Friday, 30 November 2012

Edinburgh Outside the Fringe

The Fringe is wrapped up and everyone, except a few local enthusiasts like me, have disappeared and gone home.

Whilst I try to support live comedy all year round, a mixture of work and personal commitments and lack of cash prevent me from getting out as much as I like and seeing acts... and when I do, I tend to go to the cheaper new act gigs, partly because of the price, but also because I like to see up and coming acts and keep my finger on the pulse.

We all know that Kevin Bridges or Jimmy Carr will sell out the Playhouse or the Festival Theatre and The Stand will sell out at the weekend with the best acts all going there.

But outside of that, what is there for comedy enthusiasts in Edinburgh? Not a lot to be honest. It seems that most Edinburgers prefer to feast on comedy and culture during August and barely dip their toes in the rest of the year.

The Beehive Inn runs comedy three nights per week (Friday and Saturday plus a weekday new acts night) and a few comics occasionally run other nights in upstairs rooms of pubs, including a good monthly one at The Counting House. I've been to both the Beehive and the Counting House and audiences have been decidedly average. There are some good new acts competitions including the Laughing Horse (next up on 5th and 6th December) and the Scottish Comedian of the Year competition gets a lot of publicity too.

But all of the above doesn't exactly represent a lot of bums on seats and many of them will be visitors from outside Edinburgh (or friends and relatives of the acts in the case of the competitions).

So why is it that locals don't venture out to see live comedy during the rest of the year? Perhaps they don't think that they'll get the same quality? But in my experience, that worry is simply unfounded.

My friend Nik Coppin, (whom I've mentioned before on the blog) is coming to Edinburgh this weekend with his Shaggers Christmas Special tour. I spoke to him just before tickets went on sale he was slightly unsure about his decision to come to Edinburgh.

"I'm just not sure about Edinburgh outwith the Fringe" He said "We come here during the Festival and put on a show for free and that's fine because we're part of the Free Festival which means we are not forking out as much on expenses, but when you come to Edinburgh the rest of the year you've got a lot of costs to cover and you're not always confident you'll get it back".

But take a look at his show... It's at the same venue as during the Festival... The upstairs room at the Three Sisters so it's slap bang in the middle of town during party season. He's got a great line up including local favourite Bruce Fummey as well as Sameena Zehra, Paul Gannon and Janice Phayre. Tickets are only £10, reasonably priced for a Saturday night with all pros on the bill!

Yet he thinks he's going to have to flyer like mad just to get enough people to break even.

The lure of a sell out Fringe show seems to do the trick in other cities throughout UK, but not in Edinburgh itself it seems!

So here is my shameless plug... Get out and see Shaggers! Or if you can't make it, go and see some new acts during the week at the Comedy Competition at the Beehive! The only way for the comedy scene in Edinburgh to improve, is for people to get out and support it!

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Spank Experience

I knew before the Fringe even started that I was going to end the Festival with a trip to Spank as a mate had decided that was what he wanted to do for his birthday. Whilst it's not the sort of show I'd normally see, with it's reputation for good acts, late night lively banter and high price tag (£15.50) I had high hopes as I went along with around 15 of my friends.

My first of many disappointments came when I realised that the line up I'd seen on Twitter was for Spanktacular (the Saturday night only show that Underbelly also run at the big cow) and not Spank.

I asked the Underbelly folk on Twitter what the Spank line up was, they gave me the Spanktacular line up... and when I asked if they were the same show I never got a reply. (Subsequent research shows they are not - the big acts all go to Spanktacular on a Saturday).

The second disappointment was when I got into the room and realised that there were very few seats left even although we got in the queue 10 minutes before the start time.

The third disappointment was that the room was horrible. I knew the Underbelly was going to be a bit damp and cramped, but I didn't expect their flagship late show to be in a room with huge pillars in front of the stage and I didn't expect at least a dozen of the 165 seats on sale to be directly behind said pillars, forcing people to choose between a seat and a view of the stage. There was also no screen between the bar and performance area. What a terrible room for comedy!

