City Life Comedian Of The Year Final 2005

Note: This review is from 2005

Review by Steve Bennett

Most comedy competitions of any vintage should be able to claim a decent raft of well-known names among their previous winners. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the kudos of a contest victory is sure to lure most fledgling stand-ups, including, if only statistically, some future stars. The City Life’s search for the best new act in the North West might have one of the more modest prizes of the burgeoning plethora of competitions – just £200 and a bit more again in shopping vouchers – but it’s got an enviable alumni, with past winners including Peter Kay, Caroline Aherne, Chris Addison and Dave Spikey. This year has produced a moderately decent batch of finalists; not a vintage crop, but for every competitor, this is a very early step on their careers. It took Jason Manford six years to go from City Life winner to Perrier nominee this year – and his ascension has been relatively fast. First in the line-up was Paul Betney, who has a form of sclerosis which makes him shake incessantly. It’s a condition that obvious leads to awkward situations, which he retells with self-effacing style. Outside the personal tales, some lines are a touch obvious – the ladies must love all that vibrating, eh lads– but overall it’s a winningly upbeat celebration of what makes him different. Away from this topic, his material can lack focus, and wishing hurricanes on places he dislikes so soon after Katrina and Wilma seems gratuitously distasteful, without enough wit to make it a sick joke. Still, there’s the makings of something good in at least half his set. Next up is Danny Deegan, who shows a mature confidence in his abilities. He gives his routines the most sluggish of build-ups, seemingly unperturbed that the laughs aren’t instantly forthcoming. The tight eight-minute competition slot isn’t the best showcase for such slow-burning stories, but like an established raconteur, Deegan sticks to his guns as he carefully unfolds an anecdote about the stupidest of student pranks – a Garden Gnome Game in which a group of participants must remain motionless and silent in a stranger’s front garden for as long as possible. There’s something of the Dave Gorman about his overearnest examination of such a ridiculous, pointless time-waster. The inventiveness in the set-up, and a couple of neat twists, also add to the quality. It’s not an astounding set – it feels as if Deegan is still a comic in search of the perfect format - but it certainly makes for a good, entertaining listen. Liverpudlian comic Steph Davies paints an unremittingly unflattering portrait of her home town, full to overflowing of rat-like Scallies. She’s cool and confident in her delivery – an ease in front of an audience presumably picked up from her days as a teacher – but the material is often formulaic and bland. Although engaging, what she does not project is any idea that she is an instinctively funny comic, instead preferring to stick to mechanically following a blueprint. That said, she has got one great line about stopping smoking in bed – even if that does not a set make. Brit-born, Aussie-raised Kerry Leigh is similarly a stylish performer, lacking in distinctive material. Her take on the Kate Moss story, for instance, results only in the mock-incredulous comment: who’d have thought there was cocaine in the modelling world? And pouring scorn on the flawed logic of the soccer chant: ‘You’re going home in a fucking ambulance’, given that ambulances tend to go to hospitals, has been done almost verbatim by at least one other comic. Only Leigh’s undoubtedly cocksure delivery goes any way to saving this otherwise weak and disjointed set. Andy Watson seems a much more natural comic. Abuzz with nervy energy, he has an easy, identifiable charm combined with the rhythms of a seasoned pro, which does great justice to his material. He brings to life everything from hen parties to OAPs with a cheery sing-song voice to sweeten the mockery. His lack of experience does manifest itself in some easy choices of material, but he found more fertile ground elsewhere. Above all, though , he packages it all so well, which no doubt contributed to him claiming the top prize on the night. A journey back to the Eighties next with Dominic Woodward, launching his set with some tired old nonsense about the once-ubiquitous Baby On Board signs. (‘Good job he had that sign… I were going to ram him’). He’s the most experienced act of the night, but surely even he couldn’t have been going when this gag was first doing the rounds – he’d have been in short trousers. It’s the only so obviously dated joke in his set, but typical of the lightweight observations that make it up from miserable gits in the Post Office to letting people in when driving. It’s all perfectly OK, with plenty of nods of recognition, though no special insight to elevate the material into anything exceptional. Pleasant enough, but quickly forgotten. Although the judges obviously disagreed, awarding him the second place. Steve Shanyaski was similarly unmemorable; starting with some rather bland ‘I’ve just spilt up with my girlfriend’ material and quickly moving on to easy ridicule of the chavs and scallies of Salford, a gang of whom once mugged him. Amiable enough, but short on substance. The evening ended with another Liverpudlian, Sam Avery, with a set revolving around the typical concerns of your twentysomething lad – which pretty much extends to fags and beer. He pushes all the buttons to get the audience on his side, persuading them we’re all of the same stock with such flattery as: ‘Any drinkers in? My people!’ But the actual substance, from Yoda impressions to inbreeding in a place conveniently near the gig (in this case, Wigan) is obvious and predictable. Still, he got third place. It was typical of a final hallmarked with a lack of diversity and ambition. Deegan, Betney and Watson stood out for deviating, if only slightly, from the expected norm. All the finalists were much more at ease on stage than their relative lack of experience might have suggested, but the knockout factor of witnessing a just-emerging, unique talent was disappointingly absent. Instead, the final seemed too much like the quality control stage in the assembly line of safe and similar comics. Steve Bennett
Manchester
October 30, 2005

Review date: 1 Jan 2005
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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