The biggest arts festival in the world… and I was there for 35 hours.
Last year, I was extremely jealous that Rachel went up to #Edfringe and so I decided that this year I wasn’t going to miss it. I’ve been before, but that was nine years ago and I was poncing about with theatre back then, rather than working on my true love, namely comedy. My aim was to see as many sketch acts as I could, to gauge where 4am CAB fits within the comedy landscape (if there is such a thing). I saw a wide variety of styles and approaches to the sketch show, from themed, to stand alone, surreal to naturalistic. I also saw some stand up too which was useful (useful and funny!)
Here is a full run down of what I saw.
Bridget Christie – The Stand 1 at 11:10am
Bridget is probably the most well known person I was hoping to see and as such, she had sold all her tickets. I decided that as there were no other shows on at that time that I’d take a chance and hope there would be a few returns. There were, hurrah! Standing room only, but hey, it was worth it. Without giving away any of her jokes, a few highlights were; a fart made her a feminist; the cadburys caramel bunny ears, some very important stuff about FGM but just as she edged towards being too preachy she drew back and threw in a well timed punchline. Christie walks the line of being very likeable and very political. I especially enjoyed the “fictional on stage husband” material.
Surname & Surname: Bang! – Pleasance Courtyard “That” at 3.15pm
This was my first sketch show of the festival. Firstly, I really like the two-piece’s name: “Surname & Surname” satirising the arbitrary naming of other groups. They opened with a brilliant sketch set a few days after the marriage of the Prince to the Little Mermaid, suggesting that the Prince felt he had made a big mistake. Sticking with the theme of pre-existing characters, another highlight was the diary of Batman and Superman, playing on their insecurities and flaws for laughs. I enjoyed the energy in their performance, they could transfer to childrens TV very easily. One thing to note was that there was no real theme or story throughout, in fact they spoke directly to the audience, a lot like a stand up would. Also, the sketches were all very long, they could have fitted more in if they had edited their writing.
BEASTS: Solo – Pleasance Courtyard “Beside” at 4.45pm
This show was also sold out, though it was probably due to the 2 for 1 offer that was happening that day but again I managed to grab a last minute ticket. The trio, however, really do deserve a big audience. This slick team took the opposite approach to sketch comedy than that my previous show, their hour long performance was one long story punctuated by sketches that wove back into the overall theme. That theme was that the group, BEASTS, had had success before and this year wanted to all go their own ways, but they had already booked the venue. All very meta, but if you’ve heard my Christmas Specials, you’ll know that that is right up my street. The three members were all very believable in their personas. Again, without spoiling the show, the “Iain” sketches were great in all their forms. The climax of the magic show was ludicrous, fantastic and hilarious. Ciaran was the show stealer, he reminded me of Nick Helm a lot, though all three were brilliant.
Massive Dad – Pleasance Courtyard “Below” at 6.00pm
Next up was the highly rated, Massive Dad. This group was made up of three young girls from Durham University. Their premise was that they were the three foreign winners of the Comedy Games (Hunger games for, yep, comedy) who were now on a worldwide tour. I enjoyed their show but it didn’t feel quite finished for me. They were all very good performers and the comedy was funny but I really wanted it to be a bit tighter and I felt their sketches were overly long. I really enjoyed the “Movie Director’s Grans” but it didn’t have a punchline or even a reason for being in the show. From my point of view, coming from a radio background, a negative was that the girls all blended into each other and each didn’t really bring anything different to the group. There were some nice references to “exposition” that were a bit throwaway. Give them a few years and they’ll probably be on the TV.
The Beta Males: Happenstance – Pleasance Courtyard “Beneath” at 7.00pm
This is a very interesting show. It was very polished, perhaps a bit too much with the matching underwear (!). I came out feeling like I’d been smacked round the head a few times as it was so full of energy. The interesting thing though, is that this show has stayed with me, more than any other at the festival. That’s not to say it’s the best one, just that there is so much in the show, that I kept thinking about it long after it was over. I don’t want to give anything away, other than nothing happens on stage that isn’t meant to, and that everything is revealed at the end. A few highlights were, “Dads on Tour”, the Chief of Police story and the evil scientists. A must see if you’re at the festival.
Ed Gamble: Gambletron 5000 – Pleasance Courtyard “This” at 9.45pm
I found myself with a gap, so I took a punt on someone I didn’t really have a lot of interest in. Ed Gamble has made his name partly through being one half of a double act and being a big success in comedy podcasting. I enjoyed his hour long Stand Up set, he was funny but there wasn’t anything that original. It felt very much like Stand Up by numbers, not to take anything away from him, like I said, he was funny.
Gein’s Family Giftshop: Volume 1 – Pleasance Courtyard “Attic” at 10.45pm
This was my stand out show from the fringe. Two guys and a girl from manchester, who, like Massive Dad, are highly rated. They arrived on stage in P.E. kits and began with an interpretational dance routine. I know! But this dance was brilliant and hilarious and I can’t spoil it for you by telling you why. The set up for the show was that the girl was just making up the numbers and many sexist jokes came out of this premise. It was purile, base humour but executed perfectly and the sell out audience were in hysterics all the way through. The chemistry between the performers was awesome. Like other acts, they also talked to the audience but with no showmanship, really matter of fact, like they were doing a job and it worked really, really well. I’m not going to say any more about them except if you was at the festival, YOU MUST GO AND SEE THEM!
