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

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

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

Tom King

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

Harry Sanders

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

Sarah Johnson

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

Vince Atta

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

Kev’s Komedy Kitchen – The Second Cumin

Last year in Edinburgh I went to see Kev’s Komedy Kitchen after having heard from Helen Stead that it was Elliott Bower’s favourite show and he’d been to see it a lot of times. To hear that someone who sees as much comedy as Elliott was so enamoured with a show that he’d see it so many times in such a short period strongly suggested that it was going to be something of a gem and how right this was! The original show was a beautiful hour of farce that would have made a lovely one off special at Christmas. It was quite simply the best show I saw in Edinburgh and one of the best things that I saw during the entire year. This, though, was the sequel and it was carrying enough expectation on my part that I’d taken my mum and dad to see it with me. Sequels are tricky things to write, especially after such a triumph – anyone who has played the genius that is Deathtrap Dungeon and then tried the sequel, Trial of Champions will tell you that. I was very curious as to whether they would be able to pull another rabbit out of the hat with The Second Cumin.

The signs were good. This was one of those gigs, where there were five people sat there fifteen minutes before show time and still five with two minutes to go and then as if by magic the room suddenly filled up, almost in the blink of an eye. A huge bonus was the retention of the strong cast from last year, with Kevin Dewsbury as the eponymous Kev, Will Hutchby as producer Will and Hannah Blakeley and Mike Newall in crucial supporting roles. Elliott Bower was on tech, where he had the job of producing the correct jingle at the right time (the jingles definitely add to the feel of the show).

The show began with Will explaining the concept of the show and alerting everyone that this was a work in progress and that everyone would be working off of their scripts and that further to this, due to circumstances beyond their control they hadn’t been able to bring the full set with them and so were improvising with a bench and a few props. This wasn’t a problem at all; it must be very difficult finding chance to get four people together at the same time and in the right frame of mind to rehearse a full show and with Dewsbury having moved house the day before it was splendid that he was focussed on the show, as I’m not sure many people would want to flit and then do a full show the next day. After he had completed the preamble, Will further set the scene by explaining how Kev’s last year had been spent, which provided a wonderful bonus for those who had seen the first show and a short backstory for those who were unlucky enough not to have seen it. This was proceeded by him doing the rules for whilst they were filming and pointing out where the cameras were. Stood in his logo’d producer T shirt (a marvellous little extra), Hutchby was convincing enough in this for half of the audience to be turning to look for the cameras.

Kev opened the show with everyone clapping along to a great song that built up the atmosphere, before launching into a string of deliberately bad puns, which got a lot of laughter. Those jokes were obvious, but there were a lot of subtle jokes during this hour, too and even without the full set, this was a very visual show. In daylight, at tea time in Derby, this show was compulsive viewing, so I can only imagine what a visual feast it will be in Edinburgh. Dewsbury has some great lines, but perhaps the bit that hit home the hardest with me was the level of doubt and disbelief about the credentials of his special guest. His tone of voice and choice of words were exquisitely nuanced and pitched at just the right level of incredulity to carry full conviction without tearing the arse out of it – a difficult balance to master most likely, but he does it well.

There are two guests, one a surprise and the other a special guest. Blakeley is a very good actress, who last year managed to convey so much even without saying a lot. This year she has a more vocal performance and I’d say that she has nailed her role. She manages to convey a stunning level of ignorance and achieved being unknowingly provocatively irritating to Kev almost instantaneously. The accent that she later employed was brilliant and had Will knelt down helplessly corpsing – seeing someone laughing so hard, whilst trying to hide behind his copy of the script was heart-warming and worth the ticket price alone. The special guest is Mike Newell as Michelli Newalli and whilst there weren’t any huge surprises to people who had seen the first show, it was no less funny for it. Newell has the ability to just stand there in silence and to then slowly say a short sentence of few words and to get a great laugh. He’s low energy and glorious with it, almost as if he doesn’t have to move fast to catch the laughs. It’s great watching him and Kev working together and the correct answer was a very nice moment.

