Scottish Comedian Of The Year Final 2008

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Alan Anderson, the promoter behind the Scottish Comedian Of The Year, is keen to stress that his competition is not just open to new acts. Theoretically Frankie Boyle or Billy Connolly could rock up to the back room of a Helensburgh pub to try to win their place in the final.

While that’s never going to happen, it means a playing field that’s about as level as the Cresta Run – with stand-ups who’ve been around for a decade pitted against those with just a fistful of gigs to their name. The flip side is that the final attracts the crowds. With around 750 eager punters rammed into Glagsow’s Old Fruitmarket, this is probably the best-attended competition final in comedy, making it a daunting gig for those nervous newbies.

First up was The Wee Man, returning to the final for a third year with his squawking caricature of a Glaswegian ned, complete in ‘Fuck Yeez’ T-shirt and obligatory Burberry cap. In the interests of disclosure, I should mention that at last year’s event he directed much of his set at me, bitterly berating his unflattering Chortle review inches from my face… so there was some measure of apprehension before he took to the stage.

This time around we did get to see a more generally usable set, even if the results were still hit and miss. He takes some very easy pot-shots at the Americans and the English, and leans heavily on aggression and swearing to provoke a reaction. The character, too, is one-dimensional, with little apart from his accent to set him aside from several similar archetypes on the circuit.

But there are glimpses that he could be better than this, such as a nice gag about the poverty line being draw around his house and an entertaining bit of business about the difference between a golfer and a threat to national security being down to nothing more than the angle of your baseball cap. Just when I thought I was off the hook, The Wee Man scuttled over to the judges’ table again and…. well, let’s just say his kissing is as sloppy as his dress sense.

Graham Mackie certainly cuts a distinctive figure on stage, which he acknowledges with an endearing icebreaker about resembling an off-duty Santa. It’s typical of the hugely likeable style that pervades his relaxed set. A few self-deprecatory fatty gags reinforce that impression, as does his instinctive way of interacting with the audience, just enough to make this feel like a dialogue.

It’s most likely a technique he learnt at school, for by day he is a woodwork teacher in Govan, and he has a few entertaining tales about pupils playing hooky and forging notes from their parents to show for it. But he’s also got rather too many old, unoriginal jokes to fully capitalise on his charming affability.

Young Aberdonian Andy Learmouth, too, has a strong, confident presence undermined by patchy material. After a few trite openers, he got quickly launched into more assured material remembering a teenage crush, when he was 50 per cent incurable romantic, 50 per cent incurable pervert. A couple of strong lines follow on the Scottish in London, but he runs out of steam – and gags – and ends with a whimper, not with a bang. Shame, as he has some promise.

Although still in his twenties, Teddy’s been on the Scottish scene, on and off, for a decade, which explains his ease on stage. He still looks wide-eyed and naïve, but don’t let that fool you – behind the slightly daffy smile is some viciously hard-edged material. He’s a strong gag writer, and even when tackling subjects as seemingly tired as Heather Mills, he can find a new angle that’s not dependent on the obvious.

The material – aptly enough, given the night – is heavily Scottish skewed, but with an appeal that would travel south of the border, if he chose to. Controversial Socialist Tommy Sheridan is the butt of a particularly fine routine, and the entire city of Glasgow gets an affectionate pasting, too.

His often sick material won’t be to everyone’s taste, but he doesn’t care, and skilfully rides the audience’s apparent disgust at some of the darker lines, ordering them to just ‘toughen up’ and live with it. Such confidence, backed with pin-sharp lines, earned him second place in the final reckoning.

Scott Agnew, the unabashed ‘big poof’, was an audience favourite even before he’d uttered word one. And when he did get going, he cemented that tide of goodwill with an enthusiastic performance sweeping away any pockets of audience reticence. Like Teddy, some of his material drew shrieks of outrage, and he too, just batted it away, taking any squeamish reaction in his sizeable stride.

