Venue: Comedy Arena
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan
Since it began in 2004, Chortle’s Student Comedy Award has a remarkable record of producing successful comedians. Simon Bird, Joe Lycett, and Adam Hess are all graduates of the competition, as is Phil Wang, who comperes a showcase of this year’s finalists at Latitude.
The six student comedians vary in quality but all, crucially, have already developed an individual style. Interspersed with playful, confident snippets from Wang, and capped off with a charmingly idiosyncratic slot from last year’s champion Andy Fields, their five minutes are alternately political and domestic, provocative and conservative, surreal and mundane. It’s refreshing, encouraging stuff.
Eric Rushton kicks things off, but his self-effacing, miserable material feels too scripted to engage or amuse. Self-pity and bitterness are rich veins of comedy, and Rushton’s stuff has obvious potential, but his delivery lacks the casual pathos of Jack Dee or the chippy bitterness of Johnny Vegas. There’s an art to making prepared material seem spontaneous; Rushton doesn’t have it at present.
Rahul Kohli is the polar opposite. A chirpy Geordie with Asian heritage (a “Newcastle Brown Male”, as he puts it), his political comedy lacks bite, but his upbeat, unassuming delivery makes up for this paucity of insight. Unafraid of approaching awkward topics, his is a winning combination of frankness and friendliness, and his material comparing terrorist organisations to premier league football clubs is unadulterated gold.
Roya Shadmand’s delivery is similarly engaging: unintimidated, she chats candidly and entertainingly about her upbringing and the culture clashes between her sexually liberated experience and the repressive, make-dominated one of her Iranian-born mother. Her material could do with more structure, but she makes good use of her greatest asset, her apparent fearlessness, ad-libbing and experimenting with an endearing lack of inhibition.
Character comedian Tom Goodman is undoubtedly a highlight. His impersonation of a Google executive – think Steve Jobs crossed with Zach Woods – proudly presenting the latest innovation, Google Magnify (simply a magnifying glass to the uneducated) is a delightfully slow-burning few minutes of meaningless marketing jargon that nails down the pathos and triviality of our technology-obsessed culture. It’s a clever, nuanced, original piece of satire that crescendos neatly and promisingly.
Josh Jones’ brutally downbeat musings on his own sexuality, his upbringing, and his relationships are passionate and attention-grabbing, but they are more cutting than funny and do not vary enough tonally to make him stand-out in a competitive field.
Fields’ winning closing slot is preceded by five minutes of Morgan Rees’ gentle, anecdotal comedy about Wales and the Welsh. It’s inoffensive, middle-of-the-road material, but Rees has a warm, cuddly delivery and an easy-going charm that lifts his somewhat predictable, somewhat toothless stuff above the ordinary.
Backing a competitor at this stage is a tricky one – the champion will not be crowned until they formally compete at the Edinburgh Fringe later this year – but Kohli and Goodman would be good bets. There is potential across the board here in truth, though, and it seems likely that Chortle’s award will produce another crop of talented comics this year, just as it has done in the last 12.