This is the first of a few previews for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. There are just under 2500 shows this year, so these will not be exhaustive guides, but are purely personal recommendations. To follow are previews on theatre, music and the stuff that defies easy categorization, but here I’m going to concentrate on comedy. Comedy is the beast that has consumed the Fringe to a large extent. As with everything Edinburgh at this time of year there there is more bad, or rather average, than good, but there is a surprisingly large amount of good.
I approach the Fringe in different ways depending on what I’m going to see. Theatre I’ll take risks with as I think even bad theatre is an interesting experience. The same goes for art exhibitions (and they’re easy to leave). With music I’ll play a bit safer, but comedy I tend to take few chances. This may seem sadly conservative but I’ve reached a time of life where I’ve sat through enough poor comedy to want to avoid risks. Life really is too short, and there is nothing good about bad comedy.
When I get the Fringe guide through the door each year the first person I will always seek out is Phil Kay. Kay has you sitting on the edge of your seat throughout as you feel that he has no idea as to what may happen during one of his shows, although it (almost) always come together by the end. This year he’s all over the Fringe, appearing at the Pleasance (with his kid’s show Gimme your Left Shoe), at the Caves (with his radio show Radio Free), at the Gilded Balloon Teviot with In Tweed and with a late night show with Cammy Sinclair at the Zoo Roxy. Manic energy, non-sequiturs, sore-sides and sweat are guaranteed. Other Scottish highlights include Kevin Bridges’ hugely succsesful show, Susan Calman at the Underbelly, Miles Jupp at the Gilded Balloon and, for one night only, a reunion of The Funny Farm (11th Aug at the Gilded Balloon Teviot).
Two of my comedy heroes are Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, and both of them have multiple shows at this year’s Fringe. Lee has Vegetable Stew at The Stand running for the whole festival, but also has a one off night at the Festival Theatre called Stewart Lee’s Silver Stewbilee, and I think he is the best stand-up around today. This may not be an original claim, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Herring is reprising and updating his 2001 show Christ on a Bike (The Second Coming) at the Assembly on George St, brings his almost award winning podcast show As it Occurs to Me for a one off Edinburgh show at the Assembly Rooms on the 17th August, and is doing 10 live podcasts with Andrew Collins at the GRV on Guthrie St. Their weekly podcast has been my favourite listening over the last couple of years. I would highly recommend them to one and all, indeed I regularly do, and if you’ve never heard their unscripted ramblings then I think seeing them live is a fine, if perhaps confusing, place to start.
Andrew Collins is also performing his one man show Secret Dancing (and Other Urban Survival Techniques) which is part of the free Fringe. I’m looking forward to seeing him on stage liberated from Richard’s hectoring, funny as that is. He is on at Bannermans on Cowgate (under South Bridge) at 12.30pm, so if you’re in Edinburgh you could pop along in your lunch break, and you’ll pay nothing! That’s got to be worth it.
Other highlights include Josie Long at the Caves, who has two shows; Be Honorable! and Josie Long’s Monsters of Whimsy, and who I think is the most likeable performer in comedy at the moment. Josie’s sometime collaborator Robin Ince has three shows on this year (Carl Sagan is Still My God and Robin Ince Asks Why?, both at The Canon’s Gait and, with Michael Legge, Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire at the GRV) and you should at least try and see one of them. His shows are always thought provoking and challenging, but thankfully also very funny, something that other comedians who tackle the big topics so often forget.
There are a few group shows that are worth seeing such as Pappy’s, (formerly Pappy’s Fun Club), the Irish troupe Dead Cat Bounce, all sorts of Radio4 related shows and The Fitzrovia Radio Hour which is on at the Underbelly and which is the one I’ll be going to. My one ‘risky’ buy is The 80’s Movie Flashback which is at the Caves, but as it’s on after midnight I’m gambling that I’ll be drunk enough to find anything funny, and I am its target audience.
There are plenty of other well kent faces at this year’s Fringe such as Sarah Millican, Reginald D Hunter, Henning Wehn, Felix Dexter, Adam Hill, Tommy Tiernan and on and on. That’s one of the problems with comedy being so dominant at the festival, you have to be strict as what you want to see as there is so much that you’ll have to forego, another reason for my careful approach. The Fringe can end up being hugely expensive, even with the free shows, so a waste of money is keenly felt. All the recommendations above come with as close a guarantee of a good night, or afternoon, as I can possibly give.
I have no doubt that there will be terrific new comics and shows this year, but I’m willing to wait until they are proven before sampling their wares. If my highlights are not enough to tempt you, at the other end of the comedic spectrum are a few comedy legends who appear this year including Norman Lovett, Sean Hughes, Emo Philips, the great Kevin Eldon and even Jim Bowen. There’s also the promise of nudity, cookery, poetry (buyer beware!) and puppetry elsewhere if you want it. Something for everyone, and some, sadly, for no-one. Next week, the best of music at the Fringe.