Review: Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year, Y Theatre

kate lucas

When you watch a comedy competition for newish talent it is often easy to decide who is the best. It is more difficult to work out what some acts will be doing in, say, a decade. Who could have predicted that previous Leicester Mercury Comedian Of The Year winner Johnny Vegas would be a mainstream star when he first pitched up as an unpredictable mix of failed Butlins redcoat, care in the community case and whirling dervish. Others were maybe more obvious primetime contenders – Jason Manford and Josh Widdicombe fit into a more recognisable rubric.

This year's Leicester Mercury Comedian Of The Year threw up more in the Vegas vein than the Manford manner. This year's contenders were nominated by comedy clubs and promoters, such as Tania Harrison of Latitude, Just The Tonic, and Knock2Bag, so maybe the seasoned experts who made the choices were looking for acts with that little different something. They certainly found it in a number of contenders.

First up was Dane Baptiste. Opening is a tough spot for anyone and after compere Rob Rouse's high energy warm-up Baptiste's mix of deadpan and laid-back threatened to suck the energy out of the room. Luckily what looked like fairly workmanlike observations about race and relationships were spiced up with some lively voices and characters. His reflections on the use of the word "partner" picked things up as he harked back to an era when partner evoked images of buddy cop movies, rather than long-term girlfriends, and he nicely recreated scenes from old cop movies. As he relaxed into his routine Baptiste got better. He might have even earned a placing if acts had done more the seven minutes and he had been on later.

Next up was Elliot Steel, a frighteningly precocious 17-year-old who definitely has a future in comedy if he sticks at it – I could imagine him easily getting acting work as dodgy street urchins if he prefers. While Steel played the working class dropout card, explaining how he had recently been kicked out of school, he was no real life Lee Nelson. Like Daniel Sloss when he started out, Steel's preoccupation was his lack of sex. Having finally reached the age of consent last year why were women not queuing up at his door? He also had a strong, well-honed story about being mugged which had a few smart lines and held everyone's attention. Again, no placing, but bags of potential.

According to her biography  Daisy Earl is from Dublin and lives in Edinburgh, but while these two cities have thrown up plenty of distinctive comedians, Earl felt like the most generic act of the night, homing in on the fact that she was a single, larger-than-size-zero woman. Which was not to say she didn't deliver her material well, it just didn't really go anywhere interesting. Then again, that hasn't held back Jo Brand or Sarah Millican, so in a few years there is no reason why we won't see more of Earl.

If Earl evoked other acts, Mark Silcox was very much in a class of his own. This geeky, middle-aged Asian immediately stands out when he walks onstage even before he has pulled the rug from your expectations with some unlikely subversive jokes. He went down really well and was clearly very funny, but as one of the judges I initially found him difficult to mark. Was his awkwardness part of his real-life character or was he a method-style character act? In the end though this didn't really matter – he was simply very enjoyable, though I wondered how he would extend this schtick, if it is a schtick, for, say, a full Edinburgh hour. Silcox was third on the night and it will be interesting to see what he does next. 

The first act in the second half was another deadpan comedian. Dave Green is a one-liner merchant but more like American oddballs Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg than current Brits Tim Vine and Milton Jones. Green's problem was consistency. Some of his gags – one in particular about being spied on by an unlikely peeping tom – were fantastically original. Others were just a little too generic to get him into the top three. But Green definitely has an eye for the comical – if he doesn't want to pursue stand-up himself he could easily sell his gags to others jokesmiths.

Phil JerrodNext up was the night's nearest thing to the Johnny Vegas template. Phil Jerrod (pictured right) is a mad-eyed performer with a massive beard which gives him plenty of opening material. This was good but he then got better as he built up a veritable head of angry steam about growing up in the the countryside where it was all jam, fetes and church bells. He was easily the most assured act on the night, using the stage well and having the confidence to take long pauses between his moments of comic fulmination. Jerrod already has major management and is clearly going places, but whether it is Live at the Apollo or somewhere more interesting remains to be seen. Jerrod bagged the runner-up spot from the judges (myself, Dave TV boss Steve North, Leicester Mercury's Paul Banks and Jill Edwards, who runs comedy courses at Komedia in Brighton) but I would not have been disappointed if he had been the winner.

Another quirky act was Harriet Kemsley, who, like Daisy Earl, did her fair share of material about her love life – getting dumped by text, things you don't want to hear on a first date – but had a more whimsical take on it. Like Mark Silcox, Kemsley was another comedian where it was hard to see whether the weirdness was part of the act or just who they were. I liked the fact that she oscillated between normal and smiley and scary and staring – it is a tic that might make some people nervous but I found it oddly appealing. Kemsley did not get into the top three here, but has already won other competitions and clearly has funny bones. On the night others just had funnier bones. 

And so to the last act. The running order was apparently random but where it was a little harsh on opener Dane Baptiste it worked perfectly for Kate Lucas (pictured top). The London-based musical comedian did not have a lot of patter but she did have two absolutely hilarious songs which just felt like the perfect way to round off the evening. Both upended the expectations one has when female comedians with guitars walk onstage. The first was about having an ugly baby, the second was a list of increasingly un-PC things she wanted to happen to someone who had wronged her. There was a real dark streak here which was totally unexpected given the gentle folky melodies. She got a huge round of applause from the audience and the judges were clearly in agreement. Lucas was the winner of the night, collecting the £1000 prize.

 

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