Review: New Acts of the Year Final, Bloomsbury Theatre

There has been talk recently of stand-up producing an endless conveyor belt of identikit observational comedians with one eye on a spot on Live at the Apollo. The cynics saying this clearly don't go to the New Acts Of The Year Final. This long-running competition, previously staged at the Hackney Empire, always throws up a few curveballs, but last night at the Bloomsbury Theatre it excelled itself with a particularly high score on the eccentricity-meter. Arthur Smith opened the compering in a sparkly onesie but was almost outshone in the weirdness stakes by a number of entrants.

First up was Nick Hodder, whose set was based around him acting out the awkward instructions on a pre-recorded "Comedy Made Easy" CD which the audience was not supposed to hear. It depended on split-second timing and could have been derailed by a disruptive crowd, but it all worked very well. Somehow it did not feel original though. I've seen an old Rowan Atkinson routine with taped dating tips which is similar, for instance. But Hodder, all nervous grin and nerdy pullover, does have funny bones, and while he was not placed I think he has plenty of comic potential. 

Jo Coffey, who is around four foot tall, immediately got a round of applause for her assured attitude. Her delivery was confident and she had a very winning personality, but her gags slightly let her down. There was some nice patter about a boyfriend being mistaken for a paedophile when they snog her in the street and a good gag about problems with her surname, but not quite enough there to make a real impact on a 15-strong bill.

Alasdair Beckett-King certainly has a strong comic identity thanks to his flowing ginger tresses that evoke some kind of pre-Raphaelite Ophelia-esque portrait. Although Beckett-King has an even better description and a mime to go with it which I won't spoil. His material is clever and quirky without ever being inaccessible. He plays with language and has a way of finding an unusually funny angle in everyday phrases such as "GHD" and "nonce" – not that "nonce" is actually a word I have cause to use everyday but I think you get my drift.  

Beckett-King went down extremely well with both the crowd and the judges and it was no surprise to discover that he was the winner, oops sorry, the "top of the bill". The organisers have tried to avoid announcing a winner this year as all the finalist are winners (also it's now called New Acts... I'm sure it used to be New Act). And in perhaps an even more radical move. All the acts tonight were paid the Equity rate. I'm not sure what that is but it is probably more than a lot of them would earn doing a short spot in a club.

Thomas Ward also had a strong visual image - looking pretty normal except for his overgrown page-boy haircut which I assumed was a wig, though he never actually removed it. There was something intriguing about Ward, who had an air and a style that was partly conventional but partly bizarre, as if the world had been ever-so-slightly knocked off its axis. There were echoes of Emo Phillips in his offbeat gags and he had a strange habit of breaking into corny TV ads during his allotted five minute set. Once again, not good enough to nab a placing but unusual enough to keep an eye on in the future.

When one goes to a lot of comedy competitions the same names seem to crop up in finals. About fifteen years ago I was seeing Rhod Gilbert and Jimmy Carr doing the rounds so who knows, maybe Tina T'urner Tea Lady, who I have already seen elsewhere, will be headlining at the Hammersmith Apollo in a few years. Somehow I doubt out though. Her routine – kind of Mrs Overall meets River Deep Thunderthighs herself – is great fun for five minutes but could she sustain it for an hour? I'm told she can do Cher as well, so maybe there is potential, but this was really an enjoyable musical filler rather than a potential winner.

Archie Maddocks also had an element of music in his act, following the usual "guess who I look like" opening with a song by the person he resembles. Having dispensed with the formalities he then had some good material about being black and British on a trip to America. It was well-delivered and interesting and reminded me - not in a negative way - of Trevor Noah's routine about going to America from South Africa. Maddocks thought he would fit in, but as soon as black Americans heard his Briitish accent they were thrown. An impressive set that mostly steered clear of cliches about race and was good and smart enough to get away with freely using the "n" word.

The first half ended with a musical act who also sailed close to the wind in political correctness terms. Rogue 5 claimed to be the world's only comedy boy band and started with a nice gag about their obligatory token black member (shades of Rubberbandits' Black Man rap) before having time for just one song, "Triple F A" - Fit From Faraway –  which could have been horribly misogynistic but was pretty mean about ugly men as well as women. Their harmonies were pretty good too, but I'm not sure if they really are the only only comedy boy band - One Direction make me laugh too. 

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