Will Robbins

Will Robbins

Brighton Komedia new comedian of 2020 final

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Komedia, Brighton

The pool of new comedy talent often seems to be getting better with each new act final, every one stronger than the last. 

Certainly the climax of Brighton Komedia’s newly-revived contest yesterday offered a line-up that would put many pro nights to shame, providing a tough challenge for judges – of whom I was one – to pick a winner.

In many a circumstance, for example, opening act Joshua Mays could easily have won, but so fierce was the competition tonight he couldn’t even secure a place.

This Crawley lad has a geezerish demeanour, and a few easy quips about the vegan Brighton demographic, which he then flips with a great image. Throughout his set he displays a distinctively silly and surreal way of extrapolating everyday scenarios into the delightfully absurd. 

He’s a bloke who doesn’t quite understand real life, so dumbs it down to his level, which provides a charmingly childish counter to his dodgier persona as an MDMA-taking shoplifter. It’s a glorious juxtaposition which he exploits for some excellent lines. Great stuff

Sascha LO was the least experienced on the slick bill, and also one of the less assured. She certainly wasn’t quick enough to establish whether she was presenting a version of herself or a comic character of an arrogant, self-centred 19-year-old fresh of her gap year, which causes some confusion. It’s the latter, with LO trying to pick a path between her alter-ego’s insecure awkwardness and smug assurance that didn’t quite comer off.

Much of her posh persona and tics are ‘erm actually’ pretty familiar archetypes, as is her conceited virtue-signalling. She generates some decent punchlines from this, but the character is both over-familiar and hesitantly performed.

Dishevelled Christian Jegard looks like he’s been dropped into an unfamiliar black suit for a funeral, then spent a little too long in the boozy wake before emerging, dazed, on to the comedy club stage.

He’s more focussed than first impressions suggest, though, with clear, deliberate writing underpinning his out-of-place persona. From his odd imagination, he conjures up a quirky dating profile for himself, an odd fantasy about being a boy band manager, and some witty non-sequiturs. The set is imaginative and different, and, save for just a couple of misfires, he might have made the podium, too.

After such invention, Alfie Packham was too everyday to secure a place. He has a touch of the dry Simon Amstell cynicism about his delivery, although without the self-flagellating introspection that is 90 per cent of the famous comic’s act, leaving a slightly anaemic set that had some hallmarks of funny, but never quite strikes gold

He generally plays it a little too safe with his repetition of a parochial local news story from his rural Midlands hometown, and anecdotes about coming to the big city, Meanwhile the delivery seems detached, observations greeted with a resigned sigh rather than knockout punchline. It’s mildly amusing stuff from a likeable guy, but needs more oomph.

Likeable is not what Fran Kissling is going for, with a humourless Medusa stare, tightly-buttoned tunic, ramrod-rigid stance and uncomfortable pauses, she has more the air of a sadistic SS guard than a jaunty comedian.

In demeanour, she’s slightly reminiscent of Simon Munnery’s autocratic alter-ego The League Against Tedium, and it soon becomes clear why: she’s Swiss and playing up every national stereotype of being an inscrutable, ruthlessly efficient, emotional void.

It’s an intriguingly stern act that allows her to sell the sort of wordplay that might otherwise elicit a groan alongside some more imaginative lines. How this ultra-deadpan act will develop over longer than the seven minutes she got tonight is anyone’s guess, but her lack of neediness is compelling, and earned her joint third place on the podium.

Jack Abela got rather too hung up on the jokes about being short and baby-faced, combined with the well-worn ‘so, I’m single…’ shtick of the young beta-male comic who struggles to be a bad boy. 

Some gags are predictable, some are convoluted with an insufficient payoff. Exhibit A: setting up the contrivance of seeing Russian history as being like a Harry Potter epic, then abandoning it after one barely-there punchline. 

Yet a few more gags, when he displays a slightly more combative attitude, land well, while he has a confidence delivery that brings the audience with him. He should use that to take them to more imaginative places.

Michael Akadiri is even more of a natural on stage, charismatic and in effortless control of the room and his material. If his opening observation seems a little pedestrian, he tags it with a line that shows a little grit and a lot of cheek.

He paints a vivid and funny picture of life in London, sometimes adopting faux-offended stance at the indignities of the world, but winningly tongue-in-cheek.

This side of his life, as a sharp-witted everyman just battling to survive, is contrasted expertly with his day job as a medic, expected to exist on a higher plane than the rest of us. If his bedside manner is as good as his stage performance, his patients must feel in safe hands. And for being such a natural, he edged the competition to take the gold night.

Similarly in utter control of the room, possibly even more so, was second-placed Dinesh Nathan.

With a mix of high-spirited delivery and sarcastic, self-deprecating viewpoint, this is a club-ready act, bulletproof in its relentless fusillade, from quips about his name to being a pilot. 

The topic list might not be too ambitious, but he nails every one with a robust punchline and a coruscating delivery, with absolutely nothing, not even a genuine fumble over a repeated gag, throwing him off his blistering pace. Crowd-pleasing without pandering, Nathan is a class act.

Will Robbins is also well aware who he is on stage, and that’s something of a know-it-all wisecracker. 

Some of the material might feel a little rehearsed, but he makes a virtue of a slick delivery and old-school jauntiness, with masterful timing and perfectly acted detail, such as the condemning stare he fires at the object of his scorn in the front row. 

He’s a little person, and while that is by no means the only strand to his act, he’s especially mischievous about being disabled when it suits him – while his horrified description of what a midget entertainment agency is offering is priceless. He’s another pro-quality act who took the other joint third place.

Uncompromising Lily Phillips is something of a Marmite act, so certain in her brutally frank material. Her defiant, take-me-or-leave-me vibe calls to mind early Jo Brand at her most militant pre-national treasure days.

For my money, Phillips’s content was just too blunt and one-dimensional, relying on the below-the-belt shock of talking about her dry vagina or matted arse hair,  to get the laughs. But laughs she got, despite a shortage of nuance or inventiveness, for her transgressive commitment to the rambunctious smut.

Finally, Bulgarian comic Martin Durchov coming over here and stealing our comedians’ jobs – a xenophobic trope he wrings much from. Nor is it the only stereotype he plays with, both based on his nationality and the familiar observations that as you age, hair disappears from your head and sprouts on your arms.

Making hay with the fact he looks much older than his 23 years, Durchov is not especially original, but the gags are solid, the set well-constructed and the delivery confident. A journeyman set but a well put-together one.

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Published: 12 Feb 2020

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