So You Think You're Funny

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Review of the final

Britain's longest-running new act competition boasted a stronger
final line up in 2006 than most recent years ­ a fact reflected
in the age it took judges to come to a decision, stretching the
show out towards the three-and-a-half hour mark, including interval.

Finally, Wes Packer was named victor, defying the perceived
curse of being first on the bill, but in truth it could have
been any number of the others, most of whom had something to
commend them.

Packer had arguably the best control of the room, which can
be intimidating to newbies more used to performing in tiny pub
spaces, thanks to a strong, energetic and convincing delivery.
His cheerily conversational material started with his telling
the story of an internet blind date, which took a while to get
going, but resulted in a very fine gag. Then he moved on to a
mini-rant about the treatment of smokers at the hands of the
NHS, which he demonstrated a nice line in indignant ­ and
totally misplaced ­ anger.

Andrew Watts is a proudly middle-class act; taking
to the stage in suit and tie and flaunting his knowledge, sensitivity
and breeding, though his awkwardness is naturally what makes
him funny. He talked about his relationship with a high maintenance
girlfriend, and an expansive routine about the embarrassment
of buying flowers for her. He has a nice, modest approach, relying
on uncomfortable pauses as much as material, but it was too low-key
to hit home, especially with material so light on gags.

Hannah Gadsby is an aridly dry Tasmanian comic, who's
'a little bit lesbian'. Her deadpan approach takes time to warm
to, time she didn't really have, but once she finally moved into
second gear, she made an impression, thanks to a couple of splendid
gags and a short routine about pubic hair that, perhaps surprisingly,
was original and effective. Effective enough to earn her second

Alan Bennett ­ no, not that one, obviously ­
was another deadpan act, the third in a row, but weaker than
those he followed. He offers up some quirky ideas, but doesn't
go anywhere with them. It feels as if he's perpetually starting
routines with a wry side joke, but then going no further. So,
he might say 'Women get their period every month. That's not
fair, men don't get anything every month,' which you might expect
to lead somewhere else, but it doesn't, that's it. They're mostly
worth a smile, but little more Bennett is, however, clearly very
inexperienced, and still has time to develop gags that are penetrating
and different.

On the other end of the scale, Ginger and Black are
a polished, circuit-ready act. She's ginger, sings and plays
the guitar like proper Celtic-tinged singer-songwriter; he's
black and a natural clown. Together, they've crafted some great
lyrics, from an Eminem-style rap from the point of view of a
wannabe TV runner, aching with needy desperation, to Grandfather
In A Coma, which is both bleak and silly. They could have walked
this competition in a less competitive year, but had to content
themselves with third place.

After the break, Caroline Clifford offers some fresh,
appealing, and jet-black ideas, but failed to present them to
their best advatage. With an audience still unsettled, many still
wandering back from the bar, she launched into a truly dark set
which managed to cover miscarriage and lung cancer within 60
seconds, which is a bit too strong to stomach from a cold start.
The second half of her set, bitching gleefully at the expense
of her ex's new girlfriend, was more accessible, and better received,
and might have made a perfect appetiser for her more brutal material.
She' got plenty of imaginative ideas, mind, and a delicious cruel
streak, when she gets these to coalesce into routines as strong
as her best, she'll be unstoppable.

Raph Shirley presents a respectable image the world,
besuited and refined. But his material is rather strange, and
unashamed to use phrases such as 'infinite causation loop' as
casual as you like. This new graduate struggled to get the laughs
­ with a few lines dying spectacularly - but his writing
is unique and rather clever, and he certainly has a voice it
would be good to hear more of.

Holly Walsh had a great opening line, but her set soon
descended into bad puns and gags you can see coming a mile away.
The kagoul she wears leads to expectations of a deliberately
nutty character, but that's misleading: she's warm and has an
appealing style to her that's quirkily offbeat rather than out-and-out
loony. We could yet see more of her, and a couple of jokes shone.

Marlon Davis is an explosion of ear-piercing noise
and vibrant energy, just what the comedy doctor ordered at this
point in a long night. There's not a great deal of substance
to back this up, but it's all about the rhythms of language and
the hypnotic repetition as he recreates his mother calling him
or shopkeepers who speak like MCs as they go about their job.
When he's setting these things up in his normal voice, the laughter
noticeably lulls, but he's certainly got a delivery talent ready
to be harnessed to stronger jokes. He's wanting for material,
yes, but not for presence.

Steve Bennett


Review date: 1 Jan 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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