get engaged with, because one, I’m not fussed about someone swearing – lad or lass, and two, I’ve seen a few sets about people swearing. The same could be said about her comments regarding Newcastle girls; these could apply to Manchester, Essex, Liverpool or anywhere working class. Although I wasn’t that enthused by some of the material, I can see why Pattison has a reputation as someone going up the comedy ladder. There are a lot of very nice touches in her set. Yorkie Bar got a well deserved applause break, Prince Charming was a good line, as was the section about Bob the Builder. There was a lot that was good in this set. Also the delivery was spot on; Pattison held the room easily. This is an act with a lot of potential.

The headliner was Tom Houghton, who gave a splendiferous performance. The charmingly camp Houghton opened with a song, which he delivered with a wonderfully knowing sniper’s stare into the audience as he selected a victim to get close to. This was then followed by a show that encompassed song, jokes, dancing about and lots of audience interaction. Houghton really drew the room in and was a compelling figure as he gave a show that seemed to pass in no time at all. This was a set that contained some bang up to date references, such as the new shaped toblerone, which he delivered with great sound effects that ramped up the comedy. As Houghton finished his set I was making a note about being surprised that the audience hadn’t asked for an encore. Our MC, Paul Savage, accurately gauged the mood of the room and encored Houghton, where he did some overtime, consisting of a well acted out routine about answerphone messages and a lovely post-Brexit song. This was a very strong set.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre do Shakespeare

Last night I was at The Lord Roberts to see the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre do Shakespeare – a show title that I constantly had to check just to make sure I’d got all of the words in the right order. It is also an accurate title, as the performer was definitely Scottish, spoke in a falsetto, had sock puppets, his own little theatre and Shakespeare was indeed done.

This was a technically pleasing performance. The man behind the puppets (Sutherland), easily managed to synchronise the actions of both hands, even whilst they were doing different things (probably far harder to do in practice than one would think). It was also a creative show, with songs, puns, cross-talk conversations and some nicely accessible Shakespeare based gags. The audience loved it, but whilst I could admire the intelligence behind it and the elan with which it was pulled off, I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as I perhaps should have done.

I think the reason for me not having as much fun as everyone else is that I’ve seen something not too dissimilar before. Having a duo on stage, with one wanting to do a highbrow, intellectual show and the other constantly subverting the process is straight up Morecambe and Wise and all it needed was to close by singing Bring me Sunshine to tick that last box. This is a music hall show, albeit one performed by sock puppets. I would argue that this format gives Sutherland a lot more artistic freedom than any flesh and blood double act would have, plus something of a licence to do puns that no one would want to perform looking an audience in the eye.

This is a daft hour, but also a fun hour and whilst not for me, the rest of the room thoroughly enjoyed it.

Anna Morris – it’s got to be perfect

Last night I was in the Canal House to see Anna Morris playing Georgina Francis in her one woman show, It’s got to be perfect. This is a rehearsal for her super wedding, with Morris in character, wearing a wedding dress and walking around with champagne glass in hand. This is a rather nifty character based show, with Morris playing Francis as a super posh stuck up brat, who has only the most tenuous relationship with the everyday life of the population. Usually I find upper class high status acts grating – they raise every Northern working class heckle I possess and I sometimes find it hard to get past that and to just sit back and enjoy the show. However, in this case, the character was so well realised, yet so OTT that it was impossible not to warm to the performance.

This was a very interactive show and Morris spent a good third of the time chatting with the audience, subtly finding things out about them, which were later used for callbacks, before picking people to play roles such as chief bridesmaid, stand in groom, father of the bride and her madly jealous ex. A show like this can rise and fall upon the willingness of the audience to not only get involved, but also to buy into the concept and Morris sells it in such a way that only the most churlish could not be swept up by it all.

Whist the show is based around the wedding rehearsal, it is also very musical, which adds an extra element and also gives Morris a chance to rap and sing, which she does remarkably well. Any show that can feature the Imperial March, the John Williams theme from Superman and Meatloaf’s I would do anything for love, gets a thumbs up from me. Francis asked the loaded question of what won’t she do for love, which elicited the answer of ‘oral’ from a respectable looking lady on the front row, who upon being scolded by Francis for her temerity, protested that she was originally going to say anal, whereupon, Francis made her stand facing the wall in punishment. Whilst I suspect that this was the hoped for outcome of the question, it was splendidly done.

