A new venue for us, the Waterside Bar and Restaurant at Northampton University, and it’s a very welcoming environment. Great sightlines, excellent well-priced wine and a friendly atmosphere. Of course, what can make or break a comedy gig is the subtle blend of venue and audience; and, on last night’s experience, the right blend just wasn’t there. We knew for a fact (they told us many times!) that the acts were expecting a much more studenty crowd than the demographic who had bought tickets; representing the students, there were only wannabe sports coach Jake (19) and his unnamed girlfriend (20) present. The rest of us were of indeterminate older age! Maybe, because it was held at the university, some of the regular Comedy Crate crowd didn’t feel that it was the right venue for them and so stayed away. <RANT>But comedy is comedy, gang! You can have just as good a laugh at a uni venue as you can in a pub or theatre. So have the confidence to book tickets! </RANT>
All four comics plying their trade last night were new to us – something that very rarely happens nowadays, so that gave the evening an additional frisson (for us anyway). Our host was Ross Smith – and a very capable pair of hands he is too. Very welcoming, he instantly put us at ease as he delved into the private lives of those in the second and third rows (including us). Often, when you get targeted by a comic to answer lots of personal questions, something inside you clams up and you just wish they’d go away. Not so with Mr Smith; he has a very engaging personality that invites you to open up and tell things to a perfect stranger (indeed a room full of them) that you wouldn’t normally. He controlled the evening with a true lightness of touch, he’s clearly got a quick comic brain, and I’d really like to see him do a longer set. So far, so good.
Our first act was Michael Mannion, and I can’t pretend it went well. Thrown a) by the fact that we weren’t students and b) from the lukewarm response he received to his opening material, he lost his way somewhat and found it difficult to get back on track. I felt that he sensed that his set was going worse than it actually was, which was an early punch in the stomach of his confidence. He self-deprecates before we’ve had a chance to assess whether he deserves to, describing himself as a c*** several times, too early into the act and without real justification. As a result, when he actually asks the audience at one stage, don’t you think I’m a c***? which, presumably, most student audiences do, we were left thinking no you’re not, just a well brought-up nice young man, in a slightly patronising way. His act is very much based on his appearance and personality rather than its verbal content, and there just weren’t enough well-delivered punchlines for the act to go better. Oh, and, no Michael, we weren’t all 100 years old, despite your muttering it!
Things took a terrific turn for the better with our middle act, Jacob Nussey. A very dour, wry persona, with a quiet but totally authoritative delivery, the audience quickly attuned to his material and pace. He had some wonderful observations about working for Amazon, and a brilliant sequence about casual racism which really turned the subject on its head. Self-deprecating in just the right way and extremely funny. He was perfect for this gig, as all his observations and material were relatable to people of all ages.
Our headliner was Erika Ehler, with a larger-than-life personality and terrific stage presence, but she too was sideswiped by the lack of students in the audience. She has some great material and delivers it with style and conviction, but the majority of it didn’t land. After a while she started to tell us that we wouldn’t like her next lot of material because we were the wrong audience for it; and she was right! A shame because I’m sure under different circumstances she would be a big hit.
The key to success for comedy at this venue is to get more bums on seats! We can’t make the next gig here, on 18th April, but you should – Ross Smith hosting again, and Josh Pugh is topping the bill. Should be great!