BBC New Comedy Award final 2013 | Review by Steve Bennett

BBC New Comedy Award final 2013

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

Proof, were ever it needed, that the geeks have inherited the world of comedy came at the final of the BBC New Comedy Award last night, thanks to an almost uninterrupted parade of the terminally uncool. But the social underdogs turned in some great material, as one of the strongest of the many new talent competitions came to an end.

Jonny Pelham set the bar high with a perfectly structured and sublimely self-deprecating set about his appearance, which might be a concept to strike dread into the heart of seasoned comedy-goers bored of so many lookalike references. But Pelham – a self-diagnosed ‘weird human being’ – has a distinctive angle thanks to both his myriad physical oddities, and the fact that he was perfectly happy with them until the medical profession waded in with the diagnosis ‘ugly’. Thus he’s rendered him a hapless and unwilling subject of their sometimes quack-sounding methods, lowering his status even more.

Delivered with perfect timing, he was the favourite of judges (myself included, alongside previous winner Rhod Gilbertand BBC radio comedy supremo Jane Berthoud). However our role was purely ceremonial. It was down to Radio 2 listeners to decide, and they would turn out to have a different opinion…

Ean Luckhurst was the only comic to entirely buck the nerdy theme of the night, being a rather blokey Everyman talking about getting the shits on his travels through South East Asia and being kept awake by loudly shagging couple in the neighbouring hotel room. Relatively pedestrian stuff, apart from a cute dog story that seems the stand-up equivalent of a LOLCat, this was the weak link of the night, even if confidently told. Or it was until Luckhurst fluffed his last punchline under the nerves. That wasn’t what cost him the title, though – limited ambition in the material did.

Back to the dorks with Peter Brush, looking weedy, badly-dressed and uncomfortably out of place in the world, let alone on stage. But what he lacks in charisma he more than makes up for with original writing talent, with an imaginative use of language and obtuse angles of thought that produce distinctive and eclectic gags on hypochondria, eternal life and the substitution of dead pets among others. It’s slightly uneven – but his best lines are inspired, and he was among the night’s top three for me.

Mark Silcox also looks as if he doesn’t belong on stage: a Indian man in later middle-age, still wearing his cheap anorak, zipped up. The mild-mannered persona may be a projection of himself, but it’s a well-formed comic character; a man expert at the inner workings of Word Perfect 5.1, and rather boastful about it, too – but rather less au fait with human interactions. You could instantly imagine him as a supporting character on some Parks And Rec-style ensemble comedy. His strange material is a little hit-and-miss – I’m not convinced of the central conceit about his ‘real’ nationality, for example – but it’s unique and intrigues the audience, and a very solid base on which to build.

Musical comic Rob Carter was one of the more established name on the bill, and has increasingly been stepping out of the shadows of Flight Of The Conchords, a clear inspiration to his mile-mannered approach. His first song tonight, about a psychopathic 12-year-old, sung in a croaky prepubescent voice, was, however, too simple an idea, a nicely snuck-in Craig David parody notwithstanding. But the brave decision to use his big moment to interact with a girl on the front row paid off, despite her unhelpful reticence to even reveal what she did for a living (civil servant, it tuned out, unremarkably) as he produced a song neatly exploiting the unique ‘in-the-moment-ness’ of live comedy.

Finally, Steve Bugeja, who’s been going for a while, too, but only recently found his comedy footing. His particular brand of geeky persona is perhaps a little too close to an over-excited version Will McKenzie – the character Simon Bird plays in the Inbetweeners – right down to dodging the party life on a lads’ holiday to Magaluf; but this approach gives him easy access to a nice line in self-deprecation. The device of listing 12 facts about himself packs in the gags, and wins the audience’s sympathy. Or should that be pity? And the knots he gets in to prove himself no anti-semite are an object lesson in awkwardness.

Counterintuitively, his social nightmares make for assured comedy, and it’s easy to see why the audience listening at home voted him the BBC New Comedy Award winner of 2013. Greater things surely await.

Review date: 11 Dec 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Comedy Store

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