Fringe Benefits: A Preview of The Edinburgh Fringe…

As proceedings get underway at this year’s Fringe, you may be wondering how you possibly separate the wheat from the cultural chaff. Well this is only one blog’s view, but it’s the Scots Whay Hae! Guide to the best of what’s available.

Let’s kick off with comedy. I’ve said it before, so you can skip the next sentence, but I don’t take chances with my comedy as I find nothing as excruciating as being in a small room as someone dies on their arse. As this is the case, long time readers will see some familiar names that appear here regularly, but that’s because they always deliver.

These include Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, the once double act who continue to provide some of the funniest nights out. Lee presents Much-A-Stew-About-Nothing at The Stand, while Herring’s new show is We’re All Going To Die! at the Pleasance Beyond. He also has his daily podcast at the The Stand every afternoon (except 12th). Another comedy hero is Phil Kay, who is back with his Verbal Diary at Heroes@The Hive, and if you’re on a budget (cos Edinburgh’s a pricey business), this show is a ‘pay what you want’ job.

This year, there are lots of bearded comedians, and lots of Canadian comedians, and if you want the best of both of those worlds then Tony Law is on at The Stand with Nonsense Overdrive. The other Canadian I will be seeking out is Baconface, who I vaguely remember catching on Live from Montreal years ago on Channel 4, or perhaps I dreamt it. There is certainly something familiar about him. He is on at, you guessed it, The Stand, with It’s all Bacon!, and yes, he has bacon on his face. Two other sure fire shows which are also at The Stand (clearly the place to be this year), are Mark Thomas, with 100 Acts of Minor Dissent, and the legendary Alexei Sayle. Tied to the ’90s? Me? If only to prove otherwise, here’s the only one of the above who I hadn’t heard of before the turn of the millennium. This is Tony Law performing in Glasgow last year:

As a counter to my comic cautiousness, I asked podcast regular, and comedy aficionado, Chris Ward to write about his comic highlight of this year’s Fringe. And he did just that:

“I first encountered Tig Notaro through Comedy Bang Bang and other associated American alternative comedy podcasts, her deadpan conceptual absurdity marking her as a reliably outstanding guest, and so welcomed the launch of her own podcast, Professor Blastoff, when it debuted in early 2011. Throughout 2012, however, the weekly experience of listening to the show began to feel like a Lars Von Trier film playing out in excruciating slow motion, as, over an agonising four month period, our beloved host fell prey first to pneumonia, which landed her in hospital, where she contracted a bout of C. Diff that nearly killed her. Following her recovery from that, her mother died in a freak accident, her long term relationship ended and she discovered she had cancerous tumours in both breasts.

“The day after the latter diagnosis, before she had revealed this latest trauma to the world at large, she performed a now legendary set at L.A. comedy club Largo that saw her take the stage with the words ‘hello! Good evening! I have cancer! How are you? I have cancer!’ In the course of an intense half hour, she recounted everything she’d been through, hilariously and touchingly, with the resultant catharsis so powerful that headliner Louis C.K. called it one of the best sets he’d ever seen and put a recording of it on his own site for download. Notaro has now, thankfully, made a full recovery, and is back performing her delightfully low-key material to bigger audiences than ever.

“Guaranteed to be one of few, if not the only, acts at the Fringe this year who could make you laugh just by dragging a chair around on stage for a few minutes.”

Here’s a clip:

Cheers Chris, and Tig Notaro is on at The Gilded Balloon with Boyish-Girl Interrupted.

I have to say that the selection of theatre at this year’s Fringe is not as appealing as it usually is, but there’s still more than enough to fill yer cultural boots. Iain Heggie is one of my favourite, and one of the most scabrous, playwrights about, and his Tobacco Merchant’s Lawyer is on at The Assembly Rooms. Three Little Pigs, which is on at Assembly George Square, promises to be ‘Animal Farm meets Reservoir Dogs’ and arrives with armfuls of good reviews.

As ever, there’s lots of Shakespeare to choose from, but the one I’m going to go for is The School Of Night’s Spontaneous Shakespeare, which is on at the Gilded Balloon Teviot. I am also drawn to The Kierkegaard Comedy Show – with Claus Damgaard, at The Roman Eagle Lodge, because, alongside Michael Laudrup and Sharin Foo, he is one of my favourite Danes. At The Assembly Rooms there is a new show called God Bless Liz Lochhead, with Andy Gray, Juliet Cadzow and Kate Donelly, which must be worth the price of a ticket. It must also make it a strange Edinburgh for Liz Lochhead herself as she walks past the posters on her way to her own one-woman show, Apple Says Aaah – and Other Poems, Pommes and People, also at The Assembly Rooms.

Alan Bissett’s latest show, Ban This Filth is likely to be the talk of the Fringe, if it isn’t already. It’s on at The Scottish Storytelling Centre, but only until the 11th, so get your tickets now. But his presence in Edinburgh will not end there as he was part of the collaboration which made up Cora Bissett’s and Daniel Warren’s Whatever Gets You Through The Night, the multi-media show which will be at The Queens Hall between 20th-25th. If you haven’t seen this already, it’s a night not to miss. Here’s a taster:

Finally, a quick roundup of the best music this year. A lot of these are one night only gigs so I’ll quickly list them:
Karine Polwart, 17th, Queens Hall.
King Creosote, 3rd, Queens Hall
Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, 6-7th, Assembly Rooms
Rab Noakes, 11th, Acoustic Music Centre @St Brides
Robert Louis Stevenson – Songs & Music, 10th, Acoustic Music Centre @St Brides

But I’ll leave you with the band who I see every time they’re in town, and what is always one of the best nights in Edinburgh. Of course it’s the Tiger Lillies, and when they were absent last year I was left oddly unfulfilled. Here they are at their very best with Gutter, which is apt as for one month a year in Edinburgh, most of us are in the gutter, looking at the stars…many of whom are also in the gutter…

You can still read the Scots Whay Hae! Book Festival Preview here and we’ll be recording a podcast there on Sunday the 18th, so if you’re around come and say hello…

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