*I’ve subsequently found out that there is a fourth member of the group who is a non-performer, at least not in this show.
Late ‘n’ live – Gilded Balloon Teviot “Debating Hall” at 1.00am
I ended my day – or is that began the new one – with my first ever visit to Late ‘n’ Live. The bill was one lesbian comedian (not really that funny) a black guy (not bad but can’t remember any of his jokes – except his low rent drive by where he had to manually wind down his window) a hairy ginger man (promised to deal with the hecklers but only called security and sang Home & Away) and finally Rob Deering (sang funny songs about coffee with unnecessary striping at the end). Chris from 4amCAB came with me and when I returned from the bar, I found him on stage…
I still have no idea what was going on.
So after a little bit of sleep (amateur) I surfaced, grabbed breakfast and continued…
Tony Law: Enter the Tonyzone – The Stand 3 at 12.10pm
I’m relatively late to the Tony Law party so I really wanted to see him before he explodes – probably literally. It was another visit to The Stand but this time it was The Stand 3, which is more like a hotel lounge that the original comedy venue (because that’s exactly what it is). Tony bounded on stage with a bag full of props dressed in a onsie. The next hour was made up of randomness, albeit preprepared, and ranged from very funny to a being a bit self concious. For me, he tried a bit too hard to be weird rather that just getting on with it. I wonder if he’s made a rod for his own back by transforming into the “enigma” that he has become. At the end of the set, he played a short video which tried to weave together all the elements of the show, just to prove that there was some structure to his performance. Funny but too forced for me.
Stuart Laws: when’s this gonna stop? – The Banshee Labyrinth “Cinema Room” 2.20pm
Another Stand Up solo show next. I’ve followed Stuart Laws for a few years since I saw him in the brilliant amateur youtube hit Becoming Batman . Laws is performing as part of the Free Fringe, which is great for the audience as you get to take a risk on a show without it costing you, then you pay what you think it’s worth at the end. It’s also a lot more economical for the performer as you don’t have to pay really expensive room hire prices – the only downside is that you don’t have the walk in audience that the big venues offer. Judging by the hashtag #stuartshowphoto on twitter, he’s still getting a healthy audience. As a performer, he’s quite dry and matter of fact, you can see the influence of Stuart Lee in his repetition – I liked the “quick show of hands” nonsense, the spider caught in a glass (or was it a pig?) and the audience interaction was good fun too. He’s had an awful one star review by Broadway Baby but it reads more like someone who has a chip on their shoulder rather than not finding him funny. He’s putting on a great show and if you don’t like it, you don’t even have to pay.
zazU – Underbelly “Belly Laugh” 3.40pm
Back to the sketch shows next, or so I thought. zazU is a group of four (five if you include their non-performer writer) sketch comedians who set their show on another world. All sketches are within this made up futuristic (?) setting. I would have liked a bit more explaination at the start as to the rules of this world so the comedy could flow, unfortunatley a lot of time was spent in each sketch, at least at the start, setting up the rules. It’s a great idea but I didn’t think the sketches were funny enough to warrant this elaborate setting. The performers were all very accomplished in their different characters but the material would suit a comedy play better than sketches as the audience would be able to get lost in the world they’ve created. Some sketches felt shoe-horned in rather than in keeping with the premise – why are there moody Australian shop assistants, why is singing banned and why do you need to wear a dead person’s hats? It was all a bit jumbled up. Also, as a technical note, the PA system wasn’t strong enough to deliver the spoken word recordings they used, it became too distorted and difficult to understand… plus, who was it that was talking to us?
Joseph Morpurgo: Odessea – Pleasance Dome “10 Dome” 5.20pm
This was my last show of the Fringe, and wow, it was full on. Morpurgo got excellent reviews last year for his charcter show, so I knew he would be good but I didn’t really know what to expect. He has taken old VHS footage, adverts, news reports etc and extrapolated seemingly insignificant details into a plot full of vivid intertwining characters. This is either the work of a madman or a genius, I’m edging towards genius. Morpurgo won’t be to everyone’s liking but when you consider he’s on stage for one hour and performs upwards of ten characters back and forth with multiple sound and video cues to hit, you’ve got to admire the fact he’s also able improvise and be very funny at the same time. When I saw him there were a few technical glitches but he managed to ride them out without losing his focus. This was very enjoyable stuff, if a bit confusing in places – I mean, what was the reindeer thing all about? And why was Santa a member of the mafia. Go and see him.
And that was that.
A brilliant, funny and exhausting trip. I’d have liked to spend another few days (weeks) at the Edinburgh Fringe but I’d run out of time (and money). Maybe next year I’ll be up there again… and maybe one day soon 4am CAB will make a performing debut?