BBC New Comedy Award final 2018 | Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

BBC New Comedy Award final 2018

Edinburgh Fringe review by Steve Bennett

Mark Watson’s an old hand at hosting the BBC New Comedy Award final now, and even he’s anxious, more so than his usual shtick. This is live radio, to an audience of maybe a million, with the pressure not to swear and to stick to time, lest the show commits the ultimate betrayal of Middle England and makes The Archers run late. So think what it must be like for the poor newbies, with the added pressure of a prestigious award – and £1,000 – on the line. 

But if there were nerves, none were on show, with six confident, slickly put-together routines to give the judges a tough task.

In the tough opening slot, Helen Bauer didn’t push the boat out too far with self-denigrating material about being tall, overweight and drinking too much. Yet the pictures she paints of finding her enemies, the petite women, in the sections of a store dedicated to the larger women are amusing, while her depiction of drunken floods of overemotional crying certainly struck a chord of recognition.

The echo of Hannah Gadsby’s words from Nanette about self-deprecating gags being humiliating can be heard faintly behind the material, and you root for Bauer to be more positive – but it never quite comes, despite how much she appeared to own the situations she describes and her warmth on stage.

Next up, Isa Bonachera had to address her strong Spanish accent, which she did with a quirky joke that conjured up a sweet and charming image that would be typical of her set. (Though she also slipped a bestiality gag past the Radio 4 censors at 6.30pm, so it’s not all so benign)

She is smart, but with a distinctively offbeat way of thinking, generating off-kilter punchlines that are hard to see coming, some about her social awkwardness and isolation as a computer programmer.

There’s a lot of potential here, so hopefully she won’t be long day jobs like the one she describes with the nightmarish policy where her salary depended on how much her colleagues rate her on personal interactions… which is not far from the plot of a  Black Mirror episode. 

Mamoun Elagab has a unique backstory, which emerges piecemeal as he drops nuggets of information into his slick conversational stand-up. He’s an orphaned immigrant from Sudan – the Channel 5 of the international community, by his reckoning – whose uncle was jailed for his political protest over his country’s Islamist regime… while Elagab himself has had his own run-ins with the law.

He was probably the rawest of the six on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe tonight, he feels like has the most to tell. His calmly-delivered set demonstrated a loaded wit and a mischievous way of tweaking liberal guilt, which is a renewable resource when it comes to mining comedy.

Given it was radio, Glasgow’s Stephen Buchanan didn’t need to do a joke about his height, but not only is it a tight, perfectly-constructed ice-breaker, it would also feature in a later callback in this meticulously put-together set.

That led on to quips about being a twentysomething man still living in his mum’s attic, a common subject for broke millennial comics with little chance of getting on the property ladder. But what came next was a surprise, as his mum has also taken in a Vietnamese refugee.

It’s the process of taking delivery of the new housemate that most amused Buchanan, finding comedy in the details around the edge of the story, before going on to mock how housing him was an act of charity that puts his hilariously modest achievements to shame. An interesting story, wittily told, it went on to secure him the title.

Sarah Mann is a strong storyteller, too, with an anecdote about going glamping alone sounding like the ideal premise for a sitcom plot. For she accidentally told the campsite owner that she would be staying with her partner, when in fact she was alone, and when she arrived went to increasingly strange lengths to maintain the pointless lie.

Mann was alone because she’s come out as most probably asexual – a point of view rarely heard on the libidinous circuit, and which generated some first-rate gags, many built upon how the A really is out of place in the LBGTQIA rainbow coalition. 

Before Buchanan was announced winner, my money might have been on William Stone, since this Brighton-based comic is such an excellent writer of quirky one-liners. Some are obtuse takes on familiar words and phrases which he makes unfamiliar, others just offbeat thoughts that come from nowhere.

He’s very much in the mould of Milton Jones – right down to the slightly Dazed and Confused look that radio cannot capture – and his best lines are worthy of the Mock The Week regular. The man surely has a solid career in comedy ahead of him, as, indeed, do all his fellow finalists.

Review date: 13 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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