There were a lot of nice touches to this show, such as the props distributed around the audience, which were disdainfully confiscated, the use of marigolds to deal with a letter from the public and a powerfully delivered monologue. I enjoyed the contemporaneous touch of the ad-libbed lines about the Trump victory.

It was nice to see Elliott Bower being used as soundman and recipient of Francis’ scorn on short notice. He performed this role admirably, correcting her when she consistently insisted on calling him Eric, putting his fingers in his ears whilst she sang, making paper aeroplanes and miming into the off stage mic during songs. His choice of song for her to go up the aisle to was well chosen and raised a nice laugh from the room.

The last 5-10 minutes of this show contained a lot of twists and surprises and the ending was very satisfying. This is a lovely quirky show and is cracking fun for everyone. It’s a little gem.

NCF New Comedian of the Year Final – Adele Cliff, Houssem Rhaiem, Rosie Francis, Simon Wozniak, Liam Webber, Harv Hawkins and Harry Sanders with Jon Pearson (headliner) and Carl Jones (MC)

Tonight I was back in the Canal House for the NCF new act of the year final. Just a cursory glance of the contestants showed that this had the makings of a massively fun night. I’d seen every act before and I knew that this would be a hard one to call. What made this night all the more remarkable was the sheer diversity of talent present – seven contestants and five distinctly different approaches to comedy. Whichever way the result went, this would be a cracking night. A sold out night, too, as the Canal House was packed to the rafters. The format was 5 minutes each with 3 acts, intermission, 4 acts, intermission and then a short headline set whilst the votes were counted, before the winner was announced. The judges, of which I’m proud to have been one, where to vote for their favourite and 2nd place, with no audience vote, which given the geographical spread of the entrants was probably fairest in ensuring no one had a home advantage. Our MC was Carl Jones, who was the first ever winner of this prize.

Jones is arguably an underused Compere, whom I’d expect to see more on the circuit. Tonight he did the rules, explained the voting system, which included a timely reference to the perils of pure democracy and then chatted to a few people. Jones was unlucky in the first person he spoke to, who seemed to take a long time to answer the question of what he did with his time and ultimately there wasn’t much comedy to be had in that, a point that Jones acknowledged and received a good laugh for. The second people he chatted with were at the other end of the scale and he could probably have got a good twenty minutes out of their tale of three engagement rings, ebay, a knuckleduster and proposing under duress. To fully explore this story would have taken far longer than he had and after getting laughs, he wisely extricated himself and moved the night on. Although I think that Jones was unfortunate in the people he chatted to, I enjoyed watching him work. Jones is a sure footed and smooth act with a likeable presence and him being booked was a shrewd move.

Opening the night was Adele Cliff, who was unlucky with the running order. Having said that, she probably had the best chance of any of the acts of making the most out of going first. Cliff is a one-liner expert with a warm winning grin. Her puns are very good and elicit a mixture of groans and laughs and the 5 minutes seemed to pass all too quickly. The last time I saw Cliff, it was up in Edinburgh and it’s nice to see that she has improved further since then. Although Cliff didn’t win tonight, her time is certain to come.

Next was Houssem Rhaiem, who was a relaxed and confident presence on stage. The room warmed to him quickly and he gave the audience a largely smooth flowing set, where the big laughs came from the jokes about his background, although I thought the nurse routine was the standout. There were a couple of elements to this set that I wasn’t too sure about and that was the line about Prince Harry, which seemed to be something of an afterthought, largely divorced from the topic he was discussing and also the line about porn and pizza deliveries, which was a version of porn giving unrealistic expectations of plumbers arriving quickly. These two elements aside, which I’m probably being a little bit picky about, this was a sharp set and also an enjoyable one. Rhaiem finished 3rd, which was nice to see.

Closing the first section was Rosie Francis, whom I had down as a dark horse, probably not experienced enough yet to win, but a genuine contender all the same. Francis took a mixed approach to her set and included an audience sing-along, visual aids, a poem and some straightforward comedy. This could have been high risk, especially having a singsong with the audience, but she pulled it off with aplomb. Francis wasn’t helped by some unpleasant noise bleed from some keen chap working outside at 9pm, but fortunately this didn’t hurt her too badly. Instead, she hoovered up a lot of laughter and her performance remained fresh and fast moving. This was a well thought out five minutes, with a lot of creativity in evidence. Francis was a well deserved 2nd place.