Will Hutchby plays a very large role in this show, providing context and framework, yet he is almost under the radar as everyone is concentrating on the stage. This is a bit paradoxical, as Will has some of the funniest lines. I think the reason the limelight manages to miss him is because he performs his role so well and is very convincing as a producer, somehow keeping everything on track whilst ensuring that the audience remain focussed upon the show itself. Again, something that takes a lot of skill to get the right balance.

This show is a work in progress and it was a bit raw in places, but that in no way detracts from it. The only thing I felt might require a bit of attention was the ending. Despite finishing with a clap along song, it didn’t quite have the big finish feel that the first show had, but that is the only slightly negative thing I’ve got to say about this. The story arc follows on naturally from the first show, making it feel as comfortable as donning a pair of slippers, but it is also different enough to feel fresh. I could say that this show is less a sequel and more of an equal, but instead it’s easier just to say that they are onto a winner. This was an hour that went by quickly and was extremely funny. For a show to be this funny whilst working from script is no mean feat and the finished article is going to be majestic.

This will be a smash hit.

Rob Kemp – The Elvis Dead

Tonight I was in Derby for Rob Kemp’s The Elvis Dead. I was glad I bought tickets as there didn’t look to be an empty seat going spare. This was a show that was well supported by the comedy community with, Jon Pearson (recipient of a round of applause for sorting out the projector), Pat Draper, Peter Thomas, Stevie Gray and Thom Hodkinson present, plus my mum and dad, too, who were looking forwards to this. There was a bit of a delayed start as some codfangler had managed to reverse into Rob’s car on his way to the show, but this wasn’t the end of the world, as there was no show on afterwards to inconvenience. The mood in the room prior to show time was buoyant with a lot of good will present. It almost had an end of term feel to it, possibly because it was on a Thursday and still light outside.

This was a show that following the triumph in Leicester, was carrying a huge weight of expectation; Rob, with his infectious charm, admitted that at the top of the night and grounded the audience by confessing that this was only the third time that he had performed it. Personally I was there because I had heard so many people say so much that was good about it. I’m not an Elvis fan, I’ve never seen an Evil Dead film and I’m not even a fan of musical comedy, so with that in mind, it wasn’t an obvious choice for me. I was present and had persuaded my folks to come, simply due to word of mouth and so I was hoping that the bush telegraph was right and we’d be in for a great time.

I’m not sure what struck me first, Kemp’s commitment or his singing. It may have been Rob’s voice, which is surprisingly good. It’s one thing to have a fair resemblance to The King, but another to actually sound like him and this is a man who carries a rockabilly tune very well. If the bottom ever drops out of comedy, Kemp could quite conceivably work up a musical act as Rock n Roll Rob. The voice was one of the first things that I noticed, but I’m not sure if it was that or the sheer amount of life and energy that he injected into the show that made the greatest impression. Kemp is fully committed to the role and manages to live it for the duration of the show. There were the odd moments where he broke the 4th wall, such as when he missed a line of a song; but his knowing grin at that moment carried bags of charm and the laugh he received showed that he’d done more than get away with that slight error.

The plot of the show is the story of the Evil Dead 2 told through the medium of some very cleverly adapted Elvis songs. There is a lot of wit involved in the adaptations and it’s advisable to listen to every line, as I’d imagine that familiarity with the original wording can ensure that the odd laugh is missed. Whilst Rob is singing, the projector shows the relevant parts of the film on a screen, which adds a lot of comprehension to those who aren’t familiar with the film. There are moments when the screen is blank, which does seem a bit of a missed opportunity, but the mainspring of the show is Kemp himself. There are a lot of props involved and these are all used to glorious effect as Rob throws himself around the stage with such wild abandon that he would be advised to get some matting in time for Edinburgh, otherwise he is going to end up black and blue with bruises and will probably pop a few ribs. I admire his dedication to the physical comedy of the show, but I’d hate to see him come a cropper for it. Some of his actions are quite hard to see if not sat at the front, but even if you can’t see all of it, you get the drift quite well.

