Scottish Comedian Of The Year Final 2007

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Of the burgeoning number of stand-up competitions, the Scottish Comedian Of The Year sets itself apart in two key ways. First, that the final is a genuinely prestigious affair. Held in Glasgow’s impressive Old Fruitmarket as part of the Merchant City festival and ably hosted by Des Clarke, it comes with a genuine sense of occasion.

Second, there’s no stipulation that contestants need be new acts – making it a good platform for comics who’ve cemented their acts, rather than simply showing promise.

But even though some of last night’s finalists have been going as long as Chortle, the crown ultimately went to the performer that, by a long chalk, was the least experienced on the night. Sean Grant’s only been a comedian for a couple of months – which did show in his delivery – but the judges, of which I was one, thought his material was nonetheless the most distinctive.

I mention my role on the panel because the evening got off to a rather strange start, as opening act The Wee Man – a broad caricature of a scummy youth – spent most his allocated ten minutes griping acrimoniously about my review of his act in last year’s competition. The first couple of lines got him laughs, and elevated his rebel status, but as he admitted he didn’t care about the competition, and in became clear he wanted to dedicate the lion’s share of his stage time to settling a score the comedy dried up, especially as the bitterness was all-too real, and the cause irrelevant to any one else in the audience.

One of his complaints was that I called him a generic ‘chav’ act, when he was fiercely proud to call himself by the local equivalent, a Ned. Ned, chav, scally, schemie… it’s all the same. There’s more to comedy than donning a gold chain, Burberry cap and nasal whine – and with so many people going down the same route, whatever their city of origin, you need a keen sense of humour to stand out. But with his obvious comments about the baggage handler who attacked the Glasgow Airport terrorists or weak jokes about how rough his mother is, the Wee Man just doesn’t cut it.

By elevating a difference of opinion into a feud, he can claim that he is always destined for a poor Chortle review. That’s not necessarily the case, but with all objectivity, he’ll have to do much better than this predictable, derivative and unfunny act to get one.

After such a burst of negativity, Scott Agnew was a refreshing change, with an easy-going, conversational delivery. It’s become a cliché to compare Scottish comedians with Billy Connolly, but he does share the same ability to spin an anecdote and draw out its humour. His tale of two tramps playing ‘shite volley’, especially, you can imagine coming from the Big Yin, though the comic legend would probably spike it with a few extra gags. But what he lacks in efficiency, Agnew makes up for in attention to detail and a likeable presence. He’s a regular compere – and that has certainly given him a relaxed approach to an audience, even if a few more punchlines wouldn’t go amiss.

Gus Tawse has a more deadpan – and, it has to be said – a more formulaic approach to his routine. Where Agnew connected with the audience, he was more detached and often seemed to be going through all-too familiar patterns to get to his punchlines. The businesslike approach got the job done, however, and the laughs came. However, it was only towards the end of his set, when his crueller streak was exposed with unapologetic tales of heartless behaviour, that he started to show some real spirit and attitude. That, however, was enough to secure him third place.

Our eventual winner, 36-year-old Sean Grant was up next, instantly notable for his very, dry delivery – which was also distant and needlessly slow. It showed him afraid to engage with the audience, so he didn’t try, but instead sought to hide behind the strength of material in which he places all his confidence. He’s right to put store in the writing, which showed a lot of flair – even when talking about rather generic subjects like teenage mums (Wee Man take note), and again a seam of selfish behaviour was exploited for some very well put-together routines.

Niall Browne had a more conversational approach, and plenty of his routines are based on inventive ideas – such as the notion of randomly of Olympic competitors from the population at large. Somehow, though, he couldn’t quite follow through, and as he expounded on his first thoughts, they became weaker. He’s a bit too chatty at times and has a tendency to labour the point, making too much out of nothing – the lack of Ikea in Northern Ireland for instance, which becomes rather a jumbled train of thought to a disappointing conclusion. But even though it’s quite a messy set, there’s something very promising at its core.

You can’t fault Edinburgh-based Australian Rowan Campbell’s assured delivery, driving thought he material with slickness and confidence. His best routines are very well put-together, with proper emphasis on punchlines, while still telling a tale. But he did get bogged down with a couple of ideas – the convicts being ‘punished’ by a trip to Australian paradise is well-worn, and his sheep-shagging segment had a laboured predictability. But the more personal portions work well – even if it’s about something as simple as handing out flyers at the Edinburgh Fringe – and are given extra lift by the professional performance.

Though still only 22, Scott Forbes has been going for about three years, but the sense of occasion obviously proved too much for him. He paced nervously around the large stage, noticeably fluffed his material and lost his train of thought. What we saw of his routine was mixed – there was some merit in his tale of being mugged by a seagull, but even he seemed to lose interest in talking about dildos. Whether he had a great conclusion to this, we don’t know, as he surrendered completely to his jitters and left the stage early.

Teddy was one of the more impressive acts on the night – and for my money unlucky not to have secured a place… but that’s the democracy of having a panel of judges. Firstly, he’s 100 per cent happy on stage, with a measured but in-control delivery that draws the audience in and a reassuringly refined sense of timing. Secondly there was an engaging honesty about his ill-conceived attempts to negotiate the ethical and erotic minefield of a quick shag with the friend he’d long been secretly in love with. There’s vulnerability as well as wit in this tale, which took up the bulk of his set – and his attempts to talk dirty despite his middle-class reservations work very well. It’s a great routine, topped off with a couple of morally dodgy but very funny one-lines, that prove Teddy as a class act.

After eight boys, the only female act to make the final, Jay Lafferty was possibly the comedian who went down best with the audience. She’s relatively inexperienced, and the choice of some of her material showed her naivity, with gags about inbreeding and blow-jobs adding nothing to the large body of material already existing on the subjects. But the mixed-bag set also included some nicer comments on schoolday bullying and the Wii games console – and it was all very assuredly delivered. For my money she demonstrated potential, rather than the finished article, but she won over the crowd enough to secure second place.

Finally, Bratchy – brother, trivia fans, of The Wee Man – with a decidedly hit-and-miss set. But the hits certainly struck their target with force, and his animated, spontaneous delivery brought every routine to energetic life. Angrily bitchy comments about celebrities and drama students seem to be his forte, and he had a witty take on a news story about an Australian surfer who lost his leg to a shark. Other sections were less noteworthy, the idea of slugs being homeless snails is nothing new, and telling cat-owners their homes stink comes straight from one-line merchant Milton Jones. But away from this there was certainly some nice work on display.

It’s perhaps a product of the rule that doesn’t restrict entry to newbies alone that meant there was a solid quality for many of the acts tonight. Often in competitions there’s plenty of clear water between the leading pack and the rest, but in the Scottish Comedian Of The Year, it was harder to separate the talents of the bulk of the competitors. In only two years, the contest seems to have found a useful place in the comedy calendar – and it’s certainly proving itself a handy barometer of the state of the Scottish circuit.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Glasgow, September 23, 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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