It’s pretty packed in here. The Frog & Bucket’s Beat The Frog World Series Final has tempted a healthy crowd in from the chilly winter evening, eager to see who will be crowned champion.
Each of these acts has already come out on top at a previous show, so on paper we should be in for a consistently high quality evening. The fact that the three people in our party will all vote for a different act later in the evening gives you some idea of how close a contest this is.
MC Dan Nightingale wastes no time in introducing the first act. Simon Wozniak has drawn the short straw. You’ll need the gig of your life to win from this slot, and while this is particularly good at the start, five minutes isn’t enough time to win over a crowd from what is effectively a standing start.
His set clearly has enough promise to win over the industry experts in the audience, as he’s awarded the panel prize, a gong given to someone who finishes outside the top two, but still impresses. It would’ve been interesting to see how he fared in a later slot.
Tony Wright is next, dressed in a sharp suit and armed with a set that’s sort of politely amusing without ever really grabbing you by the lapels and urging you to vote for him.
It’s certainly a far cry from the anarchically shambolic Chris Sullivan, who veers between self-pitying accounts of romantic failure and very dark observations about the world of relationships. He doesn’t appear bothered by the concept of time, ignoring the flickering house lights sternly ordering him to wrap up until he’s eventually cut off mid-sentence by music and ushered away. It’s all strangely compelling and enjoyable, so he gets one of our votes.
Closing the first half is Arielle Souma, who almost shatters our eardrums with a brash, booming rant that gleefully skewers both men and women and earns the approval of the room. She’s going at such a frantic pace that it’s not always possible keep up, which is a shame, and it’s perhaps this which ultimately keeps her out of the prizes at the end of the night.
Mark Grimshaw is first up after the break. Much of his act consists of reading Trip Advisor reviews of various unlikely attractions which, while hardly groundbreaking, gets a great reaction. So much so that he ends up with the runner-up prize. Shows what I know.
Dubliner Donal Vaughan isn’t shy about self deprecation. He’s of the portly persuasion, and will come back to this throughout his set. He does so in a such a gag-heavy manner that he quickly has us all won over. He picks up our second vote of the night (mine, actually) and it turns out that this is one of many. He takes home the winner’s cheque.
Tom Lawrinson is clearly used to charming his audience, and it works for him here. We’ve seen him try out bits of this material last month at The Worst Comedy Night in Salford, but while it’s light on surprises for us, it’s nice to see this funny material go out to the larger audience it deserves.
The penultimate act of the night is Gary Meikle, who has a strong opening and closing joke, but not much in between to threaten some of the stronger acts that have gone before.
He’s followed by guitar-wielding Matt Hutson, who is probably still regretting leading with a new joke. It bombs. Oh dear, oh dear, it bombs. We notice he’s tweeted it five days earlier and got four likes. There are probably fewer than that in the room tonight.
Thankfully, he rallies and is able to end on a very good, original song that allows him to leave to a deservedly rousing reception. So much so that he picks up our final vote of the night. He’s harshly not forgiven by the crowd for that start though, and doesn’t pick up an award.
While we wait for the votes to be counted, we’re treated to a set from last year’s champion, Rob Mulholland. And what a treat it is. If you like your comedians shouty and ranty, the next twenty minutes are a complete joy, as he takes aim at all and sundry in a well-crafted set.
If this is what a year of gigging off the back of a Beat The Frog win does, the class of 2016 are going to be fun to watch.
Beat The Frog starts all over again at the Frog & Bucket next Monday, November 14th.