After wading through eight heats and dozens of wannabe stand-up comics who come from Cornwall to Kent, the South Coast Comedian of The Year contest is starting to get serious.
Over the next two Wednesday evenings, nine performers each night will be fighting for a place in the grand final on June 13.
The competition, now in its sixth year, looks for the best in amateur stand-up talent, with a top prize designed to help them make it as a professional. And they’re hosted by two-tine Guide Award-winning Best Comic James Alderson.
‘The semi-finals and final are selling well and they should be good shows,’ says James. ‘The quality has generally been better this year. I think we’ve had one heat where everyone was like: “Oh my god, what’s going on?” It was a bit embarrassing. There was one act that night who was a bit better than the rest, but the rest were awful.
‘It was really awkward.
‘But the final heat was absolutely brilliant. Every act nailed it, so it’s nice to end on a high.’
This year about 120 acts applied to take part. Some entrants are repeat offenders, as James says: ‘You see some improvements, which is nice. Some you don’t…’
‘Every year we do see a new wave, which is great.
‘There’s been a lot more women this year, which is great. And they’re good. It’s not like they’re making up the numbers, it’s not like they’ve just seen Zoe Lyons, Angela Barnes, Sarah Millican or Katherine Ryan on TV and thought: “Ooh, I can be a comic too - I’ll give that a shot.” They’ve got some real talent behind the aspirations. They’ve stood up and nailed it.
‘Until recently, one of the semi-finals was all women, because it was two women going through from each heat. In previous years, we’ve had like five girls, and this year it was 30-40 out of about 120, so it’s a real increase.’
James of course, has his favourites, but is keeping his cards close to his chest.
‘Yeah… there’s a couple who just feel like they’ve got something natural. Stage presence is massive when you’re new, so if you can get up there and you’ve got some good jokes – everyone’s got good jokes if they’re in the semi-finals – and they’ve got something that makes you want to watch…
‘We can all say, look I’ve got a man-drawer in the kitchen. But when Michael McIntyre says it and talks about it, and the way he presents it, it makes you fall about with laughter. You can’t really go home and tell a Michael McIntyre joke. The famous stuff like that, or Peter Kay’s garlic bread or Mickey Flanagan’s ‘out out’, none of that is jokes as such, but they’re hilarious. And that’s what the difference is between the guys just saying jokes and the guys saying jokes and delivering it and who have the presence and stand out.’
Each comic gets eight minutes to impress the audience in the semi-finals.
‘What that means, which is good for everyone else, is that there’s less of me because we ain’t got time to muck about,’ James laughs.
The final will also see Jen Brister headlining.
‘We always get a south coast famous act to headline – she’s from Brighton. She’s just released a book and been on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, she’s done Live at The Apollo and she’s about to support Romesh Ranganathan on his arena tour, so she’s getting out and about.’
SOUTH COAST COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR
Portsmouth Guildhall Studio
Semi-finals: May 29 & June 5
Final: June 13