Chortle Student Comedy Award Final 2012

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s Darwinism in action. As the population of comedians swells, individuals need to be stronger, faster, brighter than the rest to survive. And that’s why the Student Comedy Award final seems to get more impressive by the year.

You’ll probably take that with a pinch of salt since it’s Chortle’s competition, but it’s true; and it has nothing to do with the production and everything to do with the acts. We saw – and therefore eliminated – more hopefuls than ever this year. There’s not much improvement at the bottom tier of would-be comics – the reverse, if anything –  but the best are definitely getting better.

After some expert wrangling of the already super-excited crowd by compere Mark Watson, the confident Pierre Novellie kicked off the night with some slick and slightly offbeat observational material. Although not wildly imaginative in his choice of subject matter –  deconstructing TV ads formed the bedrock of his routine – it was done with an imagination and use of language sometimes redolent of Eddie Izzard.

American-Egyptian Dalia Malek made an instant impact with her bold-yet-needy opening line, leading into  a routine that can be Sarah Silverman-brutal in its inappropriate imagery. One of the least experienced acts on the bill – she’d never done a gig before entering this competition – her delivery doesn’t yet match the swagger of her writing, but there is some distinctive, knowing content here.

Jonny Pelham doesn’t have much choice in the matter, but naturally speaks in a way that forces the listener to concentrate, drawing the audience in. It allows him the space to deliver his slow-burn stories about how the NHS considers him ‘clinically ugly’ or how he was the only white child in his class at a predominantly Asian school – both underlining the outsider status he inhabits so well. The laughs are fewer because of his pace, but they are explosive when they come, especially the blunt pay-off to his final routine. Enough to win him silver in this close-fought contest.

Gold went to Kwame Asante, an impressively poised and relaxed young comic who subverts his apparent cool with a series of witty anecdotes which reveal his true self as the butt of his friends’ jokes and – more pertinently – his own. He is charming in this self-deprecation, delivered with a fine sense of timing, but he can also highlight the stupidity of others’ comments with a sardonic putdown. A natural comic, he is sure to go on to better things – and the kudos of this title (and the £2,500 prize, thanks to sponsors The Sims 3) can only help.

Johnny F Monotone shuffles on to stage in a distinctive hat and heavy overcoat that’s the sort of thing Inspector Clouseau might wear as a disguise. Oh, and dragging a wheelie bin behind him. It takes him well over one of his allocated seven minutes to slowly get himself to the microphone, and pretty much the same again to pack up. In between, this ‘semi-amateur demotivational speaker’ created by Sebastian Bloomfield has some wonderfully dry lines, delivered with unflinching deadpan that overcomes the fact the audience don’t quite know what to make of him.

Physicist Hari Sriskantha has taken a scientific approach to his set. Having analysed what other comedians do, he’s put together seven minutes touching every popular trope of modern stand-up, which therefore should be the greatest set ever. The result is indeed clever and heavy on in-joke-appeal to his fellow comedy geeks – but the consequence is that it puts some emotional distance between himself and the room, even if there are some good lines and entertaining flourishes in the knowing writing.

Adam Mitchell had even more difficulty in establishing a quick connection with the room, struggling to get them on board with his sometimes cheesy set, and it’s deliberately desperate catchphrase: ‘Come on, now!’ He had the most inconsistent performance of the night, with some set-ups coming across as rather jumbled, but there are nonetheless some unusual offbeat ideas here.

Finally, the whimsical musical comedian David Elms, who offers some delightful imagery set to his low-key strumming – especially his involved description of a ‘guess who?’ tease that becomes wonderfully protracted. Sharp, eccentric writing defines his set and he has more than his fair share of memorable lines, delivered in the dry style most skilfully mastered by Tom Basden. He had proved unstoppable in the heats, which he breezed through, so it’s testament to the high standards of the final – if little consolation –  that he missed the podium tonight.

Review date: 14 Aug 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Pleasance Courtyard

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