Beat The Frog World Series 2007

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

Are there too many new act competitions? Well, there are three that reach their climax in the 12 days of the Manchester Comedy Festival alone.

This champion of champions’ show from the Frog and Bucket’s weekly gong show is not the most lucrative – the prize is a fairly modest £250 – but the club’s hard-won reputation and the free tickets ensures even the heats are well-attended by a lively audience. And for a new act a proper gig in a proper venue with a proper audience is almost as valuable as cold-hard cash.

First up, however, Fiona Abernathy struggled to engage the crowd, despite her easy, chipper manner. The reason is that her stories of drug taking and the state of toilets in music festival sounded too much like general conversation than honed routines building up to well-placed punchlines. The occasional aside produced an unexpected flourish, but they were too thin on the ground. And when she did advance proper jokes, they were too generic (‘men are like taxis because…’) or derivative (including a verbatim Jo Brand line about being anorexic) to get excited about. In short: her writing needs a lot more work.

Dug Shelmerdine also told us – at great length – about his drug-taking. Imagine going to a funeral… on acid! Etc, etc etc. As if acknowledging that tales of being under the influence are rarely that interesting, Sheldermine garnished his anecdotes with occasional blasts of genuine stupidity. These surreal touches injected some much-needed life into the routine, but it was too inconsistent, too loose and too flatly delivered to really sparkle, despite these isolated flashes of promise. But a little more focus could put a lot right - he’s not an act to be written off.

Carl Hutchinson had the confidence to start his routine in an unhurried, laid-back way. As he spoke about the X-Factor audition shows, his approach initially seemed too straightforwardly descriptive to offer many jokes. But as backing music kicked in, his intent became clear and he won the audience over through skilful exaggeration. The effect was as much theatrical trickery than comedy, but it certainly worked. His more conventional stand-up was solid, too, especially a well-constructed take on Oxfam adverts. It was decent, rather than amazing, stuff, but Hutchinson’s trump card is the way he interacts with the audience, rolling with every ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ his material generated, giving a dynamism and spontaneity to his performance that’s rare among newer acts. No wonder the crowd voted him the winner – he was the one act to most go out of his way to engage with them.

Scooby’s energy was at the bottom of the scale, with a monotone deadpan – or at least that is what he’d have you believe. But then he switches into a parody of a bad black, Def Comedy Jam style American female comic, forever squawking about oral sex; pulling the metaphorical rug from under the audience. He has a couple more great jokes that equally wrongfoot the listener – one about a digital pregnancy tester proving an instant classic. He’s not yet consistent, with a set that’s saddled with a couple of longwinded routines that test the patience, most noticeably the one delivered in the style of a Scottish weather forecaster. But there’s bags of potential here, and a well-deserved second place.

Dan Bland hampers himself with a truly irritating staccato delivery. Putting pauses into. Every single sentence. Splitting them into. Unnatural phrases. In a bid to get. A rhythm going. The upshot, however, is that it completely detaches him from the room. This style aids a couple of jokes, but not the routine as a whole, because it just seems so false. It’s a shame as there are some quite nifty bits of writing here, especially the segment about holidaying at Beachy Head. But the gag rate, and the delivery, needs to be ramped up.

Tousle-haired Conor McGinley is a more engaging act, but generally let down by his material. With so many comedians attacking religion, he needs to offer something more than he does to compete. There’s a nice line about God sending Jesus to prove his love, but that train of thought quickly runs out of steam. The rest of his set comprises an entertaining, but unspectacular, story of accidentally stabling his friend in the arse; and a tired gag about David Blaine’s Perspex box stunt that was briefly topical in 2003.

Adam Tempest’s set was a decidedly mixed bag, with a couple of stand-out segments surrounded by some long-winded nonsense. Again his delivery was too static, where a more animated approach would have infused his verbatim tales of cross-purpose phone calls and silly practical jokes with a bit more energy. The central ideas of his set are basically strong, however, and just needs a touch of the editing pencil.

Ben Davis was by far the most inventive, challenging comedian on the bill. He’s not an obvious crowd-pleaser, but he takes his routine in genuinely unexpected directions, an oblique approach that was the most rewarding because of its originality. He, too, remains deadpan, but it seems to come from a place of quiet control than dull insecurity. His certainty about what he is doing – even when attempting a Frank Sinatra spoof with a less-than perfect singing voice – only ever acts in his favour. He came third tonight, which is probably a fair placing, but he’s the act most likely to be worth another look in a year or so, given his sheer inventiveness.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Manchester, October 2007

Review date: 1 Oct 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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