It could be lucky number seven for the Scottish Comedian Of The Year. In its seventh winner, Eddie Cassidy, the contest has unearthed a strong prospect for the future. He has a quirky point of view, original and efficient gags, and an authentic voice, which combine in a routine that always has you interested, and often has you laughing.
Cassidy tells us he got into stand-up after a long-term relationship fell apart and he quit drugs, the perfect screwed-up back story for a comic. Though he doesn’t milk his past, the self-effacing tales of taking acid and ecstasy certainly have a ring of truth that takes them beyond the predictable.
His stories are brisk, and usually have an unexpected angle, with anecdotes about watching BabeStation or finding a iPhone boasting a hefty pinch of the silly, yet delivered with restraint, never knowingly oversold. Yet he’s also not afraid of being harsh, if he sees a good line in it.
His victory will surely be the start of greater things... and he’s already £1,500 richer for it.
In the audience’s affections, though, the final was a close-run thing with second-placed Susie McCabe, who irradiated an uncompromising no-bullshit attitude, playing very well with the Glasgow crowd. It was a little partisan, as she had plenty of supporters in the Old Fruitmarket, judging by the rowdy cheer that went up before she’d said a word, but she pressed a lot of the right buttons.
Her material, though, was far from being so consistently strong as Cassidy’s, playing up some rather obvious jokes about inbreeding in her home town (‘it’s twinned with itself...’) and the rough image of Glasgow compared to Edinburgh. She came into her own later on in the set, with a nicely dismissive approach to all the rigmarole her forthcoming civil partnership will involve, undercutting the audience’s support of the nuptuals, and elsewhere she was similarly contemptuous of pretty much anything that involves any effort on her part. More of this to match her strong persona, and less of the cliche, could make her a force to be reckoned with.
The evening had started on less assured ground. Opening act Sean Reid has a confident swagger, but gave the audience no hint of his personality with generic comments about Halloween bringing out slutty dressers, signers for the deaf on late-night TV and reliving old arguments with his girlfriend, without feeling compelled to add much in the way of jokes.
He had maybe two good lines – not a good hit rate for a ten-minute slot – and it’s a mystery how on earth he thought he could get away with doing a version of an old Spike Milligan joke about a distressed man calling 999 that has been so widely reported as winning a ‘best gag’ search that it’s even got it’s own Wikipedia entry. Must do better.
Harry Garrison comes on as a tender singer-songwriter – immediately arousing suspicions he won’t stay so sweet for long. That’s quickly confirmed as he croons about mail-order brides and creepy stalker-like behaviour. It’s hardly pushing the boat out when it comes for inspiration for comic songs, but it’s nicely done, and he landed the laughs. Garrison has a finely-tuned rhythm, as the numbers saunter towards less predictable last-line punchlines, but while he has six strings to his guitar, he has only one to his comic bow, and the shtick gets a bit formulaic by the fourth song.
Jellybean Martinez is an ‘international Spanish pop star’ who comes to the stage in spangly skin-tight trousers, lilac sleeveless shirt and tartan beret. It’s fair to say the megacamp creation of Matthew Ellis is not going to win awards for subtlety.
But the flamboyant, frivolous showman works the crowd like a pro, even getting away with deliberately cheesy knock-knock jokes to cover some bits of stage business. His set piece is to drag a couple of game volunteers from the audience to be his backing dancers in the ‘bum-bum dance’ which – as it sounds – has a level of sophistication that makes Gangnam Style look like Beethoven’s Fifth. It’s all a bit Pontin’s, but Martinez has the fun personality to overcome that... could he be the next Michael Barrymore?
In the event, he tied for third place with his successor on the stage, Gareth Waugh. They were to have split the £100 prize, until Ross Noble – appearing at the end to hand over the prizes – pressured promoter Alan Anderson into doubling it, by generously putting half the extra down himself. Insiders on the Scottish comedy circuit might realise what an historic moment that was...
Waugh opened his set strongly, playing on the specially chosen walk-on music. But then he squandered that good first impression with some bog-standard jokes about being ginger. He can never quite escape the pull of the obvious, and later comes a joke about Aberdonians being sheep-shaggers.
Literal misunderstandings are a mainstay of this 22-year-old’s set, including his gran who thinks her food processor has a name that, unbeknown to her, is rather fruity, and the school bullies who think he has a phone app for paedos. The routine’s well-structured and has some nice lines, but offered little of real interest, at least to my ears.
Sarah Short seemed to think she was out for a chinwag, and regaled the sizable room with moderately amusing anecdotes about getting on the wrong plane, pretending to be Welsh to chat up a bloke, or getting a car towed, just as if she were shooting the breeze with her mates. This is an appealing, natural approach that will stand her in good stead, but the anecdotes need beefing up with more real punchlines and less background waffle if they are to be strong stand-up and not just generally engaging conversation.
Kalande Kasengele comes on in African shirt and kilt, and has a few gags about his mixed heritage and the clash between the hard-living Glasgow culture and his well-spoken Zambian father. Although he exudes lots of rabble-rousing energy, his writing is something of a jumble, and he gets carried away with himself at the expense of clarity – and that includes losing his diction in the excitement, making him hard to follow at some points. Impressions of rude Cockneys, Monica Lewinsky references and a discussion about black people only ‘claiming’ Barack Obama when he is doing well are all thrown into the disorientating mix, and the writing is never as strong as his passion.
After Cassidy’s winning set, Grant Gallagher came on to bore the audience. A recent science graduate and assistant in a video-game store, he hasn’t seen much of life, and hasn’t much to say about what little he has observed. He proudly states he’s a rationalist atheist (albeit one with a ‘lucky hat’) but has nothing to say on the matter, his waffling about alternative medicine containing less insight and wit than a single line of Tim Minchin’s. He spotted some Goths at a station, which is nice for him, and he once had a blow job from a fat girl. Oh, and he can do a passable Morgan Freeman impression. And none of this is a basis for a comedy routine.
Second-paced McCabe was next, followed by the rather baffling Peter Wood. He has a shouty style – which is probably what the now-rowdy room demanded – and delighted in riling them with regional rivalries and proclaiming: ‘I love Rangers!’ which split the room exactly as you expect. Yet provocation is all he can really do, and when it came to backing that up with material, he was left wanting. A lot of this harked back to his childhood: crap jokes he made in class or the smartarse comeback to every mum’s admonishment, ‘There are kids starving in Africa’, which he seemed to be several years late in still delivering. What he was aiming for, beyond gaining a reaction to saying things guaranteed to get one, is a mystery.
In contrast, Zimbabwean Wayne Mazadza’s quieter approach was not a good fit with the more rambunctious atmosphere that had taken over the room by the time this closing act took to the stage. Indeed, his routines could often do with speeding up anyway – sometimes people made up their own punchlines in the time it took him to get there.
Even with the odds stacked against him, he demonstrated some distinctive, amusing ideas and the still inner confidence is an appealing trait. Just a year into his comedy career, more experience might knock the promising offbeat observations into something more solid - but his approach was just a bit too fragile for tonight.
All that was left was a messy prize-giving, that had Anderson, Noble, compere Des Clarke, last year’s winner Jamie Dalgleish, and a bloke with a kazoo all doing the honours at the same time, and the competition was over for another year...