Live Review: English Comedian of the Year Final 2017, Underbelly

This year’s final of the English Comedian of the Year proved one thing. You don’t actually have to be English to be eligible, but maybe it helps. It also helps, of course, if you are funny, and the standard of this year’s final confirmed that regardless of nationality, stand-up comedy is in pretty good health. 

First up, after compere Andrew Maxwell pulled out everything apart from a portable radiator to warm up the audience, was Clayton Jones, a blokey Londoner who is now based in the north. Jones was very much old school and not what the kids would call “woke”, with his gags about his wife, his nosey neighbours, his demonic son and being bummed in the woods. He had a good, confident delivery and amiable manner and if it was 1978 he might have fared better. 

Second act Lou Conran was also such a throwback I was starting to think that maybe this was a character comedy night. It always amazes me how people can just get onstage and talk to a full room of strangers and the brassy platinum blonde certainly had the gift of the gab. She also seemed to have an obsession with smut and bodily functions. As well as some predictable material about the changes that hit you after reaching forty there were gags about fisting and fingering. I did like her breathless impersonation of her friend who talks without ever exhaling, but that alone wasn’t going to get Conran on the winners’ podium. 

Elliot Steel brought a bit of class to the proceedings as one would expect from the son of veteran stand-up Mark Steel. I enjoyed Steel’s Edinburgh set this summer but squeezed into ten minutes it was reduced to the basics. He is still in his early twenties so it would be harsh to criticise him for material about doing what early twentysomethings do – trips to Amsterdam, getting into fights –  but Steel needed something more to be in contention. He has the swagger and confidence of a star and is definitely going places, but he hasn’t quite got there yet. 

Simon Lomas is an act who I’d heard a lot about but not seen and it was immediately obvious why there is a buzz about him. He is different to any act I’ve ever seen before in that he barely faces the audience. He stood stock still and almost stared into the wings throughout his brief, slowly-delivered set. His sideways looks went well with his sideways sense of humour. I suspect he is a big fan of Americans Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg as his deadpan one-liners have the same way of taking you in one direction then yanking you in another. Occasionally one could second guess the twists, but Lomas is clearly someone to watch and see how they grow and he deserved his third prize.

Final act of the first half Liam Withnail had the look of a comedian who knows what he is doing, with his assured manner and gentle physicality. It was as if he had studied a book on stand-up and knew it back to front. It still took him a bit of time to hit his stride, but he got there when he started talking about his Australian wife and the inevitable linguistic differences between them. He also cheekily said that the prize of a trip down under would come in handy as he may have to visit Australia next year, although later he seemed to lose his way a little and suggested he wasn’t bothered about winning. He has probably had better gigs than this and a stronger finish might have got him into the reckoning for that free flight.

Review continues here.

Picture © Steve Best

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