Arielle Souma

Arielle Souma

French, mixed race comic who says her set is 'punchy, blunt, accessible, empowering and with attitude'.
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Leicester Square Not-So-New Comedian Of The Year 2019

Review by Steve Bennett

Don’t mention the big O…

Leicester Square’s Not-So-New Comedian Of The Year – a retort to all the new act competitions rewarding youthful promise over hard-won experience – was previously known as the Old Comedian Of The Year. But that had to go because of its negative connotations.

But even the oldest finalist is as a spring chicken, compared to Lynne-Ruth Miller wringing every angle of her 85 years for comedy, making light of her failing faculties and forever reminding us ‘this’ll happen to you one day’,

Opening the show was Sean Craig Turner, a dry, surreal bloke from the North East, all of which invite comparisons with Gavin Webster. Some of his one-liners are delightfully absurd, and very funnier, although the slightly longer routines tend to have anticlimactic endings given the investment needed in his offbeat train of thought.  As an unconventional act, being drawn first was an especially unfavourable slot in the bill, but he’s got funny instincts, if not yet the consistency to land a place.

With his camp style, Russell Arathoon more instantly makes a connection with the audience. He’s self-deprecating, especially about his age, 37, making him a virtual geriatric in gay years,  about is poor decision-making and about his disconnection from modern pop culture. But he keeps a bit of barbed scorn left for others too. Some of his one-liners are a bit cheap and obvious, but his style is thoroughly engaging and earned him bronze on the night.

As a cabaret act among stand-ups Lolly Jones was either slightly out of place or a refreshing change, depending on your point of view. She offers burlesque with a political slant, becoming a sexualised version of Theresa May, getting turned on by the evil things she’s done politically that are far worse than running through fields of wheat. The tone is on raucous fun rather too biting a satire, and unlike the real PM, she delivers on what she set out to achieve. 

Comedian and van man Graeme Collard started strong, taking a drolly sarcastic tone to everyday irritants such as the relentless drive to online banking, perfectly and amusing capturing the frustrations of the tired everyman. But the set ran out of steam, especially when he expected a lacklustre callback to do more heavy lifting than it could bear. Shame he couldn’t stay the distance as there’s much to enjoy in his way of thinking.

It surely wouldn’t be an old comedian competition – sorry, not-so-new’ competition – without some dad jokes, and Pete White has a got a set packed full of them, shamelessly delivered. They are of variable quality, but his unwavering pride in his wordplay – which sometimes requires rudimentary knowledge of a second language – is infectious. Plus you can’t help but admire, even if grudgingly, the craft of his linguistic trickery which is sure to catch you out.

Arielle Souma is a whirlwind of attitude, not just offering opinions but laying down the law, whether it’s against any partner who would have the audacity to outlive her, the white people encroaching on her home turf of Brixton or kids that need slapping. She exploits to the full her physicality, her no-nonsense African sass and her French accent that gives every word a little twist to say things as she sees them. In this set, her writing fell too short to earn her a place on the rostrum, but she is a force to be reckoned with.

Emily McQuade was less likely to trouble the scorers with material that never quite took off, especially her insistence that she looked like a Victorian child labourer, that nobody really brought but she insisted on sticking with. Repeatedly using the phrase ‘a human woman’ was grating too, a second-hand pseudo-humour she’s picked up as a bad habit. She comes up with some nice imagery and a couple of serviceable puns, but the set never really gels into anything memorable.

Nick Horseman, on the other hand, will stick in your memory for not being quite what you expect. He initially feels like a Mitch Benn knock-off with a superior ironic tone and guitar strung over his shoulder. And when this chubby middle-aged white dude who works with databases by day tells you he’s going to rap, you fear the worse. But actually the guy’s got some skills – and makes great play of how surprising that is.  Once he’s got our attention he doesn’t quite have a strong enough comic bite to build on that – at least not in such a short set, but there are admirably tricksy rhymes and a good sense of showmanship.

There is a lot to unpack with Davina Bentley, a Jewish lawyer dating a man more than 20 years older than her 35 years (the lower limit for this competition) probably as a father substitute. Prime material for stand-up, but this set was nebulous and unsettled, jumping around between gags and comedy-as-therapy psychology without a clear through line or sharpness of writing. But there are some sharper jokes and she has the raw material, it just seemed undercooked here.

Declan Kennedy was so old-school he came out singing Strangers In The Night, but changing ‘exchanging glances’ for ‘exchanging fluids’. Thankfully he got better than this cheap gag, injecting a touch of weird into his short gags, while he has an easy authority over the audience, even getting them to do a little mass interaction, even if the payoff barely seemed worth it. Such engagements made him a crowd favourite, though, and he took second place on the night.

Impeccably turned-out, and very experienced David Mills is a much classier act, delivering most of his set perched elegantly on a bar stool. However, a short set does his winningly louche manner no favours – even with a great early one-liner –  as he needs time for his tone of cool superiority, delivered in seductive Southern American drawl, to take a hold. Once it did, he treated a rapt audience to a sophisticated and witty routine, with the segment about non-binary pronouns a special treat. But as soon as he had us, he was gone – more’s the pity.

Finally Gatis Kandis, a man with obvious funny bones who plays up his idiot naivety, exaggerated by a Latvian accent that almost makes him a real-life Borat. He’s charming in a child-like way, with a set bristling with non-sequiturs. You feel he’s always going to be at an angle to a world he doesn’t quite understand, his offbeat comments making apparently perfect sense in his head. It’s a beguilingly daft package that made him a worthy winner of the £1,000 first prize.

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Published: 16 May 2019

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