Beat The Frog World Series Final 2015 | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Frog & Bucket, Manchester

Beat The Frog World Series Final 2015

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Frog & Bucket, Manchester

The Beat The Frog World Series line-ups are always a miscellany. With the finalists chosen from the regular Monday night gong show battles at Manchester’s Frog and Bucket, it’s a mix of the genuinely promising, the safe but crowd-pleasing, and chancers able to muster a lot of their mates for the audience vote. But talent will out… usually. Was that the case this year?

Opening, Dubliner Donal Vaughan crams his set with gags, often self-deprecating about his moribund sex life, but with little care as to their quality – or even their provenance. There are some nice lines in there, one expressing a disdain for the term ‘gay marriage’ especially, but too many are cheesy or obvious – double entendres about ‘coming’ for example, that are tiresome as pub banter, let alone in a comedy routine.

When he says ‘You know when you’re having sex,’ as if launching an observational routine, only to follow up with: ‘What’s that like?’ it’s surely a watered-down version of Monty Python’s classic Nudge, Nudge sketch. And the gag about Churchill’s V-sign ‘scissors’ trumping Hitler’s Nazi salute ‘paper’ has already been the subject of a joke theft row when it was made on Mock The Week a decade ago. Vaughan’s an affable presence, but needs more focus on distinctiveness and quality over quantity.

Though he doesn’t explicitly explain it, Polish Rick is a character act. A character whose entire backstory, hopes, dreams, interests and desires are defined by the description: ‘He’s Polish.’ So the set mainly comprises the expected jokes about how Poles are coming over here and stealing all our jobs because they are hardworking. Oh, and that Poles don’t have a sense of humour… which is kind of ironic when the Englishman behind this gossamer-thin creation, Rick Carr, relies on such tired, borderline racist, stereotypes to seek laughs. This is basically the Central European equivalent of blacking up…

Asian Geordie Rahul Kohli nicely styles himself as the ‘Newcastle Brown Male’. He’s a slick, stylish performer who seeks relevancy by addressing current events and social issues, although his punchlines fall short of those ambitions. He’s solid on racism, although other set-ups tend to be trite excuses for a bit of performance showiness, ill-fitting the set-ups: Russia singing Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me over their interventions in Syria, for example. Likewise a routine about the aggressively sexual gyrations of clubbers seems an old observation to allow him to be vigorous on stage, without really being funny. He certainly has the delivery, hopefully the content will follow.

Karl Porter was the other way around. He has some well-observed routines, precise in the detail of observations about TV kisses or pissed-off girlfriends – but the delivery is a mess. He doesn’t communicate a strong persona, the camp approach neither fitting the material not standing in strong enough contrast, and there’s no strong line through the individual bits, making him hard to engage with. This wasn’t his night, but he could well turn out to be stronger than the muted reaction suggests.

After starting with obligatory ‘what I look like material,’ Rob Mulholland quickly established himself as a quirky but confident performer – certain enough in his abilities to dedicate most of his five-minute set to one story – one joke, really – about his girlfriend bringing back a sickly rescue cat to the house. It’s strong comic storytelling, unfolding the detail and then spinning around on an analogy that works well, reversing all the particulars from the first half. It’s a routine that’s as tight as his skinny jeans, and won him the audience-voted title on the night.

The quality was maintained with Tayo Cousins – though his full African name is a lot more complicated than that, as he explained. Charming and relaxed, he offers a cliche-free brand of ethnic comedy, honest and witty about his experiences both in Britain and New York. Plus we get a gratuitous Morgan Freeman impression, and who doesn’t enjoy one of those? In the end, he was awarded the panel prize by the industry judges (myself included) who’d like to hear more.

Standards were kept up by the only female finalist, the endearingly low-key Yuriko Kotani, who exploited the archetypal efficiency of her native Japan to the more laissez-faire attitude of the Brits. Complaining about the performance of our trains compared to those back home might seem an easy joke, but her naive, outsider’s standpoint offers a new perspective, as she extends the idea to more general cultural differences. Her humour is wry, the delivery deadpan, and her prospects strong.

The same cannot be said of Londoner Daniel Soff, who dashed through his set of hackneyed ideas with an unsettled, nervy haste, though he tried to carry it off with swagger. Jokes about women being bad at parking because they’ve been lied to about what eight inches looks like are from the Seventies. Sections that tried to be more personal had a little more to offer, especially the irritation of being asked where he was ‘from from’ as if you can’t be black and British – although you can’t help but hear Micky Flanagan’s ‘out out’ in your head as he said it.

‘They call me MC Afrika Zulu,’ said the final act, as if he had no say in his own stage name. He offered a set of two halves, the first a fairly tiresome parade of predictable jokes such as: ‘I’m originally from Nigeria - no I’m not the one that sent you those emails.’ And, depressingly, he got one of the biggest laughs of the night by evoking the stereotype of well-hung black man and swinging the microphone between his legs to make the point, however old and cheap the gag.

The last section, though, when he celebrates the fuller female form over the misplaced ideas of stick-thin beauty brings something of himself to a routine that still manages to find the filth.

He proved an audience favourite, who came second in the vote, even though a lot of his material is unedifying. Still, he’s definitely improved from his performance in this event two years ago, when we described his set about the differences between black people and white people and how disgusting vaginas as leaving a very unpleasant taste.

Review date: 10 Nov 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Manchester Frog And Bucket

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