The fourth disappointment of the night was the bar. The only spirits on sale... Sambuca, Tequila and Jager. But no vodka? So the girlfriend got a Smirnoff ice. The barman was kind enough to let me know it was warm only after he had charged me £12.20 (for that and two Buds) and after he had given me my change. "Is that OK mate" he said. With 20 other folk waiting to be served and staring at the back of my head I guess it had to be!

Disappointment number five was the banging techno from the room next door - something you expect when you go to a free show but not at a £15.50 Big Venue Flagship late show.

Disappointment number six was the acts, none of which were up to much or really got the crowd going. (A few had some OK material that could have worked better on another night). I was hoping for some big names but I hadn't heard of any of the acts that I saw.

Disappointment number seven was the number of people chatting (which you expect to a certain extent at a late show, but the two close to me were at it non-stop for 15 minutes).

Disappointment number eight was the staff members who stood right next to the door watching the comedy, rather than asking the two noisy birds to shut up (even although they were literally right next to them).

Disappointment number nine was the lack of toilet facilities anywhere near the performance area... To pee you had to head out, through the yard past all the smokers, into the bar, up a spiral staircase, through another bar and in...  By the time you get back it's a ten minute round trip and that's assuming you don't get caught in the midst of a show going in or out in which case it could be fifteen.

On the plus side, the comperes tried to get the crowd going, the music they played at the start was decent. One compere was Kate Smurfwaite who I'm a fan of (and that opinion hasn't changed - she didn't do anything wrong). I also like the idea of the "naked promo" which gives fringe performers the chance to plug their show as long as they get naked whilst doing it.

But the overall experience was horrible and it wasn't just me who felt this way. The decision to leave at the interval was unanimous amongst our group, so I never found out if anyone did the naked promo.

There has been a lot of talk about this Fringe being a vanguard for change, with some big acts not selling tickets, others getting ahead of the game and agreeing to do free shows and lots of people tuning on promoters, slating them for hoovering up all the profits.

I got some stick for telling people to support The Stand and the Free Festival at the start of the run from a performer at the one of the Big Four venues... Well, after experiencing this year's Fringe, and Spank in particular, I'll be doing the same again next year.

Had I taken my own advice and gone to The Stand, the only real comedy club in Edinburgh, I would have experienced none of the above issues. I would have known what I was going to see, (the Spank Facebook page still only has a list of acts for the 24th) and I would have experienced none of the logistical problems.

And let me say rather uncontroversially... The Free Festival would have put on at least as good a show! If not better.

I have sung the praises of Shaggers, run by my mate Nik Coppin many times, but I have to question why anyone would want to go to Spank over a Free Show like Shaggers, which is at least as good in terms of the acts on stage and far better in terms of the room and the atmosphere.

Yes you would still have 1-2 of the problems that I experienced at Spank - occasional drunks chatting at the back, some music from outside creeping in and the toilets in Three Sisters are among the worst, but when it comes to value for money, there is no contest! If you like it, chuck some money in the bucket! If you don't you can leave and at least you are still in the middle of one of the liveliest venues in Edinburgh!

In times of a recession, people will not be taken for mugs and I certainly won't be lining the pockets of Ed Bartlam again. Other people are starting to feel the same way, with more and more supporting the Free Festival.

I can't wait to see what next year will bring! With the creative but divisive Peter Buckley-Hill rumoured to be retiring, The Free Fringe and the Free Festival might even start to benefit each other again!

Whatever happens, I hope it's for the benefit of the performers and audience!

It's been fun... Just a shame that my Festival ended on a low point.

Spank gets zero stars from me!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Angela Barnes and Matt Richardson ***

I took a punt on this show, not realising that I had seen Matt Richardson before doing a 10 minute open spot at the Laughing Horse Pick of the Fringe.

He buddies up with his comedy friend Angela Barnes - giving them both 30 minutes to do an extended set - with a view to them doing an hour each at the Fringe next year (as they mentioned in their show).

Matt Richardson opened and got going with some great anecdotes - as a 21 year old it's pretty much what you'd expect - a fair bit of wanking material, stories about still living at home and not living up to Dad's expectations - nothing new in the subject matter, but all very well delivered and well received by the audience.

Where I think Richardson really excels is in his crowd banter. A large chunk of the show was devoted to this and he managed each interaction well... even when he mistook a 15 year old girl and her father as a married couple, he managed to keep the audience on side. A lot of his material also relies on stories about interactions at previous shows, all of which gets a good response.

