Leicester Square New Comedian Of The Year 2021 | Final reviewed by by Steve Bennett © Steve Ullathorne

Leicester Square New Comedian Of The Year 2021

Final reviewed by by Steve Bennett

The dearth of gigs during lockdown seems to have had no adverse effect on new comedians learning their craft. Quite the opposite, in fact. Those who made the final of the Leicester Square New Act Of The Year last night  – and there were 15 of them - were stronger than ever. 

When the worst you could say of any competitor is that they did a good job,  it takes something special to stand out. But winner Sam Nicoresti certainly achieved that elevated status in a set fizzing with ideas and great jokes, with a unique angle on every topic he tackled – even the well-covered subject of the pandemic, which takes some doing. 

Simultaneously smart and silly, he has a touch of James Acaster’s askance perspective, but without being a copycat – while his slightly staccato sentences draw out his distinctive wit to best effect. Not quite being able to tell where his train of thought is heading makes him an intriguing act you’ll want to hear more from. And no doubt you will.

Earlier, Dan Tiernan set a high bar for the evening in the opening slot, traditionally seen as a handicap. He exudes frustrated anger at the world and especially his own failings, which, when expressed through his Mancunian bluntness, forms into some great gags. His opening chunk doesn’t sound that adventurous – mocking hard-talking Royal Marine recruitment ads – but it opens the door to more personal  material about his dyspraxia in an offbeat set that builds and builds – and won him third place on the podium.

Chris Nelson tells us several times about going on ‘something of a gender journey’ to becoming non-binary. The experience has given them the advantage of a changed perspective on the world, which they explore wittily, if inconsistently.  They have a confident persona with the sort of predatory flirtation often seen in cabaret acts – but the material is slight. The act would benefit from writing that goes deeper than the ‘look at me’ superficiality.

Chelsea Birkby’s trick of deconstructing explicit pop lyrics is an old one, but the contrast between her gentle, well-spoken tones and the words of Cardi B and Pitbull is very effective, especially in her repeated references to being in ‘da club’. This shtick of prim-and-proper middle-class young women talking about sex became a minor theme of the night, but she got the ball rolling. In Birkby’s case, she mixed it with talk of her manic depression, although she could only scratch the surface in the allotted five minutes.

Fresh from winning the 2Northdown new act competition last month, Dee Allum served up a tight, sharply-written set based on being transgender, which had the confidence to be playful and silly – and driven by the compunction to get from one punchline to the next as briskly as possible. She wears her topic lightly, and has great fun with the story of the ‘aggressively sincere’ human resources officer at work grappling with the consequences of the gender change. All of which secured a well-earned runners-up slot.

Tamsyn Kelly’s great charm sees her through a slightly jumbled set that contrasts London living to her former life in Cornwall, cracks jokes about sex that make her cringe at her own candour, and challenges a few bits of perceived wisdom. Her writing is a little scattergun, too – occasionally too straightforward (eg, the cheap laugh of saying ‘quinoa’ as a shorthand for middle-class) but sometimes with a creative flourish. Promising, but not yet the finished product compared to some others on the bill tonight.

Matty Hutson, on the other hand, is a consummate pro. He’s a musical comic who whips through some pop parodies, with the imaginative twist that they are responses from the subjects of the originals, such as Stacy’s Mom, Valerie or Roxanne. They’re quickfire icebreakers that get the audience on-side before he embarks on a more plaintive number of his own composition, which comes with a twist. All funny, crowd-pleasing stuff that would entertain any comedy club yet lacking the unique flair needed to stand out among more original acts.

Playing up his Spanish roots, Sergi ‘I’m a lovely boy’ Polo has a similar issue. He has a gaggy set, spinning around subjects from laddish behaviour, drinking culture and having a crush on a teacher. But the punchlines lean heavily on such well-established tricks as the pullback and reveal and quickly become formulaic. But there are jokes a-plenty and he has an undeniable impish appeal.

Karen Hobbs adopts a gossipy tone as he shares memories of sex education classes, her suburban Stevenage roots and dating apps, mocking her generally screwed-up life. So far, so familiar. But what gives an edge over comics fishing in similar waters is that she’s a cancer survivor – to which she takes a winningly flippant approach. It’s a mixed bag of a routine but sold well, thanks to her irreverent personality.

Chipper Freya Mallard has a  breezy style that rather goes against her attempts to disavow the trope of the sassy, confident woman. An engaging, animated performer, her personality is probably stronger than her material, but there’s a sense of playfulness as she talks about the ups and down of life as a young woman. 

The opposite’s true of Ania Magliano, who has crafted some strong jokes – the best of them concerning her being bisexual and single – but performs them in a way that’s a little too measured, suggesting her comedy’s more learned than intrinsic. She starts with some sarcastic comebacks to comments her Italian name attracts before moving on to her Polish mum’s malapropisms and schoolgirl bullying, with sold punchlines at every step.

Dating is a central plank of Michael May’s nimble routine. He is a lively performer who engages with the audience with the ease of a seasoned MC while gleefully sharing first-hand stories about what not to ask on a first date and the like. He’s absolutely at ease on stage and has a natural, cheeky lightness of touch that endears… it’s no wonder he has recently been signed up by the Comedy Store agency.

Andrew Nolan also exudes the sort of confidence that makes audiences feel they’re in the hands of a pro. The autobiographical set focuses on school bullying and the nuns who taught him sex ed – subjects that  others had already touched upon tonight. He’s more about storytelling than crisp one-liners, so while there are few hearty LOLs, there’s a rolling good humour to the way he processes the humiliation of his youth.

Part Brummie, part Smoggie – as Middlesbrough folk are called – Sachin Kumarendran is low-status and sarcastic. There’s a lot to enjoy in his downbeat tales of a debilitating medical condition and surprise at finding himself with a girlfriend – which gets him thinking about sex toys. Dour as the material may be, he has a cheerily resigned acceptance of his lot that breathes life into his often offbeat material.

Finally, serial new act finalist Ashish Suri brings an amusingly disconcerting air to his otherwise relatable observational comedy. He plays up his strange edge in a set that portrays him as paranoid, suspicious of the world and a perennial beta male, especially when it comes to sex. The beats of his underplayed delivery are slightly off-kilter, too, which adds to his peculiarity – meaning he can stand out as ‘that odd Indian guy’ even on a bill as packed as tonight’s.

Review date: 14 Dec 2021
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Leicester Square Theatre

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