Power behind town’s comedy award night

Anthony J. Brown
Anthony J. Brown

Gags are being polished and nerves are building as budding comedians make their pitch to be crowned Chesterfield’s champion mirth-maker.

Ahead of the Crooked Smile award night at the Winding Wheel on September 27, we put competition organiser and compere Anthony J. Brown under the spotlight:

What made you set up the competition and when?

The first Crooked Smile was in August 2009. My motivation for starting it was ultimately my disdain for the phalanx of ‘Gong Show’ new act nights that have emerged of late. I don’t agree with the notion that acts perform under the constant threat of being swiftly removed from the stage at any moment at the behest of the audience. Especially when they’ve travelled some distance for the supposed ‘privilege’. There are a plenty of very accomplished new performers around and it’s nice to be able to offer them a spot in an environment where they get to deliver their material without the potential humiliation of being dragged off before they finish. I almost said ‘climax’. But I didn’t. And it’s rewarding for the acts in that it takes place in such a salubrious venue as the Auditorium at The Winding Wheel rather than performing next to a quiz machine that five gin-sodden rugby players are using in a downmarket drinking den.

Every Crooked Smile is a nigh on sell out with a splendid mix of performers and a very supportive crowd so I fully expect the Sept 27th show to be another barnstormer.

Best experiences and worst experiences?

The night itself is frankly a logistical stress-fest for me in that I’m dealing with just under a dozen performers, liaising with the various judges secreted around the venue and communicating with the sound tech via walkie talkie. It’s akin to being a Scout leader for the habitually nervous. By the end of the evening my usually pin-sharp brain feels like a blancmange that has been thrown against a corrugated shed for 3 hours. And 7 minutes. However it’s still a thrill to watch the performances unfold, particularly from the brand new local stand-ups whose performances tend to straddle the hilarity spectrum from ‘impressively witty’ to er, ‘requiring a white outline around them on stage’. And the frisson in the air before the winner is announced is palpable and perversely edifying. The worst experience remains 2 years ago when I announced the results in reverse order only to discover that the winner had gone home. Jackass!

How has the competition helped previous winners?

It’s certainly shown one of them the importance of staying till the end of the gig. Last years’ winner Jay Hampson has developed into a mighty fine performer and is becoming a regular opening act at a lot of the established clubs. The paid slots that he won through the competition certainly helped him in that development. And I book him at all of my clubs now.

What the public can expect to see in this year’s competition?

This year’s ten act line-up features a fascinating cross section of emerging performers including a young lady from Mansfield, three acts from Chesterfield and the rest from further afield. One of the local performers Barrie Fox is back for his second crack at the crown. His first attempt in 2010 made him a veritable youtube sensation, though perhaps not in the the traditional comedy-centric manner. However he has evidently taken a much more disciplined approach to the event this year and I’ve a sneaky feeling he will acquit himself with amusing aplomb. You’ll just have to grab a seat for the recession-proof price of six quid to see if my hilarity hunch is indeed correct and young Barrie returns with vigour to become the fantastic Mr Fox.