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James Dowdeswell

James Dowdeswell

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English Comedian Of The Year final 2014

English Comedian Of The Year final 2014

This Sassenach sister of the well-established Scottish Comedian Of The Year was tried once before, in 2009, and won by the almost-never-to-be-seen again Matthew Osborn. Five years later, it’s relaunched with with a sold-out final at the Udderbelly hosted by Stephen K Amos, but the same principle of definitely NOT being a new talent hunt – comics at any level of experience can enter.

In practice this means a mix of relative newbies and old circuit warhorses whose plateaued careers could do with a bit of a boost, producing a final of solid professionalism, but also a certain play-it-safe sameiness between acts. How different a showcase this would have been had it been the hottest-tipped up-and-comers....

James Dowdeswell set the tone with a routine checkboxing all the club cliches: looking geeky (complete with World Of Warcraft namecheck), in-bred West Country ways, run-ins with urban-talking young people and estate agent euphemisms, ‘vibrant’ for ‘violent’. Ambitious, it’s not – even if there are some deft turns of phrase. And even if he can pull off a convincing accent, tonight’s performance of a well-rehearsed set was phoned in with little engagement. Maybe that’s because he was fresh off a plane from his holidays, but I’ve certainly seen him much sharper than this.

American Robyn Parker – eligible for this award because she now lives in South London – didn’t seem on top of her game either, with clumsy, verbose preambles, often leading down blind alleys. She has an engaging persona, and some of her premises have potential, but there was too little focus in her scattergun approach, leaving ideas under-developed.

The affable Scott Bennett got a lot from the Yorkshire stereotypes so completely embodied by his parsimonious father. The tale of him trying to get the best value for money from a carvery is built on a simple idea, but pleasingly executed as Bennett fills in subtle details of the experience to create a vivid image with more than a ring of truth. This is typical of the everyman appeal of his broad observational comedy that stretches every premise to find the laughs, even if sometimes he overextends the idea. He came second, deservedly.

Old hand Phil Walker’s experience certainly showed with a very robust set. Again he didn’t look too far for inspirations, with routines rooted in the less salubrious end of British society such as Megabus journeys or the drunken late-night carnage of city centres. It’s jokey, non-judgmental reportage of familiar situations rather than anything deeper, and even if some of the material covers well-trodden ground, Walker delivers it engagingly, with a good smattering of witty language.

Jack Campbell secured the English Comedian Of The Year title by offering up the most original take on things, even though by wider standards he’s still a fairly traditional act. As a former teacher, he too had run-ins with streetwise youth, and the childishness of their banter is entertainingly described; while he finds an excuse to trot out some old clichés about the Swiss, but from just enough of a different angle to reinvigorate them. He, too, can display a creative way of phrasing things – showing his 2:2 in creative writing from De Montfort hasn’t entirely gone to waste...

After the break, Tony Cowards offered a relentless catalogue of one-liners. A lot of them were cheesy new ‘dad gags’ in the Tim Vine mould, but sometimes his back-engineered wordplay displayed a more brutal edge closer to Jimmy Carr. Needless to say those with the strongest bite got the best reaction. Nervously fingering his glasses, Cowards is not a particularly charismatic performer, so jokes are exposed, having to work hard to earn every response – and the fact he got near-consistent laughs is testament to his skill as a writer, which earned him a worthy third place on the night.

Jollyboat are a sibling musical comedy double act that, despite coming on stage dressed as pirates, fill every expectation of the genre, good and bad. They’ve a reactor-core of energy and get a rousing reaction from the crowd, even though there’s little ingenuity in changing the lyrics to familiar hits. They do, though, have the grace to do their semi-jokes quickly, bundling through a medley of pirate puns at a ramming speed. Their second number tonight was billed as the ‘perfect X-Factor song’ , comprised of the usual cheap sentiment. But when even Simon Cowell’s taking the piss out of this by backing I Can’t Sing – which flopped, let’s not forget – there’s no subversion and little originality here.

Archie Maddocks started his set sticking to the tried-and-tested, too, spending too long talking about the celebrity he looks like (Lionel Richie). Some of his race-based material seemed a little contrived, too – especially the man allegedly too embarrassed to order a black coffee in his presence (really?). Yet the storytelling elements were stronger for seeming more personal, be they his tale of drama on an aircraft or the armless taxi driver. The still-inconsistent Maddox is not the finished deal yet, but there’s a lot of promise here... watch this space.

Pete Phillipson has a lot further to go, as his offering tonight was simply dull. The unsympathetic routine blaming feckless people for getting into debt with payday loan companies like Wonga was long-winded; mocking the middle-classes was flimsy and punchline free; and his consideration of ‘lad culture’ was lazy and unoriginal. All this ended with him re-living a pretty uneventful ticking-off he got about being late for his job at a call centre. Unless his comedy improves, he’s going to need to nurture a better relationship with his employers than this...

Finally, there wasn’t much life on Will Mars, either. He started with a tired routine about the public service ads about hitting a child at 40mph you might remember from when it came out eight years ago. Then he shared his deeply cynical view of relationships which is much more bleak than funny, casting a pall on the atmosphere. And the cornerstore of his appearance was a routine which used the word ‘shit’ on every beat – mimicking the rhythms and repetitions of a George Carlin routine, but with none of the insight. I’ve got a word to describe this set piece, but I think Mars just wore it out.

Tuesday 8th Jul, '14
Steve Bennett

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