City Life Comedian Of The Year Final 2007

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

As a comedy competition judge, it’s assumed that part of the job is to issue platitudes about the fantastic quality of the line-up, how all the finalists are winners, and how it was a tough decision to choose between them.

The contestants in last night’s North West Comedian of the Year final will probably therefore not forgive me for reporting that the event was something of a disappointment.

Sure, most the acts had a good joke or two, maybe a nice delivery, but there was little genuinely exciting. If the event, sponsored by Channel M and City Life, really is a barometer for the state of one of Britain’s most vibrant comedy scenes, the forecast has to be overcast, at best.

Opening act Dan Bland turned out to have some of the best material of the night, but even this was inconsistent. He displays some original thinking and nice ideas, especially on the topics of AA meetings, Beachy Head as a holiday spot and people being ‘hit by a bus’, but most of the rest didn’t really hit home.

But, as in the Frog & Bucket just a week ago, it was his delivery that really stands in the way: a deadpan staccato with an unnatural rhythm that he seems to adopt out of fear from exposing his personality, rather than because the gags need such a forced speech pattern. The writing shows promise, though.

Blackpool comic Ryan Gleeson also had a distinctively paced delivery, though it wasn’t by any means as frustrating as Bland’s. He tried to stir up some interaction with the audience, but it didn’t really go anywhere. This time-wasting simply delayed the arrival of the first joke, which was already a very long time coming.

Gleeson’s act is largely based around objets trouvés – or simply collecting items that are funny in themselves. Examples are the labels on a cleaning product he found in hospital, and a first aid manual offering ridiculously obvious advice.

This was entertaining enough, but he failed to build up any momentum with other routines on such topics as drunken phone messages. He often seems on the verge of something good, but consistently misses it, which is very frustrating.

Damion Larkin was up third with his reliable ‘lovable loser’ persona He’s capable of writing a decent joke, is engagingly self-mocking and tries to claim fresh perspectives on such staples as the difference between men and women.

But he proved to be another act who couldn’t maintain consistency, with less assured gags on wider, stupider observations such as the fact Currys don’t sell curries. However, his best lines and valiant attempts to be different secured him second place against weak competition.

Chris Brooker struggled with material about splitting up with his girlfriend and office-based pranks. It’s the sort of friendly banter than might liven up colleagues in a dreary workplace, but falls short of being a professional comedy routine.

His often long-winded scenarios got very little reaction from the Comedy Store audience, but he stormed on regardless, barging his way through the apathy. It’s a triumph – of sorts - of sheer force of personality over decent gags.

First after the break, Peter McCole had a lovely delivery style, assured, measured and relaxed, which made him a clear audience favourite. His material, though, was decidedly ordinary. His biblical segment, starting from imagining Joseph’s response to Mary’s immaculate conception, has been done a thousand times before.

Elsewhere there was equally little to excite as he mulled on familiar topics from cunnilingus to obesity. A real shame because he has such an engaging style he could push the boat out a lot further than this and still carry the audience with him. Still, he came third, and won a life-changing £50.

Tim Craven, too, had an impressive presence, but he had considerably better material to back it up. He’s cheeky, bold and personable, bantering away with friendly energy as he made amusing observations about student ideas of cleanliness or his own expanding waistline.

What made his set, however, was a ‘poem’ full of inappropriately nasty, misogynistic invective. It’s all very wrong, but very ironic – think along the sensibilities of Ricky Gervais’s stand-up – and made him a clear winner.

Ian Fox came out with three Michael Jackson jokes, which seem quaintly dated now, and subsequently struggled to pick up any energy. There’s a fine line between a relaxed delivery and an unexciting one, and Fox strayed over it rather too often. There wasn’t a great deal of interest in what he said, either – he went to Amsterdam and took some drugs is the tired premise of his largest chunk. He’s almost certainly a better comic than this – he had a four-star Edinburgh show last year – but you wouldn’t know it from the evidence presented tonight.

Finally, Rob Riley couldn’t help but repeatedly point out where his set was going badly – as if we needed telling. And constant references to the silences and the air of disappointment are hardly going to help the situation.

He’s a big and jovial presence, with a fair amount of bluff Oldham charm, but the content of his set offered slim chance of decent laughs. Jokes about a transgender woman not looking that feminine, about President Bush’s surname possibly meaning something a bit ruder, and cannabis counting towards your five-a-day fruit and veg had a crushing predictability.

It proved a lacklustre end to an unfortunately lacklustre night. Manchester, and surrounds, can do a lot better than this.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Manchester, October 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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