Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian Of 2011 Final

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

This was the London comedy circuit’s third new act final in quick succession, and certainly the most populous – with 14 contestants, plus a set from 2010 winner Tim Shishodia, packing the bill.

After some predatory flirting with the audience from tart compere Scott Capurro, the difficult first slot went to current Chortle Student Comedy champ Adam Hess – even though his jittery tics and near-autistic observations are probably not best served cold. It took a minute or two of the allocated five for the audience to attune to his fragmented style, but they were rewarded with spry one-liners, ranging from the corny to the inspired. The nervous energy and needy awkwardness make for an intense act that might prove a challenge extending to a full set, but over a short one, he easily earned his third place on the night.

In contrast to that style, Jack Samuel Warner offers a more downplayed delivery, very much following the archetype of the more thoughtful brand of modern comedian to whom Stewart Lee is king. References to Venn diagrams, and over-explaining his own material are present and correct –making him seem very much like he’s following in the footsteps of other comedians of this ilk rather than plotting his own course. At times, he’s slightly quirky, but at others it’s older hat than perhaps he realises: there are already a lot of variants on the ‘you’d all be speaking German...’ phrase about the Second World War.

Gregory Akerman brought the energy down even further, with a pause-laden story about suicide delivered in little more than a stage whisper. The bleakness of the subject matter offers potential, and he’s clearly got a dark sense of humour, but the moribund performance didn’t bring out its best. Yet while his yarn wasn’t the funniest of the night, his chain of thought made it one of the more memorable, suggesting there’s potential here to be unlocked.

Dixon Jones offered a few interesting takes on things, too, from modern art to urban comedy, occasionally employing a delightfully offbeat turn of phrase. Yet the cornerstone routine to his set, deconstructing the lyrics to Shania Twain’s 1998 hit That Don’t Impress Me Much, seemed overly familiar. He did it stylishly, with elegantly constructed writing, which would have really impressed had he chosen a more distinctive starting point.

On first impressions, it would be easy to put Richard Todd into an E4 presenter-shaped pigeonhole, as in look and manner he seems to be trying to straddle the intersection betwixt quirky, camp and accessible. Yet his material proves him to be an inventive comic thinker, with surrealism that creates weird imagery with robust, if unlikely, internal logic. He delivers with the passion of an insane preacher, and there’s a keen off-the-wall wit throughout – and that earned him the £500 second prize. On another day, he could easy have taken the crown.

Leo Kearse is perfectly all right as a comedian, but does nothing to stand out. Using well-worn (though still valid) arguments against xenophobes or Christian camps that aim to ‘cure’ young men of being gay seems like pushing at an open door with someone else’s battering ram. Elsewhere he leans on the stereotypes of the aggressive Scot and talks of how he split up with his girlfriend. He chats to the audience more than most and certainly has a swagger, but on this basis has little to add to the circuit.

There’s something not quite credible about Darius Davies, who comes across as someone who’s learned the oratorial tricks of stand-up, and employs them without much soul. He takes one minor object – an electrical plug – and spins his whole set around it, getting passionately obsessed by a trivial angle which he expresses with a well-rehearsed whirlwind of emphasis, repetition and dramatic gestures. It’s almost a spoof of an observational comedian getting vexed by the inconsequential, but with neither the parody, nor the genuine connection with an audience’s experiences. Its a bravura performance, but one that seems picked up from a classroom rather than coming from the heart.

Dane Baptiste had the largest and most vocal support in the room, his friends and supporters greeting him with deafening whoops and hollers, and every line with guffaws. Trying hard not to overcompensate for the measurement bias this produces, I’d say he’s an engaging performer, but, like several of the other finalists, needs to strive for more distinctive material, Paedophile jokes, comments about how rough his corner of South London is and rude boy language all seem run-of-the-mill. Broader observational ideas on dog shit and wasps provide more chuckles for the non-partisan, but he’s more solid than spectacular at the moment.

Andrea Hubert stands out, quite literally, as she’s a 6ft 2in woman. She’s needed to have the jokes to come back to the inevitable comments, which feeds into her breathless description of being someone slightly out of whack with the rest of the world. It’s an appealing persona, and she makes for good company, even if you’re left dizzy by the information she babbles out at a cracking pace. The punchlines –largely at her own expense – are more hit and miss, but the all-important persona is certainly distinctive.

Matt Rees, winner of the Loaded Lafta new act award just a few days ago, again showed off his impressive writing chops, with a set revolving around beer, laziness and fast food that produced unexpected gags at every turn. His deadpan, slightly ill-at-ease performance matched the tone of the inventively dour point of view, which subtly drew the audience in, increasing the impact of the offbeat payoffs. Taking the gold again here, and the accompanying £1,000 prize, this social misfit from the South Wales town of Maesteg is certainly one to watch.

Tony Tinman seems affably grumpy, if that’s not a contradiction, with enough likeability to get away with his rants on such unedifying subjects as anal bleaching. Sometimes it’s hard to see what comic ‘added value’ he brings beyond an exasperated attitude, as few punchlines stand out from the huffing and puffing, but for a new act he’s certainly adept at playing the room.

From behind her grand piano, Rachel Parris proved herself a strong musician and singer, but the comic ideas behind her songs – about drunkenness, STDs and Glee parodies – all seemed both unoriginal, and insufficiently developed beyond the initial thought. There’s an obvious juxtaposition between the elegance of the presentation and the base material, but the best musical comedy has come on leaps beyond this, and Parris has some catching up to do.

Toronto native Bobby Mair preforms with an invigorating blast, both energetic and slick, and once we’d got past the ‘all Canadians are nice’ stereotype, he offered some sharp and quirky lines, especially a stand-out about a hidden risk of being adopted. Strangely for one so seemingly professional, he seemed to get rattled when he screwed up one gag, and the dent to his apparently superior confidence had more than an impact than such a minor slip should have. Until this, he seemed the most like a ready-to-serve club comedian of the entire line-up.

Finally Sunil Patel, with some mundane stories about his shared flat that failed to engage. They were rather too circuitous, and depended on us buying into the character flaws he was telling us about, rather than them being apparent from his onstage persona and only underlined with a gag.

It proved something of a limp end for a night that was otherwise never less than solid, and frequently displayed flashes of brilliance.

Review date: 12 Dec 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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