Note: This review is from 2016

Gig review by Steve Bennett in Manchester

Often in new act finals, there’s an obvious cut-off point between genuine contenders and the rest – even if that top tier is just one comedian wide. But last night’s Beat The Frog ‘world series’ final was a much more even playing field, with no clear cut between an elite and no-hopers – a double-sided state of affairs that means no duds, but also no stand-out stars.

Opening act Simon Wozniak had the toughest time of it, but almost all of that was down to his slot. In the rush to get the packed night started, compere Dan Nightingale didn’t have enough time to get the audience settled and focussed. Wozniak’s five minutes tonight was a little sharper than the ten he delivered 24 hours earlier at the Hot Water final, just down the M62, but was coldly received. The opening salvo, a relatable and solid observational bit about confusing Meal Deal offers, struggled to connect, and that was his best routine. After that, his affable performance thawed the room – and was probably the factor that secured him the ‘panel prize’ chosen by the venue staff – but his ideas are too straightforward to really surprise, even if they make valid points such as contrasting pampered Western comfort with the brutal life of Chinese factory workers.

In his delivery, Tony Wright is something of an Asian Jimmy Carr, with a professional, unfussed poise and paramount, almost aloof confidence. He even wears a suit, though of a more retro style than Carr’s Savile Row tailoring. Wright’s material can’t always deliver on its promise, though. Intriguing is the fact that his parents are white working-class Kent folk, though he confesses the circumstances behind that are too tricky to make funny. Our interest is piqued, but not satisfied. There are a couple of great gags and agreeable puns in the set, but also punchlines such as: ‘Vegan? You can fuck right off…’ which is hardly the epitome of wit.

Chris Sullivan has a wonderful comic persona of a broken man, trying to make sense through a fug of drunkenness of what his grim life amounts to after his girlfriend left him. Some strong gags come from the embittered angst, but his shambolic, befuddled approach also means a disregard for professionalism, and he did closer to nine minutes than his allocated five – barging recklessly though his signal to stop. Eventually the house lights came up, the mic was cut and music played him off. It’s a shame because his initially tight routine had become too flabby in the extended time. But with a tight five, this loser might have been a winner.

Arielle Souma – a late wildcard addition to the final – is a polar opposite in personality: a brash, brassy woman laying down what’s what. She’s relentless in her disdain for any wishy-washy ‘hippy shit’ and demands that the fellas man up, show their girls some respect, and make some effort to look good.  It’s a tsunami of compelling attitude which could do with some stronger writing to underpin it, although it would be a bold chap who would dare say that to her face, as she’ll meet anything that offends her with a furious tongue-lashing.

Reading ridiculous TripAdvisor reviews has become something of a stock device, yet Mark Grimshaw gets good mileage out of the preposterous feedback given to the likes of Auschwitz and Anne Frank’s House. It’s not just ‘found comedy’ he peddles, however, as he injects some witty asides, and ultimately his own critiques of the sites – but it is relatively easy pickings. His autism gives him a neat opening gag, and he can clearly be a creative writer, so his outlook can, hopefully, only widen. But he’s a sure crowd-pleaser and took second place on the audience vote.

First place went to Donal Vaughan, a large Irishman who packs more self-deprecating fat jokes into his five minutes than Jo Brand at her prime. It’s a bit one-dimensional – imagine me in a sex tape! – only rarely deviating from the topic of his weight, and largely the same set he performed at this event 12 months ago. But you can’t fault the gag rate, as he packs in the punchlines. How ironic that his set is so lean.

Tom Lawrinson has a lot going for him: quirky, impish and low-status, he protests that it’s ‘ridiculous’ that he’s in the final – though his writing would suggest otherwise. His great response to the sexist ‘banter’ of telling women: ‘Cheer up love it might never happen,’ is worth a trip to see him alone. The set can be hit-and-miss as he sidesteps the obvious, but there are gems here

Gary Meikle is less enlightened, with a gag about pulling a fat chick among his crude and brash set. It’s the sort of roustabout comedy that might serve well in a rowdy room, and his assuredness instils a confidence, but it’s largely  basic humour with an air of laddishness. He can do better – there’s a great line about the practical difficulties of being a chinless wonder – and sometimes the bantz takes a turn, but too often he aims low. But to be fair, he hits that target.

Matt Hutson fell at the first hurdle, with a strained gag that fell on deaf ears and required the apologetic: ‘Never start with a new joke…’ He should know better than that. Some towel-based observational comedy, approached from a tangent, slowly turned the tide, though, and by the time he got to his calling-card song, he’d reversed his fortunes completely. It’s not the ideal number for a short set, as it requires a long build-up verse to the comic payoff, which lowers the laugh rate – but it’s proper songwriting, not a cheap lyric swap. There’s potential here. 

As the votes were counted, last year’s winner, Rob Mulholland, returned for a longer set. He’s mastered the art of exaggerated anger, raging against anything on his radar… even defenceless cats, in a routine with delayed satisfaction as he turns his animal-loving partner’s soft-heartedness around. Or should we say ex-partner, as his ridiculously posh girlfriend dumped him, adding even more venom to his engagingly bitter shtick. If you like your comedians pissed off, Mulholland’s your man.

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Published: 9 Nov 2016


Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Matt Hutson: Brittle Boned


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