Scottish Comedian Of The Year 2006

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Manchester has long held a successful one, now Scotland has followed the lead with its own competition to celebrate the best in local comedy talent. Not a new act hunt as such, with some finalists having been working for up to seven years, but as good as, given it’s unlikely any firmly established act would risk entering – or, more crucially, losing.

The final was held in Glasgow’s grand Old Fruitmarket, a cavernous venue most likely the biggest any of the contestants had ever played, yet all held their nerve.

The only jitters on display came from opening act Derek Devine – but then that was all part of the persona of an awkward, shuffling pervert. With hair plastered down, suspicious bag strapped tightly cross his chest and a propensity to rub himself in places it’s not considered polite, his intent was clearly to make the audience feel uncomfortable – and none more so than the poor girl he made stand up for some unwanted personal attention.

While seeking such unconventional reaction is an interesting path, laughter even of the nervous sort wasn’t too forthcoming. The set was thin on jokes, and many of them not much more than knob jokes. Darker, less predictable, material worked better; and when a closing set piece genuinely went wrong, he showed a vulnerability and spontaneity he’d be well advised to incorporate into his otherwise all-too rigid delivery.

Simon Brown suffered the opposite problem, he was far too animated, pacing from left to right for no good reason and expending a huge amount of energy on very little substance. He grows very angry of the slightest things, and it all seem so fake, straight out of the classroom rather than the heart. The material, too, was the most dated, bland, superficial old rubbish – men like football, porn and football while women like shoes and shopping – that tells you nothing about anything.

Just when it looked like this inaugural contest could be a wash-out, along came the relatively inexperienced Mark Nelson, pictured, to raise the bar, invigorating the room with a burst of fresh energy. It was a standard others found hard to match, and he ended up taking the night’s crown.

Unlike his predecessors, he started with a proper joke, proving his credentials from the get-go, then distributed some simple, blunt, but perfectly aimed barbs at a couple of celebs; disguising the nastiness of the sentiment with a well-spoken delivery. He wobbled slightly with some more generic Ikea observations, and a routine contrasting the lives of hip-hop stars with those of their fans, but it was never less than smartly written. Similarly, his closing routine about ugly friends was so well put-together it belied his comparative lack of stage time

Paul Piriewas almost as impressive – as evidenced by his second-placed ranking on the night – with a delivery rivalling compere Des Clarke for pace and energy. He looks the part, too, with ill-fitting jacked, thick-framed glasses, poor haircut and an almost Groucho-like stoop, he has ‘comedian’ written all over him.

His delivery is superb, jumping across the spectrum from bitchy to silly without seeming forced – and he’s a most impressive physical comedian, especially when it comes to inhabiting the spirit of a mewling, moody toddler. The material is patchier, although he’s gloriously dismissive about the over made-up shopping mall schemies, and pulls a couple of appealing puns out of the bag. A good act, for sure.

Wendy Wason is a chatty, endearing presence, but lacking in focus what she has in likeability. She’s sometimes acerbic, sometimes insecure, sometimes a dry topical commentator, sometimes an observational ‘my kids say the funniest things’ style act, meaning the audience is left unsure about what exactly what her point of view is. There’s no denying she’s a natural on stage, with bags of charm, but she still needs to sharpen her comedy claws to properly categorise on that.

The Wee Man is a character act – and guess what? He’s another Burberry-capped schemie. The programme promised that this chavvy act comes ‘with a twist’ – although you’d be hard pushed to see what sets him apart from everyone else doing versions of the same. He has more dick jokes than most, he’s perhaps more gratuitously offensive, portraying himself as a wife-beating rapist before pulling back with an ‘only joking’ defence and – god spare us – he does a rap. About his penis. It goes down better than it really deserves, thanks to a more-than decent performance, but there’s nothing imaginative in the set.

Neil McFarlane is cool and aloof – and he knows it. ‘Next slide please,’ he deadpanned as if addressing a tedious middle-management conference, perfectly mocking his low-key delivery. He’s not especially exciting, but with the confidence of years (he’s the most established name in the final) means he proves amiable company. His job at the BBC Complaints Department provides his best material, giving the chance to mercilessly tease the complainants in a way he presumably can’t do in the office. Although inconsistent, his best writing is offbeat, showing a clear ability to craft a joke. But then he does a few clunky gags, too, and his callbacks seem awkwardly shoehorned in for their own sake, rather than emerging subtly and naturally. Nonetheless, his plusses outweighed the minus, and he took third place.

Obie is relaxed also, but a bit too much so. He spent an age saying hello, putting his drink down, tidying the mike stand away, posing for a photo, telling his stage name is short for his surname O’Brien – all this without a gag. And when some material does emerge from the rambling style, it’s nothing to write home about: pensioners smell of piss, masturbation, bestiality – it’s covering all the standard bases but without enough sharpness or originality to hit them properly. There’s some daft charm to his eager-to-please scattergun delivery, but not much material to back up this cheeky spirit.

Scott MacDomhnaill, as both his names suggest, was the most Scottish of the Scottish acts on the bill, with a set taking in the gaelic language, Church of Scotland and Orange marches. His languid delivery had more than at touch of Arnold Brown about it, but without quite enough punchlines to reward the waits. He has some nice ideas, especially on plotting revenge for a wasp’s sting and his unique take on religion based on his Mormon upbringing. Yet elsewhere he not beyond a cheap gag, on ‘Brokebum’ Mountain, for instance. His low energy means an unforgiving atmosphere for his many flops, even if the set-ups show some promise.

No surprises, then, that a final offered up a mixed bag of acts, but the most important conclusion was that the quest for a Scottish Comedian of the Year was a worthwhile endeavour, with a clear reason to exist and unearthing not just some fine comics, but others with the potential to be. Promoter Alan Anderson, who’s also behind Scotland’s Ha Ha comedy club, can congratulate himself on a job well done, and hopefully the start of a new dynasty of Scottish Comedians of the Year.

Steve Bennett
September 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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