Beat the Frog World Series Grand Final 2008

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Gong shows are springing up almost everywhere these days, given the vast oversupply of new comedy hopefuls desperate for stage time – however gladiatorial the environment. Few venues have made such a success of the idea than Manchester’s Frog & Bucket with its weekly Beat The Frog contest. This is its festival-time showcase of their best discoveries.

For this night only, the dreaded audience green cards that can terminate any set are out, and the performers are guaranteed their five minutes – although the Frog Chorus that interrupts them the second their time has expired, even mid set-up, can still be disconcerting. But this is their chance to show what they’ve got…. and it looks like there may be a few aces in the 2008 pack.

On the strength of his set that opened the night, however, James Blood isn’t one of them, with a raft of very predictable lines about sending texts to the wrong person or attempting gangsta rap, using language inappropriate to his background. But he is surprisingly young, so maybe he’ll learn. Though to be honest, he didn’t seem so youthful until he decided to read from his diary from the age of 16, supposedly revealing his mid-teen naivity… only to tell us the diary was from 2003. In his world Eminem’s 8 Mile is ancient nostalgia, so he treated us to the rhymes he ‘laid down’ under its influence – which unfortunately worked about as well as comedy as they did in his rap battle. Bee-atch.

Chris Stokes has a nice style to him: with utmost care paid to his measured delivery and his precise choice of words. The energy may be deadpan, close to the point of dreary, but there is some very smart material behind it. There was a little too much emphasis on repeating the stupid things his idiot friend says, but the section about sharing his name with a child molester is very skilful; beautifully drawing out the story point-by-point, with a gag at each step. He’s clearly been influenced by the slow comedy of Stewart Lee, but is so much more than a pale imitation.

Sean McLoughlin was another fine contestant, thank to his brutally honest routine about his chronic loneliness and the medical condition that makes sex agonisingly painful for him. The original, personal subject matter is what holds the audience, but he has found some fine, bitter lines to illustrate it, and the set does twist in genuinely unexpected directions. What he would talk about over longer sets might be a moot point, but with these five minutes are as tight as his foreskin. Powerful stuff.

Curtis Threadgood, on the other hand, couldn’t make any of his half-formed ideas work at all, leaving a set full of unfocussed observations without punchlines. Wryly calling a doll sold in a sellophane wrapping a ‘boil in the bag baby’ might have raised a laugh when he first told his friends, but it’s a scant idea to build half a set on, as he found out the hard way tonight. For the other half of the routine, the 24-year-old media studies graduate simply bitched about his ex – but not in a funny way.

Chris Sharpe has the air of an old-school pro, with a bold, confident stage presence, great timing and an act delivered with the obvious rhythms of jokes. The set-up for his gags, however, are equally old-school – from ‘my ex is so fat….’ feedlines, to gags about the clitoris being hard-to-find and descriptions of masturbation. Such comic shorthand means the audience immediately knows what the act is about which, combined with the undeniable oomph of his performance, ensures he goes down very well. But the more discerning might be disappointed with the lack of invention and ambition behind his lashings of charm and technical skill.

There’s almost nothing to be said about Ben Lawes, because he said so little himself. His dull routine covered such topics as drinking a lot so he can fill his recycling bin, being perturbed by nakedness in gym changing rooms and Wayne Rooney being ugly. But there was not really any jokes, point or focus to any of it.

Andrew Ryan started his set by impersonating young Dougal from Father Ted. And indeed, he shares a lot of Ardal O’Hanlon’s modest charm, twinkle-eyed naivity, and, of course, Irishness. The soft-spoken Corkman certainly seduced the audience, cleverly exploiting his innocent image by describing, with endearing bemusement, activities that would seem outside his experience – especially the sexual ones. There’s a need for more substance behind the huge likeability, but it would be impossible not to warm to him.

In his pinstripe waistcoat, Sam Gore looks more like a snooker referee than a stand-up, but it certainly helps the aloof demeanour that defines his high-status act. Taking a leaf out of Jimmy Carr’s book, he deals in savagely unkind one-liners, delivered uncompromisingly. While his attitude is unrelentingly intolerant – a ‘gag’ about Jamie Oliver is simply a huge list of unflattering adjectives – the well-crafted punchlines are so strong that his lack of empathy is no obstacle. Such strong writing means he has the makings of a class act indeed.

The Frog audience duly voted him the night’s deserved winner, with Andrew Ryan and Chris Sharp first and second runners-up, respectively. Personally, I’d have liked to see Stokes and McLoughlin on the metaphorical podium; they’re less obvious crowd-pleasers, but offer a lot more potential. But you can’t ignore the paying punters, that’s what gong shows are all about.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Manchester, October 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

What do you think?

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.