It was my first time at the Fringe and I spent a gratuitous six days completely avoiding theatre and exclusively watching comedy shows – in between bouts of crepe-eating.
The first night started well with Stuart Goldsmith’s show “Prick”. Stuart came across as rather more charming than the title of the show would suggest – a great show to get the ball rolling.
Tuesday was an altogether busier day. Welsh export Elis James delivered an incredibly strong hour and plenty of real laughs in his very natural, anecdotal style. I didn’t find the laughs so easily in Rob Deering’s solo show “The One” – but his musical mastery and complicated looping routines were somewhat mesmeric – and he only messed it up once.
Tony Law kicked off our Wednesday in an oddly early 1230 slot. His show had the best finale of the week which capped-off a hilarious and complex exploration of his process and his Viking roots.
The only disappointment was Paul Foot, whose rambling monologue failed to pay-off and his pure joy in misleading us without return was galling to the point of offence.
We checked out Tom Goodliffe at the Tron on Thursday, although we couldn’t remember why we’d chosen to see him. He’s incredibly likeable and has some lovely material, but we noticed the strain in his second show in a row, performing to only seven of us.
Later that evening we were treated to my favourite standup show of the week (I think… the ranking system is pretty fluid), from the demure and pedagogical James Acaster. One can’t fail to come away feeling like a better person – an expert on bread, and metaphorically equipped in any apple-based situation.
The only standup on Friday was Nish Kumar, exploring the question “Who is Nish Kumar?” (and what might have been a better title for his show). Nish definitely has a solid hour, funny, personable and not without asking serious questions – like why has he been single for six years? Six years!
I’m not sure whether Ben Target even is a stand-up. He doesn’t really do jokes, just keeps the audience guessing with some front-row bullying, innumerable props, and a surprise Blue Manhattan ending, which genuinely had a few people concerned. I really enjoyed the show, but then I wasn’t poor Andrew, front and centre – Ben’s favourite… Ben’s toy.
Saturday night and the only female standup on my schedule (despite several attempts to convince the others to ‘see girls’) was Danielle Ward. I loved her show – and not just because she gave me a cup of free gin when I got there. I’m reluctant to describe her in case I do her an injustice, but Ward explored her story with honesty and real humour. I will say this – one of her jokes made me so proud to be a woman, that I almost cried. I think she’s wonderful and her style and politics were incredibly appealing.
My absolute favourite sketch show of the week is Cariad Lloyd’s one-woman show. Her characters combine pure silliness with contemporary references and real sadness – she is an incredible performer and I went to several other shows to see her again during the week. The funniest of these was Austentatious: An Improvised Novel, also starring Graham Dickson, Amy Cooke-Hodgson, Joseph Morpurgo, Rachel Parris & Andy Murray. If you have the chance to see this show and you don’t hate Jane Austen I can’t recommend it highly enough.
In a similar vein, Ed Eales-White’s show “Champions” is one-man sketch. Not as raucous as his Radio 4 show “Clever Peter”, Ed’s characterisation and performance was well-observed, incredibly funny and poignant. His character, Lee, especially left me amazed and choked.
Another stellar performer who defies genre is the Boy With Tape on his Face (aka Sam Wills). The chapters of his show were like individual sketches and kept me glued to him, bound by anticipation and carried onto the stage with every nervous audience member who was picked for the participation elements. I can’t wait to take my daughter to see his show.
I really didn’t enjoy Late Night Gimp Fight – their smug and lazy reliance on anal sex jokes (sometimes anal rape jokes) was both sickening and predictable. One of them is a surprisingly good dancer and one sings well and there was one joke which I liked but they are an expensive waste of time unless you happen to be shit-faced and on a crap stag/hen night, for which I think they’d be perfect.
Unsurprisingly Jigsaw’s show “Getting Jiggy With It” was absolutely fantastic – hilarious, surprising and barely a prop between them. Tom Craine, Nat Luurtsema and Dan Antopolski work beautifully together in a seemingly egalitarian relationship where they share the funny out between them.
