Andrew Dipper

Review: The Laughing Horse Newcastle Heats (Sunday)

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Laughing Horse | Giggle Beats

Laughing Horse

The Laughing Horse’s annual new act competition visited Tyneside this past weekend at The Dog And Parrot in Newcastle, an ideal venue for more than forty comedians to showcase their best five minutes of material over three nights. Sunday’s show was held together nicely by the amiable host Dan Willis, who offered his support to the fourteen acts performing and ensured the laughs were forthcoming despite the varied quality on offer.

Andy Fury kicked off the night and set the bar reasonably high with his well structured act. Fury clearly works hard on his material, especially his sex swing routine, and his five minutes flowed very well, punctuated efficiently by some nice audience interaction. However Fury appeared very nervous on stage, and seemed to spend too long engaging with one crowd member in particular during his animals routine; it proved costly when it came to the audience vote.

Following Fury was Jonathan Pelham, undoubtedly the highlight of opening section. Pelham had a compelling on-stage persona, and there’s a fantastic use of language in his set that no doubt appealed to the intellectuals in the audience. My only criticism would be that his extended routine on text messaging felt a little too rushed and more clarity is needed in his delivery – though perhaps this was simply down to the time constraints.

Kevin Wilkinson was up next. Wilkinson is likable enough, but the persona felt out-dated and he lacked the stronger punchlines needed to progress.

Tom Acworth, on the other hand, had a good presence on stage and delivered his material with the confidence needed to sell his darker lines, particularly his fantastic closing gag about Jade Goody. It wasn’t very original and his act could very well alienate, but it brought a lot of laughs and was one of the best received jokes of the night.

Sean Turner closed the first section of the evening with some inventive comedy which was enjoyable but lacked fluidity and structure.

After the short break, George Zach got the ball rolling with his Greek-heavy five minute set. Zach has some memorable lines and his routines offer some witty, albeit unoriginal, social commentary – whilst he clearly relies too much on his Greek background, it will no doubt bring him much success in the future.

Next up was the eventual winner of Sunday’s heat, Marc Smethurst. Smethurst’s five minutes were held together nicely by his excellent routine on his odd dad, and featured an impressive call-back to close that probably won him the heat.

In contrast, Andy Woolston’s five minutes featured some crass material about raping babies and plenty of lazy punchlines. He had one or two nice ideas but his execution was much to be desired.

Conservative Party character act ‘Sir Reginald Tweedy-Duffer’ was a refreshing addition to the line-up and an excellent example of successful political satire in comedy. It was slightly rough around the edges but he deservedly went through on the night.

Simon Buglass, like many of the comics on offer, knows his way around a stage, but lost the audience with his stroke gag and never quite won then back. There’s a lot of self-depreciating jokes in Buglass’s set and I think more variety in his punchlines would serve him well in future.

Ben Lowes-Smith is quite clearly influenced by Stewart Lee, and his dry style of delivery brought much success. Lowes-Smith finished second in Sunday’s heat and he’s very much one to look out for in future, with a great persona and some nicely written routines. He could go far in this competition.

There was a clever use of malapropisms in Andrea Whitaker’s routines, but her narrative style evoked very few punchlines. Whitaker seems to be very confident in her delivery and having performed just a handful of times showed a lot of potential, but she didn’t deserve to progress.

Like Whitaker, Richard Massara has a convincing persona with near perfect delivery, but now needs the material to match. His over-exuberant style, whilst entertaining, won’t be enough to win him the competition.

And closing the show was ‘Johnny Rocket’, who managed to hold the crowd’s attention throughout with a decent character act, and had some great, satirical lines in his set.

The Laughing Horse Quarter Finals will take place at The Dog And Parrot later in the month, and will again be reviewed by Giggle Beats. More information can be found at