This show is inspired. It is very funny, it is refreshingly original and above all Kemp really sells it. By the time of the final song the audience were clapping along and I wasn’t surprised when he received a standing ovation. I will be very surprised if Rob doesn’t come back from Edinburgh with a cult hit on his hands. This is a must see show.

Freddy Quinne – Entfremdung (working title)

Quinne began with what he called the preamble and this translated to everyone else as him doing some very good room work, pointing out the oddities of the venue. This was instantly relatable to the audience and very swiftly established Quinne’s credentials as being not only a funny comedian, but more importantly worth a festival audience investing their attention in. This latter isn’t always a given when most of the room aren’t familiar with an act and have the best part of a hour to sit through on what may have just been a punt or a spur of the moment walk in.

This show is a work in progress, but despite some extremely new bits I don’t think anyone would have noticed that if it wasn’t for Quinne putting ticks against the jokes on his notepad. There was one fluffed punchline, but one out of so many isn’t the end of the world and there was more than enough goodwill for the audience to not mind that a bit. Interestingly women in the audience outnumbered chaps by three to one, which is an unusual comedy demographic. However, the material had plenty to offer both sexes. At the same time that the ladies behind me were giving laughs of recognition and telling their friends that they do that, the chaps sat in front of me would be bent over double laughing. It’s nice to see a joke hit home so well with everyone.

The writing was sharp, with some excellent routines. I was especially impressed with Quinne’s ideas concerning booking cheap holidays. This was a delightfully dark routine that was extremely funny and given the context one that should be inoffensive. I say should be, because Quinne took the trouble to ask the room if it was too much for them. A couple of people admitted that it was, which I was somewhat surprised at, because it was done tastefully and with enough self-awareness to rob it of any offence. At this point Quinne sportingly did give people a chance to leave, which I thought was rather decent of him, but I was glad when no one did, because they would have missed the rest of his show and that would have been a real shame.

There was a lot of stagecraft evident. Quinne spoke quickly, not too quickly, but fast enough that no one wanted to let their attention drift in case they missed something and this helped him build up a lot of impetus. I was very happy that he didn’t feel the need to explain what an oxymoron was – it’s pleasant to see a comic treat their audience as having some intelligence instead of spoon feeding them the reveals. This was one of those performances where I found myself grinning with anticipation during the set ups, enjoying the wait for the punchlines.

There were a couple of sections that would stand improvement, but in fairness, neither are major issues. The energy level dipped during the neck brace routine, but as this was a new bit, possibly being performed for the first time, that’s nothing to worry about. The other area is less clear cut and concerns a routine about Freddy’s sister. This was fun and had a great reveal, but the set up was an instance where I think everyone got the idea from the first line, yet paradoxically it was the detailed and time consuming set up that made the reveal work so well. It was good and everyone laughed, but given the time taken to set it up, could he have gotten three times the laughter for something else? Perhaps so, but I may be nitpicking slightly with this.

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

Derby Comedy Festival – The fall of Byron Montrose (Ben Macpherson)

Tonight I was at the Carnero Lounge in Derby to see a couple of shows at the DCF, organised by NCF. The first show I saw was The fall of Byron Montrose, starring Ben Macpherson.

This is an entertaining monologue, which in the tradition of Spike Milligan’s books, contains a pun on every line. Byron went on cold, opening the evening and I’m not sure how many people were expecting the show to be what it was and it may have benefited from a slight bit of warm up work, which explained the concept. On the other hand, there would be a risk with that in Montrose breaking character, which would be a shame. Macpherson puts a fair amount of thought into his characterisation, getting dressed up, using that wonderfully sonorous voice of his, sipping sherry substitute (which was a lovely running gag) and making Montrose consistent all through the story arc. This was also an arc that was coherent and lead to a climax, which whilst I wasn’t totally happy with the downbeat ending on a personal note , it did provide closure and fitted in with the title of the show.

