So You Think You're Funny [2008]

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

What awful irony. At a new act competition you half-expect crippling nerves, a few gags to fall flat, or an act really struggling to make any connection with a kind but unamused audience.

At the final of the 21st So You Think You’re Funny competition, none of the fresh-faced rookies months into their careers came even close to dying. But compere Rhona Cameron had a truly awful gig. At first, the 16-year stand-up veteran was simply weak, rambling away with observations without punchlines and ill-advisedly talking to the front row, with nothing to say back to them.

Gradually, this became almost painfully embarrassing, the audience doing the collective equivalent of kicking their feet, staring at the floor awkwardly and coughing nervously, in the hope the misery would end. Sympathies were on her side – it was a million times tougher for her than us, after all – but none of her aimless material could provoke more than an isolated chuckle.

Thankfully, the moribund energy did not spill out into the competitors’ sets, and they all got a warm reaction from a crowd happy for any respite from Cameron’s clumsy compering.

Opening act Gearoid Farrelly proved the ideal appetiser; light and nicely presented, but not with too much substance that might spoil the main dish. This camp Dubliner, a master of the exaggerated double-take, is an elegant performer, handicapped by some decidedly tired material about George Bush (his surname is a double entendre!) and Anne Widdecombe.

A couple of routines suggest more promise, especially those about his old-fashioned relatives who believe homosexuality to be a disease and the darkly enjoyable tale of his dead rabbit. Such personal anecdotes certainly have more mileage than his generic filler.

John Gavin is very fresh to stand-up, only entering the contest because his wife spotted the details in the local paper. He’s a bit too chatty, but you couldn’t tell he was so inexperienced, so assured did he seem behind the mic.

His set mostly concerns his family life, with three young daughters. It needs more focus, but some of the set-ups lead somewhere, and it may be a stereotype for a man from the West Coast of Scotland, but he’s rather good at swearing.

Sara Pascoe has seemingly boundless energy and drive, romping through her gag-driven set with great aplomb. She flirts outrageously with bad taste, but gets away with it because the payoffs are strong, not gratuitous, and her performance appealing. Consistency’s not yet at 100 per cent, but her set had some of the strongest writing of the night, nicely told. Well deserving of her third placing.

Norwegian Daniel Simonsen has a head-start in comedy for his accent alone, the bone-dry, off-kilter Nordic delivery providing a distinctively stilted rhythm to the jokes and a innate awkwardness in communication. He milks this well, with routines about his social nervousness, whether it be in his job as a hospital porter or an exchange as simple as spotting an acquaintance in the street. Not everything is aimed at his own gaucheness, mind, and he has a keenly-observed section about film trailer hyperbole. There is some nicely quirky writing here, and it’s easy to see why the judges were impressed enough to grant him first place.

Doc Brown is a charismatic rapper, mainlining energy into the room by his beats alone and offering a welcome alternative to stand-up. He is still, however, an entertainer more than a comic, with his signature call-and-response piece pure audience participation, with only the slightest hint of funny. His banter about how he can rap, yet still be Radio 4-friendly, didn’t really go anywhere, although he his segment about spreading the Olympic message to the streets had a sharp pay-off. Enjoyable, but not hilarious.

Brighton-based Seann Walsh’s writing is near-impeccable, his sharp set dense with punchlines, often followed up with cascading taglines to wring every last drop of humour out of a set-up without seeming desperate. He has an appealing, natural delivery, too, making him much more assured than his new act status would suggest. He came second on the night, but I suspect it was a close-run thing.

At just 17, Daniel Sloss is limited for sources of material. This self-professed chav from Fife has rather too many predictable lines, such as bringing the old ‘And I was the teacher!’ reveal to a new generation, and many of his punchlines fell predictably flat. However his cheeky subversion of the simple nostalgia dredged up by some older comics, hints at more possibilities. He has a stage confidence beyond his years, too, and nothing seems to faze him.

Richard Perry – yet another Brighton-based boy – offered a jaded delivery of obvious material about cigarette-packed warnings, drugs and the bohemian nature of his home town, which he rather banged on about. Repeating six variations of the same gag shows a certain boldness, but when none of them work, it’s rather tough on the poor audience. He’ll need to find a clearer comic voice – and better gags – to make headway on the overpopulated comedy circuit.

Josh Widdicombe likewise drags out his comic points, and likewise left the audience behind. His convoluted set revolved entirely around pop songs having a relevance based only on the time they were released. It’s a potentially neat premise, but he never convinces the audience this is a worthwhile train of thought, and the exposition provokes wry smiles rather than solid laughs. But so much is invested in this routine he has to plough on regardless of how many audience members are falling by the wayside with ever new twist on the idea.

Ahir Shar is another 17-year-old, and too shouty and exciteable for comfort. He literally bounces up and down on the stage, babbling away 19 to the dozen, unaware that you can bring too much energy to the performance. It seems to be a distraction from the paucity of his material, which starts off about who he looks like, obsesses about John Prescott being fat and thinks Microsoft Word might be racist. There are kernels of good ideas in some of his premises, but they’re not developed. Perhaps you can start comedy too young, as this is an act definitely needing maturity in writing and performance.

The final did seem to suffer a last innings collapse, a combination of weaker acts and ridiculously long running time taking its toll on the weary audience, even before Cameron returned for an uncomfortable 20 minutes while the judges deliberated. But despite that, the competition’s 21st year has certainly thrown up some very promising new talent.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Review date: 22 Aug 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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