Jack Gillespie

Jack Gillespie

Runner-up in the 2014 Chortle Student Comedy Award with ALCATEL ONETOUCH and Universal Pictures (UK)
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© Chortle/Ian Fox

Chortle Student Comedy Award Final

Note: This review is from 2014

With ALCATEL ONETOUCH and Universal Pictures (UK)

This might not be great news for those planning on entering next year’s Chortle Student Comedy Award, but the quality of the finalists seems to rise year-on-year. Certainly most of the nine introduced to the stage by compere Mark Watson this year delivered solid sets already worthy of professional bookings.

Opening act Alan Irwin, who won the first ever Northern Ireland heat, certainly set the bar high. Watson made the room erupt when he outrageously claimed the first act never wins competition, and Irwin did his best to prove that cheeky assumption wrong, with a high-impact routine that hit the audience hard and often. With verve and passion he described his pitiful sex life, including some advice on where not to indulge, while he bought even non-nerds on board with an intricate and delightfully quirky routine about an arcane piece of flawed logic in Star Wars. Irwin is a slick, energetic act already club-ready… and even if Watson was eventually to be proved right, it was not by such a large margin.

Jack Gillespie hit an entirely different note as he took to the stage fidgety and nervous, unsure of what to do with the mic before hesitantly trying to splutter gags out. But he’d muddle the words, getting the punchlines out before the set-up or visibly losing confidence in his jokes before the big finish. This sort of anti-comedy is easy to do badly, but Gillespie clearly has such a firm grip on the mechanics of the artform that every embarrassed move contributed to a perfectly judged set. The panel of industry experts certainly thought so, and awarded him a well-deserved second.

Elie Kraft’s awkward low-energy is less well-honed, and after a fine twist on the hack ‘I know what you’re thinking…’ opener settled into a long anecdote about a shop assistant he got a crush on, and getting tongue-tied in conversation for overthinking a response. It’s a witty portrait of the sort of man he is, but didn’t have the punch needed. The same is true of the second half of his act, about a superstition he foolishly believed and only now starts deconstructing. Kraft cuts an intriguing low-status persona, but the writing needs work.

The wiry and energetic Red Redmond is another act who’s already fully matured as a comic, having spent several years on the Manchester scene – and entering this competition. He’s developed in every appearance, and managed to pack in a strong story about hitting a guy with a car, and being hilariously unrepentant about it, being punched at a gig, getting an easting disorder and drugs. His style is forceful yet playful, and he works very well with an audience, who he manipulates masterfully. A rock-solid act.

Irishman Stephen Ryan has fostered a peculiar but mesmerising aura, arrogant yet serene, as if a religious convert who’s been enlightened as to the mysteries of the universe and is now teasing us with snippets of that knowledge… an image reinforced by the leather-bound book he clasps throughout the performance, evoking the Bible. He has some beautiful one-liners, manages to be lyrically wry yet largely inoffensive about paedophiles, and spins out a whimsical tale about the ‘one for sorrow…’ magpie song. This last one is on slightly similar ground to an old Richard Herring routine, but Ryan’s distinctively smug persona makes it different, as well as producing an offbeat, varied set.

Opening by telling us ‘shit’s about to get real’ and sporting an idiosyncratic hair-and-beard combo, Jamali Maddix immediately demanded attention and established himself as the one to beat, both with his playful, loose attitude and his withering piss-take of everyday racism, mocked for its inherent stupidity; playground insults being countered with the flippancy they deserve. With quirky, unexpected asides – never has the word ‘quiche’ seemed so funny – Maddix genuinely feels like a fresh voice, and the crowd displayed a lot of love for him. And he even turned the race issue on its head with stories of Chinese roommate improbably, but apparently genuinely, called Ting Ting.

A bit posh, a bit sarcastic and a bit fuller of figure, James Ball is likely to invite comparisons with Michael McIntyre, especially when he laughs at his own jokes. With a tone of ironic boastfulness, he starts with some inventive stories about his Yeovil schooldays, wondering how the stupid kid who couldn’t tell the time could ever function in the adult world or disputing the playground lies of a mini-Walter Mitty in a section that could probably be summed up with one phrase: ‘Chinny Reck-on’. The section about teaching at the French school fizzles out after one line about why he learned the language, however, and the overall impression is of a comic with some good gags which need a bit more work to coalesce into an interesting set.

Pierre Pierre – aka Daniel Harvey – already has his own fan club, with a handful of fans turning up to the gig in the same tragic-clown whiteface and ruby-red lips, which he wears between a scruffy suit and loose tie and a mop of lank black hair. The act is unique and twisted, as if something else entirely is playing out in his own head compared to what the rest of us see. He sings to an unheard soundtrack, relentlessly bashing out a deranged version of The White Stripes’ already weird Little Room, intimidating and confusing the audience before hitting on a couple of members of the audience with a plaintive yet aggressive yet awkward ‘Hey, lady…’ It’s a hard act to describe, built entirely on creating a discordant atmosphere. This wasn’t quite his night thought – the electrifying spark he displayed in heats and semi-final not snapping with the same energy here. Yet he is a fascinating creation.

There is more than a touch of early Simon Amstell in Alex Oliver’s strangulated, anxious voice and existential obsessions about why he doesn’t fit in. He’s more of a man-child, though – and has a corking line to sum that up – painfully childlike even when out on the pull. There’s an amusing air of incredulity to the life he’s ended up with, living at home, sponsoring and owl and stuck with this high voice whenever he gets stressed… like standing on stage for example. But the anxieties are very nicely expressed.

But none of these could topple Maddix, the crowd and audience favourite, and now the Chortle Student Comedy Award champ… and owner of a new phone and tablet thanks to sponsors ALCATEL ONETOUCH. Entries for 2015 will open in January. But you’d better get practising now if this is the standard to beat.

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Published: 19 Aug 2014


Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Chortle Student Comedy Award Final


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