Leicester Mercury Comedian Of The Year 2010

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Marissa Burgess

It’s warranted a red felt-tipped ring on the comedy calendar since 1994, making the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year is one of the country’s longest running stand-up awards. Not to be sniffed at in a world where anyone can (and frequently do) set up an annual competition in the upstairs room of a pub they call a comedy club and don’t last past their inaugural year.

But with previous winners including Johnny Vegas, Jason Manford, Rhod Gilbert and Mitch Benn, the Leicester competition has proved its worth. The method by which each act is chosen for the final - no heats, just names put forward by promoters from around the country – seems to ensure quality.

They were presented with a tough gig this year; the audience weren’t the most responsive, though when tickled they could be persuaded to emit a pleasing ripple of laughter. Even a veteran such as Arthur Smith struggled to get them then going such was the inertia – bar a giddy group at the back who were curiously and off-puttingly out of sync with the rest of the room.

Up first was Liverpuddlian Jake Mills. He didn’t get off to a great start when his opening two gags relied on the perception of him being thin and weedy, certainly from the back of the Y Theatre he looked pretty normal to me. He continued with some uninspired Scouse stereotyping, which his monotone delivery didn’t help. Yet when dealing with the heckling from the back of the room he displayed some confidence, a glimpse of perhaps of the potential here.

Rob Beckett piqued the interest by parodying the stock ‘I look like…’ gag. His set was interestingly random, with a nicely absurd edge, but his delivery dipped and flowed, seemingly unsure one minute, only to recover the next.

The shambling figure of Ben Davids aimed to get the crowd on side with a familiar riff on what playground bullies used to call him, before moving off into more interesting territory where Dad misguidedly joins Al Qaeda and how a ‘snappy zinger’ of a line can get you into trouble. Davids’s one-liners showed considerable skill in their writing, and he displayed an admirable sense of timing in telling them.

Ivo Graham opened telling of how he found himself in the socially awkward situation of having to explain to his mum about ‘the mum joke…’ but failing to clarify what he exactly he meant by the ‘mum joke.’ Such presumption of knowledge the audience may not have is a problem with his set: later he refers to walking into the middle of a street performance in the Edinburgh Fringe. It may feel like the whole world is in the Scottish capital in August, but that most certainly isn’t the case. Consequently the crowd sat thoroughly bemused by much of his material.

After the interval, the eventual and well-deserved winner Josh Widdicombe produced a fine set packed with quirky observations, bundled up in an assured performance. He issues forth with layered routines on Hitler’s waxwork at Madame Tussauds, the worse thing about a robbery and his lack of a sense of direction. All neatly delivered without a moment of confusion.

Tom McDonnell struck an incongruous figure in the line up. A musical comedian, his lengthy whimsical songs meant that there was only time for two in the allocated ten minute slot. Their delicate construction requires careful listening to; if you missed, an early line revealing that the Dr Jones organising a school trip was a reference to Indiana Jones – as the crowd here seemed to – you lost the entire five minutes. Still, there was a hint of Flight Of The Conchords here, so in a different setting he could do well.

Ade Ikoli was brimming with confidence, though lacked the material to back it up. His set mainly comprised a protracted routine about going out and copping off with the ‘reserve girl’ then returning home to his ‘full time’ girlfriend which unsurprisingly seemed to alienate the audience. Instead he largely seemed concerned with showcasing his quite fine R&B vocals and acting skills.

Last up, and well worth the wait, was Dan Bland, who was to be placed runner-up. His gloriously deadpan style has developed well in the last couple of years and he now has the assured performance needed to make such a downbeat demeanour work in a boozy club. A classic example is the slow confession about how he found Jesus: the slight unease that the slow and deliberate pace creates before he reveals his punchline was simply delicious.

Last year’s winner, Seann Walsh, rounded off proceedings with a headline set that showed exactly what an accomplished act the still relative newcomer has become in the last 12 months – and gave a hint to just where tonight's finest could be heading.

Review date: 22 Feb 2010
Reviewed by: Marissa Burgess
Reviewed at: Leicester The Y Theatre

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