Scottish Comedian Of The Year 2014 final | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the O2 ABC, Glasgow

Scottish Comedian Of The Year 2014 final

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the O2 ABC, Glasgow

On its ninth time around, the Scottish Comedian Of The Year competition struggled to find 12 strong acts for its final. The contest, which pleasingly abbreviates to Scoty, makes pains to stress it’s not just for new talent, but clearly needs a good annual turnover of Fresh Blood to endure. So while there were some talented acts at the O2 ABC in Glasgow, there were also a lot who struggled to rise to the occasion; if, that is, they ever had strong material in the first place.

Opener Christopher MacArthur-Boyd has a understated confidence, with a slow, deliberate delivery. However, with material that barely stands out, the energy veers towards the sluggish. He spent a good few minutes on what or who he looks like, for example, without much of a twist. Similarly it’s difficult to respect a comic who uses as a punchline ‘it’s like being the world’s tallest dwarf!’ in lieu of coming up with their own analogy. The rest of the workmanlike but mediocre set revolved around him begin geeky and unlucky in love, including a story about him losing a girl at a party that engenders plenty of sympathy, but not so many laughs.

Taking to the stage with his face painted to represent his bony pseudonym, Rosco McSkeleton (Mcclelland to his bank manager) promises something different that he just can’t deliver on. He takes forever to set up the call-and-response premise of his set, which mixes this flimsy audience participation with old jokes and a lot of unfocussed blether. Maybe the skeleton is an apt alter-ego, as his routine needs a lot of fleshing out.

After milking all the cliches of living in an isolated small town, Robin Grainger moves on to similarly uninspired content about having a row with his girlfriend and how Facebook is full of ‘I’m eating a sandwich’ posts. Such things could be forgiven had he taken any of this in unexpected directions, but he didn’t, leaving him an instantly forgettable act.

Thank God – or Braveheart – for Bruce Fummey, bounding on to the stage in a shirt that was half-Satire, half-Lion Rampant. Now that demands attention, as does an emphatic delivery style that grabbed the moribund gig by the scruff of its neck. A proud Scottish nationalist, he had plenty so say about his unusual heritage – half-Scottish, half-Ghanaian – and about the independence debate, especially the ‘Project Fear’ tactics of the No campaign. Some of his premises start from familiar places, but unlike the acts that preceded him, he offered twists on the ideas. For injecting he gig with energy, attitude and laughs, he deserved his first place.

First up after the break, Perthshire’s Jim Smith represented an altogether different minority: the Scottish farmer. Also a finalist in So You Think You’re Funny? last month, Smith made plenty of that distinctive rural angle, before moving on to a series of sketch-like segments, including an inspired parochial take on Die Hard; imagining a serious muso interview with The Singing Kettle; and a Fife-made porno film. A couple of his angles have been done before, but at this rate he’ll make an interesting and funny addition to the comedy circuit – and was voted into third place on the night.

As You’ve Got Me Under Your Skin blares out, Duncan Guthrie emerges from the wings in banana costume, which he barely mentions. He’s a proper ‘character’, genuine in his deadpan oddness with a scatterbrain approach that calls to mind the outpourings of a good-natured, unfocussed drunk more than a skilled comic. He keeps losing his concentration – the baseline from the T-Pain gig in the venue beneath is a big distraction – and seems to overrun badly as he grapples with forming eccentric ideas into something more substantial. But dotted within his stream-of-consciousness are some funny, if undeveloped ideas. If this can be harnessed – and that’s big if, admittedly – Guthrie could be on to something.

During hiss set, Stephen Buchanan observes that everyone sees him as a ‘normal run-of-the-mill guy’ – and ‘run-of-the-mill’ certainly covers his long-winded yarns with weak punchlines. Describing his mum dancing sluttily to Blurred Lines is as good as it gets. Maybe you had to be there, because he certainly doesn’t evoke much of an atmosphere to connect the audience with the material. Still, Buchanan has played a ping-pong ball in an Irn-Bru ad, so his career’s going places…

Ross Leslie initially evokes a couple of nice images in his description of being in a long-term relationship, but soon falls into the pedestrian, unfocussed and old-hat, too, with straightforward stories too infrequently embellished by anything to elevate them from everyday chit-chat. Another comic who passes by without any noticeable impact.

Continuing a run of mediocrity, Allan Lindsay recalls white dog shit, overweight kids to fat to flee paedophiles and rational phobias (if you can have such a thing) without adding anything of interest. In a mountain-out-of-a-molehill routine, he complains that he had to share a double bed on a Megabus sleeper, which again is too straightforward a telling, and then gets himself into awkward knots trying to make a point on the subtleties of racism that he hasn’t got the faculties to get out of.

Dryly witty guitar-strummer Harry Garrison bears some similarities to Boothby Graffoe, with an almost-inevitable seasoning of Flight Of The Conchords. He skilfully uses the music for misdirection in what might otherwise be easy jokes, as well allowing a comic image to slowly materialise, with each passing lyric adding an extra layer of detail. And though generally mild-mannered, he becomes passionately enraged by everyday frustrations, which are stylishly expressed. It’s a charismatic performance, and one that earns him second place.

Graham Mackie is something of a stalwart of this competition, and another act who made much about his physical appearance (Santa, basically). And like his doppelganger, he exudes a bold, warm likeability that endears him to the crowd. He doesn’t, however, offer too much substance to capitalise on that with easy gags about the shithole he hails from and the travails of having a 20-year-old daughter. He has the sort of old-fashioned approach in which a doctor has to tell him ‘do you want the good news or the bad news?’ to fit the template of a a comic set-up – and while there’s charm to that, and indeed his whole demeanour, it’s not quite enough on its own.

Finally, Liam Withnail, an Englishman eligible for this competition since he’s lived in Glasgow for eight years. He made a lot of this cross-culture clash, profusely singing the praises of the square sausage, for example, but also playing too heavily on stereotypes. The English are all portrayed as posh twats – which doesn’t much sound like his home town of Dagenham to me. But again he has an engaging style that woos the audience, including a fluidity some of the previous acts lacked, and he even made a sharp gag about bananaman Guthrie.

He was among the finalists who made a decent impression on the gig, it’s just a shame that placed him in the minority.

Review date: 3 Oct 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Glasgow ABC

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