We resumed after the intermission with Simon Wozniak occupying the sweet spot. Twice this week Wozniak has been a finalist in comedy competitions, but without taking top spot. I was wondering if he would pull it off tonight, as I felt that he was certainly in with a chance. He made a strong beginning and never really looked back. His material was relatable and drew the audience in and even when he was miming riding an elephant he still kept everyone with him. He delivered his material lent back, pushing his belly out and whenever he got excited his voice went up in pitch, which considering his Liverpudlian accent, seemed to just ratchet up the impact of what he was saying. There were a lot of big laughs during this set and Wozniak delivered a stellar performance. He was a worthy winner of the engraved trophy.

The Midlands Comedy Awards nominee, Liam Webber is an interesting act. He was easily the most avant-garde of the performers, yet rather than split the room he was compelling viewing. He began by acting out dogs in space (which in concept very slightly reminded me a bit of the old Muppet Show sketch of Pigs in Space) and developed the storyline from there. Despite this being surreal, everyone stayed with him all the way through to the final ending. I was impressed by Webber for a few reasons. One, is his performance skills – these are top notch and he should be on a stage in the West End. Two, he didn’t underestimate the intelligence of the audience and he wasn’t afraid of risking impersonating Nixon’s I am not a crook line. The entire set was delivered in a highly credible American accent and although it might be a bit of a cheap laugh, it’s possible there is mileage in Webber capping off future shows by saying his ‘that’s my time up, I’ve been Liam Webber’ in a strong Brummie or Lancashire accent.

Harv Hawkins began by using a prop card which included a wonderfully timely punchline. From there he went on to talk about pastille gits, his mother and viewing houses. I was especially happy with his inversion of the old ‘tell you a bit about me’ line and judging from the laughs, the rest of the room appreciated it, too. Hawkins’ delivery was quiet, letting the material do the heavy work for him. He was also stood slightly differently to what I was expecting. In the past Hawkins has delivered his material stood with his shoulders hunched, giving the impression of a man with who forgotten to take the coat hanger out of his shirt, but tonight this wasn’t present and that’s a shame, as I feel that that stance is a splendid gimmick. This was a good set and Hawkins was unlucky not to secure a top three spot.

The final contestant was Harry Sanders, who easily had the darkest material of the night. He began well, but his first minute or two wasn’t as strong as it could have been, however this changed very quickly when he began with the dark material. This hit home very well indeed and he was rewarded with some very audible reactions from the audience. This material was very good and he has an eye for writing a line that is morally questionable, yet undoubtedly very funny. Sanders’ delivery was occasionally a little bit dry, sometimes saying things as a matter of fact and if he were to deliver the same lines with a twinkle or a knowing grin then he would reap a big dividend. I enjoyed Sanders’ performance and it’s always interesting to see him on a bill.

Whilst the votes were counted, Jon Pearson, who was standing in for last years winner, Josh Pugh, did a short set. There were some nice incremental improvements here, such as yoga teacher, raping R2D2 and car wash. These all added extra value to the material. As always, it was well delivered and enjoyable to see.

Nottingham Comedy Festival – Pat Monahan and Tom Wrigglesworth

Tonight I was at the Canal House to see part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival. This evening was something of a double headliner for me, as I had tickets for Pat Monahan and Tom Wrigglesworth, who was performing in the same room after Pat. It was going to be interesting to watch two masters of their own genres at work. A dapper dressed Elliott Bower was on MC duties for both gigs. He did the rules and in the case of the Monahan gig, he had an absolutely charming method for ensuring that mobiles phones were turned off. Bower kept it light as MC and he and Helen did well to keep things mostly on time.

Monahan is a born entertainer. If he were in a lift with two other people, then I can well imagine that would be enough people to constitute an audience for him. I’m equally sure that if Monahan were to talk in his sleep, then he would probably be bantering with the people he was dreaming about. Should Monahan ever try to do a tightly written 20 then it would feel claustrophobic. His forte is free-wheeling audience interaction and Pat does this magnificently. He began by leaving the stage to personally greet some latecomers, before starting a big song and dance number with a few members of the audience up on stage. The show had a 80’s theme, but the format was loose enough to allow Monahan to pop off in any direction he chose, depending upon what he got back from the audience. In talking to people it is tempting to say that he was lucky in the people he spoke to, from the Rochdale supporter to the couple allegedly on a Tinder date, but that is to underestimate the talents of this performer. I believe that Monahan is skilful and experienced enough to make his own luck. Even when he was chatting to someone not so quick on the uptake, he had a selection of lines to use to make the most this and no matter what responses he received there was a quip for them. It requires a lot of ability to be able to ad lib callbacks into such an interactive set as this and so these were an especial joy. This was a high energy show, where the set piece bits of material probably comprised 10% of the whole and it retained a fresh feeling throughout.

