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Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2009
So You Think You're Funny? 
So You Think You're Funny? - Fringe 2009
Much has been made of the fact there were no women on the Edinburgh Comedy Awards shortlist, but you would hope there were more coming up through the system. But no, this year’s So You Think You’re Funny? final for acts in the first year of their career was another all-male affair.
And what a tough night they faced, with a very unresponsive audience. Many of the acts did themselves no favours by bringing no energy to the stage, whether by nerves or design, but this was the proverbial tough crowd. It was all compere Lee Mack could do to keep things moving along – at least until he gave up caring and starting vandalising the stage - so no wonder the rookies found it so difficult.
Opening act Richard Bowen has an incredibly deadpan stance, all emotion drained from his voice. Such an approach is always challenging, because unless you’ve gags worthy of Steven Wright, it simply sounds boring. Bowen has got a couple of exquisite one-liners of that standard, but most fall quite some way short – and when the short format gives way to gags with longer set-ups, the lack of energy is fatal.
Winston Smith started with a gag associated with Jimmy Carr (‘Women are like buses…’) which didn’t endear, despite his confidence. Indeed, when a later gag causes a particularly awkward silence, he exploited it like a pro, simply by letting it hang in the air. Many other newbies would have been fazed. His material is a mixed bag: his lies for the gullible is a nice idea, but underdeveloped, while the gag about names being carved into a tree’s bark is a definite highlight.
Ivo Graham also has some promising material, especially about explaining ‘yo momma’ jokes to his own mother, and slyly showing off about his exemplary A-level grades. The Anne Frank stuff was a little more predictable, but this amiable 18-year-old had a nice style to his delivery and a nifty use of the callback. The judges certainly liked him, as he scooped first place.
Downbeat Robin Buckland takes the misanthropic approach, moaning about how he hates going out, especially to music festivals. The set starts slowly, with his sulky deadpan generating little interest, but after a while he does start to demonstrate some talent for writing offbeat jokes, but there’s a hell of a lot of distracting natter around the punchlines.
Naz Ozmanoglu, already an Edinburgh veteran with the Wit Tank sketch group, was the first act to properly grab the gig and deliver material on his terms. With more energy than a dozen Duracell bunnies, he ripped through assured gags about his Turkish father playing up his foreign roots and accent, and obsessing about beards. His spirited performance gave a much-needed boost to the moribund room, while the writing was witty and individual. He would have been my choice for the title, though he had to settle for third.
Mark Simmons was unlucky not to have been placed. Though he shares his name with a black American comic, this lively 24-year-old looks more like Rhys Ifans – albeit with a Worzel Gummidge haircut – which he was keen to exploit. He, too, had an engagingly upbeat delivery and a good smattering of decent material about shotguns, homophobia and nightclubs, although an equal number of more pedestrian lines bring down the average.
More dry-as-dust deadpan from Kevin Shevlin with his miserable take on being socially awkward, especially when it comes to women, and pondering the inevitability of death. He’s self-deprecating about his own dearth of energy, but he could put a little more life into it, to save his set sounding so drearily dull. There is a decent proportion of winningly obtuse punchlines in the set, even if he does little to exploit them. Still, judges looked past his limitations and awarded him the silver.
Jim Campbell injected another much-needed dose of vibrancy into the gig, with a flamboyant, campish performance slightly reminiscent of fellow Essex boy Russell Brand. Dissing the lion’s nickname as ‘king of the jungle’ produced the biggest laugh in his spirited set, while witty asides and afterthoughts sparkled even when the main thrust of his narrative didn’t. There’s definitely potential here.
The moment he came on stage at the end of this long night, Newcastle’s Kai Humphries blasted into a fine routine about how Geordies are always portrayed as morons in the media, first subverting the idea, then reinforcing it. A good half of his brief set revolved around the imaginative idea of a credit-crunch Narnia, even if he didn’t quite have enough decent gags to maintain it, but again a case of a comic with promise, rather than being the finished product.
This wasn’t the strongest of So You Think You’re Funny? finals – despite the exploding number of opportunities for rookie stand-ups, with open mic nights and ‘how to be a comedian’ courses springing up everywhere. But there were enough sprinkles of potential to hope that some of the finalists could yet develop into much stronger acts.
|Date of live review: Saturday 29th Aug, '09|
Review by Steve Bennett
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