Hull Comedian Of The Year 2007

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s the final of the first Hull Comedian Of The Year competition. Only the acts aren’t from Hull, there wasn’t any competition to get here, and there’s no prize, other than kudos. On the plus side, you don’t have to declare kudos to the taxman.

Instead, this is more of a showcase of newer acts from north of Birmingham and south of Newcastle that veteran promoter Agraman has put together for the city’s inaugural comedy festival. But still they stand to be judged, and a winner crowned.

Following some banter from compere Bill Woolland, Jay Ryan got the ball rolling. He is, it’s fair to say, a larger gentlemen, and much of his act revolves around his considerable girth. He’s wise enough to ensure that’s not the entirety of his set, but we do get a rather predictable routine about anorexics.

Aside from this, Ryan has a few nice gags, but too many of the punchlines are lukewarm, and certainly not strong enough to justify the long-winded build-ups. What Ryan does have, however, is a supremely relaxed style. He’s always engaging and radiates the warmth of a Sellafield fuel rod. You want to like him, even if he doesn’t have the material to make you love him.

Dan Bland’s been in three competition finals in the last 11 days – and Chortle’s been at every one of them; so there’s little more to add to our previous verdicts of promisingly inventive material hampered by infuriatingly stylised delivery. This, though, was the best performance of the three; and made him one of the night’s frontrunners.

Graham Hey’s an old-fashioned showman; with a relentless cavalcade of bam-bam-bam gags. The first few were strong, then they got more disgusting and/or predictable, and finally descended into crushingly familiar pub gags , with formulaic pull-back-and-reveals (‘…and that’s why they banned me from Ikea’) and such tired old lines like condoms coming in ‘small, medium or liar’.

The ceaseless battering breaks down any audience resistance, even if the quality of his blandly generic material is suspect. This consummate, if shameless, entertainer then ended with an impressive mind-reading trick.

It was the bad luck of the draw that this variety act was followed by another, magician Paul Kitchen. Sometimes it’s fairer not to draw the running order at random.

To compound his misfortune, Kitchen performed trick-for-trick the exact same routine Chortle saw Mandy Muden perform in Manchester four nights ago. There’s certainly only so many tricks in magic, but to see the same disappearing bottle and the same mindreading gone ‘wrong’ routine, with near-identical patter is depressingly dull. The only thing he brought to the party was his mindreading ‘helmet’ – a colander with a dildo attached. Enough said.

David Glover had some evocative descriptions of the West Riding of Yorkshire at its industrial peak. But unfortunately forgot to put any jokes in. Likewise a wordy description of how phones have shrunk manages to take the comedy out of ‘observational comedy’. When he did get round to attempting something funny, it was an ikky story about his grandmother’s breast being trapped in a mangle. Charming.

When Jean Stewart took to the stage, she raises the prospect of hearing a different voice from comedy’s usual suspects. She’s a 60-year-old empty nester, with a bluff, down-to earth style. It’s an appealing and very different persona from what stand-up is used to, but unfortunately she couldn’t back it up with any decent material.

Too much of her act seemed to comprise things she wanted to get off her chest, from her teenager sons not hanging their towels up properly to politicians not being honest (who knew?!) But illustrating these opinions with decent jokes seemed to elude her, until we plunged a tedious low with a story of her smear test and an old, implausible pub joke.

It’s a shame, as Stewart has a nice stage style, and it would be good to hear more from her. But ‘from her’ is the key phrase, not whatever tired old subject she mistakenly thinks comedy should be all about.

Penultimate act Mick Sergeant stormed it, and won the night’s title by a country mile. He’s a former shipyard worker who lost his job, then the love of his life. Donna. But he’s determined to look on the bright side, despite the bitterness and anger gnawing away at him like ebola.

It’s not immediately apparent that Geordie Sergeant, a comedy course graduate, is a character act, and that’s to the credit of his creator Lee Fenwick, best known for being half of spoof German techno band Die Clattershenkenfietermaus. Here he has established a believable, layered personality, rich with subtle touches and – more crucially – great gags.

There are some knowing in-jokes about the insecurities and dysfunctions that drive some people to comedy, as well as swipes the conventions of stand-up. But mostly this is a darkly hilarious look at a pathetic shell of a man over-optimistically trying to convince himself all is well, even though his once-secure life has crumbled around him. On tonight’s evidence, Fenwick could well be the next Steve Coogan.

It was a barnstorming act that was impossible to follow, which was unfortunate for Scarborough comic Dave McCue, who had that very task. It’s a shame because he’s an OK comic, certainly with potential as a newcomer, but he just hasn’t the experience to be able to compete in this tough final slot.

He has a new twist on some old-fashioned jokes, and viciously scores some amusing points at the expense of neighbouring Filey, which he portrays as being filled with hideous grotesques.

However, he runs out of steam over ten minutes, and resorts to predictable material about easyJet and fat Americans, suggesting he needs to expand his horizons further – and not repeat lines he may have heard elsewhere. It’s an act that certainly needs more work, although the delivery is engaging.

He probably hasn’t performed to so many people before, which is the one big advantage of a showcase like this: giving mainly open spot comedians the chance to perform to a decent audience. Some rose to the occasion, some didn’t – which is what you might expect from an inaugural event with an arcane selection policy. Let’s see what year two brings…

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Hull, November 2007

Review date: 1 Jan 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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