BBC New Comedy Award 2012 final

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

Surely the biggest news to involve the BBC this week was the crowning of their New Comedy Award champion. In the beautiful Grand Theatre in Blackpool – and live on Radio 2 and on the ‘red button’ TV service – it was quite a sense of occasion; a tough test to see which of the new acts could stand out not just on an open-mic bill, but on a big stage.

‘Like Phillip Schofield, we’re bringing you a list of six names you’ve never heard of,’ host Patrick Kielty told the crowd. And like the alleged paedophiles the This Morning presenter brandished at David Cameron, the majority of this six – all that remained from more than 800 entries – will surely become a lot wider known.

First up, Pete Otway instantly sounded like a comedian who knew what he was doing, making him the perfect opener to assure a possibly sceptical audience that these newcomers were actually going to be funny. He’s got some witty stories, from primitive sexting, to his time as a door-to-door salesman, to the precise moment he realised that he just had to lose weight, all told in an engaging and affable style. On a technical level, Otway understands the mechanics of comedy.

But his strength of seeming a assured comedian was also a weakness. With a relaxed style, he spent a bit too long on set-ups and on chatting to the audience – a luxury these finalists can ill-afford with such a short timeslot. Plus he didn’t sound distinctive enough from comedians we all already know... so while reliably amusing – a safe pair of hands eminently bookable by club-owners – there was little sense that this was the future of comedy that every new act competition hopes to capture.

Tommy Rowson, on the other hand, established himself as a distinctive voice very quickly. This Welsh weirdo creates a quirky, oddball world – but one with which the rest of us can still easily identify. The foundations of his set are built on those old favourites of booze, religion and relationships, including the story of how he awkwardly lost his virginity, but Rowson approaches the topics from a fresh angle of a lost innocent. And though it shouldn’t matter, his Welsh lilt certainly adds to the air of odd fantasy – certainly to English ears.

But despite the impression he gives off, he’s no naif when it comes to comedy, as the anecdotes are full of detailed aside and delivery with perfectly-judged timing and emphasis to extract the maximum laughs and applause breaks. This was a strong performance from an act who would surely have been runner-up, had such a position been announced.

Matthew Winning found himself with a more difficult sell. He, too, stands out as unusual, but his ‘anti-comedy’ blend of awful, contrived jokes, forced repetition and eccentrically phased delivery largely proved too obtuse for this mainstream Radio 2 crowd – although a few small pockets absolutely adored his Robert-Mugabe-heavy set.

Interestingly, the biggest laugh came not from the pained wordplay, but from a beautifully evocative description of how his dour father would celebrate – putting the English language to more delightful use than the puns. Still, even plenty of them were glorious in their cheesiness, but this idiosyncratic Scot is probably an acquired taste.

If Sunil Patel was excited to be in the final of such a prestigious competition, he wasn’t going to show it – for that would have fatally punctured his persona that’s so listless he makes Jack Dee look like Louie Spence. But such lack of energy meant he appeared slightly lost in the big space of an imposing 1,100-seater theatre.

His wearily misanthropic material speaks of boredom and loneliness, dashed with a bleak view of relationships and children. There’s some elegant writing here, and flashes of sharp timing, but the low energy makes this the sort of stand-up that laps gently over you, with occasional chuckles, rather than generating the massive laughs.

As soon as the next act left the stage, it seemed certain we had found our winner. Like Rowson before her, Lucy Beaumont creates a fully-formed universe around herself, in her case affectionately set around the working classes of her native Hull. Again her distinctive accent made her stand apart as a new voice both metaphorically and literally.

Her imagery is simply delightful, from the locals’ idea of exercise to an hilarious incident on a train, and as she paints such vivid pictures, she leads to unexpected punchlines that kick your legs away from under you. Fresh and funny, she caused the room to erupt in ovation when she left the stage, and she clearly made a similarly strong impression on the listeners at home, since she aced the phone vote to take the £1,000 first price.

Her anecdotes are so vivid you can almost envisage the sitcom already – and with development help from the BBC’s radio as part of her prize, it might not be too long before the rest of Britain gets to know her peculiar world. She’s certainly one to look out for, and a worthy successor to previous winners such as Alan Carr, Rhod Gilbert and Julian Barratt.

Even Matt Rees – who was once unstoppable in new act competitions – couldn’t compete. This wasn’t his best ever gig, and in this line-up it would have needed to be, but nonetheless his downbeat, quirky humour made its mark. He admits his set is built on junk food, alcohol and laziness, yet from this deadbeat character emerges some original punchlines, and yet more memorable mental pictures of a man reluctantly trying to bother with life.

Though the BBC title would have helped, he’s already making headway on the circuit – and the inescapable fact is this was for all everyone else did, this was so clearly Beaumont’s night. A star is born.

Review date: 15 Nov 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Blackpool Grand

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