Beat The Frog World Series Final 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

It might not trouble Simon Schama’s research, but this Beat The Frog show was historic, in its own minor way.

Dan Nightingale, the comedian who ‘invented’ the new act show for Manchester’s Frog and Bucket alongside agent Lee Martin eight years ago, is stepping down from compering it, even though he does an excellent job.

‘Invented’ gets inverted commas for, as Nightingale cheerily admits, he stole the idea from the gong show at the Comedy Store, earning himself a lifetime ban in the process. Although they, in turn, were just appropriating an old American format.

This was also notable for being one of the stronger ‘world series’ collections of comics who had previously defeated the amphibian. Sure there were the limitations many new acts seem to be constrained by – small-scale stories of their own inadequacies or minor observations told like they are insightful revelations – but on the whole, it was well-executed by confident, able performers.

Opening act Will Duggan pretty much epitomised that ethos, with a set that revolved around the fact he was a lazy ‘dickhead’ who yearned to do as little as possible. This bundled along nicely but unspectacularly – a wry self-deprecating comment here, a bit of Where’s Wally? nostalgia there – but really came into its own with his closing anecdote about killing a rabbit that absorbs you so completely you don’t see the payoff coming, although you probably should.

Ed Easton boldly opened his act with something quirkily different, reenacting a row using a couple of inanimate items from the cosmetic counter to make his points. Turns out that this routine has a decent punchline, but it’s surreally funny on its own merits. After that he settled into material about his own neuroses and how he came to fear the vagina, told with an engagingly casual approach despite the weirdness of some of his revelations. He had one of the more distinctive voices of the night, and was surely unlucky not to be placed. Plus he had the charmingly polite sign-off: ‘Thank you for having me’ which deserves kudos…

After the ups, a down, with Tom Dransfield and one of the weakest performances. He has the air of a very young actory type who has practiced this routine in front of the mirror countless times. Yet in front of an audience it seems fake, with its affected anger and unnatural tone. That the writing, on everything from being a posh-boy with dreams of being a gangster to a convoluted rant about how busses smell funny, lacked punchlines hardly helped his case. It’s a wonder how he survived a gong for five minutes.

Sarah Cassidy also suffered from being under-written, relying on her loud American brashness (sometimes stereotypes are true) to power through. She only covered two ideas: the difference between kids’ TV on both sides of the Atlantic, and the first man to discover sperm under the microscope. You can probably see the central gag in both – the in-your-face US programming as opposed to the polite, twee UK version; and just how did Antony van Leeuwenhoek come to make his discovery? Acting each scenario out only diluted the idea, rather than expanding on it.

We certainly picked up again in the second half, opened with Frog & Bucket barman Pete Otway. Well, if Jason Manford could famously make the transition from staff to stage, why shouldn’t he? Otway certainly has the same approachable charm, even if he overdoes the slightly forced asides to audience members. His material is a mixed bag – the literal interpretation of ‘so I turned around and said…’ seems very obvious, yet he is also skilled enough to make a cheap anti-Scouser jibe that is devastatingly funny. A routine about a foam party is witty, while he has managed to write a Facebook bit that doesn’t involve the word ‘poke’, so credit there. He benefited to some degree from a home crowd and the golden first-after-the-interval slot, but he has funny bones. And there’s no doubt he was the audience favourite. The subsequent vote proved that, and he took the £250 first prize (unchanged since 2003, we’re told!).

More self-deprecation from Hayley Ellis, describing how she can’t do ‘sexy’. She can do funny, though, and there are some sharp lines in this set – although overall it’s still hit and miss It’s comedy from the point of view of a struggling, ordinary young woman with an uncontrollable dog and little sense of glamour getting into situations that although unique to her are identifiable enough. Such scenes could easily wind up in sitcoms, Ellis surely has a future in comedy.

Danny Sutcliffe has some one-liners Jimmy Carr would be proud off, getting a laugh with only his second word. This style is brutally unforgiving, but Sutcliffe’s strike rate is pretty impressive, with only a couple of duds. His delivery enlivens the material nicely, being part cheery light entertainer, without being too cheesy. The routine is in serious need of a pay-off, but there are plenty of laughs en route, and he well-deserved his third placing.

The same can’t really be said of Wouter Meijs, who came in second, with gags that are often very obvious, such as sarcastically replying to the train announcement to ‘take all your belongings with you’: ‘But I can’t, most of them are still at home.’ A comic for six years, his Dutch accent gives him some vulnerability and an off-kilter cadence that can make normal sentences sound slightly funny, but sometimes that’s his only tool – such as the line: ‘Are there any shit stabbers in?’ which gets a laugh at his attempt at the offensive slang, but is followed up by: ‘No? They are fucking disgusting.’ Other gags are about his 6ft 6in frame and how how the Brits are aggressive are OK, but you might expect more.

Finally, Rich Wall, a cheery bloke in his mid-twenties who’s lively and engaging, but so lightweight as to be instantly forgettable, especially with generic quips at the expense of nearby towns or discussing how the Irish accent is sexy. He’s learnt a lot about pumping his performance with energy from the likes of Michael McIntrye – though thankfully not the skipping – but there’s not quite enough personality here. The closing routine about his response to the price of a fish finger butty in a posh hotel suggests he has a more inventive streak, but he needs to develop it more.

Review date: 18 Oct 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Manchester Frog And Bucket

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