So You Think You're Funny? 2007 final

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

After 19 years, So You Think You’re Funny? is firmly established as one of the best showcases of brand new comics. Based on this year’s finalists, the new batch are 89 per cent young white men, and likely to talk about daytime TV, airport security and famous people they look a bit like...

There was a noticeable lack of ambition among some of the finalists. Surprisingly slick and confident their delivery they may all have been, but a distinct point of view was a rarer quality. Charitably, this could be attributed to every competition’s demands for quick laughs in a short set.

Opening act Toby Whithouse was probably the worst offender, telling us ‘I know what you’re all thinking, that Chris de Burgh…’ yada yada. His over-polished set revolved around How Clean Is Your House, how backwards his home town is and how fat he used to be, including a ‘…that was just the teacher’ bait and switch. Changing ‘teacher’ to ‘Ofsted inspector’ is fooling no one.

He’s been an actor for more than a decade, and his delivery seemed over-practised and unnatural. But occasionally he flashed a glint of genius: his gag about porn star names was inspired, and the logical extension of Scout camp was a lovely idea with heaps of potential, but we were already bored by the time he got here.

Whithouse has written for Doctor Who and created the Channel 4 series No Angels, but he needs to apply the same creativity to his stand-up as he does to his drama.

Carl Hutchinson was equally uninspired, with a set almost entirely consumed by daytime TV adverts for loans, for Claims Direct, or for Oxfam. If I hadn’t taken notes, I’d have genuinely forgotten he had been on the bill, so forgettable was the bland material.

Richard Sandling, a big fella from Essex, got cracking with some painfully bad pub-gag puns, told with a knowing cheesiness. It didn’t auger well… But then he relaxed into the body of his set, about his obsession with films (indeed, he’s at the Fringe with his second hour-long show on the topic), and proved he was much better than that introduction.

He becomes properly angry on the subject, with a passion that’s truly engaging. He has a great gag about sequels, and imagines what would have happened had Christopher Walken had Harrison Ford’s career, given that he once auditioned for the role of Hans Solo.

It was an original routine, with a strong angle – which is no doubt why the judges awarded him first place.

Daniel Rigby had a distinctive take on his topics, too, starting with the crime prevention adverts that seem to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator, and somehow swinging this around to the social awkwardness of being a centaur or the inverse relation between your wealth and the value of your rubbish. It was smart, original stuff, and very well told by this confident 24-year-old, who was so in control of the room he could subtly engineer his own applause break. For my money, Rigby was one of the top acts in the final, but sadly not in the eyes’ of the judges and he was denied a place.

Dubliner Gar Murran returned us to the world of daytime TV with an opening gag about Oprah, followed by some more generic material about how men always perform too quickly in bed. But in the second half of his brief set, the gags were stronger as he opened up about his relationship with his emotionally distant father who used to beat him as a child. This honesty, referring to something that most people can relate to on some level, provided a solid base for humour, but it was too little, too late.

Chortle has seen Joanne Lau several times before, and her set appears weaker with each hearing, which is a worry. That ‘aaah, me so solly’ accent grates more each time, too. She has flashes of good material, certainly enough to succeed in competitions (she took third place tonight and previously came second in Funny Women) but extending these seven minutes to a serviceable 20-minute set that offers more than a silly voice is going to be tall order.

Young Ben Davis cut quite a figure on stage, a lanky Lancashire bloke with a penchant for dressing in brown. His quietly spoken, low-key delivery and a couple of duff early gags left the audience uncertain. But then a damn good line about how the terror of starting university was exacerbated by the fresher’s pack they gave him turned his set around, and he started to explore interesting new areas.

He was probably the most interesting act on the bill, but didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders, the low-energy approach not helping that. But he clearly had enough potential to secure second place.

Jack Whitehall also shunned the upbeat, with a bored, deadpan, utterly uncharismatic delivery. You need excellent material to be able to get away with that level of performance, and welcoming global warming as Norwich would sink or talking about signs banning guns from aircraft just won’t cut it. At just 19, Whitehall did show some promising lines, but he ruined his own chances with yet another routine about daytime TV ads, this time the loans consolidation ones. Not only was it not original on the night, it’s unnervingly close to a barnstorming routine Marcus Brigstocke has been doing for five years or more. People – and comedy judges in particular – tend to notice that sort of thing.

After a bit of aimless introductory waffle, Irishman James Marsh fell into the same trap of – at best - not knowing what other comics were doing, with a chunk similar to Reginald D Hunter’s material about an all-powerful God being upset by something he, a mere comic, could say. The next routine started with ‘Do you get much immigration over here,’ which caused a few clenched buttocks, but it was all right, he did sit on the ‘anti’ side of the racism debate, although again he expressed himself in very familiar language.

Hitting easy targets once other comics have already cleared the line of sight is never going to be that impressive. But thankfully at least some of the comics were finding their own way, and some were rightly rewarded for doing so.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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