This is just as much a performance piece as it is a comedy show and it was great to see people turn their heads to look at the wall when Byron mentioned something upon the wall of the family home. Despite the short notice in the booking (this was a very late edition to the festival following another act having to pull out) and consequent lack of rehearsal time, I thought that the delivery was well paced, giving everyone time to get the puns, but without dragging it out. There is a lot of intelligence behind the references and it is a well educated sort of cove who will get all of the allusions. To me, this makes a nice break from comedians aiming for the most accessible of material as this generally has the effect of setting the bar fairly low and it’s nice to have to work a little bit to get all of the puns. This isn’t a show that you can let your mind wander from, though, because if you miss a couple of words from the prose, the next joke will leave you puzzled.

Tonight the audience was fairly small, largely I suspect due to this being a late addition and Macpherson not having much time to advertise it and if there had been a few more people willing to laugh out loud at the jokes, which, incidentally, are good, then everyone else would have felt comfortable in joining in. As it was, there was a nice cosy feeling of enjoyment from the audience, even if they weren’t hugely expressive about it. This was a show that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Canal House, Ant Campbell, Katie Mitchell, Mark Williams, Shell Byron as Ally Allerton, Che Burnley, John Hardy, Phil Pagett, Moses Ali Khan and Josh Pugh (MC)

Tonight I was in Nottingham for the NCF £1 night, held at the canal house. Numbers weren’t as high as previously, but there were still 60-70 paying customers for a new act/material night, which was tremendous. The bill tonight featured a large contingent from the North West, mostly Liverpool, but luckily when Elliott had worked out the running order he was smart enough to not have all of these acts follow one another without a break, as this would have unbalanced the show. Supporting the night, but not performing were the comedians Harry Sanders (with lady from Doncaster) and Nick Mellors.

Josh Pugh (MC)

Pugh is one of the brightest prospects on the circuit and it can only be a matter of time before he is on panel shows, so it was very nice to see him on this bill. He began with admin, explaining the format of the evening and then he had a chat with a few people in the audience, finding out names and jobs, appointing clappers and so on. The people he spoke to all had saintly occupations, working in charity shops, meeting their partner whilst volunteering in Africa and so on, and this could have proved tricky, but Pugh just took it in his stride. He is talented in working his way to material from the replies he received and as ever, his punchlines came from unexpected angles, which he has made almost an art form. Another nice aspect to his work was keeping the night on time, which is very useful in a compere. Pugh is never anything less than fantastic and tonight he showed that he is sharper than ever.

Pugh is performing at the for NCF at the Derby Comedy festival at 17:40 on the 14th of May at the Carneo Lounge.

Ant Campbell

Campbell opened and the only negative issue I had with his set was some of the topics he used: Trump/Clinton being a lose lose scenario and online dating are both areas that a lot of comedians have mined for material and it is very hard for anyone to find a new angle that hasn’t been done before. The tinder material was funny, but it was something that I have heard a lot of versions of, which robbed it of some of the impact it would otherwise have had. There were a lot of very nice lines in this set, such as JJB, Wand, Bunsen burner and blocked, which all received a good response. Campbell’s delivery was workmanlike and without a lot of flair, but it managed to carry conviction and sold his material well. I enjoyed the callback that he ended on. This was a good opening to the night.

