Thursday, 16 June 2016

Review: Heat 2 - New Comedian of the Year 2016

Review by Paul Smith:

The last few Sundays have seen the annual new act competition heats one and two. I know I bang on about our Sunday nights a lot but they hold a very special place in my heart and I truly believe that, of all the things we do at Hot Water, Sundays are perhaps the most important. Over the last six year we have tried every week to provide a friendly place where new acts can get stage time and in turn we have seen many new acts go on to become pros. I feel maybe that this will be our lasting legacy in comedy. I have no doubt that our pro weekend nights will continue to grow and get stronger as the have consistently over the last few years, but, it is in the Sundays that I think we truly see the future.

Each year in June we invite the best acts we can find that have less than 12 months experience to compete for the coveted title of Hot Water Comedy’s New Comedian of the Year. I don’t know if it is really happening or whether I’m just getting old but each year it seems the standard of these new acts rises by an incredible amount. This year in heat one we have already seen two of the most promising dead-pan style joke tellers that I can remember in Moses Ali Khan and Simon Lomas get through to the final. Then this week we had to put three acts through. (It’s normally two but I feel it should have been four…. I’ll go into that in a minute).

We had in joint first place Dan Fitzpatrick, a very confident former priest with some excellent material, not only about his time in the clergy but on a range of topics which was nice to see. I really enjoyed Dan’s. He is an act that I feel would flourish over a longer set, something I look forward to seeing. The other joint winner was the scarily talented character comedian Shell Byron (Ally Allerton), who after twelve gigs, was able to not only construct a very good set but also manage some brilliant crowd work. Not an easy feat. I don’t think I even looked at the crowd for the first year and a half doing stand up. Also going through in second place we had John McDonald, a solid performer with some killer lines and a very comfortable delivery.

On to the controversy of the heat. In doing these heats over the years, and in everything we do really, we try our best to be fair and unbiased. We have found that selecting random audience members to judge, as well as ourselves, usually gives an even view of how well each act has done and also gives a different perspective to the one we would get if we simply judged ourselves. During this heat however we had an anomaly. Scott Liversidge, a young performer, took to the stage proclaiming ‘I’m a transvestite’ and proceeded over the next five and a bit minutes to do brilliantly with his weirdly surreal set about travesticism and cheese. I have to be completely honest here I was surprised when I was handed the results to announce and Scott’s name was not on it. Not to take anything away from Dan, Shell and John, they all deserved their place. When we got the judges score sheets back and collated the results we found it all to be really close, except for one judge, who had scored Scott completely against the grain, giving him two out of ten for his performance. (outrageous!) Alas we do not know the motivation for this judge’s decision. He simply may not have liked surreal comedy or it could have been a darker bias which steered his scoring. As the judging is random we do not know. All I know is that Scott Liversidge was excellent in my book.

The same can be said for Tom Bates and Ben Turner, both excellent acts who missed out narrowly in going through. Controversy aside, as our new act competition heads into its third and final heat, one thing is certain. These new acts coming through are of a very high standard. A couple of years ago the comedy circuit took a big hit but if these new acts are any indication then comedy is very healthy indeed. They have sharp writing, crowd work, stage presence and above all they all seem to love comedy. In five, ten, maybe twenty years time, these will be the big names. These new acts, who grace our stage, are the future of stand up and I feel glad that our Sunday nights are helping in some part to nurture that future.