So I’ve just got back from the Fringe. I mean literally just. I’m writing this in the 15 mins I have before my frozen chicken pieces are ready for me to consume.
I love the Fringe. I’ve been there twice now so I’m a bona fide expert on it and as such my words should adorn posters and be stapled to flyers so that potential showgoers might learn from my large repository of objective wisdom.
Hitting the Fringe is a confusing experience. You head there, you’re looking for a show, you don’t really know what you want to see. Helpfully, on the Royal Mile and lurking down alleyways/in bins are thousands of students being paid a laughably low amount to explain why so and so is the best show ever whilst looking at you with their sad, dead eyes.
Top tip for the first-timer – Every show at the Fringe has a 4 star rating from somebody.
I could walk down the Mile and receive a 4 star rating from at least one press outlet or blog. So when people start shouting, “4 star show” at you that doesn’t mean you ought to be going there. It could very much still be shit.
So it’s best to have a little context. Here are my 5 faves from this year. Why is my opinion worthwhile? It isn’t.
1) Tim Key – Work in Slutgress (Progress)
Err, don’t be put off by the title. I’ve always quite liked Tim Key – he’s a mix of comedian, poet, actor, tramp, with a flair for finding fun in the most absurd places. His Eduburgh show is a very short run and isn’t listed in the brochure – I think he’s covering for somebody else who didn’t show up. The upshot is nobody knows it’s on so it will likely not sell out. Whatever the circumstances, the show he’s putting on is genuinely brilliant. Key surrounds his poetry with cheap gags, anecdotes, recurring jokes, physical theatre, clever staging and a complete comfort with the audience which results in a wonderful hour. He sort of swore us all to silence on the contents at the end – but take my word that it’s well worth a watch.
2) James Acaster
I first saw James Acaster at a 5 quid new material night in London before Christmas. He was on for about 5 minutes and I’ve only just stopped laughing. Tall, languid and dressed head-to-toe in M&S garb, his jokes are so well-crafted that I want to frame them. We saw him twice at Edinburgh in separate compilation shows (more on that later) and he delivered completely different sets each time, both tear-inducingly funny. He’s also brilliant off-the-cuff, breaking off into a long section on candle wax and blu-tack in one show which had the audience in stitches.
Acaster plays on his slightly awkward image, a bit of an anti-lad, and the result is hilarious. The group of meatheads at the front of the second show we saw him in, probably not his general demographic, were pissing themselves laughing throughout. It’s difficult to see how he can improve on what he’s dishing out right now, a definite must-see.
3) Marcel Lucont
My second favourite comedy character after Alan Partridge. Actually a bloke from Reading, but so convincingly stereotypically French that people don’t believe you when you tell the otherwise.
Outrageously funny to the point where I actually slapped my own knee with mirth. Hugely arrogant but endearing at the same time. Finished one hilariously ropey poem with the line “You are correct to applaud. That was…superb.” You’ll have to catch him at a compilation show or bid on an hour of his time, seriously, but if you can work out where he is go and see him. Haven’t yet met anybody who didn’t find him hilarious.
4) Piff the Magic Dragon
A man dresses as a dragon, comes on stage and performs card tricks with the aid of a chihuahua, also dressed as a dragon, and an assistant who hates him. And a goldfish. Good card-based magic is the foundation of the show but the whole combination is unforgettable and brilliant. Piff (no idea what his real name is) has worked out that as good as your magic show can be, you ned a bit more to engage the audience. The guy is actually a brilliant comedian – world-weary and with a proper flair for comic timing with a few really good gags. Something very different from straight stand-up, and very, very good.
If you’re stuck for things to do at midnight at the weekend then head down to the Underbelly on Cowgate for Spank!, three hours of comedians, shouting and gratuitous nudity. On the plus side, you’ll get some incredible acts. The’ll list them on the day so see who’s on, but we got top-class, extended sets from James Acaster, Marcel Lucont, David Morgan and April Macie (who isn’t even at the Fringe but just happened to stop by).
On the down side, you might see the compere dip his penis into the mouth of one of the lads in the front row. This did actually happen. So it goes.
Daniel Simonsen – Awkward, awkward, AWKWARD Norwegian kid. Pain and pleasure in equal measure. I think he’s brilliant, so did the majority of our group, but if you don’t get him you won’t enjoy it.
Bo Burnham – American Youtube demi-God. Would probably have made the list except I didn’t see him. Friends who did rated him as the best show they saw.
PC, Mac and Me – One for the geeks, and FREE! Dan Willis is pretty accomplished, and some good computer-based funnies. Very good for no pounds.
Abandoman – Irish comedy improv hip-hop. Caught about 10 mins of this at a best of show and it was amazing.