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Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2005
So You Think You're Funny final
Where comedy legends are born. The ultimate comedy competition, sponsored by Channel 5 and the Paramount Comedy Channel.
Rarely in comedy competitions is there a clear-cut winner, but from the moment 22-year-old Tom Allan left the stage at the end of the first half, it was obvious he was the one to beat. In the end, no one could do it.
His grandiloquent but conversational style is very old-fashioned, yet stands out from the crowd as few stand-ups dare to be quite so formal these days. It is an act that’s very Radio 4-friendly; it doesn’t take much to imagine Nicholas Parsons introducing Allan’s educated, camp, slightly supercilious voice on Just A Minute.
His anecdotal act produced laughs from the utterly trivial details contained in the possibly fabricated stories from his life as a maitre d’. They are rich pictures he paints, and the better for them.
So You Think You’re Funny could well have made a real find here, especially given that Allan seems to have come in under the radar of most in the comedy industry so far. A worthy winner.
Sarah Millican was a worthy runner-up, too. Not in the same league as Allan, but this sweet-voiced Geordie has a warm, winning style. It an act that’s strongest when she regales bitter-sweet tales from her own recent divorce – and her fathers’ often-inappropriate reaction to it.
Gags about flavoured condoms and what might be written on novelty underpants are less distinctive – but would probably go down better in rowdier rooms. She may yet have do decide which of the two sides to her act she wants to develop, but for the moment her appealing set is serving her well in the competition season.
Third placed Joe Wilkinson is more of a gag-based comic, albeit a quirky one, with the jokes emerging from his loosely observational set. Quickly proclaiming himself an asthmatic and Jesus lookalike, he sets himself up as a slight weird outsider – but the best moments come form moments we can all relate to, most especially his adventures in househunting.
The evening had been kicked off by Glaswegian Kevin Bridges, just 18 precocious years of age – although he looks a fair bit older. With the folly of youth, he is somewhat formulaic in establishing his jokes about, say, the difference between genteel Edinburgh and his hard-as-nails home town.
Yet already there are flashes of more inventive, incisive stuff within the set, combining social awareness, observations and nice lines. His casual line about London winning the Olympics, for example, is perfect.
After Joe Wilkinson came the other woman in the male-dominated line-up, Emma Fryer. At her best, Fryer has a manic, oddball charm – but it struggled to emerge tonight as she seemed daunted by the size of the venue, not playing to the full room.
Her quirkiness needs some focus, too. For a while she seems to stumble around her set, before hitting something substantial with a well-constructed Catherine Cookson parody.
Lee Mack lookalike Stuart Goldsmith was on next with a set rich with wordplay – even visually, as he discussed the British Sign Language symbols for the male and female orgasms.
He’s an unfazed, confident act; though the material needs more to distinguish itself. A relatively long routine about speeding up while walking behind a woman to make her think you’re not following her seems very familiar – even if the brutal punchline (and seed for a later callback) is his own.
Part two was opened by Charlie Baker who, the programme tells us, has been in showbusiness since the age of ten. It shows. He’s loud, effusive and energetic – which are all just fig leaves for a lack of laughs. A routine about the dancing in am dram musicals belies his roots, too.
‘Here’s another one you won’t like,’ he jokes before embarking on another tired pun – and it’s one of the best laughs he gets. His set is not without its good ideas, but there’s too few of them and those he has are all dragged out for too long.
Another very young performer next, in the form of 18-year-old Australian Josh Thomas – who was also clearly nervous about the surroundings, pacing around the stage uncomfortably.
His style was too mild to make much of an impact, and its fractured nature gave the impression of a struggle to find a hook. And when he did hit upon something, the ensuing rant was difficult to relate too.
Still, he’s got plenty of time to develop yet and there are some endearingly idiosyncratic touches that could stand him in good stead.
After Millican, Robert Broderick took to the stage – fearlessly abandoning any prepared material (save for a bit about a Nellie action figure he’d brought that day) in favour of some improvised riffing.
This is hard to do at the best of times, and his playful high jinks – very much trying to emulate the style of fellow Irishman Jason Byrne - didn’t come off today. Hitting paydirt in seven short minutes was always going to be a Herculean task, so little wonder he didn’t achieve it. But neither did he disgrace himself in the trying, either.
A lively way to end what is traditionally a very long night; although this year’s event seemed brisker than previous ones. There’s also enough promise in many of the finalists to think this will genuinely be their first stepping stone to greater things.
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