Allyson June Smith
Allyson Smith started performing comedy in 2000 in Canada, where she has been nominated for the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-Up. She now lives in the UK, and supported Stewart Francis on his 2012 tour.
© Steve Ullathorne
Promising up-and-comer Penella Mellor (pictured) makes no bones about the fact that this one-off that she's organised for the last night of the Greater Manchester Comedy Festival is effectively a gathering of friends from the comedy circuit. And what a friendly person she is – for the bill is packed with no fewer than 13 acts, plus herself as compere. The audience, too, features a lot of chums, making for a convivial atmosphere, bolstered by Mellor's confessional openness, to counter the endurance-testing effects of such a big line-up.
First of the seven new acts in the initial section was Colin Havey, who'd probably be forgettable on even a short bill, with clichéd jokes about the 'orange' people of his native Liverpool, sniggering at a '69' and the describing the effects of ageing. It's all reasonably well-delivered, but he's not adding much to the sum of comedy.
Ellen Tomlinson puts more of herself into her set, from tattoo regrets to silly stories from working in retail. The gag rate could probably come up, but she's likeable and interesting; and her evocative portrayal of her mother as a blunt-talking scally type offers lots of comic potential.
Daniel Soff was one of the finalists in the previous night's Beat The Frog 'world series' gig, where he seemed a little overwhelmed by the occasion. But tonight he was more relaxed and dropped some of the cornier components of his material, putting more focus on the imaginative, wry side of his humour built around his experiences of being a black Briton… but only gangsta when it comes to history exams.
There's no other word for Mike Milling but zany. He's a hyper-energetic prop comic, but his enthusiasm doesn't really overcome the shortcomings of the cheesy gags that comprise most of his set, a couple of decent lines notwithstanding. He also over-explains: once you've mentioned 'no heavy petting', to state that it's from the rules of a swimming pool seems patronising and redundant, and doesn't leave the audience to make any leap themselves.
Middlesborough's Jo Smiles could have a sitcom about the bureaucracy of teaching in her, as she starts with a few astute jibes about the bane of her profession – plus a savvy way of avoiding awkward questions in meetings. She shows more observational and anecdotal skills in her description of a spa-day massage, suggesting a good future as an everywoman conversational comic.
Howard Walker might have more difficulty, as his USP seems to be 'having long hair'. Otherwise regaling a few petty annoyances itself seems petty, while easy jokes about pubes or using Penguin wrappers for contraception push no envelopes.
Finally for this section, the charismatic Tayo Cousins repeated the set that won him last night's Beat The Frog panel prize. On second hearing, the story about being intimidated on the Subway in New York doesn't really amount to much, but his Morgan Freeman impression remains a highlight, as does the hilarious description of his African dad dodging a straight question.
The next two sections of the evenings offered more experienced stalwarts of the Manchester-and-beyond circuit, starting with Big Lou, a robust gag-merchant proudly following in an old-fashioned tradition. His style might be considered a bit working-men's club – but that shouldn't be seen as dismissive, rather an indication of his commitment to banging out punchlines. Aside from one old joke inspired by one in five people in his neighbourhood being Jewish, the material is original as well as punchy, while Lou is blessed with funny bones that kept the laughs coming.
Canadian emigree Allyson June Smith is technically proficient, too, driven by the strong rhythms that are a hallmark of so much North American stand-up. From her mum talking through movies to blokes who bond through sport, the scenarios she describes will be familiar, though at the expense of providing many comic surprises. One thing that no other comic's got, however, is that she provided the voice for one of the characters in Dragon Ball Z – a revelation that draws an impressed gasp from the audience and provides an amusing section of her set.
Danny Sutcliffe proves hit-and-miss, too, a product of his silly, often punny approach. He sells his wordplay strongly, powered by nervous energy, as he celebrates the cheesiness of the more strained efforts. Meanwhile, other lines are inventively daft enough to stand up for themselves. However a closing routine suggesting TV product placements is forced, even by his standards.
Colin Manford's biggest claim to fame is being a star of Lidl's current Christmas adverts. Oh, and being you-know-who's brother, a link he'll happy joke about as he plays a basement in Manchester's gay village while his sibling takes the arenas. Manford's 30 and immature, talking about the names of obscure sexual practices, the perils of autocorrect and retelling a practical joke. Sometimes it's 'more confession than comedy,' he admits – jovial rather than hilarious – but it's all buoyed by an upbeat, affable spirit. His most regular job compering the Manfords comedy clubs he runs has clearly served him well.
Freda Chattington lives up to her surname… but then it is a moniker she gave herself, being a drag act, providing lots of pantomime in her corny innuendo and reaction-provoking mentions of 'vaginal prolapses'. But for most of her set, though, she merely talks to the audience about where they're from, what they do and whether they're together. It works well enough, but the content is more pedestrian than gold. It seems very late in the day to be doing what's essentially compering by numbers.
Finally Vince Atta, who has reinvented himself in recent years from an affable, energetic every bloke comic to a hip-hop act, complete with samplers and loop effects to build up the beats. He's not as wildly creative as Reggie Watts – nor does he have the hair – but provides an unfailingly entertaining and amusing set. Subjects include a version of the Three Billy Goats Gruff pertinent for his Moss Side home, or a string of rap-based puns, while it's all delivered with the infectiously cheery demeanour of a man enjoying his work.
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