Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas started comedy in 2010 and prides himself on working clean. He was a finalist in the Leicester Square Theatre Old Comedian Of The Year in 2017.
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Beat The Frog World Series Final 2021

Review of Manchester's long-established new act contest

This year’s ‘world series’ final of Manchester’s Beat The Frog new act challenge was a game of two halves. Before the interval the crowd were subdued, not even giving compere Danny McLoughlin’s quick-witted ad libs the laughs they deserved; afterwards they were reenergised, and the comedians sharper too. Which is cause and which is effect is open to debate.

The crowd certainly didn’t really get on board opening act Rob Thomas’s extended routine about DJs and dance music. This middle-aged bloke with a touch of the Jasper Carrott in his appearance may seem an unlikely guide through the underground club scene, but he has a definite talent for impersonating the soundtrack. It’s an entertaining skill to elevate his observations, but seems an insufficient substitute for sharper jokes.

San Franciscan Aaron Atkins memorably sums up his Gen Z look with the great line: ‘I look like my favourite band is podcast.’ He’s got quite a lot going on in his set, from his unexpected ethnic make-up to heroin use, which he mixes with a surreal segment about getting advice from a fictional figure and a gag based on playing sound effects on his phone. There’s a lot going on for a five-minute set, which the audience found hard to get a handle on, but he’s a promising act and obviously has no shortage of topics to cover.

Martina Cotichella is a firestorm of insane Italian energy, a full-on, fast-talking blast of lusty sexual verve (she’s very proud of her skills in that department) and bonkers, half-completed ideas. The writing behind her fidgety, force-of-nature presence could be stronger, but she deploys some subtly off-kilter turns of phrase that shows there’s more to her than lascivious smut. Though there is plenty of that.

After the storm, the calm of Birmingham’s Lovell Smith, a very relaxed presence with some wry and witty observations, particularly the disdainful ones directed at children. But there are a couple of more strained lines, too, and his routine about being caught watching porn is hack, making for a very mixed bag.

Had the contest been decided only on the first half, gender-fluid Sam Serrano would have been a shoo-in, feeling like a fully-formed comedian from the moment they took command of the stage. A camp demeanour enlivens a fast-talking delivery,  chuckling freely and, clearly happy to be in the spotlight. There's plenty to talk about, too: learning difficulties, an eating disorder, poor parenting, homophobia – but it's all discussed with a bright, pointed wit.

Unfortunately for the 21-year-old, the contest was not decided only on the first half, and straight after the interval, Liam Farrelly firmly established himself as the frontrunner. He’s fast becoming a fixture of the Scottish pro circuit and this slick, conversational and constantly funny routine showed why.

He’s not the first comic from the Glasgow area to joke about the Last Supper, but makes it his own, while the routine about his sister being a nun is distinctive and funny. He barely got time to tell us about being a dad at 21 as this robustly-constructed set rattled to a conclusion. And in the end, no one could outdo him and Farrelly won the audience vote to take the title, and £250 prize. His winning speech in full? ‘Aye, cheers.’

Fresh from being named a runner-up in the Brighton Grins competition last week, Ashish Suri here won the panel prize, bestowed by a panel of one: Frog and Bucket managing director Jessica Toomey. Suri is a softly-spoken, modest man – ingratiating even when it comes to sex – and exploits his awkwardness in his set. He also touches on racism he’s experienced, calmly discussing it as if it were just another odd social encounter, but now getting his own back in his own quiet way.

In an unfortunate bit of scheduling two comics who talked about being Welsh and overweight appeared back-to-back on the bill. First up, Stuart Thomas lent heavily into the sheep-shagging gags, perhaps to head off any potential hecklers before they had a chance to baa, but the jokes are still predictable. More interesting - and funnier - is his material about food addiction, while he has an appealing presence: an engaging way of raising an eyebrow to the wry observations he makes.

David Arnold has a first-class icebreaker about his size, part of a strong self-deprecatory strand that runs through his set, which also spans allergies and the sharing of some embarrassing old school photos, which has become something of a staple device for comics. A little more ambition wouldn’t go amiss, but Arnold has a winningly beta-male persona, with a smiley, slightly-too excitable delivery, punctuated with nervous laughs.

Finally, trans comic Jenny Hart. As we know from the media, issues of gender beyond the binary are delicate  and nuanced and must be addressed with a careful sensitivity.

Well Hart says bollocks – quite literally - to that.

She’s a bold, brash, shameless presence full of gloriously inappropriate jokes and twisted, dark songs gleefully mocking some awful things. It’s a ribald, vulgar set, full of crude knockabout humour delivered with blunt vitality.  And an absolute crowd-pleaser. She came second, and I suspect it was a close poll, for she’s a powerhouse surely poised to storm the circuit.

While those jokes were being counted the audience were treated to a set from last year’s winner Dan Tiernan offering a fast-paced romp thought his sexuality and his oddly-functioning mind. He’s got a peculiar point of view, a memorable energy and a store of smart, offbeat punchlines. No wonder he won.

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Published: 2 Nov 2021

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