In a stylistic contrast to Pat Monahan, the next show was by Tom Wrigglesworth and this was totally sold out, with seat monitors prowling around, showing people to the odd spare seat. Wrigglesworth is well known for his series, Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang-ups, which is broadcast on the Home Service. This is a cleverly written show, where the everyday is made farcical and the farcical is given an everyday twist. This approach to material was in evidence tonight, as recalcitrant printers, pretentious names, Dubai and that staple topic of comedians, the speed awareness course, were all mined for their preposterous elements. Wrigglesworth has the ability to make anything offbeat sound logical and normal, with his take on the name Cockburn sounding like a most reasonable interpretation. The main thread of the show was a story about a speed awareness course, but in a manner not unlike Frankie Howerd, Wrigglesworth allowed himself to digress several times, always ultimately returning back to this original topic. The effect of this was enchanting and naturalistic.

To me, though, as good as Wrigglesworth’s material is, it is his phrasing that I find a sheer delight. This is a man who has an unparalleled grasp of the English language. Whilst he may be accused of being verbose, I would refute this allegation, by pointing out that every word he uses is perfect for what he is describing or imparting and it is nice to see a comedian not afraid to use long, or uncommon words.

There were a couple of times where Wrigglesworth’s momentum was checked by a chap sat at the front, who seemed to have misguidedly continued the expected and encouraged audience interaction of Pat Monahan’s show into that of Wrigglesworth. Whilst Tom easily maintained his authority and came out on top of every exchange, I felt that whilst these episodes were entertaining they were inferior to the actual show proper and I was always glad to see him resume from where he had left off. It was nice to see a comedian of this stature acquiesce to the calls of an encore and this was a great show. It was a pleasure to see the Canal House sold out; these shows were a great tonic for a cold and miserable November day.

Canal House – Gina Overton, Jon Pearson, Jeanette Bird-Bradley, Byron Montrose, Paul Savage, Ben Shannon, Hannah Silvester, Dan Nicholas and Paul Mutagejja (MC)

Last night I was in the Canal House in Nottingham for my favourite comedy night – the NCF £1 night. This was something of a showcase event, with all of the acts, apart from Overton, showing previews of their shows in the forthcoming Nottingham Comedy Festival (4/11 – 12/11). This was a wonderfully varied bill, with new material being performed, surrealism, straight stand up, a character act and a healthy gender split. Audience numbers were buoyant with local comedy scene figures Rob Stevenson and Minder being present. Our compere was Paul Mutagejja.

Mutagejja is probably the best thing to come out of Lincoln since someone invented the Lincolnshire Sausage and I’ve seen him perform a few times, but this was the first time I’ve seen him MC. Last night I think he was heavily handicapped by not being able to see much of the audience beyond the first row, due to the lights and so he defaulted to alternating between asking the audience to clap for various things, which by the 7th time was perhaps a bit much, and performing material. The material was decent, with Tunbridge Wells being the stand out, although in a different routine he may get a bigger laugh when discussing Thatcher by replacing Cameron with Theresa May and keeping everything else the same. Doing a truncated version of his 20 worked well enough, but I would have liked to see him tie it into the audience a little bit more so that it didn’t feel so much like an extra set on the bill. This wouldn’t have been that difficult for him to have done, either. By asking who had travelled the furthest from home for their holiday Mutagejja would have had a nice lead in to his material on Skegness and something similar could have been done by talking about posh areas of Nottingham, before going into Tunbridge Wells. I enjoyed seeing Mutagejja and he had a decent night, but I don’t think he did as well as what he may have done.

Gina Overton opened and whilst there were some interesting touches (queue, labia, kids reactions), this set unfortunately felt a bit lightweight. Overton’s material was heavily skewed towards sexual content, but a lot of the value in this approach came from the novelty of it being a middle aged lady talking about vibrators, labia, lingerie and Ann Summers and beyond this there didn’t seem to be a lot of substance. Her delivery was low energy and this made going on first a disadvantage – if she had gone on 2nd or 4th, then Overton would have had a better night. In fairness, she held the room and there were laughs, but she may do better to inject a little bit more energy into her delivery. It may also be beneficial if she were to have some more audience interaction, such as getting someone unlikely up onto the stage to model the lingerie and to serve as a foil, whilst she delivers part of her set.

