English Comedian Of The Year 2017 | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Underbelly South Bank

English Comedian Of The Year 2017

Note: This review is from 2017

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Underbelly South Bank

If the final of the English Comedian Of The Year implies a certain sense of occasion, for its title at least, no one told the audience at the Underbelly last night, who exuded as much life as a Titanic survivors’ reunion, despite host Andrew Maxwell doing everything in his substantial arsenal to breathe life into the moribund crowd. Nor, in truth, were all the acts up to the billing – not for a showcase of the best acts on the most vibrant circuit in the world. 

A lack of ambition hampered several of the comics tonight, not least opener Clayton Jones. He’s got a lot of London geezer charm, but needed every drop of it for a joke about his gay brother being like a Yorkie ‘brown, but not for girls’ –  and the sizeable foreign contingent of the audience might have needed the chocolate bar’s old, sexist tagline explained. That was followed by an overlong, cheap routine about being ‘badly bummed’ in the wood that might have aimed for childishness but had an unpleasant undertone. 

A letter of complaint to Durex about a split condom had a reasonable payoff, but not before a lot of guff. He’s got the swagger to give his material the hard sell, but Jones is peddling some poor quality merchandise that’s past its sell-by date.

Lou Conran also set the bar low. Below the belt, in fact, with a routine largely around her ladyparts, how they are going to seed and how she’d crack inappropriate jokes when a gynaecological surgeon had his hand up there. 

Much of this  seemed cheap, even though her persona of a sort of indiscreet, batty, couldn’t-give-a-damn aunt is appealing – and there are hints of a more subtly gossipy approach through the introduction of well-drawn characters such as her friend ‘Jane On The In Breath’. However, this wasn’t Conran’s finest ten minutes: she’s better than this, in both tone and delivery.

A self-confessed stoner, Elliot Steel threatened to continue the Route One comedy with that most oft-told comedy staple: the trip to Amsterdam, with its drugs and sex on tap. However, the South Londoner reinvigorated the tired trope with some unique lines. 

Still just 21 – though he’s been on the circuit for years – his set is based around being a something of a waster, politically naive and not quite as ‘street’ as he seems. His best routine amusingly imagines him spoiling for a fight, but hardly being as threatening as he’d hoped. Overall, it’s a solid offering, but not quite enough to propel him to the top tier.

A change of pace from Simon Lomas, who is the Central Casting ideal of a geek, with thick round glasses, matted-down hair and awkward dress sense. He has a very stylised, very cold deadpan, delivering his material as he gazes up and to his right, not daring to even catch the audience’s eye, or sometimes reading from his notebook. 

He also deploys interminable pauses between every line of set-up – a strategy that has mixed effect. He gains laughs of anticipation in those silences as well as knowing chuckles when he suggest such outlandish premises as ‘having a girlfriend’, but the glacial pace also means you can often figure out the punchlines for yourself in those gaps, if you’re so inclined. His payoffs are certainly not always unpredictable enough for the style. But when they are, it works very well. Enough to earn him the bronze tonight at least.

The exact opposite from Liam Withnail – confident, good looking, with the recognisable rhythms of stand-up. ‘Hello difficult audience,’ he trilled on taking to the stage, the first acknowledgement outside of Maxwell’s compering that this was not a warm room… or rather tent. 

Unfortunately his material fell well short of his swagger, with a by-the-numbers description of a hangover and a far-too-long breakdown of Channel 4’s Countdown, hoping that his literal explanation of its futility would be enough. It wasn’t. His well-delivered but uninteresting set is proof that something can be shiny and dull at the same time.

After the interval, Geordie Lauren Pattison told of her move to London to follow her comedy dreams… which ended up with her working in Boots and single for the first time in her adult life. Her stories of retail woe and Tinder dates don’t always result in massive laughs, but they are wryly amusing clearly come from a place of truth. And she has the most endearing stage presence that means you could listen to her for hours, taking ownership of all the awkward situations in her young life. 

She’s an assured, likeable presence whose acclaimed Edinburgh debut has already put her on course for greater things – and securing second place with this well put-together set can only help.

Adam Rowe was probably unlucky not to find a place on the podium, for his rollicking set was a clear crowd-pleaser. This 25-year-old has got the Scouse gift of the gab and a robustly dismissive attitude to those he doesn’t agree with, regaled in cheery detail. 

He’s not pushing the envelope much in his stories of everyday life, most notably a run-in with a jobsworth at Greggs, but they are expertly told with energy and wit. Affable but with bite, if he’s not already getting regular work across the clubs for this assured stand-up, bookers are missing a trick.

Oh, how great a story it would have been had the unmistakably Romanian Radu Isac won the English Comedian Of The Year title. ‘I don’t think they should have allowed me to enter either,’ he said with the impish cheek that defined his set. He should have been one of the contenders, too, for this quirkily upbeat set offering a new perspective on recognisable scenarios. 

He had some fun at Western Europe’s ignorance of the myriad cultures to the east of the continent, but while his accent enhances the comedy, most of his material does not depend on his background. Instead he plays up the wastrel with a peculiar insight on the world, making convincing cases for taking lots of drugs and living a slothful life. Who can tell how lazy he is in real life, but that’s certainly not an adjective to apply to his playful, idiosyncratic comedy.

Darius Davies is full of verve, slightly channeling Russell Brand in his mischief, style and energy, and kicking off by poking fun at the banners at the back of the stage. 

His high-pitched rants certainly had pace, but there was little substance behind much of them, just an exaggerated incredulity that you might have an internet-connected fridge, for example. He offers a distinctive and charismatic version of ‘what’s the deal with…?’ comedy, but that disguises a shortage of actual jokes on the topics he picks.

Had this been a competition to find the ‘most English’ comedian, Nick Page would have been a shoo-in, with that perfectly British combination of patronising superiority tempered with self-deprecation. He joked that he wouldn’t pass a citizenship test, but with a routine that hit on cricket and life in rural Gloucestershire, he’ll probably be OK, post-Brexit. 

In a highly entertaining set, he painted a picture of himself as a sort of jovial, irresponsible loser with a catalogue of failed jobs, one-dimensional friendships and elaborate schemes to get out of social situations. It’s a winning comic personality, quite literally since he took the crown tonight. Though it was an easy decision to choose such an affable comic with a distinctive style and finely tuned storytelling skills.

Review date: 6 Sep 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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