Live Review: Leicester Mercury Comedian Of The Year 25th Anniversary Show, De Montfort Hall

josh widdicombe leicester

The Leicester Comedy Festival’s Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition has been running 25 years (this year's final is on Feb 23) and has featured future stars including Johnny Vegas and Jason Manford. The latter looked terrifyingly young in a clip of archive footage at the start of an epic evening featuring previous acts. The gig featured so many winners and finalists it felt like it lasted a quarter of a century too. But in a Good Way.

First up following MC Charlie Baker’s spirited warm-up was 2013 finalist Grainne Maguire, who got in quick with the Brexit gags, describing the UK as being like the drunk woman in the nightclub toilets crying over a bad decision. Her description of Ryanair as being a family airline, complete with obligatory grumpy members, didn’t land quite so neatly but still got the evening off to a flying start. 

Henry Paker won the award in 2008 but has taken a bit of a back seat for a while, writing gags for star names rather than performing himself. It is good to have him back onstage though, judging by this quick set, which mainly revolved around spotting a gap in the market for alternative pop songs about loving it when you get home and have the house all to yourself. His celebration of the joys of not having to care about your partner being the “coaster police” clearly touched a nerve.

Cumbrian Tom Little won the award in 2015. I was a judge that year and I’ve got a feeling that his routines about crisp flavours and Wordsworth were what helped him to bag top spot on the night. They are still just as funny. Little has a nervy, jittery style that makes you think everything is random but his set was actually very well constructed. Throwaway remarks came back to pick up more laughs later on. It’s still early days but I’m expecting big things from Little.

2012 winner Matt Rees is another former winner who is building up some decent momentum on the circuit and in Edinburgh. In his short set here he reflected on his attempts to give up drinking and how he thought Alcoholics Anonymous was actually an organisation for people who liked to go out drinking. It was strong, slightly twisted stuff that was much cleverer than his slightly shambolic stage persona initially suggested. 

Josh Widdicombe is at that pivotal stage in his life where he has gone from gags about being a fun-loving singleton to gags about ageing and becoming a glasses-wearing dad. Much of his brief time onstage was given over to a discussion about baby monitors, which now come with screens so that you can keep an eye on your offspring, not just when they are crying, but also when they are sleeping silently too. As usual Widdicombe showed a keen sense of the absurd, noting that the range of the monitor was so long he could actually go out and still use it. If Widdicombe’s set had been the final one of the night this would have already have been an excellent – and pretty long – gig. In fact it only marked the end of the first half. 

Review continues here.

Pictures by  Anna Valente.

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