So You Think You're Funny? Final 2014 | Fringe review by Steve Bennett

So You Think You're Funny? Final 2014

Fringe review by Steve Bennett

2014 is turning out to be quite the vintage year for new comedians. After particularly strong Chortle Student and Amused Moose finals at the Fringe, the oldest talent hunt of the lot, So You Think You’re Funny?, also returned to impressive form last night after a couple of patchy years. Solid quality ran pretty much right through all the contestants, without the usual sharp drop-off after a couple of clear front-runners.

We hit the ground running with Elliot Steel, a fast-talking 17-year-old with a couple of straight-out-the-block quips about his age and lack of sexual experience. His content plays it pretty safe, tackling the bullet-headed lad culture and coming up with belated comebacks to people who call him ‘gay’ or demand ‘tell us a joke then’ when learning he’s a comedian. It’s familiar territory, as are some (but by no means all) of the lines that come with it… and maybe his comedian dad Mark Steel could provide some more pointers for avoiding cliche. But his excitable ADD-fuelled delivery has an appealing energy, and there’s not much wasted between the gags, and in the end judges awarded him the runners-up spot.

Mark Daniels could learn a thing or two about tightening up his set, which ran at a noticeably slower, wordier place. He has a strong opening gag about his name, and the ensuing five minutes proved nicely constructed, with a neat tie-up at the end. Although a surprisingly reactionary gag about how maths textbooks have become achingly PC could do with a subtraction to bring it tighter. Otherwise there are some nice, if unspectacular, anecdotes about his affliction of being ‘acutely British’ and over-polite.

Perthshire livestock farmer Jim Smith offers a voice from rural Scotland you rarely hear on the circuit, and his set played on his role as a teuchter… or country bumpkin to the Sassenachs. His refreshingly Scottish-skewed set also included differentiating his accent from that of Fife or Aberdeen; the latter in a scene likening a night in a club to to a fishing expedition. As a comic he’s certainly rough around the edges – but he can hold a crowd and he’s got an original angle, which is like enriched uranium for the reactor of comedy writing. Let’s hope he sticks with it.

Benji Waterstones looks set to be a really interesting act too. He has a delightfully underplayed posh, fey delivery which is hugely effective. He doesn’t talk about his dick, but rather more coyly about his ‘John Thomas’. There’s a dash of the Alan Bennett about the way he talks about sex with the sort of dispassion other people might talk about teacakes. There’s also interesting material about his day job as a psychiatrist and his lonely existence as a newcomer to London, going to the cinema alone. He was one of my favourites, although the judges couldn’t find him a place.

The title was eventually to go to Irishman Aidan Strangeman, a crowd-pleaser who regaled with a couple of enjoyable songs, although when he sang of sex it seemed pretty predictable, right down to the expected line about Catholic priests. He could surely do more interesting work with this if, as he says, he really does suffer from ithyphallophobia – the fear of his own erection. Much better was the self-deprecating ditty This Happens To Me Quite A Lot, which had a few choice lines that would work even without the music, always a signifier of a strong writer.

Glaswegian Christopher MacArthur Boyd absolutely nailed the opening line, based, as is tradition, on the way he looks. Indeed mocking his own inadequacies was a strong theme throughout the short set, to the extent it was getting a little indulgent. Yet he fired out a couple of good gags on the subject, and it’d be good to see him apply that wit to a wider range of subjects than just himself.

Deaf Pakistani and former Muslim Eshaan Akbar is a diversity officer’s wet dream, yet wears all those labels lightly, presenting a warm, affable and natural persona to the audience. Material about racists, UKIP policy and the lure of bacon are all tackled with a deft, unaffected touch – and he’s the sort of likeable act with a story that’s likely to go far, especially once he develops slightly sharper material.

Penultimate act Joe Hart has a lot to offer too: a chirpy delivery, stage confidence and a quirky imagination that mines everything from his odd childhood to the easier-to-grasp tenets of theoretical physics for material. After all, he did once create a buddy cop series in which Time and Space were the two partners. The only issue is that he could do with losing a lot of the Eddie Izzard mannerisms that pervade his delivery if he doesn’t want audiences to be thinking of another comedian when they are watching him. He came third, which seems right.

And finally to Glaswegian Gary Meikle, who kicked off with a couple of gags about how men talk nonsense on dating websites, where ‘old-fashioned’ is a euphemism for misogynistic. His material is old-fashioned in its more literal sense, with tired observations about what its like to be dragged around clothes shopping with his girlfriend. Then there was a section about smartarse comebacks he wish he’d made his annoying neighbour which didn’t quite stack up, and some comments on how he hates his mate’s child that are all attitude and not much material. Meikle has a strong stage presence and passionate energy, but doesn’t really do anything with it.

It was a rare weakness on a final that rejuvenated So You Think You’re Funny?’s reputation for unearthing new talent.

Review date: 22 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon

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