BBC New Comedy Award: Meet the finalists

Radio 2 competition reaches climax

It's the final of the newly-revived BBC New Comedy Award tomorrow, going out live on Radio 2 from 7pm. Let's meet the finalists…

Name: Angela Barnes

Age: 34

From: From Maidstone in Kent originally, now live in Brighton

Occupation: Currently supporting students with learning needs at university.

How long have you been doing comedy? 18 months

What made you start stand-up? I have always loved stand-up and wanted to do it, I started running comedy nights a few years ago, and eventually signed up to a workshop, and took to the stage myself.  I remember watching the 1998 BBC New Comedy Award final on TV, the year Dan Antopolski won it, and knowing then that I really wanted to do it. It only took me 13 years to get there!

How was your first gig? My first gig was a showcase for the workshop that I did at Komedia in Brighton.  200 people, mostly friends and family, really supportive lovely gig. Quite an unusual scenario for a first gig - a room where it was virtually impossible to die!  Took me six months to pluck up courage to do my next gig, in a pub in Hove - it went well, but was obviously a totally different and terrifying experience!

What’s been your best experience doing comedy so far? Well, getting this far in this competition has to be up there.  I totally didn't expect to make it to the final!  I walked into my heat, saw who I was up against and thought ‘might as well go home now!’ The semi-final in Edinburgh was loads of fun, and definitely my favourite night in comedy so far...

And the worst? Oh lordy, a fair amount to choose from.  I think it has to be a gig on a bank holiday Sunday afternoon (!) in Maidstone, my hometown. Free gig + beer + long royal wedding bank holiday weekend = firefighting some of the most obnoxious hecklers - I actually got ‘Show us yer growler!’  Made me so proud... 

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? I've been lucky to have been given lots of good advice.  I think the most important bit of advice is simply don't be an idiot. Be someone that people want to work with. Say pleases and thank yous, and don't expect too much.  You could potentially be the best comedian in the world, but if you're an arsehole, eventually promoters will just not be bothered to work with you. They have a tough job, make it easier for them, and you'll get booked again.

Who are your comedy heroes? Oh God, this question always gives me palpitations.  OK, at the risk of sounding like everyone else that gets asked this question, my favourite comedian to see live is Daniel Kitson, obvious, yes, but true.  My comedy hero is probably Linda Smith.  I am a massive Radio 4 comedy nerd, have been as long as I can remember.  Her legendary appearances on The News Quiz were some of my favourite comedy moments. She was a role model, an intelligent, strong, yet non-threatening or aggressive woman in comedy, who didn't talk about just ‘women's things’.  She was also from Kent, and had that way about her that was so easygoing and friendly, yet biting and clever.  Yep, she's definitely my number one comedy hero, and the world is a less funny place without her in it.

What’s your comedy dream? My biggest comedy ambition is to appear on R4's The News Quiz.  As I said before, I've been a fan as long as I can remember, it would be following in my hero's footsteps and a real life goal achieved. Sigh, maybe one day...

How do you hope being a finalist in the Radio 2 New Comedy Award will help? I still haven't quite got my head around being here, and haven't really allowed myself to think much beyond Saturday night. Ultimately, being a BBC New Comedy Award Finalist is something I'm dead proud to have on my CV, and hopefully will get a bit of attention from bookers and promoters who haven't seen me, but that might book me on the back of this.  I also love radio as a medium (you may have noticed) so maybe this will open some doors in that direction, who knows?  Good things have started to happen already - been signed by a voiceover agency, going to Latitude, I'm happy...

Pat CahillName: Pat Cahill

Age: 26

From: Originally Isleham, a small village in East Anglia, now living in London.

Occupation: Model Maker

How long have you been doing comedy?  2 years

What made you start stand-up? I always wanted to do comedy since I was a nipper, tried lots of other stuff, but found it was the only thing that really got my rocks off.

How was your first gig? Tossa de Mar in Spain on a school drama trip when i was 15, at an interschools cabaret night. Stormed it. It even got me a phone call to my room from a girl, but my mate ended up going out with her. 

What’s been your best experience doing comedy so far? The BBC semi-final at the Bath Komedia was amazing, but it's probably getting to do a spot at Fulchfest, Rich Fulcher’s mad North London gig. I started there as the terrible drummer in the house band and eventually he let me out the front to do a turn. Was a great gig.

And the worst?  I once got told by an audience member in Norwich to breathe. You know a gigs going badly when they fear for your health. 

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? To breathe, and just to keep going, it's all about the next gig and then the next gig and then...

Who are your comedy heroes?  Spike Milligan, Charlie Chuck, Vic and Bob,  all for just doing what they want to do and then seeing who want's to join in.

