Yesterday I kicked off The Awesome Week of Daily Blogging (as I’m now totally terming it) with part 1 of my exciting adventures on holiday. So by the laws of numbers and counting and that, welcome to part 2 in which I will do some actual recommending and reviewing of a tiny percentage of the tiny percentage of Edinburgh Fringe shows I managed to see last week. In order to do this I shall split all 19 shows that I saw into entirely arbitrary (and probably poorly conceived) categories and declare a winner in each section. The Some Random Woman’s Blog Awards – trust me; all the acts at the fringe will be talking about them. Probably.
Category 1: Sketch Comedy
Contenders: Cambridge Footlights, The Reduced Shakespeare Company
Only two contenders in this section, and one of them isn’t really sketch comedy because it had a sort of over arching narrative, but these aren’t the sort of details that I’m going to let hold me back. It’s a tough one to call. I love the Reduced Shakespeare Company – their Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is a thing of comic wonder, but this show, The Complete History of Comedy, lacked the same level of tightness and precision, despite a few very funny moments.
Cambridge Footlights I felt a bit sorry for – at least as sorry as you can feel for high-achieving, talented people who are half your age. The knowledge that you’re part of the group where Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Robert Webb, David Mitchell, Richard Ayeode etc. etc. started out must carry with it a certain amount of pressure. And to be honest, their fringe show, ‘Real Feelings,’ did follow Mitchell and Webb’s edict about sketch shows being hit and miss, but the hits were proper, big, guffaw-out-loud hits, so for that reason my first category winner is….. Cambridge Footlights.
Category 2: Stand-up Comedy but with some sort of additional element eg. characters, songs or a talking monkey
Contenders: Mitch Benn, Pippa Evans, Nina Conti, Cal Wilson
Now I did admit that the categories were likely to be poorly conceived. And indeed they are. I’m not at all convinced that these four acts are really comparable, but I’ve come this far, so I’m ploughing on.
The second problem with this category is that I basically loved them all. This is great from an audience-member perspective, but really bad from the point of view of writing insightful reviews, and even worse if you’re trying to pick a favourite.
Mitch Benn’s show is all about skepticism with songs. Pippa Evans talks (and sings) about trying to work out who she is. Cal Wilson explores a similar theme with character comedy based around how she might have turned out if she’d made different choices in life. And Nina Conti has a talking monkey. But her show is so much more than a woman with a talking monkey. She does a terrifying amount of audience participation – if you’re the sort who gets nervous when a comedian starts chatting to the people in the front row, then wait for the DVD. And it’s all hysterical, and it messes with your head. You know she’s a ventriloquist, so you know that all the words are hers, but you reach a point where you genuinely believe she’s surprised by what’s apparently being said to her. And it’s hysterically funny. I mentioned that already, didn’t I? Anyway, out of four fantastic shows, the winner, for pure nearly-wetting-self can’t stop laughingness is…. Nina Conti.
Category 3: Improvisation
Contenders: What does the title matter anyway?, Set List
What does the title matter anyway? is the Edinburgh Fringe show not in anyway based on the popular TV show ‘Whose line is it anyway?’ whilst being hosted by the same person, featuring the same cast and involving the same games. Apart from that it is absolutely definitely completely different in every way. And very funny it was too. Josie Lawrence stole the show with her ability to improvise songs at the drop of a hat, but the whole thing was really jolly good. Just like I remember it from the telly, had it been on the telly, which, for legal reasons, I’ll just reiterate, it definitely wasn’t.
Set List is ‘comedy without a safety net.’ Comedians turn up with no prepared material and have to improvise a set based on phrases, words and acronyms that pop up on a screen at the side of the stage. It was a fascinating show from a writer’s perspective as you got to see the creative process happen (or not) right in front of you. The were six comedians performing on the night we went and, as you’d probably expect, it was a mixed bag. Those who nailed it, notably Cal Wilson, properly nailed it, but overall the quality was patchy, and for that reason the winner is… What does the title matter anyway?
Category 4: Other Stuff
Contenders: And the Goat Remained a Goat, Tanya Byron, I Killed Rasputin
OK, so I accept the categorisation has really broken down. Now I’m comparing a cabaret show about a early twentieth century ghosthunter, a talk about young people and mental health from an eminent clinical psychologist, and a stage play about a Russian assassination. All righty then.
‘I Killed Rasputin’ is a play by Richard Herring about Felix Yusopov, one of the conspirators involved in Rasputin’s murder. It’s an interesting subject and an interesting, and surprisingly funny, play, with some excellent performances, but for me it was just a little bit too uneven in terms of the tone. In places I felt like Herring needed to trust his audience more. There was a slight tendency to overtell. The play ran to 1 hr 20 minutes, rather than the usual 1 hr fringe slot. Editing it down to an hour and reining in the overtelling would have been an improvement I suspect.
So that leaves two contenders – Tanya Byron’s interesting, knowledgeable, and refreshingly opinionated talk vs. a deeply weird music/magic show about a ghost hunter from Richard Wiseman and The Creative Martyrs. Professor Byron was fascinating but this is the fringe and I think it’s important that we recognise the importance of weirdness to the whole proceeding. So for weirdness, and for my single favourite funny line of the whole fringe (which I’m not telling you, because out of context it makes zero sense), and for including a talking mongoose, the winner is… And the Goat Remained a Goat.
Category 5: Stand-up Comedy
Contenders: Bob Graham, Danny Bhoy, Lucy Porter, Shappi Khorsandi, Sara Pascoe, Susan Calman, Tom Stade, Andrew Maxwell
A big old category to finish with, and a really hard one to call. I think six of the eight comedians in the list are definitely in the running, so let’s be cruel and deal with the other two first. Bob Graham had some nice material in his set, but nothing that really set the room alight. Sorry Bob – you were perfectly decent but you’ve found yourself in a tough group. Tom Stade is also out of the running. Ultimately comedy is subjective. There were people at his show laughing their little hearts out, but it didn’t do anything for me, and this is my little corner of the internet where my word is law, so he’s out too.
Which leaves us with six, which is still way way too many, but they were all excellent. Seriously, if you’re in Edinburgh over the next couple of weeks and you get the chance, seeing any of those six is well worth the cost of a ticket. They’re all very very funny, and all have jokes or sections from their set that I keep replaying in my head and giggling to myself over. I’ve changed my mind about 48 times over who’s going to win this category, and it’s definitely down to Danny Bhoy or Shappi Khorsandi. Or Susan Calman. Or maybe Andrew Maxwell. Aaargh. It’s too hard. I’m just going to keep typing and hope my fingers pick one. And the winner is… Shappi Khorsandi. Probably. Definitely. But with honourable mentions to Danny Bhoy and Susan Calman. It was really really close.
So there you go. Overall I think I did ok. Nineteen shows, and only one that left me cold is a pretty decent hit rate, but these are my final Edinburgh Fringe recomendations. If you’re in Edinburgh and you want to see a slightly random, but very entertaining, cross section of stuff you should check out: The Cambridge Footlights, Nina Conti, And the Goat Remained a Goat, What does the title matter anwyay? and Shappi Khorsandi or Susan Calman, or Danny Bhoy, or maybe Sara Pascoe. Waaah. I’m just going to stop now. Bye bye.