Review: 2Northdown’s New Act of 2021 final | 11 up-and-coming comics compete for London venue's title

Review: 2Northdown’s New Act of 2021 final

11 up-and-coming comics compete for London venue's title

The big question from the latest new comedian final is: how the hell did they get so good?

Despite trying to learn the craft of stand-up in a time when stand-up has barely existed, all 11 finalists in the talent hunt run by London venue 2Northdown on Monday night shone with a confidence and a purpose they surely can’t have picked up on Zoom. It was the sort of night where no sooner than one act looked like they’d be the one to beat, they’d instantly be equalled by the next.

Identity was the overwhelming theme of the night – as it is in the wider world – and Alice India set that ball in motion with her witty take on being a gender-fluid bisexual with borderline personality disorder and OCD. Plenty to unpick there…

She has a winningly upbeat delivery that allows her to venture into difficult confessional territory while keeping things light – and ensures her stories of dating, lockdown fantasies and bad sex are generously sprinkled with punchlines. 

Chinese comic Chin Wang brings an outsider’s eye to the oddities of British culture, and especially our illogical language, which she’s documented over her eight years in the UK. She has a charming air of being cheerfully baffled by it all, while the other key strand of her act – being a small woman dating a 6ft 3in bloke – evokes some cartoonishly amusing mental images.

Dee Allum has the pleasing persona of a savvy naif, slightly wide-eyed about the world, which means she’s able to call out its oddities with some confidence. That her set is about being transgender gives it a bit of bite, too. She’s a great writer, with sharp, clever, funny lines that get to the nub of a situation – even cracking a great gag about the venue that shows a willingness to try something new.

The one-liners sit alongside a well-told anecdote about Allum coming out to the eager but easily confused HR officer at work, who feels like a well-drawn character even in this briefest of reconstructions. With an enviable gag rate and well-defined comic style Allum feels like a comedian whose time is near, deserving of the first prize she took home.

She was a hard act to follow, but Jack Chisnall rose to the occasion. Dressed in an oversized shiny suit and full of stilted nervous energy and awkward body language, he dials up the daftness. 

But this fool has a keen mind, playing fast and loose with the expectations of stand-up. Chisnall – one half of the much-tipped double act Moon – may joke that he hasn’t got much actual material, but this set is full of the stuff. And it’s hilarious too, from off-kilter observations and crowd work to a one-man King Lear – even an unexpected display of ventriloquism. He took second place, and I’d wager it was a tough call. 

James Murphy set the bar for the second section high from the start… and that’s not a joke about his towering stature. He has enough of those for himself, thank you, sarcastically twisting the comments his loftiness inevitably invites.

As he shares his eccentric coming-out story he proves an elaborate, creative writer able to turn a phrase that’s comically off-kilter (who knew that biscuit-eating was a heterosexual stereotype?). And it’s delivered in an affected, declamatory style. That might be a strain over a long set, but it hammers home the punchlines in this entertaining seven minutes.

Matthew Hayhurst is a very distinctive act with compelling intensity to his performance. He adopts the persona of an anorak-wearing middle-aged ex-con, variously spouting break-up poetry, misfiring corporate slogans and stupidly earnest commentary as he tries to navigate this ‘crazy mixed-up world’.

Although ricocheting from thought to thought, the set is bound by the strength of his performance: captivating, unpredictable and funny and bolstered by some great lines. He was unlucky not to be placed.

Paddy Young throws a few set pieces into his set, too, in the form of offbeat impersonations. But he’s really here to get some festering hatred for his flatmates off his chest - specifically the juggler, the one’ profession’ that it’s perfectly acceptable to hate. 

Even at the bottom of the housing pile, he needs someone to look down on. This was a relatively conventional set by the standards of the final, which made it hard for him to stand out, but there’s skill in his writing. 

Raj Poojara has a placid, controlled delivery, though his witty account of releasing pent-up anger through road rage suggests that calm demeanour could be wafer-thin. His assured routine is anecdotal, drawing the audience in with stories of life as a British-Indian man, ranging from family caricatures to some full-on racism experienced on a Tinder date, told with a gentle incredulity that such attitudes exist.

With a dry, sarcastic tone, Sallyann Fellowes takes us through her daily experiences of being dyspraxic (and bisexual, as an aside). Reflecting  her condition, the set is slightly random, an uneven download of stories and opinion. Her attitude is witheringly dismissive, but would benefit from more punchlines to stand out.

Sam Serrano feels more rounded, with a strong persona – camp and cynical – and boasting a packed agenda of personal topics to cover, from gender fluidity to Kabuki syndrome, a rare condition with some similarities to autism. They are something of a connoisseur of homophobia, having experienced it in many forms, but on stage Serrona affects a giddy, giggly persona – radiating a gleefulness that easily transfers to the audience.

Globetrotting Sri Lankan comic Vidura Rajapaksa has a sizeable opening chunk about looking like Jesus, which is predictable but probably necessary to break the ice. 

However, the set gets far more intriguing when he starts playing on white ignorance and privilege, with his modestly-spoken style camouflaging some provocative ideas on colonialism and migration. And that won him third place on the night.

And finally, metaphorical bouquets for compere Olga Koch. I’ve previously only seen her in tightly scripted shows and sets, but she’s a nimble host, too, lively and spontaneous, with a well-tuned radar for fining eccentrics in the audience and a keen ability to riff with them brilliantly when she did. It all created a lively, fun atmosphere to showcase the finalists as their best.

Review date: 1 Dec 2021
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: 2Northdown

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