Matt Richardson definitely has all the ingredients needed to do a successful hour and more importantly he's young enough to be able to improve even more. Definitely one to watch for the future.

After 30 minutes it was time to hand over to Angela Barnes, who let's be fair to her, had a hard act to follow.

She managed well for the first fifteen minutes with some good gags and some self depreciating humour about being single that wasn't uncomfortable like it can be (her alternative take on the walk of shame is well worth remembering).

Towards the end though, she let herself down by the number of times she checked her watch (something Matt Richardson also wants to cut down on a bit) and also by constantly going to grab the mic stand as if to put the mic back and finish the set.... before continuing for another 30 seconds then checking the watch again, then fidgeting with the mic stand one more time.

I'm maybe being a little unfair on her, as at the start of the show she mentioned she was ill and also "off her tits" on tramadol due to a slipped disk, so you can understand her wanting to finish, but for me, the slow gradual finish with the unconscious "I want to get off here" body language instead of a build up to a great finale, was the difference between three and four stars.

Having said that, even with lurgy/back pain/drugs she was still a good solid act and if she can sort out her back pain and anxiousness about running over then I have no doubt she will be able to turn a good set into a great one.

This show is certainly worth seeing and I'm looking forward to seeing more of Matt Richardson in particular in the future.

Info here.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Revill's Selection ****

I've met Paul Revill a few times this Fringe and seen him do a spot at Shaggers so I knew he was going to be a decent host and compere.

The idea of the show is that he books three different acts with two experienced comics joining him, and an open spot sandwiched in between.

My main worry going in was that a lunch time show in the Kasbar was that it would be difficult to get the crowd going at that time of the day. (It's not the worst room at the Fringe, but the bar which cuts a wedge into the space where the audience would be doesn't help - neither does the bar man who has been known to turn on the glass washer during the acts).

I needn't have worried.

Paul did a great job, doing some decent material and gradually warming up the room with some fun audience interaction. But a compilation show needs some decent acts and Jason Patterson was a great start to proceedings!

Despite arriving about a minute before he was due to go on stage, he was loud and lively from the first minute
"I'm missing the Hollyoaks omnibus for this so forget about me being funny! You guys better be good!!" he proclaimed to the audience... and he managed to keep up his energy high and got a great response from the crowd for the full set.

Next up was an open spot whose name I can't remember. He just did 7-8 minutes and his material was OK but he didn't set the crowd on fire. A bit too quiet and not enough energy.

The crowd was soon warmed up again by Mr Revill before the headline act Nish Kumar came on and he definitely deserved his spot as the headliner! He had 10-15 minutes of great material. Being a British Asian comic, there were a few ethnic jokes (which can get a bit samey sometimes) but his were original and funny and his set passed by too quickly. He's very polished and pleasant and I'd like to see more of him.

All in all a great way to start your day at the Fringe!

Show info here.

Jason Patterson's show

Nish Kumar's show

Tips to Make the Perfect Fringe Show

Aside from the obvious talent that's necessary from the performers, there are quite a few things that acts and audiences can do to get the most from their Fringe experience!

I've been to a wide selection of venues this year, so I feel like I'm in a good position to discuss the merits of not just the acts but also the other factors that contribute to a good show.

I went to see Jason Byrne last Saturday evening after being offered a spare ticket (nothing against him but he's not the sort of act I would normally pick) and if I was reviewing shows in chronological order (which I have been doing so far) then his show would be the next one up for a review. However, I'm not in a hurry to post one - mainly because unlike the other acts I've spoken about, he's already a massive name and most people will have already seen him on TV if not live and already formed an opinion on him (the type of act I try and avoid during the Fringe).

The reason I'm bringing him up is because I had a fairly average seat towards the back of the auditorium in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC - the place where all over exposed comics go to sell out their tickets and prepare for their up coming appearance on Live at the Apollo) and I felt that I had a 3* experience at a 5* comics show.

The seats are unreserved so quite simply, if you are not near the front of the queue, you are not going to be close to the stage.