Jon Pearson had an odd night. The audience seemed to have reset themselves and so he had to begin anew to build atmosphere. Rather than going for material, his banter played better with the room at first, but as a hugely confident presence he rolled with this, alternating between room work and material until he had everyone back onboard. I liked the expanded Karma Sutra routine and the new line about paper mache.

Jeanette Bird-Bradley gave the room a pleasant time that rolled along nicely. It would improve her set if she had something immediately funny to open with and a knockout closing routine, but despite this, she was quietly enjoyable and hoovered up consistent, if not big, laughs. JBB’s delivery is low key, almost like a teacher explaining a concept to a class and this is quite endearing.

Next was Ben MacPherson, resplendent in jazzy outfit, performing as a new character – Byron Montrose. I like MacPherson, he has presence and the sort of voice that Barry White would envy. His show was a monologue and I’m generally not a fan of these, as I find a lot of audiences disengage after a while and it is hard to sustain the momentum without some audience interaction. However, I’m happy to say that Montrose did not suffer at all from this; indeed from beginning to end he remained thoroughly entertaining. The material was extremely good. Every line had been scrutinised until it contained something that added comedic value. There were no loose adjectives, instead, it was like a Spike Milligan book, with nods to surrealism and everything provoking a giggle. Whilst there was no one killer line that brought the house down, the cumulative effect of one small pun after another was remarkable and I think there is a real risk that in the full show the room may be giggled out after 25 minutes. This was a smashing performance that was delightfully different.

Paul Savage closed the middle section with some new material. Whilst some of this was still raw, there was a lot that had promise. I was especially impressed with his line about subs clapping. Savage was a confident presence and sold the material very well, with some great moments when he broke from a routine and just chatted with the audience. I’m looking forwards to attending his panel show, Hell to Play, at the Lord Roberts on the 11th.

Ben Shannon, with his welcoming grin, was a joyous addition to the bill. His delivery has the sort of rhythm that makes me wonder why he isn’t better known than he is. His material was good, although I did think he missed a chance for a call back to his material about his girlfriend when discussing ham on a cat’s back, but this may have been omitted for this preview of his full show. Like 90% of comedians, Shannon felt the need to confirm that his girlfriend was real. I’m not keen on this, as it is overdone. Although Shannon got a laugh for saying it, I can’t help but feel that this laugh could be achieved in a more novel way.

Hannah Silvester had a splendid night. This makes it three out of three gigs where I’ve seen her do well. Her material is relatable, it hangs together well and she moves smoothly from routine to routine. Silvester’s delivery was perfectly in key with what she was saying, with the right tone and lilt being used to make her point without overdoing it and this was a joy to watch.

Headlining was Dan Nicholas, who should perhaps come with the warning – ‘expect the unexpected’. Nicholas could be described as surreal, unorthodox, off the wall, nuts and also compelling. Whether he is organising a Mexican wave of animal noises, shouting down a flight of stairs for Enrique (with Elliott having to manhandle the lights to follow him) or leading a huge conga through the room, Nicholas is never anything less than compulsive viewing. John Robertson once declared that he decides where the front row is and Nicholas could easily say the same, as he worked not just the front row, but the entire audience. This was magnificently unexpected, but also good fun and he is the comedian that the audience will be telling their friends about today.

Faradays – Adam Riley, Stu Woodings, Alex Kealy, Ian Lane, Bambam Shaikh, Philip Simon and Carl Jones (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham at Faradays, for the first ever gig at this location. Virgin gigs can be a bit tricky, as often enough the venue make schoolboy errors. However, as NCF were running the night I was confident that Helen would use her authority to ameliorate any of these. To being with, though, it looked as if it was going to be a tough night. The event wasn’t over advertised and when I walked in I had to ask at the bar where the comedy was taking place. On the plus side it was upstairs, nicely separated from the rest of the pub, but as it had a spiral staircase and was open plan, there was a lot of noise bleed. Also, numbers weren’t great and to exacerbate this, the audience were spread out over as large an area as possible. Although the bar was closed upstairs, nothing could be done about people who had ordered food, which fortunately mostly arrived whilst our compere was on. This was initially a tough night for the comedians, but one which by the end had turned out to be pretty nice. A lot of the credit for this goes to our MC, Mr Carl Jones.