When it comes to comedy, he has got a one-track mind… it’s all about his sexuality and people’s reactions to it – especially in the sectarian quarters of Glasgow, which gives his content an extra edge. He’s no mincing queen, nor does he mince his words, making for a bold, brash, barnstorming performance in which he’ll describe in hilariously graphic detail the logistical challenges of a gay threesome rather bitch camply about some showbiz figure. Such a powerhouse set rightly earned him the Scottish Comedian Of 2008 title.

Twenty-year-old newbie Jeff Brighton was floored by his own inexperience. There’s a couple of nascent good ideas in his set, but he just looked so out of his depth in such a big room. He starts off with a weak bit of toilet humour, immediately striking the wrong note, and much of his subsequent material is jumbled and unfocussed, limply hitting familiar ground about incest in small communities and poor-quality supermarket clothes.

As if to illustrate that chunk of material, he wears an ill-fitting lumberjack shirt on stage; but he wears his own personality just as uncomfortably, which doesn’t instil confidence. That said, there are a few crafty touches to his presentation, such as the impression of his mother or an ‘Irish’ waitress he encountered, that does show a knack for out-of-the-box thinking. A couple or three years on the circuit might yet see him right.

Iain Stirling is another rookie 20-year-old with a bad choice of opener, doing some gags about his long hair… that he unfortunately no longer has, making the comments reduntant. But once he moved on to the meat of the set, things looked up, with enjoyable descriptions of the horrors of the Megabus and of being brought up in a caravan, as told through his clearly fabricated teenage diary.

He’s got an innate sense of timing, with perfect pace and phrasing to enliven the routine, but ten minutes seemed something of a stretch, as he wound up with some tired material about Gillian McKeith, whose pooh inspections make her the easiest of targets. She might deserve every bit of flak she gets, but he needs to find a way of doing it with more flair.

Carly Baker, the only female finalist, was born and raised in Missouri but has lived in Scotland long enough to qualify tonight. She’s a solid, but unspectacular act, fitting the stereotype of the slick and confident American – but with no stand-out lines to remember.

There’s some obvious stuff about the transatlantic translation of the word ‘fanny’, a bit of banter about her divorce and lots, and lots of sex talk. Comparisons with if.comedy best newcomer Sarah Millican, who covers similar ground, are almost inevitable, but Baker comes off by far the worst, as she has little of Milligan’s idiosyncratic guile or charm. Baker’s not bad, and passes the time amiably enough, but she’s just not brilliant either.

Keir McAllister started with similarly undistinctive fare: talking about ginger people and mining national stereotypes about the arrogant English and the relentless upbeat Australians, seguewaying into some Steve Irwin comments that are so old hat it’s almost nostalgic to hear them again. But he’s got an appealing delivery, so the audience stick with him.

And it pays off, as the second half of his set is in a different league from the first, the turning point coming with an observation or two about the William Wallace memorial. After this, the fire in his belly ignites, and he becomes violently vicious about Lady Thatcher, to the obvious delight of the audience. They’re less pleased with his sick jokes about Jordan’s son, but McAllister again uses the outrage to his advantage. He came third on the night, and if he could have been judged on the second half of his set alone, could possibly have done better still – though Teddy and Agnew would always have provided stiff competition.

Lastly, another newcomer, Rab Brown – a name you’re sure to hear more of. He is a talented writer, producing wonderfully descriptive prose to channel his disgust at the garish hen-night ‘slags’ who infest every city centre, every weekend. The strike rate’s high, he has a well-defined grumpy-young-man point of view and his delivery assured for someone so relatively inexperienced. He only lets himself down at the end of the set with a cheap bit of comedy erotic dancing, jiggling his sizeable frame to Kelis’s Milkshake. Such easy laughs are beneath someone who can write as well as this.

He won the Wee Scoty award for the best newcomer. A bit of tidying up, and he could easily be in with a shot at one of the main positions next year. As long as Frankie Boyle and Billy Connolly don’t enter, of course.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
September 29, 2008

Review date: 1 Jan 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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