Having took a short break from presenting regular club nights in the North East, Stockton Arc and Catch 22 held a special and rare gong show featuring 11 comedy hopefuls, all looking to go home with the £100 prize on this cold and increasingly dark October night. If, like myself previous to this particular evening of comedy, you haven’t seen a gong show before I’ll explain: it involves a large number new acts trying to deliver their material and last 5 minutes without the specially chosen members of the audience raising their cards and gonging them off the stage and out the competition.
This type of comedy gig could be described as brutal and a ‘bear pit’ but even I have to admit the crowd was pretty reasonable on this night, barring a couple of exceptions. MC Danny McLoughlin quickly dealt with any punter with a penchant for heckling and encompassed the night with some brilliant audience interaction including a row over football matches with Craig ‘the stats king’, and finding out one older member of the audience was in fact a millionaire land owner who has a yacht in the Hartlepool Marina.
The packed Arc crowd were given an opening act who we were specifically instructed not to gong off, as they were not part of the competition and instead there to warm up the audience. This act was musical comedian Matt Tiller, who received a muted response from the audience for his daft songs – I’m not sure whether the punters wouldn’t have given him the gong had he been part of the contest. It really spoke for his set that the biggest laugh came not for him but for a ‘French speaking’ estate agent he got on stage from the audience for one of his songs.
After a short interval the gong show kicked off in style with a suitably confusing 5 minutes from Pete Marshall with a couple of comedy face masks – though I’m not sure whether this was supposed to be funny or whether it was some subtle anti-comedy. Second up was Kevin Shevlin, an act that very nearly won the competition with probably what was the most consistently funny slot of the night. First to be gonged off on this evening was Kevin Wilkinson, previously reviewed for Giggle Beats, who was barely even allowed to get into any flow before the three judges decided they’d had enough and gonged him off to the tune of ‘Bye Bye Baby’ by the Bay City Rollers.
Other acts in this section were Jamie Kilday, who was gonged off immediately; George Zach with his solid five minutes on being Greek and living in Newcastle; and Dominic Elliot, who based his material mainly around black stereotypes and managed to fill the time after a shaky start.
The second half provided us with even more hopefuls, starting with James Beck who managed to hold the room well for his allotted time. Lynne Crook followed, and just managed to scrape through to the five minute mark earning her exit music (‘The One And Only’ by Chesney Hawkes) mere milliseconds before the third judge raised their card. Peter Otway was next up with a good set improving the standard of this half, and was followed by Richard Batt who was gonged off within the minute. Finishing this long and well stocked gig was new act Phil Swales who almost managed to last the duration – an amazing feat considering the naff jokes he started on. There were gems among them, but you had to search for them!
MC Danny McLoughlin held a cheer off for the winner and whittled the bumper crop of acts down to Crook, Zack and Shevlin. Another round of applause was tallied and George Zach was announced the winner. Zach, for all his Greek and Geordie stereotyping and quick witted charm struggled with the audience in the first minute of his act as they adapted to his accent and style, but soon proved within his 540 seconds on stage why he deserved to take home the £100 prize. These gong shows at the Arc are few and far between, but I’m already looking forward to watching the next set of acts to try and beat the gong.
Tagged Beat The Gong, Catch 22, Dan McLoughlin, George Zach, James Beck, Jamie Kilburn, Kevin Shevlin, Kevin Wilkinson, Lynne Crook, Matt Tiller, Pete Marshall, Peter Otway, Phil Swales, Richard Batt, Ten Feet Tall