FHM Stand-Up Hero final 2010

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Ten grand’s a tasty enough bait to lure out stand-ups who might have hoped they’d long left behind the stresses of comedy competitions. Which is why the experienced acts lined up alongside the rookies to compete for the FHM Stand Up Hero title and one of the largest prize purses in comedy, just behind the £12,000 offered by the Edinburgh Comedy Award.

The final, as you might predict from a lads’ mag, was an all-male affair. But to balance any charges of sexism, there’s never any men in their High Street Honeys ‘talent’ hunt.

However, it was comedy specialists at the Baby Cow production company who put together the contestants, not the magazine’s staff or readers. They filmed five heats and the final for ITV4, and based on how it looked on the studio monitors, the programme will be a lot classier than you might expect.

So a spoiler alert for those who want to follow the show when it airs from late next month, hosted by Brendon Burns: reading on will reveal results.

First of the finalists who had to remember what a five-minute set felt like was the quirkily self-critical Henry Ginsberg, an awkward outsider who would clearly see himself as far from FHM’s target demographic. Yes, he’s got some material about masturbation; but it’s from the standpoint of warped misery, not jolly laddishness.

From his cynicism and searing introspection comes some beautifully twisted lines. Yet while much of the material may be bleak in its inspiration, there’s a surprising sense of fun to the writing; as if once he’s accepted that life is futile, he might as well laugh at it. The result is a winningly distinctive routine, only really let down by an angle on Jesus as a teenager that has already been done in various ways before.

Similarly smart, and with an equal sense of upbeat but resigned grumpiness came Liam Mullone. However, he didn’t seem quite so comfortable with the short slot, as he built from a slow start. It meant that by the time he’d won people over, it was time for him to leave, even though we could have heard more.

His opening one-liner was surely better than the audience gave him credit for, but as he moved on to his routine about airport emergency exits and the nomenclature of Canadian lakes – an original topic for comedy, you have to give him that – he gathered support though his relaxed, unhurried approach. Not a stand-out on the night, but an intriguing act nonetheless.

Nathan Caton was probably the crowd favourite, based on the frequency and the volume of their response. Despite being only 25 himself, his routine was based on that universal topic of today’s feckless youth roaming the street. He pines for his day when disputes were settled not with knives, but with ‘yo mamma’ insults – of which he as some particularly fine examples. The gag about anti-ginger prejudice is a nice one too, though he should be aware that Tim Minchin has a more clever presentation of the same core joke.

More than material, presentation in Caton’s strongest suit, and he’s confident, charismatic and upbeat – a definite winner in the audience’s eyes; if not the judging panel of Ronni Ancona, John Thomson and Jo Caulfield.

Unreconstructed posh boy Andrew Watts struggled more to get them onside; though his ‘insight’ in how to ingratiate yourself with the opposite sex and the conventions of signing off texts with a kiss received a much warmer reception at his heat earlier in the day. His distinctive style stands out, though – a winning mixture of pomposity, insecurity and emotional incompetence, while the fury-inducing importance he places on the trivial makes for a winning comic stance. He’s the sort of man who produces graphs of social interactions, and the cutaway shot of the front-row punter carefully poring over the empirical evidence is priceless.

Finally, the finalist with least experience in comedy, but, therefore, most recent experience of similar new act competitions, Josh Widdicombe. He has a delightful approach, with original thoughts on easily identifiable, but not over-mined, subjects leading to quirky punchlines. His cheery, warm approach brings a disarming softness, but there’s a rapier-sharp wit behind the best of his punchlines, concealed in chatty anecdotes about narrowboat holidays or visiting Madame Tussaud’s.

It certainly impressed the audience – and the judges, who awarded him the big-money first prize.

  • This review was from the studio on the night of the final rather than the TV broadcast

Review date: 7 Dec 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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