Started comedy in 2006
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NATY 2014 final
With its remit to seek out variety acts as well as the more traditional stand-ups, the NATYs tends to produce a final that’s as changeable in quality as it is in tone. Yet this year it hit a consistency that produced no truly embarrassing lulls, even if, inevitably, some of the newer acts were stronger than others.
Opening act Nick Hodder – following compere Arthur Smith, resplendent in spangly catsuit – was, unfortunately in the weaker category. With a spoof ‘comedy made easy’ instructional CD, he sniped at modern stand-up, from its aversion to proper jokes to ‘ill-conceived’ BBC Three panel shows. It’s the sort of thing that must go down on open mic nights, where the audience is largely fellow comedy-obsessive stand-ups, but struggled to hit the laughs on the bigger stage of the Bloomsbury Theatre. He has a nice line in awkward, good-natured self-deprecation, but it seems presumptuous to sneer at comedy tropes before you’ve established your own ability to be funny, and that was the trap he fell headlong into.
Affable Jo Coffey produced a workmanlike set, with a few reasonable jokes about her limited stature, but few that burrowed beyond the superficial. Combining this angle with self-deprecating gags about being sexually loose added something extra, as did a couple about her name, but generally she fell shy of revealing too much about her, or deviating too much from the expected. She was dependably amusing, but could have used her on-stage confidence for so much more.
Alasdair Beckett-King has simply the best joke about his appearance on the circuit – and that’s a crowded field given how common an opening gambit that is. The distinctive, and visually powerful, gag set up a quirky, efficient set that covered a lot of ground. His set-ups might sometimes be standard (the street exchange with a bobby youth) or contrived (the archaic use of the word ‘nonce’), but they always lead to solid punchlines. Personally, other acts impressed and intrigued me more – but there’s no denying Beckett-King is dependable and distinctive act en route to a successful comedy career. And since he was crowed tonight’s winner – or ‘top of the bill’ as the egalitarian organisers call it – he’s certainly got another leg-up on the ladder.
Thomas Ward didn’t impress with his opening gag – he’s one of those comics who gets an odd haircut then makes jokes about it – but he went on to prove himself a far more creative writer than that. The measured, softly-spoken delivery, and occasional tension-inducing fragments of audience participation suggest performing is not in his blood, the hilarious comedy accent of his ex- aside, but in mixing up his styles, including some bizarre audio non-sequiturs, and evoking several witty scenes, his short appearance suggests he has strong potential as a sketch writer. Flawed, but interesting…
If you are going to do crap song parodies, you need to sell them strong; that’s the lesson from Tina T’urner Tea Lady – who is literally the soul queen envisaged as a char-lady mixing lyrically-altered cover versions with banter about her dried-up fanny. Despite all that’s obviously wrong and cheap about that, her cheesy camp is surprisingly refreshing over a five-minute burst, but much longer might be a stretch.
Archie Maddocks has a nice stage presence and strong performance skills but his material contains nothing original, encompassing jokes about the celebrity he looks like, how him being black and English confuses dumb Americans, and an extended routine that uses the word ‘nigger’ a lot to show its versatility as slang. It’s all been said before – though perhaps not with such a convincing range of accents.
Rogue 5 claim to be the world’s only comedy boy band, which might be news to the likes of The Midnight Beast or The Lonely Island. Again their performance is slick and entertaining, and with their melodies and tight choreography, they could pass for the real thing. Wry laughs certainly come from the accuracy of their spoof, such as the obligatory rap break. But lyrically, the song about picking up an ugly girl in a nightclub, named after the slang term FFFA (Fit From Far Away), doesn’t actually contain any jokes. Still, look at the dancing an perhaps you won’t notice.
A burst of insanity after the interval, as Candy Gigi Markham blasted onto the stage in a wedding frock, Bride Of Frankenstein-in-a-tornado hair, lipstick smeared to make her mouth look as blooded as a werewolf after a ferocious killing spree, and an Ikea bag full of odd props. Her force-of-nature performance is as close to a mental health case study as you could get, raging incomprehensibly and acting (apparently) uncontrollably. Laughs, many of them uncomfortable, come from the sheer audacious lunacy of it all – though there are moments when you can see some structure, too: notably as she repeatedly spits half-chewed celery leaf at the audience, apologising every time and desperately crying: ‘I wish I could stop!’ What she can do with this act is a mystery, but once seen, never forgotten.
Kelly Kingham cuts an original figure, too, but within the confines of a more traditional stand-up act. It’s hard to know what to make of him – part 70s camp game-show host, with appalling gags to match; part desperate, inept wannabe driven to the stage by a late-breaking mid-life crisis. The persona of a depressive slapping on smile concealing the misery has always been an appealing one, and Kingham, though imperfect, has his distinctive take on the approach. Of all the acts tonight, he’s the one with the most intriguing future, and his joint third place seemed to reflect that.
Sketch acts usually have a difficult time on predominantly stand-up bills, simply because of the change of tone. Yet Thünderbards – aka Matt Stevens and former Chortle student runner-up Glenn Moore – held their own. Their off-kilter scripts are so densely packed with ideas and witty turns of phrase you have to pay close attention not to miss anything in the unabashedly smart writing. It’s comedy for the brain rather than anything too visceral, but it’s not hard to envisage these two with their own Radio 4 show before too long.
Pete Dobbing was the first traditional stand-up of the second half, telling a lightweight routine about the lost property office with too many unnecessary details with no jokes attached. A pleasant fellow with an affable style, but instantly forgettable – which is pretty much the same review we gave him at So You Think You’re Funny final three-and-a-half years ago. In case you forgot…
Thundering on to the stage, Garrett Millerick unleashed a strident routine against a group so often exempt from criticism – the elderly. The tongue-in-cheek attack avoided cliche and made contentious points convincingly, though all in the name of a laugh rather than setting out any serious manifesto. The strong observations and powerful performance, relaxing into a more Stewart Lee-like moment of quiet repetition at the end, rightly scored big laughs and could so easily have taken the crown. But he can be pleased with the second place he took on the night.
The other joint third place went to Twayna Mayne, a delightfully downbeat stand-up with some amusingly sly lines. Her act isn’t yet fully-developed, with a scattergun approach to using gags whether or not the suit her persona. But she has an engaging style and an ear for a joke, which is rarer than you’d think. Definitely promising.
More sketches next from the trio Vinegar – formerly Vinegar Knickers but ‘they dropped the Knickers’. Their actual material was better than that, creating a rather strange world when a woman returning a faulty Dyson ends up engaging in a rap battle with the uninterested shop assistants. That sounds like a fairly straightforward premise, but they have their own unusual comic rhythm that adds an unconventional note. And that makes for another act ripe with intriguing possibilities as they develop.
Finally, Wilson, a young comic from Penge, South London, who seems to be a real-life Lee Nelson with laddish swagger but too little focus on the funny. For example, a long-winded observation about the ubiquitous phase ‘d’you know what I mean?’ simply states that its usually said by those so vapid they are not open to being misunderstood. But it took him a couple of minutes to suggest that, wandering around the obvious point. His final gag playfully broke the tension surrounding the fact it involved Muslims… but that was a highlight that came too late in an otherwise uneventful set.
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