Simon Wozniak

Simon Wozniak

Hot Water comedian of 2016 final

Gig review by Steve Bennett in Liverpool

The bland function room of a Holiday Inn isn’t the most promising venue for a comedy night, but it’s the crowd who made the gig in Liverpool last night. The Hot Water Comedy Club has built up a big audience here and they’re all up for a big night – in the best possible way – as its comedian of the year is crowned.

Local lad Eddie Fortune is up first, and with a showbiz name like that it’s no surprise to learn that his other job is as a singing waiter. As a comedian, there’s a bit of razzle-dazzle camp to his delivery, too, and he puts his vocal cords to good use with a rendition of Radiohead’s Creep, but rewritten to be about fussy food habits. Writing-wise, it’s pretty simple, but is the culmination of a strand of material that releases pent-up frustrations about picky customers, full of snipes that seem heartfelt. When he strays from this, however, the approach is too scattergun. There are a handful of comments for instance, about killing himself, leading to flippant, old jokes such as not realising it was an electric oven into which he was sticking his head. The boy needs more focus throughout, though he’s an engaging presence.

The Brexit referendum has given Radu Isac an extra potency, as he’s a Romanian emigré, a background he uses to tease stereotypes from both sides. He claims immigrants don’t really want to be in Britain while mocking those who think they can relate to him just because they know a few basic facts about his homeland. To British ears his stilted accent makes him sound like a simple, well-meaning naif – but in truth, none of those descriptions apply; as he’s cynical and tricksy. It makes for a quirky set, with his comedy and his outlook coming from an unusual angle. He took third place, based on the vote of a handful of selected independent audience representatives, but could easily have ranked higher.

Si Wozniak, the second Liverpool-based act of the night, would want to be a bleak, hard-bitten comedian – but he can never hide his smile, even when delivering punchlines intended to be miserable. His effusive presence is his biggest asset – cheekily telling Apple to ‘be-have!’ as he quips at their expense – but limited inspiration is his weakness. For example, there’s a lot in the set about personal trainers trying to motivate him in the gym while he’s a lazy chip-loving sod which doesn’t amount to a great deal, making for a bright but shallow set.

Josh Pugh made the most of his sweet spot after the interval, with a set jam-packed full of offbeat jokes, with barely a word wasted. He’s reminiscent of James Acaster in the way he applies a personal, twisted logic to life, both revealing and adding absurdity, without being a carbon copy of the much-garlanded forebear. Pugh has got a lot more puns for starters, of the sneakiest, most creative type. His cheery awkwardness and impressive rate of unpredictable gags won the night, adding to an already substantial haul of new act trophies for this almost certain future star.

Stu Woodings embraces the cheesy in his musical comedy set, built around a couple of lyric-swap parodies such as softening The Stones’ Paint It Black to the DIY-themed Paint It Matt, as jaunty as you’d expect, and just as inconsequential. He uses the same cheery demeanour for a song about celebrity paedophiles, which seeks to get a cheap laugh from mentioning the likes of Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile. Elsewhere he gets a laugh just by saying the word ‘rapey’. The tone is odd as he does not mean to be offensive, he’s just reaching for easy, supposedly shock references. The phrase ‘must try harder’ springs to mind.

Final act Jack Gleadow had clearly been studying the audience participation work of the likes of Tape Face, though can’t match the mime’s invention as he brings a couple of semi-willing punters on stage to recreate a manic scene. Such high jinks have become a staple of Edinburgh shows, but they are still relatively uncommon on the circuit, and the frisson of anarchy energises the room. Gleadow rides it, with good instincts for the playful. He has less effective, if enthusiastically delivered, stand-up routines on staples such as not fitting in with alpha-male rugby players, meeting the girlfriend’s father and swiping left on Tinder, all of which are well-trodden ground. But his energy is infectious and saw him secure the second place.

Throughout the night, Hot Water’s resident compere Paul Smith carried out the ‘where are you from?/what do you do?’ duties efficiently, especially in making much of the usual assumption that a couple of friends in the audience were secretly shagging. As the votes were counted, though, he revealed a second string to his bow, as an accomplished teller of tales, primarily from the underbelly of the shady Dovecot area of Liverpool, where he lives. They are infused with black humour, though it’s the grim detail you’ll remember more than the jokes, as he engrosses with his vivid descriptions.

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Published: 9 Nov 2016

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