Beat The Frog World Series 2006

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s often easy to dismiss large, lively audiences; to assume they would prefer straight-down-the-line mainstream comedy over than anything too challenging. But the crowd at Manchester’s Frog and Bucket – hardly the nation’s most esoteric, arty venue – rightly chose invention over safety when it came to its annual new act competition last night.

The Beat The Frog World Series is a showcase of newer acts who have previously survived the venue’s weekly gong show. And while the most obvious crowd-pleasing act, slick musical comic Gonzo Kane, appeared to be the best received, when it came time for the audience to cast their votes, it was the strikingly original George Cottier who took the title.

And well deserved it was too, for Cottier is truly daring in following his own course, from opening his act with an awkwardly long silence, to abruptly leaving the stage when he was through. In between, he offers a genuinely unpredictable set, daft and quirkily obsessive, and rich with bizarre non-sequiteurs. His philosophy is never apologise, never explain, preferring to let the unique material stand on its own, even if he has to sing the old Grange Hill theme all the way through – twice – to make his point. A bold original thinker, who was rightly rewarded.

The man he beat into second place, Gonzo Kane, is undeniably more skilled at working the room, confidently launching his set with some call-and-response shenanigans to get the crowd onside – rather redundant give the expert compering of the animated Dan Nightingale. The cornerstone of his set is a rock-solid song about a hoodies – the usual musical comedy deal of mediocre material and buzzwords (like ‘hoodie’, for starters) given a huge lift by the guitar accompaniment. It’s standard fare, but he is very good at it and a regular guest slot on a radio variety show surely cannot be far away.

Don’t underestimate the power of crowd control though, and he can elicit a huge cheer simply for calling Wayne Rooney ‘a fat spotty chav’, which is hardly an insult for the quotation books. Nonetheless, the visual routine with which he closes his set is a very funny image, smartly exploited.

Third placed was the night’s closing act, Susan Hanks, although there was very little substance to her breezily conversational set. She opened with a bland take on the M&S ‘gastroporn’ ads, but most of her routine was about the characters on the Tricolor tapes that a certain generation of schoolkids used to learn French. But if you didn’t share this experience, her comments about how Pascal had a high-pitched voice or everyone lived in La Rochelle will be meaningless, exposing the limitations of her narrow observational comedy. But it was all delivered engagingly enough.

Back at the start of the night, Isma Almas got things off to a flying start, taking to the stage in full burkha and cracking a couple of sharp, topical gags from behind her veil. For ease of communication – and without being asked by a Labour grandee – she soon removed it, but the material started to go downhill once we could see her lips move, with some mediocre material about her silly Asian parents, and obvious and predictable cracks about rucksacks and suicide bombers that couldn’t be rescued by her obvious charm.

Phil James adopted that rigidly deadpan attitude many new acts do as defence from exposing the real them, even if it means a harsher environment for their jokes. James’s puns and one-liners are actually a lot sillier that this cold delivery suggests, even if they do vary wildly in quality from the witty to the dreadfully corny. But there’s enough here to suggest that with some uncompromising editing and application to writing, he could have something to offer.

Damion Larkin engenders some sympathy with his ‘I’m so ugly and a loser in love’ stance, but it’s not quite enough to see him through some patchy material. There are some half-decent gags on that theme, but others are considerably weaker and he struggles to built any comic momentum, not helped by some glaring inconsistencies in his character – this ‘loser’ actually has a girlfriend, for instance. Still, the persona is endearing even if not all the jokes are.

Peter McCole has the confidence to give all his stories space to be told, without feeling the need to constantly ‘gag it up’ – but sadly that confidence turns out to be misplaced. The first of his tall tales, about suspicious men who filmed him playing football in his youth, has a nice pay-off, but a yarn about dogging is all one big tease to a disappointing ‘…and so I got off the bus…’ style pay-off. More work on where the laughs might come is definitely needed.

Lesbian Goth fetishist Bethany Black completed the line-up with entertaining and realistic tales from her unusual life. And although her material sounds convincingly truthful, she’s careful to include plenty of gags en route, too as her enjoyable anecdote about losing her possessions at a flood-hit Glastonbury aptly demonstrates. But while she is solidly engaging, she’s still missing that certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ that would elevate her into an audience favourite. Maybe her distinctive look puts people off, but it shouldn’t.

Still, no one died a death - unlike at the gong nights that brought them all here – and there’s certainly enough to suggest that the Frog might have helped uncover some more talent. Kane, certainly, will be a circuit feature before too long, and Cottier is definitely an act worth seeing more of.

Review by: Steve Bennett
October 24, 2006

Review date: 25 Oct 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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