The contest About the competition How to enter 2006 The final London heat 1 London heat 2 Coventry heat Southampton heat Manchester heat Glasgow heat 2005The final London heat 1 London heat 2 Coventry heat Bristol heat Manchester heat Glasgow heat 2004The final

Chortle comedy awards 2005

The Final

Staying out too late, drinking far too much, forever being strapped for cash; there’s not all that much that separates the life of the student from the life of the new stand-up comic.

Now in its second year, the Chortle National Student Comedy Award aims to make this transition even smoother, by highlighting the best new talents emerging from colleges and universities and giving them a leg up into the circuit.

There were certainly plenty of industry figures in the audience of last night’s final. The Tattershall Castle, a paddle steamer on the Thames, was thronged with agents, promoters, producers and journalists, all on the lookout for the next big thing.

It could have been an intimidating audience to play, yet few – if any - of the acts appeared particularly daunted. Despite their relative inexperience, there is a strong vein of professionalism running though these comics, as there was even in the six regional heats before this.

Opening the show, Tony Richardson was typical with the way he was instantly at home on the stage, delivering his material with a nonchalant confidence to get the best out of it. There are some very nice lines in here, observations about penguins’ flapping wings or seagulls getting trapped in plastic packaging. Unfortunately, there were some very old lines too – starting from the very get-go: ‘It’s good to be here, but then last night I was in Blackpool, so it’s good to be anywhere…’ and just too many of them to make him really stand out, despite the assuredness of his manner.

Nathan Caton was equally bold in his stage presence, with a powerhouse performance enlivened with skilful characterisations of the people who find themselves in his observational set – from his domineering West Indian mother to the archetypal Nigerian traffic warden. Some of his influences are obvious, most notably the Def Comedy Jam style of American comics as well as some other black British acts, but underscored with his own social comment. But it was surely his faultless, charismatic delivery that did most to win him the title.

There was another very strong act next in Luke Catterson, though you mightn’t have noticed it in the first couple of minutes, with he filled with a rather aimless anecdote about carrying a sample of urine to the doctor’s. Once this was despatched with, though, this slow-burned moved on to some of the best material of the night. Cynical in attitude, he served up sharp, smart lines amid some believable personal tales – and even when he revived the old news story about an angry mob torching a paediatrician’s house he gave it a twist so original, yet so apparently obvious, you wonder why no one thought of it before.

Ben Travis has a winning air to him from the moment he emerged from the curtains – a wide-eyed innocent startled by the world but more than equipped to share his view on it. But unfortunately he couldn’t capitalise on the goodwill that he instantly generated, thanks to a raft of unexceptional material. A sizeable routine about the Pope’s passing may have been topical, but they weren’t that strong – and not even that offensive. One or two moments suggested something more, his superior air to the checkout girl able to open the devilish plastic bags being one of them, but again he didn’t cash in on the promise.

Ian Hunter’s strong presence lifted the mood. This formidable Ulsterman is more experienced than many of the acts on the line-up, and it shows. Not only does he command your attention, but he also knows how to couch his material to its best advantage, so that even the workaday stuff was given a powerful lift. On top of that, a couple of stunning, quotable trademark jokes really made his set: one from home about an Orange Order calendar and another drawing on his medical training that employed the phrase ‘diabetic pussy’. Good stuff.

By a fluke of the randomly chosen running order, the second half comprised entirely acts who overplayed their weirdness for comic effect, with various degrees of success. It made for a disconcerting section, this cavalcade of the touched.

First of them was Kai Barron, stomping around under the delusion he was of gigantic proportions, rather than the shorter-than-average, ginger, trainee teacher from Devon that he actually is. He has an exaggerated, surreal delivery, perhaps a little too close to Harry Hill for comfort, which he used to excuse the music hall/variety standard of his jokes. It’s enjoyable stuff, if not a little lightweight - and he did go to the trouble of cracking a gag or two specific to this particular night.

Idil Sukan takes the bravest approach to comedy, and one that’s riddled with risks. Instead of a well-prepared set, she spouts a breathless, mainly improvised, stream of consciousness set about the venue, Tupperware, dragons and pretty much anything else that comes into her head. With such a torrent of disconnected diversions, it appears as if she’s desperately trying to find any hook on which to get laughs – yet for all that, it is an almost hypnotic performance. In the end, she didn’t find many of those laughs, an occupational hazard of this bold style of act. The comedy here won’t ever be as obvious as the punchline, but will be found in tiny nuances, fractional pauses and broken rhythms – and only perseverance and stage time will teach her where those might be.

Of all those with a weirdo freak persona tonight, Paul Byrne has it down to a T. He’s the one you genuinely believe may be an unhinged psychopath as he sadistically attacks bread, rages against camels or befriends a grapefruit with a human face. It’s disturbing all right – and sometimes a bit too much so, a routine on necrophilia forgetting to mix the sick with some humour. But most of this original set is funny enough to overcome the fact he’s so obviously nervous on stage.

Symon Garner was something of an anticlimax to close on; some gags familiar from much bigger comics, the old sex-based response to the heckle ‘get off you’re shit’ somehow contrived into a routine, a tampon gag then a tale of how his Mum called him masturbating. He did it well enough, but for a night looking for new talent, it all seemed tired.

Nonetheless, that was the exception in a night that proved to showcase a good many acts who are certain to graduate onto the comedy circuit, and possibly beyond. But before that it’s back to the more mundane activity of revising for those end-of-term exams…

Steve Bennett

April 26, 2005

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.