City Life Comedian Of The Year final 2006

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

The magazine may have closed, but the City Life comedian of the year competition is still alive and kicking, with another batch of ten newish north-west acts vying for the title – and the very modest £200 prize – at the Comedy Store final.

First up, Lou Conran had strong performance skills, jollying the audience along and theatrically ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ along to her own material. But it’s not long until she’s pretty much alone in reacting this way to what is a flabby and uninspired set, forever heading below the belt in search of cheap laughs. There’s vibrators, shit – her grandfather’s lack of bowel control contrasted with her own diet-induced constipation –and masturbating to the Dukes of Hazard and that’s as edifying as it gets. For all her ease on stage, this drearily mechanical approach to writing what she wrongly thinks stand-up should be all about is a real let-down.

Shuffling on in a duffle coat, and hurridly finishing off his Ready Salted Hula-Hoops, John Cooper adopts the guise of a socially awkward weirdo, wanting to share with us extracts from his diary. What follows is an original and appealing monologue, based solely around the Virgin Trains Jazz Connection in-journey entertainment. It builds up nicely, is genuinely unpredictable and enhanced by his deliberately unsure delivery – a very rewarding outcome from such an apparently slight premise. For the second half of his set, Cooper discarded his character for a chatty stand-up routine about speed dating and picking up an attractive girl that had a nice pay-off, but not really punchy enough en route. It did, though, prove his natural good humour that’ll stand him in good stead on the circuit.

Gonzo Kane was the first of three acts who’d also appeared at the Beat The Frog World Series final a week ago – and no surprise that none of them had changed in the few days since Chortle reviewed them there. Kane remains a slick, appealing crowd-pleaser with a strong hoodie-based song to lift the atmosphere, a nice visual gag to close and some winningly self-deprecating material to link it all together. He’s got a couple of very fine gags, but mostly it’s average material given a huge boost by his strong delivery. A Jongleurs act in waiting, for sure.

In contrast, Rodney Marques mined his own life for inspiration for his set, and it was all the more appealing for it, even if some of the routines didn’t quite come off. His former job as a psychiatric nurse and his stepchildren prove good sources of material, and the acerbic dismissal of his father’s second wife is wonderfully raw. His various and mean-spirited descriptions of orange-hued women in Manchester’s ‘footballer’s wives’ belt is also a joy, as is his analogy about a colleague fetching him the wrong brand of cigarette – though this would be better without spelling out the punchline, after the audience made the mental leap themselves. The only segment that didn’t really work was a tale of his drunken bad behaviour set to a sports commentary, which was too self-absorbed and fell flat.

Martin Tapley couldn’t quite solidify his ideas into a solid set. He talks a bit posh, which he makes a great deal of in an extended build-up to a gag, which just relies on him doing a silly, exaggerated version of a strangulated Mancunian accent. Best was a goat-raping digression, which starts as an aside before taking over much of his set, even though he can’t generally pull off such dark material, using too-blunt lines to get out of unbelievable situations.

Opening the second half, Suzy Rodriguez was a genuine oddity – as if someone’s gran, glammed up for a night out down the local British Legion – had wandered accidentally on stage; an impression only reinforced by her peering into the audience and asking: ‘Hang on, where’s Liz?’ or ‘I can hear Don Black laughing, where are you, love’ to the amused bewilderment of everyone else. Such babbling as she discussed a middle-aged girls’ night on the town proved hilarious – if entirely by accident. The very fact she nor the audience had no idea precisely why she was funny enhanced the enjoyment, creating a sort of ‘reality stand-up’ antidote to the crafted approach of every other comedian on the bill. In fact, when she actually tried to amuse she failed dreadfully – using ‘…and that was just the women’ as a punchline to two entirely separate ‘jokes’. This was fun and unusual to watch, although she outstayed her welcome dreadfully, doing at least twice her allocated ten minutes, by which time the novelty had definitely worn off.

At the other end of the scale, the oddly-named The 1 Like Fish was simply vicious and unpleasant, with a set that – at this risk of sounding like a stick-in-the-mud conservative – simply used anger and swearing as a substitute for wit. He told us of his visit to Amsterdam sex shops – yawn – and how he’d like to see Katie Melua murdered. If he could direct his fury at worthier targets than pop stars who have no idea what ‘crazy’ means, pompous adverts and Make Me A Supermodel, he might have something more. But at the moment, he’s a whacky name, but very ordinary comic. The judges didn’t agree, however, and awarded him joint third place with John Cooper. Whether they had to share the massive £50 cheque or got one each, we don’t know.

The deadpan Phil James is another of the acts from the Frog final, whose aridly, slow delivery verges on the tedious, standing in the way of some great one-liners – the one about a penis-shaped canoe being truly inspired. Not all are great, and there are some real creaky puns among the gems, but his best are very good indeed. Good enough to earn him second place, certainly.

Susan Hanks was next up, with her pedestrian set full of uninsightful observations about TV adverts, French language tapes and, my, isn’t it hard to get DVDs out of their packaging? It all seemed rather forced and fake, and didn’t score more than a few gentle laughs.

After a couple of slow acts, Vince Atta sparked the room into life with his dynamic presence, employing a few compere-like tricks to get the crowd on side then getting off to a flying start with a gag about the students who invade the city every September that certainly hit a local nerve. Atta’s strength is certainly his animated energy and ability to created potted characterisations, thanks to an expressive face and ear for accents. His set revolved around the realities of life on the multicultural streets of Manchester – he lives on Moss Side’s notorious Great Western Street – but told with a light, lively touch. Atta’s forte is likely to be as an MC, but he can certainly deliver a beezily appealing set, too.

So much so that, despite being the last act of a long night (thank you, Suzy Rodriguez), he took the 2006 City Life title - a clear, and popular winner to follow in such illustrious footsteps as Caroline Aherne, Peter Kay and Chris Addison.

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Published: 31 Oct 2006

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