Review: New Acts Of The Year Final 2018, Rich Mix, E1

The organisers of this long-running competition have the motto "New Variety Lives" but this year's show seemed to specialise in old variety. While this final has previously thrown up stand-up greats such as Stewart Lee, Eddie Izzard and Russell Brand, 2018's laugh-off had a distinct whiff of vaudeville about it. It was even hosted by a speciality act, magician Otiz Cannelloni, rather than usual MC Arthur Smith.

First up, however, was a comedian. Mary O'Connell explained that she had recently taken a break from performing to do a masters and work at Claire's Accessories. It was the second career digression that generated the most material as she moaned about tiresome habits of customers with the one-word put-down "Bitch". Why do people ring up and ask opening times when once you've googled the store number the opening times are below it? she asked. O'Connell had some better material on the thorny subject of racism and sexism but not quite enough that was sharp enough to make her mark. 

Second up was a musical turn, Huge Davis, who initially intrigued and bemused the audience by strolling on with suitably huge keyboard hanging from his neck. It's a distinctive look and he had a distinctive deadpan comic outlook too. His stand-out routine is an observational twist on the cliched musical breaks that dance music often features. Why, wondered, Davis, don't they ask more existential questions in the lyrics? Some neat one-liners elsewhere marked him down as someone with potential and he picked up third spot on the night. Huge potential.

In a few weeks there is the first East European Comedy Festival in London. If Polish Maggie Kowalski isn't already on the bill they should sign her up quickly. Kowalski offered a fresh sideways perspective on the immigration issue and the hoops one has to jump through to get a passport. There was some more familiar ground covered when she talked about the contrasts between living in hipster Shoreditch and low-life Lewisham, but her dry take on London life was strong enough to land the runner-up spot.

Paul Cox was one of the more conventional comics on the bill, maybe too conventional to make an impact. His schtick mainly revolved around being in his late thirties and moving from a working class area to a more gentrified part of the capital and had more than an echo of Micky Flanagan's old upwardly mobile/balsamic vinegar riff to it. Cox had a amiable personality and some decent mainstream flourishes but did not really make a big impact.

By contrast high energy tartan-suited double act Ellis & Rose were all impact and no material. They certainly looked the part but to paraphrase their own gag, it did look as if they had bought the comedy suits and then worked backwards. There was some nice physical chemistry between them but they could not stop me thinking of other comics - everyone from Morecambe and Wise to Vic and Bob, Little and Large, Joe Pasquale and Rik Mayall. When they land on their own style they could go places but not tonight.

Kiwi Jake Howie also nodded towards previously comics. His uncensored camp delivery has been heard a thousand times on the circuit over the years but certainly hasn't stopped the likes of Paul O'Grady and Alan Carr becoming household names. Howie is not in the same motormouth league but his gossipy chat about coming out and moving to London was never less than engaging, it just needed a few more killer lines.

Irishman Kevin O'Connell definitely started with a lot of promise. With his jet black quiff and flamboyant black outfit he could have been an Irish Russell Brand, but, as with Howie, his less-than-arresting material let him down. But he is young and good looking and it would not be a surprise if TV people saw something in him. 

And finally the first half closed with a trip back to variety. Amy Hooplovin' started her set as a drunken bride-to-be, lurching and staggering through the audience. Once onstage, as the name suggested, she turned out to be a hula hoop act and a very skilful one, doing formidable tricks to a backing track of Pulp's Common People. It's the sort of act that would work well in a show like La Clique/La Soiree but it was not placed tonight.

Review continues here.

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