Live Review: English Comedian of the Year, Udderbelly

English comedian

The English Comedian of the Year Final is the kind of concept that prompts jokes itself. Is it the first comedy competition sponsored by UKIP? Is Nigel Farage one of the judges? The answer is no to both of those questions. Though, as it was pointed out on the night, the organiser, Alan Anderson, is Scottish and the host Andrew Maxwell was Irish. Insert your own punchline.

The eleven finalists in what was actually a very well-organised fun show, if a little overlong, were very varied in terms of experience. Some were familiar names from Edinburgh, some were complete unknowns, some were regulars on the competition circuit. With a couple of exceptions the standard was high. 

First up was Amir Khoshsokhan, who won the last Piccadilly Comedy Club Comedian of the Year prize. He did pretty much the same routine here, delivering a story about his girlfriend troubles and how they had tried role play with divisive results. Khoshsokhan has a slow, dry, deadpan delivery which I thought might struggle with a big audience, but he went down very well. I’d be interested to see how he would use this story in a one-hour set. 

Second on was Andy Watson, an experienced Mancunian who won the prestigious City Life North West Comedian of the Year Award back in 2005 but is less well-known down south. There wasn’t much that was distinctive about his material at first as he mentioned stag dos and the trend for designer glasses, but he came into his own with some neat physical comedy, acting out his punchlines in much the same was as Lee Evans or Alan Carr. Not enough there to get him a top three placing but he did turn out to be much better than I initially feared.

James Dowdeswell is a well-established name who has always been an entertaining club comic but has never quite made the leap into the big league. His brief set here did not quite raise the roof. His reference to the Englishness of the gig and a quip about IKEA got him off to an OK start but with only ten minutes onstage he could not quite get his momentum going even with some idiosyncratic material about his lazy eye and growing up with parents running a pub. Dowdeswell still has the potential to break big, but tonight’s performance didn't do it.

If the prize was being awarded for the most English comedian Alistair Barrie would have romped home. Sporting a well-cut suit and equally precise diction he was one of the most crowdpleasing acts of the evening. You immediately felt in safe hands with him. Maybe safe was the key word. At times his material was a little cautious – property prices, moving out of London, horrible posh people – but he generated some brilliant, big laughs which, let’s face it, sod edgy and dark and surreal, is pretty important in a comedian. Barrie came in third and won a lot of new fans.

Fifth act Brennan Reece (pictured, by Richard Davenport) also looked like he had taken trouble over his appearance, although in his case it looked like he had bought new trainers, trousers and a new Fred Perry shirt. His style was fast and frenetic and had a slightly camp tinge to it, without ever going the full Alan Carr. Reece was another performer who I had seen in other competition doining a similar routine but he seemed better this time, firing out his story about the repressed gayness of football fans faster than a speeding bullet. He had a self-mocking style that was endearing too as he talked about being bullied and growing up as the youngest of five (though not the five you might expect). There were no complaints when the judges* voted him the winner.

Midlander Ben Briggs warned the audience that he was going to go into some dark places, but these days comedy audiences are so used to going to dark places that I don't think he really shocked anyone, even with his references to the German Wings crash and Oscar Pistorius. He had a nice cynical sneer though – he reminded me Johnny Rotten having a mid-life crisis. 

Review continues here.

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