Aside from the fact that he was performing in a great big cavern instead of an intimate comedy club, and aside from the fact that his material was, dare I say it, slightly hack; Fifty Shades of Grey, Scottish Accents, having an itchy arse etc... It was a great performance by a very experienced pro who deserves all the success he has received.

But being used to smaller rooms, I couldn't help feeling that if I'd paid for the ticket (which I think was about £20), I'd feel a little short changed ending up about 30 rows back.

A comedy venue needs to be small or medium sized, dark, quiet (with a bar far away enough from the performance area) with the crowd close to the stage. Less experienced comedy fans might go to a big venue, pay a lot of money to see an act on TV and not understand why they have not enjoyed the show as much as all the people who walk past them on the way out raving about it. The atmosphere is all at the front and you should not let the fear of getting picked on spoil your enjoyment!

The next thing that has a big effect on the success of the show is the time it's on. I mentioned this in my review of Bob and Jim - explaining that the type of show it was, really wasn't suited to a lunch time slot.

It's only in Edinburgh (and at a handful of other Comedy Festivals throughout the world) that shows start before 5pm. At 12.30pm, in front of a sober audience, the show needs a very high energy act to get the audience engaged and on side.

Today I saw an excellent example of two acts who managed to raise the tempo of a room which could have  easily have been lost - by being loud, fact paced and most importantly funny. (They were Jason Patterson and Nish Kumar and they'll appear again here shortly). A new act didn't do quite as well because he didn't have the confidence of the other acts and he didn't speak loudly and clearly and keep the tempo high! (I won't mention his name because I'm not in the business of trashing open spots who have the potential to get a lot better).

Lots of acts make this mistake and not just the inexperienced ones!

The next thing you need to do is tailor your act to the audience. I have a mate who is starting out doing open spots and he's a very good act, but he is a bit of a storyteller who builds up to a finale. There's nothing wrong with that, but when he did a gong show for the first time, he only did one punch line in the first three minutes and got gonged off.... and then blamed the audience on Facebook. I wasn't at the show but told him that there is no such thing as a bad audience, just an unsuitable act for that particular venue/performance. In a gong show you need a high JPM (jokes per minute), you can't spend four out of five minutes setting up your big finale.

I once saw a very good comedian who was performing in front of 8 people (he's doing better nowadays) and a big chunk of his act was all about 1980's kids TV nostalgia. With only 8 people in the crowd he had done a bit of audience banter and established that the family of four from England were either two old or two young to have seen any 80's kids TV and the three other people in the crowd grew up in South Africa/Australia. So essentially, his excellent Bungle and Zippy impersonation was only appreciated by me! (I don't think the other people put much cash in his bucket that day).

Acts coming to Edinburgh need to realise that the crowds are very cosmopolitan and you are likely to have lots of Aussies, Kiwi's Africans, Americans, English, Irish and also Europeans with a good grasp of English (many of whom use watching comedy as a way to improve their English and understand the sense of humour of other cultures).

Nostalgia and many other very British types of comedy will work well on the comedy circuit 11 months of the year, but you could find yourself unexpectedly dying on your arse if you try it at 2pm in front of a bunch of foreigners! You need some very generic material to fall back on if you are going to include it in your show.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Trap's Bad Musical ****

I have a history of enjoying "The Trap's" series of plays after watching Bad Play 1, 2 and 3 when they were up a few years ago. Now after a 7 year absence (they've since all had kids etc) they are back with Bad Musical.

The Trap spoof bad theatre, which is more difficult than you think! In order to get it right they have to deliberately get it wrong and The Trap do it with style!

From the beginning, everything goes gloriously wrong as the actors constantly confuse Edinburgh and London (in an attempt to wind up half the audience) the sound man gets his cues wrong and there's general mayhem as the actors mix up their lines and the props all fall apart.

There's not really much else I can say about the play without divulging the storyline but this is tremendous stuff. Although the actors are spoofing bad theatre, make no mistake, this is spoof comedy theatre at it's best and their timing is perfect!

 If you've not seen them before then Bad Musical is well worth a watch!

Show info here.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Mace and Burton: Rom Com Con ****

Another show I'd heard a lot about was Rom Com Con! A very inventive show by comedy pairing Mace and Burton.

The idea is that the two single girls studied all the top grossing romantic comedies and recorded how the couples in each film first met. They then went out and tried to meet real men by employing the same techniques as the characters in the films.