Katie Mitchell

Mitchell had a night of two halves; a decision forced upon her by an art prop she needed not being available and her having to quickly rethink her set. She began by getting the audience divided up to make the noises of a distressed train, May getting into a bath and the Russian Revolution, which whilst fun would have benefited from a big finish. This was followed by a convoluted routine based upon a video game which I can imagine working very well with an audience who have played the game, but which tonight didn’t really catch the mood of the room. This half of her set was largely carried by her personality, which is strong and confident. The second half was new material that had come to her mind only in response to what someone had said earlier and this was a tale from when Mitchell was at school. In its raw form, this story was funny and it held the room, as everyone wanted to know how it would end. This half of her set was very entertaining and with a bit of work and artistic licence I can well imagine this story becoming a closing routine that is accessible to all audiences.

Mark Williams

Williams was a relaxed and pleasant presence who largely bantered with the room, feeding in the odd bit of material every now and again. He’s an unthreatening act whom everyone was happy to chat to, confident that he wouldn’t make them look a wally. I don’t know if he does a lot of compering, but if he doesn’t he should, as I can imagine him having a talent for it. There were some nice lines, such as his comment on it being a £1 comedy night, but not a lot of what he said was that memorable and this is a shame. Everyone will remember him being affable and amiable, but unfortunately they won’t remember a lot else. If Williams can match his easy going and genial presence with material with more bite he will be a strong comic.

Shell Byron as Ally Allerton

Next was Shell Byron performing as Ally Allerton, a character act that was subtle enough for some of the audience to perhaps not realise that this was so. She took a low energy approach, speaking slowly and with quite a long gap between reveals. The motivational speaker material was solid and the smoke alarm stood out for its sheer quality. I did think, though, that despite leading into the next routine, the feeling shit routine was a bit overly drawn out. This was a nice set that built up very well.

Che Burnley

Burnley had a very good night and he seems to have moved up a gear in the month since I saw him last. He read the room well and came at it with a lot of energy, which was just what was needed as the level had dropped a bit. His set could be split into a 50-50 mix of material and room work and both went down extremely well. A lot of the audience work consisted of Burnley messing around in a creative way. The mic stand split into two halves, which led to an impromptu Freddy Mercury impression that morphed into a well orchestrated brief audience sing-along to the Banana Boat song. I’m not totally convinced the mic stand splitting like that was a total accident, as Burnley was so smooth in segueing into top quality mirth. However, if it was an accident, he’s great at rolling with the unexpected. If it wasn’t an accident, then he’s great at making it look like it was, either way, it is to his credit. The material was delivered with verve and there was a definite feel good factor to this performance; it has certainly made me want to see this Burnley perform more often.

John Hardy

John Hardy was on his fifth gig and whilst inexperienced he did alright. The material was naturally a work in progress, although buffet was nice enough and although the quiet joke was more of a concept than a routine, if he could but find a reveal to it with a twist then it would be a stand out. Hardy is a well built chap, with a largely bald head and his wearing a black jacket had the unlucky side effect of making him look as if he was taking a break from doing the door, which isn’t the end of the world, but perhaps didn’t help him with his visual presence. For a fifth gig this was a credible performance.

Phil Pagett

Pagett opened well with two jokes that he had made up on the night, which pertained to the events of the show and both were hugely relatable to the audience – I really appreciate it when an act can think on their feet like that. From here he stood, clipboard in hand, trialling some new material in preparation for Edinburgh. Pagett is an excellent crafter on one-liners and anything of his is worth listening to, so I was really looking forwards to seeing this. Some of the jokes were brilliant, especially the darker ones, with a few applause breaks being given and even the ones that weren’t quite up there with his best were still good. This section was then followed with a spot of his established material, which gave for a well rounded and very funny performance.

Moses Ali Khan

Moses is another act that I don’t see enough of. He’s a prolific writer and has a good eye for the funny. Tonight he played the room utilising an audible internal monologue, almost giving the audience a peak into his thoughts. Moses is quite a shrewd psychologist when it comes to audiences and this tactic really drew people into his performance. This grasp of how to work an audience was further demonstrated when he was doing some riddles, all of which had a twist that the chap he drew in didn’t anticipate coming. This was a great set from a very clever comedian.

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.