Laughing Horse Comedian Of The Year 2015 | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Dogstar, Brixton

Laughing Horse Comedian Of The Year 2015

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Dogstar, Brixton

The Laughing Horse Comedian Of The Year is the third new act final in two weeks, following the Leicester Square Theatre’s showcase last Sunday and the Jewish Comedian Of The Year on Saturday. As usual it featured a packed bill, 14 acts this time, so let’s get cracking…

Sharply besuited James Shakescraft kicked things off with a solid delivery, but none-to-interesting material, much about his name and those of schoolteachers he remembers. There’s not much wit in laughing at suggestive names, especially when you suspect he probably made them up anyway. More euphemisms come for his spunk, a little more inventive in a Profanisaurus way, but it’s followed by a tired ‘..and then I left the doctor’s surgery’ punchline. Answering Edwin Starr’s question about what war isn’t good for is old hat, too. He has a couple of more interesting linguistic takes on the names of fruit and the self-deprecating description of himself as a Marmite act. Though you can only really be this self-effacing if you’re actually brilliant – instead audiences might find themselves agreeing with him a little too often.

A rarity next in the form of a sketch outfit. The Glorious Monster are three men in lumberjack shirts and Hoxton beards who have strong performance chops, but struggle for punchlines, at least in the three skits they chose to perform tonight. Two of them were the same ‘reveal’ gag, which you might get away with as a recurring gag in a long show but in a short set feels lazy. In their main sketch, which offered a bit of a twist on a comedy staple, they boldly and commendably risked some audience participation, which they pulled off. But really this wasn’t enough to see what these lads are capable of.

Like Shakeshaft, Peter Flanagan disappointed by not using his status as a novice act to offer anything new, instead presented less polished version of jokes so predictable you get to the punchline before he does. ‘Way-hey’ drinking comments, cheap incest comments about the rural County Kildare village he comes from and swearing Aussies all get a look-in. There was a decent gag about philosophy books for kids which he said was his best joke. He was right by a long chalk; much of the rest is very forgettable.

You couldn’t accuse Cheekykita of being hackneyed, however, being a weirdo somewhere in the universe of the Boosh, Charlie Chuck, and Bob Blackman, the old-school variety turn whose act was bashing himself on the head with a metal tea tray. With a peculiar outfit, strange pronunciations and a commitment to her bizarre world, she delivers a lecture on space that won’t have Brian Cox fearing for his job. It’s funny as it’s so odd and unexpected…though quite whether it’s a viable career is a moot point. Still, the third place she secured reflected the silly joy she brought.

Though a more conventional stand-up, Saskia Preston is an interesting, quirky act too, with more than a flick of Milton Jones in her spaced-out delivery of one-liners displaying a twisted logic that probably makes sense in her head. The nervous creaky-door laugh that follows most of her punchlines isn’t quite such an asset, though, even if it seems a genuine consequence of nerves rather than an affectation. And some of the lines about her relationships and appearances are less assured. She’s not the sort of act we need to identify with, more the alien weirdo with odd observations. But when she gets it right, it’s very good.

Next up Donal Vaughan who may have the stage charisma of a flannel, but has some strongly offbeat lines putting himself down over his weight and lack of sex life – staple topics, admittedly, but often expressed with flair. He lets himself down on a few cheap gags, and an old one about Churchill’s V-sign scissors beating Hitler’s Nazi-salute paper that’s become widely known– disappointing given the rest of his joke-heavy set is more distinctive, and earned him the £1,000 first prize.

Kenyan Njambi McGrath could have an interesting outsider’s view on British society and empire, but her set hasn’t the focus to see it through. Her snippy, tersely aggressive delivery doesn’t help, making her seem unnatural and harsh. She labours political points, saying something like ‘foreign policy is the right to bomb countries you don’t like’ - then crows ‘controversial shit!’ as if she wasn’t echoing an already largely-held opinion. This forms an uneasy mix with cheap jokes about black men being well endowed and a more personal story that might be promising if she could relax enough to tell it. Instead she flitters all over the place, a kind of nervousness, without ever really landing a blow.

In contrast Nigel Ng, from Malaysia by way of the States, is as slick as they come, relaxed with the confidence he knows what he’s doing. He has some knowing takes on race, particularly informed by his time with an African-American sketch troupe, unlikely as it seems. The dull pragmatics of a long-distance relationship and the achievements of staying faithful are also covered in a pacey, savvy set from an act clearly on the fast-track to being a pro. And second place on the podium was his reward tonight.

Canadian Dylan Gott also has the presentational sheen learned from the North American circuit, but had much less of interest to say, auto-piloting through pat routines about drinking too much or smoking weed, but without the distinctive flair that the best practitioners in this crowded marketplace of grubby road comedian exhibit.

Lucy Roper is a middle-class girl from Matlock in the Peak District who raps about the National Trust. Such juxtaposition is a tried-and-tested trope and is moderately effective, even if she doesn’t do too much with it. Better is her story of a lost wallet, which contains a couple of surprise lines, even if it needs more polish. Roper lacked the confidence of the two acts before her both in delivery – with ‘and, err’s piling up in every sentence – and in structure, so probably needs more time in the incubator.

A comedian wearing braces? That was cheesy even in the 1980s. And in some ways John Pendal relies on his audience having slightly old-fashioned sensibilities that will find the idea of a gay, mildly camp, man exotic, and thus snigger at his double entendres be fascinated by his tales of his ‘bear’ husband. Though in truth this is slight material, with its undertone of innuendo predictable. There was stronger stuff when he cast his net wider, taking in topics like the Thunderbirds, where more effort seemed to have gone into the writing.

Dimitri Bakanov’s background as being half-Russian, half-Ukranian might have offered some insight into current tensions, had he not declared he’d couldn’t give a damn about the situation in Crimea, having spent 17 years in the UK. Instead he offered a routine that seemed more pub chit-chat than properly crafted material, with some lightweight stories in which he confesses to being a bit of a dick. Not terrible, just forgettable.

You wouldn’t forget Emmanuel Sonubi – who performs using just his first name – because of his sheer size. So it’s no surprise when he reveals himself to be an ex-bouncer, with a couple of stories from the frontline of the clubs. He uses his imposing presence on stage well, both undermining it and showing how he could use an intimidating stare to silence any potential heckler. The bases of his gags aren’t always original – an older bloke misunderstanding youth slang, or the a gag about not being able to see him in the dark because he’s black which used to be told by racist comics back in the day – but he’s certainly got something that makes you want to listen to him. And not just a fear for your own safety if you don’t. Such promise was rightly rewarded with a special mention from the judges.

For the stage Flora Anderson adopts the persona of a privileged, vacuous Islington PR wannabe, gushing: ‘Oh my God, guys, this is so exciting!’ Which is exactly as irritating as it sounds. That’s a problem as some of her satirical gags about the poverty gap are astute and well-made, but the character grates so much you just wish her to shut up. There’s flab, too, in some of the writing when it comes to predictable gags about people from ‘up North’ or how Isis are like the Kardashians. Yet she’s got well-tuned political antennae, it’s just a case of figuring out how best to exploit that.

Review date: 8 Dec 2015
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Reviewed at: The Dogstar

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