Laughing Horse New Act Of The Year 2013 final

Note: This review is from 2013

Gig review by Corry Shaw

The Laughing Horse 'new act of the year' may want to consider a rebranding to the Laughing Horse ‘non-pro act of the year', given the range of experience on offer in the final. Here, recent comedy course graduate rub shoulders with 2008’s Chortle Student Comedy Award winner, and various levels in between.

With the mix of experience comes a mix of quality.  The night got off to a confident and assured start with Mo The Comedian, who has borrowed some affectations from the late Bernie Mac, calling on short bursts of music from the DJ followed up by the quick 'cut the music' mime,to emphasise or expand on a joke. But there is little expansion to be had with the material. This seasoned comedian seems to want to go no deeper than gags about his mum’s bad dancing or his Rastafarian father’s dreads. It’s an assured, but forgettable, set.

Following the showman comes the perfect image of a hippie in the shape of Alasdair Beckett-King, whose delicious writing and exceptional observations on everything from veganism to the New Testament saw him take a well deserved second place.  His misguided and clumsy foray into audience interaction, based round a flabby rant about graffitied burka over a Skittles poster may have been the only thing keeping him from taking first place.

Introducing the misogyny for the night (and also the pattern of the weaker acts being least conscientious about sticking to their time) was Alistair Williams who seemed on the surface to be genuinely confused as to why his girlfriend seemed to be hard on him but expressed with glee his attempts to treat her like a prostitute by strangling her to death. He went on to say that 'four obese girls a year commit suicide due to mean jokes but as the country has over 40 million mingers they won't be missed'. Even if he hadn't overrun, a placing would have been very unlikely.

Fourth act Andrew McBurney took a different tact, crying on stage over the recent break-up with his girlfriend.  He had a few nice turns of phrase but the character was too contrived, and the fake crying grew tedious and began to suck the energy out of the room. There are glimmers of the writer that could be, however, and it’s refreshing to see something brave attempted as he maintained the commitment to the character throughout the peaks and troughs of his seven minutes.

The final act of the section Sunil Patel is already widely know on the circuit, winning a Chortle Award nomination for best newcomer this year. But he seemed to struggle to bring energy back to the room after a flaccid start and some issues with the sound.  This is a set which possibly needs more than the allocated time to shine; the in-depth analogy about an uncomfortable social situation took up most of his time and while very well written, was too drawn out for such a short set.

Someone who was pitch perfect in their delivery and choice of material was Danish comedian Sofie Hagen who has the charisma and the light touch which defies her 'new act' status. Warm, accessible but in no way bland, Hagen delighted the crowd with personal tales and observations.  Her skill becomes all the more apparent when looking at her silences as well as her writing, her timing is spot-on and pauses, facial expressions and knowing nods and smiles all combine to make an act who is destined to make a name for herself. The consistency of the quality and her instantly likeable demeanour coupled with her obvious enjoyment of performing made her a worthy winner.

While Hagen looked to be delighted to be on stage and alive, her successor, Richard Stainbank, looked practically suicidal at times.  Another old hand, Stainbank revels in the pain and futility of his life.  His characteristic woeful misery cracked into a rare smile a couple of times as the audience lapped up his angst, self pity and clever turns of phrase. Despite his many years performing Stainbank still seems a little unsure of his direction placing verbose, intricate wordplay about existential angst shoulder-to-shoulder with groanworthy puns.

A master of wordplay, and former Chortle student champion, Jack Heal took to the stage next.  His trademark storytelling style, full of misdirection and pull-backs, leaves little time for the audience to draw breaths between laughs.  It is a one-trick pony, but he rides it well with an entertaining set that won him a special mention from the judges.

From a slick, heavily scripted set to what feels like a drunken breakdown by Zak Splijt who used up precious minutes complaining about the venue’s toilets. Perhaps he was trying to prove his ability to come up with spontaneous material but all he proved was his ability to make misguided criticisms of his host.  His prewritten stuff didn't fare much better. He claims he 'used to be an offensive comedian doing crass jokes about paedophilia'. However he is still making appallingly poor and offensive jokes, but now has thrown in the catchphrase of 'right lads, high five' to punctuate every lazy,badly written and charmless punchline.  He finishes minutes over his allotted time by excusing his set as ironic and comparing it to Lee Nelson's work which he says is the worst thing ever written. At least he is savvy enough to recognise his own incompetence, despite the misplaced comparison.

Ben Clover has a nice rhythm to his understated persona and even has a fresh take on the familiar topics of using the Tube in an unfriendly London.  There is a generous peppering of clever and unique observations and writing, but Clover’s decision to end on some very weak gags undid some of the goodwill, and perhaps lost him a podium place.

Another Chortle student alumnus, last year’s runner-up, Johnny Pelham, captured the audience with his very personal musings about his speech impediment and numerous run-ins with the NHS. Pelham has a delightful turn of phrase and his self-deprecating likeability adds an extra jag to the spike of his darker lines. The fact he only placed third is a testament to the quality of acts tonight.

The penultimate act of the evening, Mark Barrowcliffe, was solid but uninspiring, his delivery reeked of a recent graduate from a comedy course with very little warmth or connection with the audience. There are hints of early promise with some of his more playful lines but this was an inexperienced set from someone who needs to develop his stagecraft along with sharpening his eye for funny. He was lost on the bill tonight but may be worth keeping an eye on for the future.

James Farmer also suffered from being forgettable, but for very different reasons. Farmer is an identikit of so many young comedians on the circuit with a slick performance but pedestrian material. Comments about confusing signs on toilet doors or Harry Potter, being single all feature alongside a clearly invented story about finding a woman's ‘to do’ list on a bus leave very little room for original punchlines or anything interesting or new.  He summed it up himself when stating he likes alternative girls but he is ‘the least alternative person imaginable’.

And if you’re new, why offer more of the same? There are plenty more experienced comics who can do that. The best acts tonight, as always, offered something at least a little different from the norm.

Review date: 27 May 2013
Reviewed by: Corry Shaw

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