Edinburgh Fringe 2008: Part One
I don't know whether this was just me, but for the last few years, I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that the Edinburgh Fringe was going to shit, but it still held a hypnotic effect over me; only real financial dire straits prevented me from going. Anyway, I decided at the last minute that me and John would go, as we had the spare cash, and I quite possibly had the best Fringe ever, despite the rain and a few disappointments. Perhaps mental attitude is half the battle, eh? Read my portion of our Edinburgh experience below...
Felix Dexter - Not Just Another Black Guy Caught in the Shuffle
As we've both liked Felix Dexter as an actor, we decided to go along to his show out of curiousity. He's easy to like, giving the impression that many black middle-class people like him are also just as confused and scared as white people by the kind of black youths often seen on Crimewatch, but it's fair to say that his racial and sexual observations are nothing new. He also mined his Nigerian background for some amusing character material, but again, this is nothing new, and it was a real shame, as we both wanted him to be funnier. If Felix broke out of his comfort zone, he could actually produce a show that didn't make you feel you were back in 1992, as there is still plenty of material that could be done about racial and sexual politics in modern Britain; he just needs to find it.
Simon Munnery's AGM 2008
I've been a fan of Simon's for some time, so I know he can occasionally be a more challenging option than a more conventional stand-up, but when he's good, he's nothing short of inspiring. Sadly, he started off far too slowly, and although he came out with some good jokes, the whole show seemed somewhat rushed. The technical problems he had with the DVD demonstrating what railings around Scotland sound like when struck with a spoon dampened the laughter he could have expected, as that kind of joke certainly benefits from the cumulative effects of such silliness. Although it's a brave move to offer audience interactivity by getting them to propose motions (it is an AGM, after all), the rest of the show isn't strong enough to support that kind of busking, and Simon didn't have the time to get going before his slot at the Stand finished, leading him to fulfill his prediction of having to invite the audience to the pub opposite to finish the bucketful of suggestion slips. Although it no doubt would have been a fun little gathering (Simon is a warm and decent chap), we weren't confident of Simon's ability to get going again. Sorry, Simon.
Jerry Sadowitz - Comedian, Magician, Psychopath II
Jerry's a seasoned Edinburgh performer, and it's unlikely anyone would go to see him without knowing what to expect at this stage in his career, especially with the show's title. Jerry likes to play the role of the middle-aged teenager, ranting against his venue, the sudden crapness of the Edinburgh Fringe Box Office (a common source of material for comics this year), and modern life in general. Only a moron would fail to spot the sharp intelligence and self-depreciation underneath, however, and the fact that the swearing and racial slurs (he really *does* have a go at everyone, though) mask his slight-of-hand during his magic tricks, leaving you exhausted and amazed at a man truly at the top of his game. Oh, and he gets his cock out. Something for everyone, there.
BBC Comedy Presents
John and I toddled along to see this in the interest of seeing new comedy, due to the conservative nature of our itinerary, but we should have looked a bit more closely, as this was actually more a bunch of established acts the BBC could pull together to promote their own shows. Unfortunately, this made the cost of the ticket completely pointless, as this was a pretty uninspiring hour and a half. To be fair, Brendon Burns was excellent as the host, which warmed us up for his show later in the week, with a cracking story about seeing his young son being thumped, and setting his son's violent friend on the pint-sized assailant, after his own threats made no impact. His only justification was that it was 'really fucking funny', and we had to agree, but then we're not parents. Maybe it's for the best.
Brendon was also gracious enough to offer support and laughs to the other comics on the bill, and it was a good thing, as the audience weren't so half as keen. Call us fussy bastards, but material about being confused about what a .pdf extension is, genial Irishness and borderline misogyny isn't really good enough for past 11pm. Although the last comic (sorry, I couldn't remember names at the time and I can't remember them now) was good after a slow start, it wasn't enough to relieve the monotony, especially in a hot and cramped room. BAH.
Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late But Live
Stewart Lee has already proved himself a interesting and amusing playwright with Jerry Springer: The Opera, and this dramatisation of the relationship between Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh is certainly an intriguing take on a oft-covered story. However, although Miles Jupp (as Raleigh) and Simon Munnery (as Liz) are very likeable performers, the script doesn't really have enough laughs, and Simon doesn't seem to have quite got over his League Against Tedium character, as Liz is played to imitate him as much as Simon feels he can get away with. The whole experience smacks of a production that isn't quite sure what it is, so although I had fun, I wouldn't rush to see it again.
Paul Merton Improv Chums
Those under 25, accustomed to seeing Paul appearing on Have I Got News for You and presenting Room 101, may not realise that Paul is actually well experienced in comic improvisation, having been a member of the Comedy Store Players since 1985. The Chums are mainly Richard Vranch-on-the-piano (although he happily plays a bigger role here), Suki Webster and Lee Simpson, with Mike McShane appearing in the show we saw, which was a real bonus for me, having spent many happy hours watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? The result was a great deal of fun, with a highlight being a burlesque pub scene, where Suki mimed a stripping barmaid (much to John's disappointment) and Paul enquired "Got any pork scratchings?". It was a real pleasure watching those seasoned professionals at work, so if you can catch them; do.
Brendon Burns - Fuck You I'm Brendon Fucking Burns Part VI (again)
I can't quite believe that it took me this long to see Brendon Burns, and I have to admit that the show poster closed the deal for me. Although you may be familiar with some of my more considered material for NTS, I still think swearing is big and clever, I'm afraid. The Conan the Barbarian theme is carried onto the stage, with the two young ladies in the poster having a sword fight and then unveiling Brendon in full leather gear. They then have a lie down on the stage and listen to the show, with one of them getting a plug for her show at the end, which doesn't seem a bad job.
However, you get far more than the odd swear word from Brendon; his return to the Fringe after winning the if.comedy (ex-Perrier) award last year seems to be a more straightforward show, judging from other reviews, but I spotted a kindred spirit in Brendon, and certainly felt his brand of warmth brought that bit of class that can be missing from an aggressive style such as his. I was very fond of his material on Australian public health campaigns, which are so direct that Brendon fully expects the slogan 'If you drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot', to evolve into 'Don't be a cunt, mate!' in a few years' time, and I found further evidence of the kind of man I like in his joy at the Conan the Barbarian DVD commentary by Arnie and the director. There's nothing ground-breaking to be found this year, but there's certainly guaranteed laughs and a warm sense of connection with a performer who clearly wants you to have as a good a time as he is. Brendon has gained a fan.
Nicholas Parsons' Happy Hour
Hooray! It's Nicholas Parsons. Nicholas has had a long career in entertainment, first being an actor, where he was most famous for his work with comic Arthur Haynes, and then became a household favourite presenting Sale of the Century. But why is Nicholas, now a sprightly 84, bothering himself with a chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe? The key is probably his appearance in the Comic Strip film Mr Jolly Lives Next Door, which instantly branded him with street cred and has continued to make him cool amongst the young 'uns ever since. Nicholas, who has done the Happy Hour for a good few years now, had no trouble living up to his reputation as a damn good presenter and entertainer, flirting shamelessly with the older ladies in the audience and giving out tubes of Smarties to the audience members who were the best value. Nicholas interviewed Chris Neill, who promoted his show at the Assembly Rooms, having played last year at the considerably less posh Underbelly, where, in his words "...they think you're above yourself if you flush the loo".
Miles Jupp was next up, plugging his solo show and chatting about the theology degree he took in Edinburgh, and the musical comedy group Graffiti Classics, appearing at the Pleasance Dome, ended the show. Nicholas also found someone in the audience who had been an occasional visitor to his house many years ago. He came out with the rather bizarre phrase "I saw the way he put his fire out!" with Nicholas responding to audience laughter with "I didn't piss on it, if that's what you mean!". Sadly, it was a joke rather than an anecdote, and despite Nicholas' best efforts, he couldn't really get a lot of mileage from that blast from his past. However, it was all great fun, but although Nicholas has some fearsome energy for his age, and gives you the novelty value of swearing now and then, you do get a little concerned about him when he can't remember where any of his guests are appearing, especially as the show exists to plug their shows! Still, Nicholas has more than won the right to carry on performing for as long as he wants, and I would certainly have no problem with recommending the show, especially if you're undecided about what you want to see.