BBC New Comedy Award final 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Julian Hall

After a six-year hiatus, the BBC New Comedy Award is back.  Past winners and finalists include Alan Carr, Marcus Brigstocke, Peter Kay and Russell Howard – now, thanks to the votes of BBC Radio 2's listeners, the award has another worthy victor.

Six hundred hopefuls were whittled down to a shortlist of just six and tonight these chosen few not only had to contend with their live audience at The Tabernacle, Notting Hill, and the unseen audience of radio listeners, they were also being scrutinised by a panel of industry experts.

Stephen K Amos, Sarah Millican, Radio 2 programming chief Lewis Carnie and BBC radio’s head of comedy Jane Berthoud gave feedback on the performances of the acts – and while polite platitudes were duly delivered, as one would expect, there was no doubt that the standard was indeed high.

A sartorially stylish and generally sharp start was made by civil servant Tez Ilyas, 28, who was winningly cheeky from the off. IIyas showed off some nifty crowd-work and was equally adept at toying with concepts, for example dextrously entwining the clichéd shortcomings of religious extremes. He lost his head of steam, however, in a section about telling his family that he wanted to be a comedian, but still made a good impression overall.

Almost the complete opposite to IIyas, in terms of fashion at least, was Mark Restuccia, who appeared with ripped jeans and a tweed-patterned jacket with elbow patches. The 38-year-old voiceover artist let forth numerous one-liners, some of which were clever and some of which were a little too cute to have sufficient impact. With an air of the late Malcolm Hardee about him, he nonetheless shows some definite promise.

Angela Barnes picked up the one-liner baton with great aplomb and gave a beautifully paced performance that was aided by the consistent quality of her jokes, many of which showed a great skill with self-deprecation. Despite sporting a Mary Quant-style red bob, 34-year-old Barnes maintained that even were she dressed in Chanel she would still appear only as Matalan chic. Meanwhile, a section about a short-lived relationship was delivered with belief and, despite its contrived nature, scored high on punchlines.

Pat Cahill, 26, then took the evening in a slightly more bizarre direction, coming on stage with his microphone resting on a stand fashioned from a coat-hanger decorated with a plastic floral arrangement. His enduring gag was a rap Tumour Dog, about what you think. A model-maker from East Anglia, Cahill looks to have realistic designs on comedy and with more focus could be one to watch.

Joint-youngest contender, Chris Turner, has just finished a BA in archaeology and anthropology at Oxford, and some of his deadpan one-liners were suitably clever, for example confusing Roman numerals with advisory ratings on explicit content. Some gags were more too-clever-by-half, however, such as his take on the phrase ‘a dog is not just for Christmas’. Despite creases to iron out, to reach these finals at 21 is a great boost to a fledgling career.

Along with Mark Restuccia, Joe Lycett has also reached the competition limit of three years’ experience – and has previously won the Chortle Student Award. Recently given a TV break on Alexander Armstrong's forthcoming BBC1 show Epic Win, Lycett's crowd-pleasing gags include mimicry of X Factor voiceover man Peter Dickson. However, the 21-year-old, part Dudley Moore, part Frankie Howerd, has much more in his armoury, and his apparent mission to debunk pomposity will no doubt throw up more memorable material.

After a break and short performances from Abandoman and Chris Ramsay, host Patrick Kielty announced – to thunderous cheers – that Brighton-based Angela Barnes had scored a well-deserved victory. No one can deny that triumphing in Auntie’s resurrected competition will give her a vital leg-up comedy’s long career ladder.

  • Click here to read Q&A interviews with all the finalists.

Review date: 19 Jun 2011
Reviewed by: Julian Hall
Reviewed at: The Tabernacle

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