Comedians fight for the laughs on Grantham stage

Funhouse Comedy
Funhouse Comedy
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Last night it was the English Comedian of the Year quarter-final held at The Atrium in Grantham, under Funhouse Comedy.

The Atrium is a pleasant venue, located upstairs in the function room. It has the look of a factory loft with big noisy aircon pipes running along the ceiling, but these were switched off during the gig. I wish the disco downstairs had been, too, as every so often this could be heard. There were only 4 people downstairs, but over 80 upstairs.

It is lovely seeing extra chairs being put out at comedy gigs. The more people, the more atmosphere and the more atmosphere the more the comedians can work with and the more fun had by all. The playlist during the wait was a bit unlucky. Viva Las Vegas is fine, but Hey Jude, probably more suitable for Dignitas. There were 11 acts doing seven minute spots, which with 11 acts makes sense, but is a bit neither one nor the other when most acts are based on 5/10/15/20 minutes.The whole room judged the acts by applause. This was a workable system, but did favour those who went on later.

Out of the 11 acts, eight were contenders for the three progression spots, with one stand-out winner. It was an incredibly strong bill and one of the best nights I’ve seen so far, this year. Spiky Mike was compere.

Benji Waterstones opened. He had some interesting observations and unlike an act I saw a month ago, his were not only accurate, but also incredibly funny. He was a quiet act, with low levels of energy who got strong laughs from his material. He received a good laugh for his use of the word plums and had a cracking check back to his club card stuff. A talented comic who was lovely to watch.

Sean Turner was second up. He had an off-beat style that involved a lot of audience interaction and may have benefited from going on later. He has possibly the broadest Geordie accent apart from Oz and did a number of short routines. Whilst there were no real surprise reveals, he had a good sense of timing and whilst not going through he didn’t have a bad night.

Ian Lane was third in. He started with an impression of Canary Wharf, which wasn’t perhaps the strongest start, but did lead to a great lighthouse gag, referencing one of the revelations discovered during the compering of Spiky Mike. This being such a fresh allusion it got a powerful response from the room. He followed this up with a mixture of jokes, prop gags and banter with a few audience members, giving a well rounded feel to his set. During the banter he got a response from an audience member that momentarily upstaged his original question, but he succeeded in trumping this with his own comeback. He was a strong contender for progression.

Paul Savage closed the first session. He has a relaxed presence and delivered a number of well structured observations. These were good, but didn’t seem to get the response they should have. I think he was unlucky with the running order. The first three comics had all done gags and short routines, whereas Paul’s observations were just a bit longer and the audience were used to shorter build-ups and perhaps a bit jarred by the change in pace. I may perhaps be wrong with this diagnosis, but he didn’t get the consistent feedback his material deserved, although this did get better as he went along. His car routine went down well and the physical comedy he showed with his sidestep on the word ‘but’ was particualrly well received.

Opening after the intermission was Robert Lane. He opened with an impression of Liam Neeson in Taken – the special set of skills speech. The room enjoyed this more than I did. This is the third time in eight days I’ve heard a comedian use this exact speech and it is perhaps getting used too often for my taste. This was followed up by a strong joke about how he used to feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body, till his mum gave birth to him. This is a very strong joke. In fact it is that strong, it was used, more or less hourly, two years ago on Radio 4 to advertise a comedy season on Radio 4 Extra. However, it was new enough to the audience not to make much difference. Robert did one liners, most of these worked very well, some not so well, but with one liners, if one misses, then another is along in 20 seconds, so that is all to the good. He closed with two impressions, but perhaps spent too long on them for the return.

Brennan Reece was next. He hit the audience with a lot of energy and made an immediate impact. He had a very clever set and with his skill at drawing mental pictures he went down a storm. He was the first of the entrants to receive an applause break. This was then topped by a second applause break. His material, delivery and demeanour reaped a well deserved massive response and he was the eventual winner, to no one’s surprise.

The impressive Jo D’Arcy had the tricky act of following Brennan. Luckily she has a sure touch with an audience and was helped a bit by one of the audience having admitted to being a teacher. This gave her a delicious lead into her material about teaching. The room responded well to her presence and gave her a lot of appreciation as she went through a strong set. Although she didn’t progress, it was a close run thing.

Rob Mulholland closed the second part. I’ve found him to be consistently funny and tonight was no exception. The reaction from the audience was a touch quiet to begin with. He hit them with solid material and seemed to get little back. However, this turned around part way through when he used some darker material and received some loving groans. Following this, he went from strength to strength and ended up with two applause breaks, also. He judged the seven minutes very well and progressed to the next round.

Final section was opened by Carl Jones, who is a conversationalist in style. His first joke seemed to have a long build, but got a good laugh for the reveal, then a bigger laugh for the second reveal. His embarrassing bodies section went down very well, being eminently accessible to the audience and he never put a foot wrong. He also progressed to the next round.

Davey Liddle had an unlucky night. He’s a good comic, with strong material and good pacing, but tonight he seemed to stutter a bit with pacing for seven minutes. He began extremely well, setting a fast pace. His Jaguar routine is a banker, he got an applause break for the takeaway stuff, with consistent laughs for everything else. He had reached that stage where every time he finished speaking the room laughed and was looking like a real contender for the next round. Then at about the 6.20 mark, he seemed to reach the end of what he had planned to say in seven minutes and took just that bit too long to mentally calculate which parts of his repertoire could fill the remaining time. This broke his momentum and was a really disappointing finish to what had been a powerful set.

Athena Kublenu was the final act. The hair reveal wasn’t too unexpected, but the rest of her set was very good and hung together nicely. The room enjoyed her material and she delivered it smoothly, getting her best response to the ovaries line.

This was an incredibly good night, with some very talented people taking part in front of a sold-out crowd who were there to enjoy the comedy.

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