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Chortle Student Comedy Award Final 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Now in their sixth year, the Chortle Student Comedy Awards have uncovered some accomplished winners, from Lloyd Langford to Tom Deacon. However, tonight’s final probably boasted the most consistently high-quality line-up yet with a diverse – and surprisingly confident – collection of new acts.

Opening act Mat Ewins set the bar high, with a fluid gag-driven set, delivered with astute timing. As he trotted through his personal bugbears, from nightclubs and the WKD culture to his hatred of working in KFC, he is never far from a solid punchline, with a couple of especially memorable gags. Like so many tonight, his stage manner was engagingly assured for a comedian so raw.

Gabriel Ebulue was more traditional in his starting point of smoking dope, going to Amsterdam and getting paranoid, although finding something new in this weather-beaten old topics proved elusive. He moved on to hit-and-miss one-liners, and a predictable routine about how hell must be great as that’s where all the fun people are – but despite the unambitious scope of his material, he does have a likeable stage presence. But there’s probably a better way of exploiting it.

Tom Rosenthal, in complete contrast, had some of the most clever and original material of the night, but with an imperfect delivery. Bringing on the trophy he won from another student comedy contest was a nice touch, while one-liners about a taxi-driver’s reaction to finding out that Rosenthal studied philosophy, and the parents who wanted to name their child π were outstanding. Likewise, his comparison of the UK version of Pimp My Ride to the US original was slickly done.

Nicola Bolsover took her time to get going, with an undergagged routine about how someone once said she looked like Matt Lucas and a long-winded discussion of how she planned to be a child-hating spinster in her dotage. Some laughs came at the end, but weren’t worth the wait. Her closing song, a paean to Sean Bean, was entertaining, however, as she accompanied her surreal couplets with bongos, Hans Teeuwen-style.

The accomplished Sam Gore thrives on deliciously vitriolic attacks on celebrities, exquisite in their brutal imagery. His soul may be cold, smug and arrogant, but there are finely-written jokes behind the sneering insults aimed at the likes of Jamie Oliver, Sarah Jessica Parker or paedophillic PE teachers. His jokes are as funny as they are cruel – ie very – and his staunch unwillingness to ingratiate himself to the audience is perversely appealing.

Somerset girl Laura Lexx is a next-generation Lucy Porter; she’s small, sweet-natured – and even performs in bare feet. She tells us she’s now a plumber, which no one believes but she neither convinces us is true nor plays for great laughs. Then she bitches ineffectually about the students who used to call the university clearing hotline where she used to work because they never got the grades they needed. In routines like this, she certainly needs a sharper kick, but her material about her non-existent sex life, which could be irritating coming from such an attractive woman, is given extra sympathy because of her disarmingly frank admission about one of the reasons: her irritable bowel syndrome. It’s a brave subject that gets the laughs, but some of her other sections need a sharper focus.

Joe Lycett has a delightfully natural style that builds a real connection with the audience. Back that with some fine observational material and you have the elements that won him the title – and £1,000 prize – on the night. Confident, but not cocky, he playfully mocks an Amazon customer’s review of the Complete Works Of Shakespeare before regaling the audience with first-hand tales of working in a theatre, scoring a minor but important victory over a snooty customer and getting mischievous over the Tannoy. Other acts may have had sharper gags than Lycett, but his complete package of innate comic charm and warm wit won the day.

First up after the interval was the impressive Max Dickens, whose modest, careful delivery perfectly showcases his often sterling material, derived from imaginative thinking and expressed with exquisite use of English. Fine gags revolve around why picnic eggs are the perfect gift for a Scottish family, the definition of perfect manliness, and a quiche-based graph – although most memorable is his image of how the great British public would spend the national budget if they had their way: an idea taken, either wittingly or not, from Andy Zaltzman, but made much more tastelessly extravagant.

Dominic Cross is more mainstream, wielding his guitar he bashed out a couple of mediocre musical one-liners, before moving into material about chat-up lines, which started genial but moved into darker territory, but told with a smile. He has an assured stage manner, while the funnies often lie in the asides, rather than the main thrust of the material. The song about Dear Dierdre, however, seemed to lose its comic intent, and seemed gratuitously ill-intentioned.

Iain Stirling was another of the night’s stars, and ultimately took the £250 silver place. He has a breezy, natural style with shovelfuls of amiability – but also the gags to match, even producing a nice twist to the standard icebreaker about his looks. His tales of the weirdoes on the Megabus is done with benign bemusement rather than malice, and is typical of his amicable style. Even a routine on African poverty is done with a smile.

Laurie Blake based much of the first part of his set around a book he saw that was blatantly, and disingenuously, trying to cash in on Dan Brown’s success, but went into more detail than, perhaps, the audience wanted to hear. His takes on being a student in a shared house, and his home town in Eastbourne, are entertaining if lightweight, not packing quite enough punch for this time of night.

Finally, law student Will Scambler attempted to banter with a crowd that didn’t really want to be bantered with, while his take on what is or isn’t actual bodily harm, equally failed to engage the interest. He sold it hard, almost forcing the material onto the unwilling audience, but it was a rather convoluted and strained routine and few in the audience were biting.

A gag-packed piece of fictional comic storytelling from 2008 winner Jack Heal brought the long night to a close, indicating, as every finalist in this year's contest did, the vast pool of talent that exists among student comedians.

Review date: 26 Aug 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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