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Student comedy awards 2006

Heat 3: Coventry

Considering the Chortle Student Comedian of the Year competition is an open event, with no auditions or pre-screening of entrants, it has been attracting a decent selection of new acts –  and last night’s well-attended heat at Coventry’s University of Warwick was no exception.

Barry Pigeon, from Aberystwyth, had entered last year’s competition, where he was shockingy bad. Twelve months older, and calmer, he’s crafted a much stronger set that’s by turns bizarre, nasty and punny. He’s got some nice lines that elicited good laughs, even though, performance-wise, he’s still a little unsteady on his comedy feet, not quite able to build up a head of steam. The underlying ideas are solid, too, though some of them, such as imagining the Chortle review he’d get or the benefits of a giant prosthetic penis, were dwelt on more than necessary.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, Warwick’s own Andy Hortor was performing his first ever gig – and he was clearly nervous, with a slight tremble and an aversion to looking the partisan audience in the eye. But he had a winning conversational style, and all the makings of some nice, if somewhat formulaic jokes. With experience, and the ditching of a tired but bankable section about inbreeding, he could have something – though it transpired he also intended this to be his last ever gig, too. Shame.

Paul Hayfield is another act from 2005, and another act who’s transformed himself remarkably over the year. Sharply suited, he’s supercilious and aloof, but always in quiet control and world-weary beyond his years. It’s a well-defined persona, with some lines to match – he even manages to find a new gag about Michael Jackson worthy of the best. A strong contender indeed.

Damon Larkin mixed some pithy one-liners with audience banter, enjoying more success with the gags than the chat – although a punter wandering across the stage mid-punchline early in the set caused him to go down that route before he’d firmly established his comedy credentials. Short sets like these are quite unforgiving of banter that doesn’t really get anywhere. Mind you, the jokes, dark wordplay told from the perspective of a sexually uncomfortable misfit, proved guiltily enjoyable.

Dominic Elliott-Spencer, pictured, took a little while to set up his persona, too – not helped by a gag that ends with the more-than clichéd: ‘…and so I shot him.’ But once he confessed to being childish, his cheeky smile, infectious laugh and animated delivery (especially a very effective girlie shriek) more than compensated for limitations in the delivery. It was this effortless charm that won him through to the final.

Richard Stevenson started with a few inappropriate chat-up lines, which were OK, but then did an old, old gag without acknowledgement or apology. The line - ‘My grandfather died at Auschwitz… fell off the watchtower’ – however great, is all over the internet, including once attributed to Nicholas Parsons. Can you get more desperate than using the same material as Nicholas Parsons? Seems you can because this chunky monkey closed with Jo Brand’s ancient line. ‘I must be anorexic, because when I look in the mirror I see at fat person, too.’ Must do better.

Sharing gags with other comedians is something you’re unlikely to find Tom Hughes doing – as his creative set encompassed all manner of alternate realities, from Mike Leigh ring tones to octopuses inhabiting his face. It has an internal logic, rather than being surreal for its own sake, although he still finds it difficult to drag the audience into his imaginative world. At this stage, it remains an admirable attempt to find his own ground rather than a solid crowd-pleaser – but given how much some of tonight’s other competitors have come on in just one short year, let’s hope Hughes enters the 2007 race.

Steve Bennett
February 23, 2006

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