Chortle Student Comic Final 2004

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

The boozy late nights talking nonsense, non-existent mornings and abject poverty – the lifestyle leap from student to struggling comic is not exactly huge. Perhaps that, and the opportunities only college life provides, is why so many are driven to try it.

The best of the current crop gathered in Warwick University last night to vie for the title of Chortle Student Comic 2004, the first of what is hoped will be an annual occurrence. Culled from colleges and universities across the country, each act was given just five minutes to showcase their comic talent in front of the industry panel and a discerning, sold-out audience.

The challenge for undergraduate acts is that, despite how patronising it may sound, most of them have a limited field of experience. And since the best comedy is more likely to come from life's harsh realities than a relatively cosseted student existence, the challenge would prove to be finding stand-ups with something distinctive and relevant to say.

First up was Dave Sayers from Essex, who sometimes calls himself The Laughing Cripple, since a climbing accident left him in need of a crutch. He didn't start too well, thanks to some blatantly insincere attempts at audience participation – how many slags we got in? – which were apathetically received, and understandably so. Tiresomely reeling off a list of euphemisms straight out of Viz's Profanasaurus for no great reason didn't endear him, either

Things picked up though, when he talked about his accident and especially the reaction to the wheelchair he once used. Another piece of evidence, should it be needed, for the old argument that in comedy you should always talk about what you know.

However, this gave him an excuse to start on some particularly dodgy 'cripple' gags that would have been clearly unacceptable from an able-bodied act, and still remained dubious even coming from him.

His set was dramatically cut short as sirens, flashing lights and one of the more industrial numbers from the Chemical Brothers repertoire kicked in mid-sentence, scaring the bejesus out of the entire room. It turned out that the technical crew decided on their own less-than-subtle way of alerting a comic to the fact their time was up, a policy quickly abandoned for the subsequent acts.

First of which was Belfast's Ian Hunter, a veteran of competitions both sides of the Irish Sea – and it showed in a confident stage manner that instantly engendered the audience's trust. His material was generally solid, too – not the greatest or most wildly original, perhaps, but certainly good enough to raise a decent, guaranteed laugh. And a couple of fantastic one-liners certainly hiked up the average, only for it to be dragged down again by an overlong and under-funny musical finale about late-night junk food.

Dec Munro, too, had moments of real brilliance, if as wildly inconsistent as many a new act. A more experienced act might also have heard alarm bells when writing material that seems familiar (French travellers reminded of the battle of Waterloo each time they board the Eurostar), unnatural (an obviously forced bit of surrealism) or ideologically dodgy (a pointless and cheap slur against 100 million Mexicans). But elsewhere he showed a lot more promise.

Mike Belgrave is a mature student and familiar face on the London open mic circuit, invaluable experience which gave him the most relaxed, natural yet animated presence on the night. Some of the gags were coolly received – possibly because a few too many mentions of London suburbs didn't endear him to a Warwickshire audience – but it was generally consistent stuff. And an anecdote about Christmas with his Irish and West Indian relatives deflated itself beautifully, just as it seemed we were straying into familiar territory. He was awarded a runners-up place at the evening's end.

In complete contrast, Bristol-based Tom Bright took low-key delivery to the point of stupor. He had a couple of halfway decent relationship gags and the odd slow-burning one-liner, but vastly undersold them. And when the set deteriorated into a procession of knob gags, the audience's patience was noticeably strained. Just seven months into a comedy career, he needs a lot more experience.

Lloyd Langford, top, had the home advantage, as he regularly comperes comedy gigs at Warwick University – and the partisan crowd gave him a rousing cheer the moment his name was announced.

But their enthusiasm was not misplaced, as this easy-going Welshman demonstrated a deft writing ability, with a procession of well-formed, off-beat gags that often surprised, and always boasted a memorable turn of phrase. True, his diction could be better, and a couple of routines could do with a trim – but he showed a unique comic attitude, backed up with some great gags.

It would have come as no surprise that he was the audience favourite, but he also impressed the judges, which included comic Alexis Dubus and promoter Rich Batsford, and proved a clear winner on the night.

From one extreme to another, though, and the musical double act Bullett and Gunn; a name that's obviously a slightly more modern take on Cannon and Ball. That they consciously referred to all the tiresome tricks of the musical comic's trade didn't excuse the fact they used them. They have a half-decent Julio Inglesias piss-take, but they spent half their act in a cumbersome and ill-conceived attempt to get the audience to stand up and sing one song to the tune of another (Fuck Da Police to Hark The Herald Angels Sing). Not good.

Elliott Tiney raised the energy again though his lively, old-school, self-deprecating, variety way, selling his so-so stuff very well indeed. But even after a couple of minutes the material starts deteriorating fast, and the cheesy entertainer character looks like an increasingly desperate attempt to shore up a litany of masturbation material and Viagra gags. One thing in his favour was his subtly disconcerting method of slowly drifting away from the microphone at the end of his set. So it can truly be said that the best thing about his act was him leaving the stage.

Luke Buckley looks and sounds like the stand-up stereotype of the T-shirted white twentysomething, microphone in hand. He had some decent material, most notably subverting what initially seemed like an appalling taste gag about sanitary towels into something almost quite sweet. Aside from this, however, he still struggled to distinguish himself in style or content, despite being perfectly adept at the job.

Irishman Jarlath Regan started off with a line lifted verbatim from posh comic Miles Jupp. It's a shame, because it didn't especially fit with the rest of his amiable, if rambling set and would have queered his pitch with anyone who identified the source. That notwithstanding, he otherwise had an enjoyably laconic style, even if his low-key anecdotes were ill-suited to the confines of a five-minute set.

Cambridge's James Bench Capon also had a subdued approach, but to the extent that his stage presence was almost nil. But those who persevered with him would have found some excellent material – inspired, original and delightfully off-key. His unease on stage meant the laughs didn't match the innovation, but for his ambitions in trying to create something different, Bench-Capon was awarded the second runners-up position.

Demitris Deech, on the other hand, offered very little new, airline safety procedures being about the limits of his inspiration. He tried to take a swipe at the huge target of parochial local newspapers – and missed, then embarked upon a long, waffly, unfunny preamble about national stereotypes on holiday that didn't actually amble up to anything. Not one of the night's finer offerings.

Unknown to the audience, this was only Paul Byrne's second ever gig, though they might have guessed his inexperience from his jittery stage manner. His offbeat material, though, showed a lot of promise – delightfully twisted and with a nice turn of phrase. Despite his many performance failings, if he's this good after two gigs he should be something to be reckoned with after 200.

No surprises, perhaps, that such a vast bill provided such diversity, both in styles and in quality if not in gender – with not one woman among the entire line-up. But hopefully, a competition like this will continue to entice fledgling comic talent, male or female, to take their first tentative steps into the industry. Pro comics beware, there's always a new generation snapping at your heels

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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