Tonight Jones became the second hardest working MC I’ve ever seen. When he began the room whilst not hostile to comedy, was very guarded and seemed to almost resent the intrusion of what they had all actually paid money to see. Bizarre, I know, but that was the vibe I was getting. They were the sort of crowd to who didn’t want to interact or get involved. However, Jones bravely made a point of chatting to every table and without being a pest, actually getting them to open up and chat. This paid a very good dividend as he made the room seem a lot more welcoming. His explanation of what the Bake Off is to a Danish couple only highlighted just how odd a concept it must seem to our foreign friends. During his second session, Jones made some real connections with the various disparate groups of people sat about the room. He did well to remember names and whom was connected to whom and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Everyone had bought into the night thanks to Jones. This was determined compering that never became overbearing and he did very well to make this a gig.

The opening act was Adam Riley, whom I thought sported a faint resemblance to Keith Lemon. To begin with he was low energy, delivering short set ups and could have perhaps been described as competent rather than inspired. However, rather than just maintain this level, his jokes built up a nice level of momentum and before long Riley was doing very well. There were some very nice subtle lines in his set, such as lack of empathy, which deserved more than the room gave him. His joke about Cumberbatch as Bond was good and I felt that he could have perhaps expanded upon his concept of a Ginger Bond. His initial line about the big issue went over a few people’s heads, but the entire routine was a big hit and went down very well with the room. He had a slow start, which was in front of a tough crowd, but I’d very much like to see Riley in front of a bigger audience, doing a longer set as he did well. I felt that once he got going his performance rolled along nicely and he had some interesting and funny things to say.

Stu Woodings was next, mixing existing and new material. Woodings has stepped up a gear recently and his newer material is very pleasant, indeed. He opened well, received a good laugh for soccer and as ever, his songs did well. Despite it being a tough crowd, this was a good performance.

Resuming after the intermission, Alex Kealy didn’t have a great night and seemed to lose the room very quickly. His material was a mixture of intellectual comments (Copernicus, Fracking, Phosphates), the more interesting to him than the audience (his first kiss) and a concept that might have sounded good on paper (the news report and music). He finished his time by spending the last 90 seconds or so talking about counting down. Kealy’s style was beyond self-deprecating and into the depressing and I think this may well have alienated too many people from the off and he never really recovered from this. His set seemed to be out of step with what the audience wanted and in a different, more comedy literate venue, such as the Canal House, he may have done better. There the audience may have been willing to trust him to take them on a journey through his life and supply laughs on the way. Tonight wasn’t his best night and he never really seemed to get going.

In contrast, Ian Lane had a great night. He began by making some observations about the room which brought everyone into his act very quickly. His material about his top seemed very fresh and immediate, impressing the room with the fact that he wasn’t on autopilot. His chat with an audience member about 4 socket extension cables initially flummoxed her, but the pay off was nicely offbeat. I did wonder if he was dragging out one section a little bit too long, but it was worth it for the Morse related reveal, which featured as a splendid call back later. Lane delivered his set looking mildly exasperated by the audience, as if he were a teacher and they were a bright but unruly class and this, combined with some strong ad-libs produced a performance that was extremely good. I was very impressed by what I saw.

Closing the middle section was Jay Islaam as Bambam Shaikh, an act I’ve not seen in too long a time. This is a very clever character piece that works on many levels. I’ve seen this act a lot of times and always enjoy it. There is almost as much fun in watching the audience’s reactions to the jokes as there is in listening to them and I thoroughly enjoy the sense of knowing just where Jay is going with his set ups. There were some very loud laughs for this.

The headline act was Philip Simon who cleverly tailored his material to the various members of the audience. It was evident that he had been paying attention and knew who was Welsh and who was a Geordie and this went down a treat. His line about the memory foam mattress was solid, but then raised by the second reveal and then a tie in to an audience member, which ramped up the fun yet another notch. I was especially impressed by his nod to Bambam’s material, which was unique and very funny. Simon was totally in control of the room and it was a pleasure to watch him switching from material to room work and hoovering up laughs. His material was broad with something for pretty much everyone in it. His darker material was probably the most appreciated by the audience. This was a very good set that was intelligently delivered.