Hull Comedy Festival Comedian Of The Year 2008

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Is comedy slipping back to its bad old ways? Another new act final, another all white-male line-up. Since Edinburgh, the Scottish Comedian of the Year, City Life, Reading Comedy Festival, Beat The Frog World Series and now the Hull Comedy Festival’s new act finals have, between all five them, featured only one non-white act (half-Chinese Eddie Hoo, who won City Life) and three women: Rachel Fairburn, Carly Baker and Helen Huscroft. Does the new act circuit really have the diversity of the Lord’s members’ bar?

There’s also a question about diversity of material. Of the first seven acts in Hull, five had a gag about paedophiles. And one of the two that didn’t had an incest gag to compensate. Shouldn’t comedy be about thinking outside the box? Child molesters have become the new mother-in-laws.

Putting those questions to one side, here are the runners and riders from the second Hull Comedy Festival competition – a noticeable improvement, incidentally, on last year’s line-up.

Sam Harland felt old-fashioned; both in delivery and outlook, as he ran through an unambitious menu of subjects: internet porn, chavvy single mums feeding their kids at Greggs and how his home town is a shithole. At least, in this case, his home town is Hull, so he had plenty of local references with which to endear himself to the audience. His presentation is slick, but you can see many of the punchlines coming.

Sam Gore, who triumphed at the Frog & Bucket earlier in the month, took the crown tonight, too. He’s a young Marcus Brigstocke, aloof and uncompromising in his distain for all that displeases him, letting rip with a savage battery of acrid bile. The insults are extravagant, if sometimes a bit too horrible, but it’s the sheer relentlessness of the attacks from this self-confessed ‘nasty, vicious, cynical bigot’ that raise the laughs.

Young Ian Smith’s languorous pace and amiable soft-spoken voice conceal a nicely pointed attitude; with a few neat gags to match. But his low-key approach failed to grip the audience, and the closing set piece, reviewing his own act in revenge at a dismissive earlier critique, doesn’t work nearly as well as it could. He doesn’t yet feel complete as a comic, but the emphasis is on the ‘yet’.

James Christopher is a likeably jolly chap, with a nice line in self-deprecation at his own geekish demeanour, even if he mines it to exhaustion. There’s an enjoyable, if trivial, anecdote about him being an accidental racist, and a longer section gently mocking a few ridiculous church brochures he’s come across. There’s some quite nice material here, but he doesn’t make the most of it. The punchlines need to be highlighted more and the set needs considerable tightening. But, it’s early days yet and he’s got more than a little charm.

Character act Bob Torquay is a brash driving instructor giving a seminar on the rules of the road. But the delivery is too shouty and the jokes too poor. If you think writing the word ‘cock’ on an overhead projector transparency is the height of humour, you might enjoy him – as he does three variations on that juvenile gag. There then follows a few hand-drawn road signs he asks us to guess the meaning of – and when the audience shout out the gag immediately, it’s an indication of just how little thought the comic has put into it. What’s the sign for ‘Danger: poor material ahead’?

In contrast, Simon Gunnell has a very, very slow delivery – but he’s playful with it, which keeps the audience alert. He’s come up with a good structure for his set, too, attempting to run down his top 100 films, with reasons, in his allotted ten minutes, even though, with his speed, it’s unlikely he’ll make it. The idea turns out to be a red herring, just a framework for a collection of gags, some of which are rather good indeed. Quite some invention has gone into this act; expect to see more.

Ben Harland – the second Harland brother of the night – had a style far removed from his slick brother who opened the show. His persona is of an awkward, nervously fey comedian ill at ease on stage. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, as the ever-present danger is that the audience cannot distinguish fake nervousness from the real thing, and so lose that all-important confidence that the comic is going to be funny. Indeed Harland almost came a cropper on that front. But behind the odd, effeminate act, genuine charm shines through. Unfortunately, he’s let down by some patchy material, but his approach is strangely intriguing. He took second place on the night, for originality alone.

There’s no kind way to put this, but Richard Scully died a horrible death tonight; and no small wonder with a catalogue of truly dreadful puns, all of which fell on deaf ears. Perhaps his place in the final is an indication of the tastes of competition organiser Agraman, whose own act is a litany of tortured wordplay, more than that of audiences. Scully did have one excellent gag – about Parkinson’s disease – but that’s not enough for a whole set. To his credit, he knew when he was beat and left the stage with some dignity before his time was up.

Closing the show was Alfie Moore, a working policeman. He’s more of an anecdotalist than a comedian, but his profession has provided him with more than enough raw material. He has a nice, relaxed style – a roomful of strangers perhaps one of the lesser intimidations he’s faced – which combines with the inherent interest in the on-the-job stories to make him someone you just want to listen to. With few actual punchlines – a run-through of some Lidl brand names notwithstanding – ten minutes doesn’t seem enough to hear all of his experiences and thoughts on political-correct policing. But wanting to hear more from a new comedian is no bad thing. There’s no way of escaping this conclusion: he’s an arresting storyteller.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
October, 2008

Review date: 30 Oct 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.