What’s your comedy dream? To make something funny enough that people would put it on to show other people, and feel like they were funny themselves just for showing it. Like i do all the time.

How do you hope being a finalist in the Radio 2 New Comedy Award will help? It’s an amazing pat on the back, so more than anything it's just nice for someone to give you the permission to carry on being an idiot, but i would love it to help at least get a leg up / a foot in / peer in the window of the career Iwant to end up in.

Tez IlyasName: Tez Ilyas

Age: 28

From: Originally from Blackburn, Lancashire.  Now live in Brixton, London

Occupation: Civil Servant at the Home Office

How long have you been doing comedy? Exactly one year, yesterday.  So since June 16, 2010

What made you start stand-up? In January 2010 I was looking online for a creative writing course because I wanted to write a TV show, when I came across a six-week stand-up comedy workshop course at City Lit Adult College.  I've always loved stand-up and have always harboured a secret desire to do it.  Plus friends and family tell me that I'm funny all the time, so eventually I began to believe it!  I thought I'd really regret not having a go, so I did.  The course at was run by Rob Hitchmough and it was brilliant; I learnt lots from it and it's because of this course, and how I applied myself afterwards, that I find myself where I am now.

How was your first gig? My first ever gig on June 16, 2010 was at the Comedy Pub in central London, down the road from the Comedy Store.  It was the showcase from the comedy course.  I was on last from 12 comics and the nerves were jangling!  Plus I had a lot of friends and work colleagues in the room.  I told my friends to be inconspicuous and sit at the back, instead, they came with specially made T-shirts and sat right at the front... no pressure then!  But the gig was lovely, there was a lot of love in the room and I remember that night with a lot of fondness!

What’s been your best experience doing comedy so far? Winning the coveted King Gong at the Comedy Store on my first attempt in January was amazing... It's the closest a Comic will experience to being a gladiator at the Coliseum, it can be a truly awful experience and many a great comic has crashed and burned on that stage.  That experience gave me a lot of confidence and drive to take my act as far as it can go. I've also met some absolutely brilliant people, who I will stay friends with for ever and ever. Amen... They know who they are...

And the worst? You learn a lot more from your bad gigs then you do from your good gigs and the first time I died on stage was also the first time I compered a night.  I was truly awful, but learnt so much from the experience that I'm glad it happened.  Every setback is an opportunity to learn as long as you're ready to heed the lessons... Deep!

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? 'Don't get carried away by your good gigs and don't get carried away by your bad gigs' - Alan Sellers 'Love and believe in your material, because if you don't, why should anyone else?' - Tez Ilyas

Who are your comedy heroes? In no particular order: Chris Morris, Pippa Evans aka Loretta Maine, Peter Kay, Jack Dee, Slim, Jimmy Carr, Shappi Khorsandi, Ricky Gervais, Kane Brown, Stewart Lee, Michael McIntyre, Armando Iannucci, Omid Djalili, Paul Chowdhry, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddy Murphy, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Hicks, Russell Peters & Trey Parker/Matt Stone  Now you may think, that's a pretty diverse range of comics/writers, with different styles and techniques.  But for me because comedy is so subjective I don't restrict myself to a specific type.  I'm a diverse person with many different likes and interests and my comedy heroes reflect that.  All of these guys are amazing at what they do and I have been inspired so much by watching them or their work.  My experience of comedy has been largely positive, but I do dislike the pretentious snobbery/jealousy that some acts through no fault of their own attract... Long may diversity in comedy continue!

What’s your comedy dream? I would love to be respected by both critics and audiences for both my writing and performance skills and would love to take my ideas and voice all over the world. Well actually the real reason I started doing comedy was to get noticed so that when Matt Smith quits I can become the next Doctor... So if someone can swing that for me, that'd be aces.

How do you hope being a finalist in the Radio 2 New Comedy Award will help? I hope I can attract an agent that will help me in becoming the best comic I can be and that I progress to better paid gigs post-Edinburgh in comedy clubs across the country.  I have also written a TV pilot for a drama-comedy series, that I feel if developed properly could be brilliant, so I'd like to progress that. I am open-minded so would be open to any interesting opportunities that are out there.

Joe LycettName: Joe Lycett

Age: 21

From: Birmingham

How long have you been doing comedy? 3 years

What made you start stand-up? I saw Tom Stade at the Glee Club with my friends and they laughed at him more than they ever laughed at me. I was in awe and it planted a seed. I'm still in awe of Tom Stade.

How was your first gig? I went to watch the King Gong show at the Manchester Comedy Store. They asked if anyone in the audience wanted to try, which after a few ciders seemed really sensible to me. Safe to say I was appallingly bad. I didn't even get gonged off, I just walked off stage, tripping as I went.