Just like the kind of trite individual who enjoys greatest hits albums above actual albums, I had some tremendous times at the panel shows this week. I saw the Boy With Tape interviewed by Stuart Goldsmith for The Comedians’ Comedian Podcast, which was illuminating and amusing – it will be out soon so I recommend subscribing on iTunes. Another morning show was Tommy Talks, Sun journalist Tommy Holgate struggled to keep his guests in line, especially Alex Horne and Sean Hughes, but that made it worth attending.
Tuesday night was Pappy’s Flatshare Slamdown – having already seen their show “Pappy’s Last Show Ever” before Edinburgh I decided to catch the Slamdown this week instead. Concerned that 2012 might actually be their last show (Matthew Crosby is doing incredibly well, isn’t he?) I was actually a little bit emotional – I would miss those guys if they weren’t around. Their guests were Rhys Darby and Jason Byrne and my only complaint was that the show longer.
Rhys Darby showed up again with Carl Donnelly vs. Nick Helm and Stuart Goldsmith in Rob Deering’s Beat This. I totally got behind team Flesh Demerit (Helm / Goldsmith) and this is a really fun show – which was sadly overshadowed by a drunk girl spewing all over the stage. It has been implanted as my most memorable festival moment (as I’m an emetophobe – she nearly ruined my festival, the bitch).
I wasn’t so taken by Monkey Toast – but then I didn’t realise it was a Canadian format improv chat-show. The guests (a lovely lady from TV’s ‘River City’ and Jarred Christmas) left me cold and whilst the improv performers were talented and enthusiastic, the show was very mild overall.
Not so the Humble Quest for Universal Genius, on this night pitting the swaggering Canadian Phil Nichol and the truly endearing Lloyd Langford, hosted by Mark Allen and sidekick Eli Silverman. Langford totally killed it for the Welsh – but I never got to hear the end of his camel story, sadly.
My last show of the festival was Midnight Movie Theatre starring sketch group the Beta Males and a host of guests (incl. Cariad Lloyd and Rachel Parris, pointless Gimps, the Noise Nextdoor and more) – featuring the strapline “WARNING: The first two rows may get dead…of thrills!” and the best goddamn horror film I’ve never seen. I can say no more for fear of spoilers.
Saving the best until last, as expected The Horne Section was a delight. Guests included drag act Le Gatau Chocolat, Pappy’s, and Jimeoin, but they’re slightly irrelevant against the backdrop of Alex Horne and his band. They’re not for everyone, but I love them.
I had some real treats amongst the free stuff. I can’t recommend the Three Sisters (Free Sisters) highly enough as a venue… as a state of mind even. My first night I went on my own to see Shaggers, a standup show compered by the lovely Nik Coppin (who tried his hardest to get me laid by some random audience members, thanks Nik). I also watched Battleacts and there were some really hilarious moments (many courtesy of Austentatious’ Graham). I saw the Adult History of Great Britain here later on – with some great performances and a very willing audience laughing at some rather groan-worthy writing, it was not for me.
Men of Character I think were my only American act of the Fringe – they were entertaining and used the space (downstairs at a goth bar) really cleverly. I felt the act was a little stuck in the nineties, but I enjoyed it enough.
A couple of the acts in the Free Footlights troupe (Footlights reserve team, as we like to call then) were compelling and showed potential, but none were quite there yet.
However Max Dickens was a real treat with a confident hour and I would recommend seeing him as soon as you can. For my tastes he’d focus slightly heavier on the profound and philosophical element to his act and drop the lighter, laddish stuff from up top. He definitely held the room though and I know he’ll go far.
My favourite free act was undoubtedly Matthew Highton. He was fantastic, weaving a filmic and epic narrative about the weird things that happen to him, with references to his further geek credentials (his pre-show music is the theme from Tetris). He also dealt with some rowdy locals rather firmly – I thought he might get beaten – but his mastery of the situation was quite impressive. Like most acts, I wouldn’t recommend him to everyone, but he’s confident and funny and if you like movies it might definitely be for you.
And that’s everyone. Six days, thirty shows, four crepes and not a drop of rain in sight after the first evening. Next year I need to go for the month – someone give me a job please.