YMBJ 2010 winner Matt Richardson. Bless his cottons
Newbury Comedy Festival: You Must Be Joking final, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Tuesday, July 13
JUDGES made an unexpected but inspired choice in naming Didcot teenager Matt Richardson the winner of the 2010 You Must Be Joking (YMBJ) stand-up comedy contest. His act may have lacked the polish of some of the relatively more experienced performers, and he crammed so much material into his 10-minute slot that sometimes his delivery was a little hurried, but judges Steve Lount, a comedy producer who programmed much of this year’s Newbury Comedy Festival, and Nigel Morgan, of Corn Exchange sponsor Morgan PR, spotted great potential in the quantity, quality, freshness and originality of Richardson’s material.
Creating a great rapport with the audience stemming from a likeability described by judge Morgan as “self deprecation without self loathing”, Richardson explained why he won’t touch drugs until his questions were answered: “are magic mushrooms one of your five a day?”; his fear of dying in a car crash with Abba on the stereo and his best mates being “the only three people who know I don’t want a Facebook tribute page, and they’re in the car with me”; and being young and middle class: “the nearest I’ve got to sex, drugs and rock & roll is hummus, cheese and Snow Patrol”.
Richardson’s material was age-appropriate without being too student-centric; although his youthfulness made his ability all the more impressive, his act should age well beyond young adulthood, like the cheese of which he is so fond. Good luck to Richardson when he takes part in the final of the Chortle Student Comedy Awards at Edinburgh Fringe next month.
With a high standard among the 10 finalists, other standout performances came from the softly-spoken and attractively bearded James Abbott, who found a rich seam of comedy in his experiences of online supermarket shopping, sparky bhangra beatboxer Mickey Sharma, and Russ Powell, MC of the monthly Punchlines comedy night at the Deja Vu bar in Reading. A more likeable James Cordon type with some nice tales of his Brighton childhood, Powell revealed an unexpected talent for voices and songs towards the end of his set.
Considering that most of the finalists had only been performing stand-up for a matter of months it’s not surprising that some struggled to come up with 10 minutes of consistent material, and a few otherwise good sets were let down through the disappointing use of inappropriate references. Student Ben Hustwayte made several derogatory mentions of “gypsies”, a term which surely fell out of wide usage before he was born, while musical act Stevie Gray completed his set with a song about domestic violence, an issue which should never be a source for comedy, however cleverly worded.
Chris Norton Walker’s use of silence at the beginning of his act was brave, but would have worked better as part of a longer set; it didn’t leave much of his 10 minute slot for other material. In contrast, William Lee banged through his set at such a pace that he ran out of jokes before his time was up, and had to make a rather clunky gear change to chat to the audience for the last couple of minutes. Darkest material of the night came from Scotsman Tony Dunn, whose poetic stories of Postman Pat, Mr Kellogg and Prince William verged on the disturbing. More down to earth was Will Marsh, whose self-confessed “unsexy” Brummie accent and tales of London life planted him firmly in the real world.
The compere was CBBC presenter Iain Stirling, who made good use of the staff of Newbury camera store Jessops who had attended each heat, and presented Stirling with a branded shirt to remember them by. The audience played a central part in the success of the contest; free entry ensured a turn out good enough to upgrade the final from The Corn Exchange’s Bar 1861 to the main auditorium, creating a vibrant and expectant atmosphere that tested the mettle of the contestants.
With a quick Google revealing that four of the five previous winners still have thriving comedy careers - the fifth focusing more on her journalism work - it appears that YMBJ is a stand-up contest well worth winning. Long may it continue playing a central part in the Newbury Comedy Festival.
- First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, July 22