What’s been your best experience doing comedy so far? There have been so many but the Edinburgh Fringe is such an amazing time of the year and I've loved every time I've been there. Also, when I did the semi-final of this competition I met Patrick Kielty and that was amazing because he has the same face.

And the worst? Any gig where I have failed to make them laugh. Always horrible, however inevitable.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? Write loads. Gigs loads. 

Who are your comedy heroes? I don't know if I could pick really, there are so many. I admire anyone who has done something different but that's still funny and stuck with it. 

What’s your comedy dream? To be able to go on stage every night and effortlessly perform an hour of brand new material that is super brilliant.

How do you hope being a finalist in the Radio 2 New Comedy Award will help? Hopefully it will open up more opportunities to do more comedy in more places. 

Mark RestucciaName: Mark Restuccia

Age: 38

From: Surrey originally, now in London, so from good stock.

Occupation: Voiceover Artist

How long have you been doing comedy? Since 2008

What made you start stand-up? I decided I would like to get paid for horsing around inf ront of a group of strangers and perhaps teasing them.

How was your first gig? In a basement club in Shepherds Bush called Knock2bag. I got very drunk and lasted 3 minutes, but it was smashing, so was the next one. The next one was horrible.

What’s been your best experience doing comedy so far? Getting to the final of this (smiley face).

And the worst? Getting booed off at Jongleurs and being told by someone afterwards that 'I'd ruined their day'. Oh, and having a £300 coat stolen the same night. Brilliant.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? Never give up.

Who are your comedy heroes? Jimmy Carr, particularly for his audience dealings and ace jokes, Eddie Izzard for his surrealist dealings.

What’s your comedy dream? Not too much. Just to fill Hammersmith Apollo, release a stand-up DVD and write an award-winning sitcom and sketch show. I'm very ambitious, you see.

How do you hope being a finalist in the Radio 2 New Comedy Award will help? See above. 

Chris TurnerName: Chris Turner

Age: 21

From: Manchester originally, now living in Oxford. 

Occupation: I finished studying for a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology at St Hugh's College, Oxford, this June. 

How long have you been doing comedy? Since October 2009. 

What made you start stand-up? I was a member of The Oxford Imps, an Oxford-based improv troupe, and after performing at the fringe with them in August 2009, I decided that I'd like to see if I was capable of making an audience laugh as an individual. I thought that if I could be funny through improv with no preparation, I could be even funnier with pre-planned material. Turns out that it's not that simple!

How was your first gig? It was at a bar called Baby Simple on Cowley Road in Oxford, at a short-lived open mic night with amateur and first time comics. I wore bright orange trousers, told meandering, surreal stories with very few discernible jokes and offered the audience sweets at the end. It went well enough for me to try it again, although looking back even just a year and a half on, it's incredibly embarrassing. 

What’s been your best experience doing comedy so far? It's hard to pick a single moment, but big gigs like the So You Think You’re Funny 2010 final and the semi-final of the BBC Award are always a nerve-racking joy. One of the constant thrills is gigging with a comic you admire, and perhaps watched on TV before starting stand-up. 

And the worst? Without a doubt, my third gig - an eternal death at the hands of Oxford Jongleurs. For the last two minutes of a five minute spot, there was complete silence, and upon reaching my last joke, when no laughter came after the punchline, someone shouted, ‘Tumbleweed’, and I left the stage, club and building, abandoning my two free drinks tokens. Soon after, it closed down. 

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given? Two months after starting, I was lucky to do ten minutes before Reginald D. Hunter went on in Oxford. The gig went well, and after, Reg said that he liked it - I asked for any advice, he said, ‘Beef it up’. I wasn't entirely sure what he meant and he didn't explain, but I've taken it to mean several things since, and it helped a lot. 

Who are your comedy heroes? One-liner comics like Emo Philips, Steven Wright, Milton Jones, Stewart Francis, Gary Delaney and Demetri Martin inspire me to write better jokes, while acts like Hans Teeuwen, Stewart Lee, Tim Key and Daniel Kitson remind me that the one-two punch of a clever gag isn't the only way to get an audience laughing. Finally, Stan Freberg and Monty Python - the first comedians I listened to, on tapes in my Dad's car. 

What’s your comedy dream? To be able to make a living from writing and telling jokes, and to be able to regularly tour a good quality show to appreciative audiences. I'd love to do a sitcom as well, something like Not Going Out or Milton Jones' radio offerings. 

How do you hope being a finalist in the Radio 2 New Comedy Award will help? Hopefully it'll be a nice step towards comedy as a full-time job, leading to better and more gigs. I'd also love it to showcase my writing, and end up with some chances to write for shows and comics because of it. 

Here is some footage of all the acts - and the other semi-finalists:

Published: 17 Jun 2011

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