Piccadilly Comedy Club New Comedian Of 2015 | Gig review by Steve Bennett

Piccadilly Comedy Club New Comedian Of 2015

Gig review by Steve Bennett

Quick out of the blocks as ever, the Piccadilly Comedy Club has already crowned its new act of 2015, from a line-up of finalists that it was largely difficult to separate. Many brought something to this new year’s party, but few nailed it unequivocally. A common complaint is that many of their sets felt like rehearsed readings, without the conversational fluidity that hallmarks the best stand-ups.

Winner Amir Khoshsokhan made a virtue of his rigid performance, however, with a forensically meticulous routine in which every elongated pause was precision-timed, every line leading up to something with further impact. He’s fearless in being willing to drive the room to silence, as best evidenced in a blow-by-blow account of his nagging girlfriend putting the dampeners on his plans for a night out, which is played out in what seems like needless detail. But just as he reaches an apparent cul-de-sac, a silent facial expression is enough to elicit a huge laugh as he perfectly realises the futility of his situation. In any case, the argument isn’t quite all it seems…

The deliberate performance succeeds in bringing out emotion in situations where it might initially seem they would be crushed, and for a perfectly structured ten minutes, this eloquent Essex boy earned his first place.

The evening did not start on quite such assured footing. Character act Magnus Turner MP seemed ill-focussed in intent, looking like the typical example of Eton privilege, but then claiming to come from humbler roots. He admitted to have crossed the floor to have been a Tory, Labour and Lib Dem - but hating Ukip, which might be a comment on the interchangeability of politicians, but you were never quite sure what he stood for, not even if it was opportunistic self-interest. He made you yearn for a big, over-the-top creation like Rik Mayall’s Alan B’stard; or even a more accurate parody of today’s MPs such as Natt Tapley’s circuit creation, Sir Ian Bowler. Turner may have been intended to mock politicians’ usual awkward approximations of humour, but fell into the same trap himself.

Russ Peers is a likeable chap with some good material, but there are too many slow patches, meaning great individual moments didn’t coalesce into a memorable set. He’s from a working-class background in Barrow-in-Furness, and looks the part, but in fact he has a camp demeanour and currently finds himself more at home among the artisenal farmers’ markets of fey North London than the unpretentious pleasures of North England, a contest that provides the source of some of his best, but by no means all, of his wit. Some other of his routines were more everyday, such as farting on the Tube, but without a distinctive edge or killer payoff to distinguish them from the norm, however much he seems like good company.

Laura McClenaghen was of much lower energy, and a decidedly slow-burner in her appeal. As she started complaining about new parents and their precocious kids in a whiney monotone, the targets seem familiar and the attitude depressing. But as she revealed more of her bleak world view, fleshing out her status as the perennial social outsider, she drew the audience in. She can communicate within the well-defined protocols of stand-up, she says, but not in the real world – and we absolutely believe her. The nihilistic deadpan could do with a little change of tone now and again, but within it lies a clear point of view, and some darkly funny lines delivered with authenticity. And for that she took second place.

Though just 18, 2013 So You Think You’re Funny winner Edd Hedges feels like a straight-from-the-oven, fully baked comedian. He was fluid and natural, in contrast to many of tonight’s acts, with an easy, affable charm that ensured a good reaction to his unabashedly mainstream material. The downside is that he feels just a bit too familiar: stories of ineffective gangs in his native Saffron Waldon, of weird behaviour on night buses and trains, and of his own ill-advised drunken behaviour are all entertaining – but could easily be delivered by almost any likeable young comic from the panel-show circuit, from Seann Walsh to Josh Widdicombe to Russell Howard. Still, it cannot be denied he’s a crowd-pleaser – if not always a judge-pleaser – and tonight took the third place.

Archie Maddox is a charming, upbeat sort, too, and his well-polished travel stories  have something of an angle in that they vividly portray a character trait he assigns to all Trinidadians: supreme self-confidence. One of his parents is from the island, so a trip back home is enlivened with demanding air passengers and cab drivers who relish a challenge. He was possibly unlucky not to be placed as there’s plenty of good stuff here, but it would also be good to hear more about him, not just reports back on the bizarre things he’s seen.

Tom Ward also narrowly missed out on a place, getting the ‘special commendation’ of encouragement instead. He certainly took his own path, jumbling stilted audience banter, dark jokes, silly sketches, inspired and surreal impersonations of inanimate objects and even advertising jingles into his discombobulating routine. Not all worked, and his personality is so scattered that he can’t build up any residual goodwill to allow him to indulge the weirder products of his mind – yet when the gags did hit home, they were impressive for their originality. He’s taken a challenging path in stand-up, but on such routes the greatest rewards can lie.

Khoshsokhan was next, followed Ben Clover closing the gig – whose very deliberate delivery and physically put a barrier between him and the audience. His material was mixed – daring to do ‘cats and dogs’ material in the 21st Century needs stronger ideas than this, but other segments, such as his take on British versus American attitudes to gun control, were a delight. If he could overcome the coldness of the performance, such strong routines could get the reaction they deserve.

So the first new act competition of 2015 is already over… and if you’re an aspiring comedian wanting to know how to enter next year - you can’t. The finalists are chosen entirely at the whim of promoter Mike Manera from all the open spots who’ve played his club over the previous 12 months. But unlike other competitions, at least he’s open about the fact this is an entirely personal line-up.

Review date: 3 Jan 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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