Chortle Student Comedy Award Final 2011

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

No star rating for this – as you’d probably never believe it anyway, given that it’s a Chortle production. But this year’s Student Comedy Award final produced a gloriously diverse range of talent (although admittedly all male) and a consistently decent quality of act.

It took the audience a little time to warm to opening act Richard Stainbank, a self-described unemployable deadbeat with a highly developed sense of pedantry. With such a world view he could never burst on in a blaze of energy, so needs to let the material fend for itself. He’s a nice craftsman of words, and the enjoyable lines are quietly well-received – until a cracking gag about existential despair hits the audience hard and the ice is broken. Stainbank’s set is not whizz-bang fireworks, but lovingly crafted and rewarding to listen to.

Glenn Moore’s signature piece is a fictional historical account of Nazi Germany that conceals, none-too-subtly, the names of various boy bands. The route here is tenuous, and the concept might not sound all that impressive, but it’s actually very effective – skilfully constructed and delivered with knowing asides (‘not so good, that one’) that makes it work well. Outside of this are one-liners of variable quality, although a few silly turns of phrase really shine. The panel of industry judges – agents, reviewers and TV execs – awarded him the silver.

Richard Hanrahan also had an offbeat, stand-out routine. His was the ‘world-famous list of words I’d like to change’, which are delightful – although he rushed through this, and the rest of his set, at a pace that affected the impact. Nerves, perhaps, on such an auspicious occassion. But he, too, has a sharp way with the language and an engaging delivery, and was placed third.

Jittery and excitable Adam Hess’s convulsive delivery makes him at once vulnerable and energetic. He says from the start that he has Asperger’s syndrome, and his tics are so exaggerated on stage that he blurts out his silly one-liners in violent paroxysms. Some of the jokes are brilliant, some old hat, but his style sells them all hard. Simply saying ‘shut up!’, or ‘stupid’ after some of the gags endears him further, highlighting his guilty glee at his own writing. ‘Do you like me?’ comes another insecure plea. Yes, Adam, we do, and he was crowned champion on the night.

Rob Carter is never going to escape comparisons with Flight Of The Conchords, given his downplayed musical numbers, modest persona and quietly quirky metaphor. The main song in this short set serves to woo the ladies, inviting them via deliberately clumsy analogy to join him on the ‘planet of love in the galaxy of spontaneity’ before coining a catalogue of sexy euphemisms for putting his X in your Y. There’s sweetness, maturity and charm here, even if he hasn’t yet found his own voice in guitar-strumming comedy.

Like ‘America’s funnyman’ Neil Hamburger, Richard Gadd’s brand of anti-comedy highlights tired conventions of stand-up via a desperate persona. After a bit of silent business with the microphone, he starts flicking through his notebook, delivering pitifully hack lines, followed up with silly triumphant dances, celebrating as if he’d just scored a cup-winning goal. Yet he also can’t quite hide the fact he’s ashamed of his own material despite putting a brave faceon it. This whole routine is perhaps a bit of an in-joke for the comedy industry, but it’s different and fun.

Though personable and confident, Chris Quaile’s set didn’t quite gel. The opening routine about a car crash is a slow-burner with a nice payoff, and the concluding analogy of what he has to do to make his girlfriend climax involves some memorable imagery. Some of the other routines don’t quite go that extra step to really stand out, but he has a definite ease on stage and a few smart lines.

Finally Steph E. Graph – the aggressively intimidating alter-ego of Matthew Winning – bellowing ‘her’ way though a series of preposterous graphs, while occasionally screeching out a tortured tennis-related pun. ‘Zis is a joke!’ the now bearded tennis ace of the Eighties and Nineties occasionally yells at the audience, trying to scare them in submission. On this occasion, they were having none of this full-on assault, though you could see it working better in a rowdier, drunken room.

So, that’s it. A fairly impressive batch of recruits from the class of ’11 – expect to see more of all of them on the comedy circuit.

Review date: 29 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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