Beat The Frog World Series Final 2009

Review from the Manchester Comedy Festival

After 19 years and a roll call of winners including Peter Kay, Chris Addison and Caroline Aherne, the City Life North West Comedian Of The Year competition doesn’t exist this year, leaving the final of the Frog and Bucket’s Beat The Frog contest as the most prestigious showcase of new comedy talent in Manchester.

Given that they’d had to survive gong shows to get here, it’s perhaps no surprise that each of the eight finalists all had confident control of the room, though the combatative format of the heats necessarily prizes delivery over originality of content. Indeed, first and second placed acts both earned their places as much for their rapping ability than their comedic talents.

Tom Goodliffe lifted the crown – in reality a giant stuffed frog’s head – for his take on the ‘unlikely white boy rapping’ style of comedy that’s become so popular it’s almost a subgenre in itself. He is good at adopting the patois, though, and by drawing on his day job as an accountant he laid down some silly maths-based puns to a phat beat. He executes it well and gets whoops and applause in all the right places. His other material, about his 6ft 6in frame or Christmas balloons, is more forgettable, but for ten minutes, he certainly gets the job done.

By fate of scheduling Goodliffe was followed both in the running order and the leader board by the stylistically similar Tim Bradbury, a better rapper but weaker comic – using his talents to relate little more inventive than an ‘I shagged your mum’ putdown. He’s a adept beatboxer, and used every hip hop trick to manipulate the audience to his whim, but it did feel like trickery. Away from that, he has an appealingly cheeky delivery – one part scally to two parts camp – although again his material is weaker than the presentation.

These two were followed by third placed Adam Staunton – the 1-2-3 of the winners unusually performing in that order at the end of the night. Perhaps the audience who voted on the result had a particularly short memory.

Staunton is very young and very small, and he started off with expected lines on both – a Harry Potter lookalike gag, anyone? – before reinforcing a Scouse stereotype, too. He has an engaging style, but in terms of content, there’s a lot here that’s been done before, particularly the recollection of being beaten as a child, with his father thwacking him on every syllable of the remonstration. More contemporary anecdotes seem unsatisfying, too, although they are well-told. There’s definitely scope for more ambition here.

The night had started in a similar way, too, as opening act Shaun Paczkowski offered an engaging presence but no distinctive outlook. After a bit of blether about being a motorcyclist he produces a sanitary towel – rarely a good sign in comedy – before moving onto a routine about buying condoms and other sexual embarrassments. The segments often end with an unexpected punchline, suggesting the man knows how to write a joke, but the premises are the stuff of so many previous comics’ routines that it’s hard to get too interested in what he’s saying.

Regular comedy goers will also find familiarity with a lot of the topics ‘lanky, camp, white Mr Motivator’ Andrew Crawford discusses – from his mother walking in on him masturbating to unashamed nudity in the men’s changing room. Never is this more evident than his take on the ‘can you fry an egg?’ Navy recruitment ads, which is stylistically almost identical to Rhod Gilbert’s routine on the subject. In his favour, Crawford has a flamboyantly expressive delivery, which props up this otherwise generic material, but it’s not really enough.

Glaswegian Ray Bradshaw had some of the best gags on the night, and was unlucky not to have been placed. He is a very promising writer, able to create some enjoyably twisted punchlines such as his one-liners on wife-beating, which are funny without being gratuitously cruel. Some of the less elaborate puns are more pedestrian, but he has maybe half a dozen lines in his set that any stand-up would be proud of, let alone one on the lower rungs of the comedy ladder.

There’s more than a touch of Russell Brand about Sal Stevens, and it’s not just the Essex accent and the rhythms of his patter. He also has a very similar comic outlook with a set that’s conversational, personal, and sometimes a bit sexual. The likeness is largely incidental as he chats engagingly and wittily about contraception and his overactive imagination conjecturing what his girlfriend got up to on a girls’ holiday – although reading a newspaper article about a man having sex with a Henry hoover is problematic, as Brand has spoken about the exact-same story on stage. Oops.

Finally, to the only female in the final, Katie Mulgrew. This spritely 24-year-old has an open and likeable style that gives her an easy rapport with the audience. Behind the bonhomie, there’s a slightly cynical edge, but it’s all presented with engaging wide-eyed enthusiasm. Again, not much of the material – about hen parties, speed dating and phrasebooks - will be taken home to tell your friends the next day, but it’s fun to spend time in her company. There’s a touch of the Lucy Porter to her, in both the things that make her set so entertaining and the things it’s lacking.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Published: 20 Oct 2009

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.