Chortle Student Comedy Award Final

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Year five of the Chortle student comedy award, and the quality of the 12 finalists, harvested from gigs across the UK, was the most consistently strong yet.

Jez Scharf got the ball rolling brilliantly with his assured, open delivery. This first part of his routine was a little over-chatty, taking him a while to get to the point of the story of drunken misadventure, but the crowd stayed with him, and were well-rewarded for doing so. Reading out his own press coverage, as well as imagined letters from schoolyard bullies and crushes, added a witty inventiveness to his confident likeability.

Danny McLoughlin tucked into the chip on his shoulder about the upper classes, but gave it a wonderfully twisted pay-off no one will have seen coming. The ‘shagged you mum’ stuff was less distinctive, but still well told. McLoughlin’s main weapon is his audacity: he’s so bold he can recite an advertising jingle or tuck into a snack, and still get plenty of laughs.

Ian Smith, too, employed a careful, unhurried delivery. There’s a fine line between calmness and showing no interest in your material, however, and Smith slipped into the second camp a little too easily. The story about human Buckaroo was the sort of laddish sex game you might read about in Nuts magazine, and Smith didn’t add much to the straightforward description. But he had previously delivered couple of nice lines about a bucking bronco and primary school discipline to compensate.

Gareth Morinan showed a strange, creative streak in his writing that’s very appealing. He seemed a little nervous, pacing the stage, as he cracked a few self-deprecating jokes about his diminutive height, but soon settled in. An odd poem about Quentin Bee entertained and baffled in equal measure, but the presentation of his weird ‘artwork’ of a potentially racist cow was what won the biggest guffaws. It’s interesting stuff.

Johnny Armstrong took a much more straightforward approach: the pun. Or rather a lot of them, and some of rather dubious quality. But he pounds away relentlessly until one or two of the better ones smash through the audience’s resistance and they start chuckling away at the ridiculousness of it all. The quality varies wildly, from Christmas-cracker contrivance to neat examples of wordplay. Once this settles down, he could be a great act.

Richard Stainbank could be the male Jo Brand, given his shapeless black clothing and constant references to his size and look. Some – but not all – of the material is strong, too, with a happy tendency to pull a great turn of phrase out of the ether, especially when it came to lines subtly suggesting some inner darkness.

Part one was closed with the bookish-looking Jack Heal, whose style is rather old-fashioned, as he dry narrates a monologue about romance. But with almost every line he reveals a sly joke, either an unexpected switch or just some silly play on words. He’s a maths graduate, and his gags were constructed as intricately and rigorously as any complex equation, but a hell of a lot funnier. Every one was a winner, drawing huge, well-deserved laughs – and, although it was a close call, this impressive set earned him the title on the night.

Chris Ramsey was first out the blocks after the break, with a rather straightforward stand-up set. A couple of jokes drawn broadly from the news were strung out a bit, with too much with set-up, and when you’ve acknowledged the audience have jumped ahead to the punchline, you can skip forward a bit. But he has a very appealing style to him, and perhaps the perfectly engineered club joke, fusing what are surely the two most popular topics in comedy to form one meta-gag about Star Wars AND paedophilia.

Simon Bird has a feigned unshakeable arrogance, which he brilliantly exploited with a magnificently imaginative set, especially written for the occasion and skilfully undermining every aspect of it. Bird’s entered this competition for four years running, accumulating a chequered track record which he beautifully described, employing a subtle command of the language. Manipulating the occasion to his own end and emotionally blackmailing the judges proved a coruscating display of postmodernist comedy. Brilliant stuff, which earned him second place – and a vast amount of respect.

Jon Brittain had a very assured delivery, too, with some smart material about Catholicism and sex education. However, he lost the intellectual high ground a bit with the enthusiastic description of possible penises for his pre-op friend. Overall, it’s a solid starting point, but his set feels as if it needs a bit more time to gestate.

The cheeky Joseph Wilson’s material tended towards the obvious, appropriating a bit of graffiti he’d seen, doing a hummus/Hamas gag, and a hackneyed take on the deep-voiced man who narrates all the cinema trailers. He delivered it with conviction and energy, though, and showed a flair for impersonation, from Kermit The Frog to a splendid Jimmy Carr. His showmanship over substance suggests either a lucrative cruise-ship career awaits, or that he needs to develop his writing to match his undeniable performance skills.

Completing the line-up was Paul Longley, who had the confidence to take his time getting started. He made something of a mistake in telling the audience he was here as the People’s Choice finalist merely because he has the most Facebook friends – causing the audience to doubt whether he deserved his place on the stage. And, besides, who wants a comedian who’s socially popular? His material was too chatty and too ill-formed – gags about the new Batman film are certainly topical, but he hadn’t formed them into solid jokes yet.

His weaknesses were exposed because of the brilliance of much of the rest of the night. Despite their inexperience, you wouldn’t be disappointed to see most of the acts on a comedy-club bill – and a few you would hope will hit big-time success. Time will tell which few that is.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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