Bobby Freeman

Bobby Freeman

Comedy Cafe New Act Of 2011 Final

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

The Comedy Cafe’s new act night has long been one of the best in London, amid an ever-swelling ocean of poorly-run, room-above-a-pub affairs. But no longer, as changes afoot in the new year will bring the long-running Wednesday night tradition to an end – at least in this room.

Its swansong was the final of the 2011 new act of the year, the best of the acts that have won audience votes over the last 12 months, now put to an industry panel.

First up was the enthusiastic Bobby Freeman, full of energy and performance skills but lacking any ambition in his outlook to offer anything much different from the majority of other acts around. His life’s experience seems to be limited to people he’s seen on public transport, how men and women differ and toilet tales. All decently funny and delivered with vim, but offering nothing distinctive to stand out from plenty of others like him.

‘Jew Geordie’ Ben Van Der Velde started a little safely, too with a predictable gag about rioters targeting Marks and Spencer (‘this is not just any riot....’) but soon established himself as a sharp and crafty gagsmith, with wittily obtuse takes on class, Goths and using ‘x’ for a kiss, among others. He covered an impressively wide range of topics in a short set, bringing flair and confidence to them all. In the couple of years since Chortle last reviewed him, his writing has certainly risen to match the liveliness of his performance, and he was the night’s deserved winner.

In the spirit of Sarah Silverman, Scotswoman Samantha Hannah tries to play the ‘cute girl saying inappropriate things’ card – yet isn’t quite sharp enough to pull it off. Sometimes she gets lost in waffle surrounding the gag, such as her take on building-site heckles, and sometimes the joke is no clever than mocking, say, blind people for their inability to see. Still, there’s a charm to her – she just has to get either much harsher with the dark stuff or softer and chatty... at the moment she isn’t quite committed enough to either to have a well-defined persona.

With his non-threatening camp and fashion style of a T4 presenter, Christian Elderfield doesn’t make a great first, or even second, impression – seeming to be another cookie-cutter media wannabe with charisma but light, ineffectual material. Yet as he progresses, he displays a more astute wit, and goes quite some way to dissolving that impression. Yes, there’s a certain reliance on second-hand conversations he’s heard, but his jaunty style and subtle, knowing stance makes him better than most others of his ilk. At the end of the night, he was placed third, which seemed fair.

With his posture of an affable, but uncool loser, Tony Dunn presents a dry, offbeat storytelling style and a good smattering of original lines. His exaggerations don’t always elevate his tales from the everyday, but most do, with a memorable element that makes him stand out. Not a barnstorming performance, but quietly impressive for an up-and-comer.

Don Biswas’s one-liners proved very popular with the crowd, although they are not at the peak of the genre, with quite straightforward jokes about burqas, the broke middle classes or his own Indian heritage (references to call centres and minicab driving all present and correct). There’s better material on the subject of his own dyspraxia, and his awkward, barked-out delivery as he remains rooted to the spot, gives him a vulnerability that the audience finds appealing – but the material is decidedly hit and miss.

Barnaby Slater hinted at something interesting by immediately bringing up the subject of his girlfriend being pregnant by another man. But ideas that he’d reveal much more about himself are immediately dashed as he plunged into a morass of abortion and paedophile jokes that have long lost their ability to shock – especially when written with such apparent cold calculation as this. There’s a nice bit of structure to the set and the occasional good line, but smugly adding: ‘You’re right, that is a very funny joke’ after a modest laugh does nothing to boost the likeability of this cynical act.

Pete Beckley, too, played up the weirdo angle. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but he’s certainly taken the effort to cultivate the look, while addressing the room with a strange, strangulated voice. As for the writing, it’s a very mixed bag with a smattering nice offbeat one-liners amid more pedestrian material, almost all based around awkwardness or potential psychoses. Yet his persona will be memorable, even when the jokes aren’t, and he took second place tonight.

Finally Joanne Lau, one of the longest-serving ‘newcomers’ on the bill. Yet despite her experience, she got off to a wobbly start, due largely to a garbled bit about her scientific day job, animal testing and funding cuts that was far from elegant – unlike the new on-stage look she has adopted. Equally, talk of watching cat videos on YouTube had a good idea at its core, but slightly jumbled. Yet she came into her own when she unleashed some inner mean, bitching about men and the dating scene – but it came just too late to rescue the uneven set.

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Published: 1 Dec 2011



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