Our sponsorship of the first Sussex Comedian of the Year competition culminated with the final earlier this month! Read on to find out more…
Freeman Brothers has been serving the communities of Surrey and Sussex for over 160 years from its branches in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. As funeral directors, we are working hard to fulfil our clients’ requests to create meaningful ceremonies, but we feel our role extends further than this. Our longstanding presence within the local area means we have a responsibility to be fully engaged with the people we serve, and fulfil this aim through a wide range of activities with a variety of groups and charities, who we support in many ways such as volunteering, provision of raffle prizes, talks and workshops, and our community printing programme.
However, we are also always looking for different or unusual ways to engage people and provoke thought on the issues we are dealing with every day – we understand that talking about death is easy for our team but less so for others – and it was with this in mind that we agreed to sponsor the Sussex Comedian of the Year competition, being held in Horsham District as part of the Council’s 2019 Year of Culture programme of events. Freeman Brothers’ Manager, Abi Pattenden, tells us about what promoted this decision and Becky Hughes, Community Co-Ordinator, feeds back on her first experiences as a comedy judge!
Abi says, ‘When we were approached to sponsor the Sussex Comedian of the Year, my first instinct was that this would be unusual for a funeral director. I was, however, pleased that the Year of Culture organisers thought it might be a good fit for us. It goes without saying that someone dying means a very sad time for the people that cared for them. This doesn’t mean, however, that a funeral – or even the arranging of one – is always a sombre event. In our offices we are used to wry smiles, or even gales of laughter, as people recount tales of the deceased person’s life as they are telling us a bit about them.
‘The trend towards funeral services themselves being more uplifting and celebratory is well known, and while this doesn’t apply to everyone, it is certainly something that we see. We increasingly hear families tell us they have chosen a particular piece of music to make the congregation smile, and I know – from personal as well as professional experience – that a well-timed and appropriate joke can lift the tension within a funeral and give attendees permission to engage with the content, whether that be happy or sad. The increasing use of visual tributes during funerals is an opportunity to show all facets of a person’s character and funny photos are often chosen for this part of the service. People usually want to remember happy times as well as acknowledging the sadness of the occasion and missing the person who has died.
‘We also know that comedy is increasingly a serious business. Although the cliché of dark clubs and drunken, heckling punters may still be the experience for comedians starting out, success means sold-out tours or residencies at massive venues and – increasingly – prime time TV, or shows commissioned by streaming services such as Netflix. There are huge numbers of comedians whose talents have seen them reach great successes in their chosen fields and enabled them to branch out into other areas – for example, Graham Norton, one of the UK’s most well-known TV presenters, began his career in stand-up. The lucrative nature of a successful comedy career cannot be understated – Peter Kay showed pragmatism as well as humour when he named his first solo tour the ‘Mum Wants a Bungalow Tour’. We were therefore well aware that, while the nature of the competition was funny, our sponsorship of it would not be taken in jest.’
When we discovered that part of our sponsorship package was the ability to be involved as a judge, we were excited but apprehensive. Becky explains, ‘I like going to comedy shows with friends but I’ve never really thought about the quality of the acts before, other than whether they made us laugh or not. Different people have different senses of humour and I was worried that there might be acts that didn’t sit with my idea of funny. It also felt strange to be thinking of comparing one act to another.’ Luckily, Becky had lots of practice – the format of the competition meant four heats throughout Horsham District over the last few months (at Horsham Sports Club in February; The Shelley Arms in March; The George and Dragon in May; and Polygon in June) and so she was able to attend those and sharpen her critique before the big night when someone would be crowned the winner.
The final was held at the Rec Rooms in Horsham on Friday 4th October, and was an excellent night of entertainment. The four heat winners, Martin Duchov, David Eagle, Konstantin Kistin, and lone female winner Esther Manito were joined by Wildcard entrants Carl Carzana and Michael Akadiri and compered by the hilarious Paul Ricketts, who had previously judged the third heat of the contest. Carl and Michael were winners of the public vote to determine the full line up, having not been lucky enough to win their heat. The vote was close – at one time there was only one vote between second and third place – and both the lucky winners were delighted to have been selected to go forwards to the prestigious final.
Becky comments further on her experience on the night: ‘I was really pleased to see that the final got a great turnout, the room was really busy, and I then felt even better about the fact that I was on the judging panel rather than waiting to be judged! The judging panel was formed largely of comedy industry experts, however I was confident that my taste mirrored theirs, as I had successfully guessed the winner of each of the four heats.
‘We were asked to consider a variety of aspects of each act’s performance: stage presence, delivery, quality of material, use of technique, and audience reaction. It was interesting seeing the acts following a break of several months – some had clearly worked on their set during this time, and had either added new material or honed what they already had. This was particularly clear with Michael and Esther, but when it came time for the judges to deliberate, the one who had really impressed on the night was Martin.
‘Not only had he improved, but he also responded really well to the audience’s reaction to some of his set – no mean feat when his material focuses on the fact that he is a European immigrant to the UK. With discussions over, it was time to inform the contestants – and the crowd! – of the worthy winner, and I was delighted to be offered the chance to present the trophy. Announcing the winner was a great moment having worked closely with Kaye of Andromeda Talent for almost two years – it’s always nice to deliver good news!’
Part of Martin’s prize is a slot at the forthcoming Barnstormers Big Sundae in November – if you missed the final, we highly recommend booking tickets to this great show at The Capitol.
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