Beat The Frog World Series 2013 Final | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Frog & Bucket, Manchester

Beat The Frog World Series 2013 Final

Note: This review is from 2013

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Frog & Bucket, Manchester

It's something of a topsy-turvy way of doing things; but last night's Beat The Frog 'world series' new act final began with a set from 2012 winner, Jay Hampson. The upshot of which was that even the first of the nervous newbies had to wait until 9.45pm until compere Dan Nightingale welcomed them on to the Frog & Bucket's famous stage.

Hampson is a strong, natural performer – although his material is broad and indistinct. The class stereotypes of the artistic 'knobheads' who populate his neighbourhood could have come straight from a Russell Kane set; while a routine on pandas being reluctant to mate seems familiar even before he adds a pub-gag line about their 'two black eyes'.

Other gags are better than this, and his ten minutes are certainly well-constructed... but it would be more rewarding to see someone who's so obviously got both funny bones and the love of the audience, venture beyond such safe territory.

Opening up for the class of 2013 was Daniel Nicholas, whose kooky hair, silly jumper and deliberate delivery make him something of a copycat Milton Jones. Milton Clones, perhaps? But beyond the affectations, which also include a silent and long-winded messing-about-with-the-mic-stand bit, his writing displays a sharp, obtuse wit across all his disjointed one-liners. The persona may not yet be settled – he also wavers indiscriminately between mean and vulnerable depending on what the gag demands – but someone as inventive as this should have a future in comedy.

Damien Ryan is a blokish and bawdy act, cramming punchlines into his ten minutes, regardless of how cheesy they might be ('I woke up in Sydney... he wasn't happy'), just anything to ramp up the gag rate. Ginger jokes, quips at the expense of his nervous twitch, initially exaggerated for comic effect, and even a blast on the guitar go into the mix. It's a shock-and-awe approach, more bluster than content, but the audience liked him – voting him into third place.

Next up, MC Africa Zulu – not his real name. But then you'd want a pseudonym, too, if your set revolved around the differences between black people and white people and how smelly and disgusting vaginas are. Ironically, this horrible routine left a very unpleasant taste in the mouth.

The first half was closed by Egyptian-American comic Dalia Malek, a former Chortle student finalist. She's got some interesting ideas and an nicely unsettling approach, baldly asking the crowd: 'Do you like my body?' or 'How are you doing sexually?' However she doesn't really have the confidence to pull this provocative approach off, and that mismatch between style and material gives her a bumpy ride, despite being a very promising writer.

After the interval, Irishman Colin Chadwick was a league above anyone we'd seen in the first half. His gag-heavy set is stuffed with memorable lines as he condenses quirky ideas into sharply efficient jokes with unexpected payoffs. An affable presence with a nose for the offbeat, he'll go far – and the fact he could only make second place speaks volumes about tonight's winner, yet to appear.

From north of the Irish border, Chris McIlroy started with some fairly predicable shtick: how many comics from Ulster feel they have to do a 'you have three minutes to leave the building...' line? But he improved over his short set, most notably demonstrating a knack for storytelling in recounting an incident of genuine sectarian tension that ended with a savagely sarcastic putdown.

Next up the low-key Penella Mellor, with a dark-edged set full of distain for her daughter. Yet it never seems nasty, more a wry confessional about her own lack of maternal instinct. Such unflinching approach to the 'bad mum' persona is admirable, and she delivers with an appealing coolness  that quietly asserts that she's tackling this gig on her own terms. Referring back to Hampson's panda gags from the start of the night further displayed that modest confidence. Overall, this was an impressive, relaxed set that deservedly secured her victory by a landslide.

Finally heavily tattooed American Shaine Sherlock with some unadventurous observations about how he'd expected every Brit to talk like they were in Downton Abbey before mocking the actual street accents of da youff - predicable, but he is good at it, and a nifty rapper to boot. Most of the stand-up was pedestrian, however – until the closing moments when he mentioned he used to work in porn, immediately opening up potential for unique stories and an unusual viewpoint. Why he never thought to exploit this angle more is a mystery, for the rest of the mediocre chat he so confidently delivered was never going to match up to the likes of Mellor or Chadwick, both of whom proved themselves top comics in waiting tonight.

Review date: 29 Oct 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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