Amused Moose Hot Comedy Starlets 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

It might be just one medium-sized comedy club, but the Amused Moose likes to position itself as a spotter of new talent, primarily through its well-established LaughOff competition. This showcase is an extension of that, with the aim of introducing half a dozen newer acts to the London comedy industry.

The competition looks for ‘potential star quality’ rather than simply the funniest acts around, and this line-up in the Soho Theatre’s cabaret bar reflected that ethos, selecting the sort of acts that might be TV-friendly before too long.

Opener Patrick Cahill probably pushed the envelope the most, and was therefore the most memorable for it. He takes to the stage in what looks like a mammoth floral bow-tie, but in fact turns out to be a home-made hands-free microphone holder, an perfect illustration of his quirky tendencies.

A few on-stage self-affirmation exercises reinforce that idea, before his signature piece – a song about his tumour-riddled Jack Russell. He’s keen to emphasis that it’s not in terrible taste, with a refrain that goes ‘this dog is not in any immediate pain’, but he exploits the uncomfortable subject matter and strange images expertly.

Comparisons with Sean Lock are unavoidable; not only does he share the same lazy, nasal Southern English accent but he has a similarly offbeat viewpoint, which produces a rich stream of inventive jokes which are certainly worth seeking out.

Irishman Pearse James takes a little time to settle in. He starts with from familiar territory about how he can’t speak like the hip-hop kids, while his attempts to emphasise punchlines with a ‘way-hay’ are equally forced and awkward. All the while he offers a running commentary on how he thinks the set’s going that brings to mind Tony Law’s odd asides.

But when he eventually starts to feel comfortable in his own skin, James offers some nifty material. Comparing literature festivals with their drug-fuelled music equivalents is inspired, while his sexual objectification of Serena Williams elicits some masterful images, even if he’s still a little unsteady on the delivery.

Unsteady is not a charge you could level at Angela Barnes - winner of this year’s BBC New Comedy Award, run by Radio 2. She already has the confidence and demeanour of an accomplished club pro and the well-judged punchlines to match, portraying herself as an ordinary loser who’s learned from life’s cruel hand not to have any airs and graces.

Occasionally she slips into an easy line or slower routine, but she’s much more likely to subvert ideas like coming from Britain’s ‘teen pregnancy capital’, with a deft payoff from leftfield. The only sign of her inexperience came as she dropped her slickness at the end, awkwardly trying to squeeze more material out after she’d said goodbye and the audience were clapping as if she’d ended.

No racism intended, but Tommy Rowson has a definite advantage in being Welsh, the lolling rhythms of his native accent being.... well, LOLing. Just the way he says the word ‘devil’, as two distinct syllables, has comic resonance, as well he knows, exploiting it to the full.

His low-key retelling of biblical tales is essentially straightforward comedy, and sometimes feels as such, but the one of his tics of delivery or downplayed turn of phrase will inject giggles. I’d like to see what he could do if he extended his comic sights a bit further.

Ellie Taylor already has some TV exposure, thanks to the coolly-received ITV talent show Show Me The Funny, where she confounded expectations of being the attractive but unfunny one by noticeably growing and learning as a comedian as the series went on.

But it’s probably not unfair to say she still needs some more lessons, as the set here was decidedly mixed. This charming and confident performer has a strong opening gag, and the first half of her short set about girls’ Facebook photos and their captions was keenly observed. But then she spoiled it by talking about vajazzling, as popularised by The Only Way Is Essex. The ‘beauty’ treatment may be inherently hilarious, but Taylor couldn’t add any of her own spin to that indisputable fact.

Yet Taylor herself is some counter to all the damage TOWIE is doing to her home county’s reputation, being charismatic, personable and brighter than her more dubious choices of material suggests. What’s more, although she already has all the assets that might give her a steady career as a TV presenter, she appears to be fully committed to the much tougher path of becoming a decent comic. More power to that aim.

Ed Caruana needs more direction to becoming his own man, too. He’s one of that very large pool of new comedians who’s seen Stewart Lee and thinks that aping that style is less hard work that all the ooomph and energy of other comedians. The result, in the opening stages, is stilted as every pause and every ‘erm’ seems over-rehearsed.

Yet he’s got some good lines of his own in his description of overcrowded trains, and even finds something new on the subject of emoticons – although the later callback to this routine is again rather forced. The bulk of his set manages a more natural combination of style and content, as he relates a graphic story of a filthy toilet cubicle, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Sardonic Romesh Ranganathan has one of the best opening lines of any new comedian, playing with the expectations of what being an ‘Asian comedian’ means. His pace is slow and his wit dry, which might make him a slightly more difficult sell than some more upbeat comics, but his best lines prove his funny instincts and desire to avoid approaches that are too obvious. There are still peaks and troughs in even his short set, but there are good signs for the future – which is an apt summing-up of this night as a whole, too.

Review date: 22 Sep 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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