As their show blurb says "Join them in this utterly true story as they try talking to coma patients (While You Were Sleeping), standing on street corners (Pretty Woman) and dating a guy whose paddling pool they used to play in (Bridget Jones’s Diary) - all to find The One. Can rom coms help us find true love? Or are they all one big con?"

Well I won't spoil the ending, but they actually did go out and try to replicate a lot of movies and they have the photos and film to prove it!

This is an engaging hour of storytelling, which is funny. poignant and heartwarming. Just like a real romantic comedy, it leaves you with a smile on your face! Unfortunately I didn't manage to convince my hungover girlfriend to make it along to the show, which was a shame - this is the perfect date show!

What's more - it's free. When you go to lots of free shows the quality can vary dramatically! I can safely say that this is one of the most organised and slick performances I've seen in a free show and it's definitely the best free performance I've seen this year (with the exception of Shaggers which is a compilation of 4-5 acts every night so can't be compared to this).

Mace and Burton have come up with a great show that has lots of potential and could easily be transferred to TV. My only criticism is that the show does have a fairly tight format and the performers stick to a script fairly rigidly. When they do have the odd off script aside then their personalities come out a bit more and if they could find a way to get their personalities out there a more often then they could turn a four star show into a five star show! But that's a small piece of constructive criticism and you shouldn't let it put you off going to see a cracking show!

Show info here.

They also have another show called Heartbreak Hotel which  have not seen.

Max and Ivan Are... Con Artists *****

I like to see new shows when I go to the Fringe so I generally don't go and see stuff I have seen before, but now and again, when an opportunity to see an act I've enjoyed before for not very much money presents itself, I go for it and enjoy a nice safe hour!

So when I came out of a show and realised I had about an hour and forty-five minutes before I had to leave... and Max and Ivan were on in twenty at the preview price of £5, I decided what the hell!

After seeing them last year, I knew what I was in for... an hour of fast paced comedy with the duo playing multiple roles and telling a wacky, funny well thought our story... and I wasn't disappointed!

Last year they tackled Holmes and Watson, this year they decided to write a mash up of all the best heist movies and fill it with glorious cliches to keep the crowd engaged and to help distinguish between the characters.

It's basically sketch comedy but instead of switching between scenes they switch between characters!

I can't really say much more about the show without starting to describe the plot so I won't go into too much more detail except to say that Max and Ivan are consummate pros! They keep their energy going for the whole hour and beyond as they shake hands with the audience on the way out, thanking people and making a point of telling them that they don't have PR so they really need people to tell all their friends about the show!

Well I do so with pleasure! I've recommended it to lots of people and if you want a safe bet in the afternoon then go for it. (I have mentioned in previous reviews how much harder it is to get the audience going earlier in the day - particularly when they may have just had lunch - Max and Ivan make this real problem disappear in an instant simply because they have such a high laughs per minute ratio).

They are very likeable, but more than anything they are just damn funny - consistently it seems - and get five stars from me once again!

Show info here.

Exterminating Angel - An Improvisation **

Sometimes you feel bad about only giving one or two stars to a show... I think it's important to be honest about how much you enjoyed a show and sometimes you can appreciate good acting, admire a production for taking a risk and almost pulling it off... but not actually enjoy the show much. So it's with regret that I give this show two stars.

The play is inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s 19th century play The Blind (about a group of blind people who get trapped and can't leave, so they have to stick around and wait to be rescued) and Luis Buñuel’s film Experimenting Angel.

The idea is that the characters are at a dinner party and they can't leave. The play is improvised each day so no two performers are the same.

The play starts off with a typical dinner party scene, casual slightly pissed conversation which often splits in to two (as often happens in real life) making it slightly tricky to follow but very realistic.

As the characters say their goodbyes and go to leave they find that they can't and so the scene continues for an hour, with conversation becoming weird, open and frank and with the odd incident disrupting the chat... And that's all that happens really.

If you asked five talented actors to improvise and act out an hour long episode of Big Brother then you would probably end up with something very similar to the play I saw.

They are very good actors and the show will be different every night (and I see they have got a good review on Broadway Baby) so you may enjoy it more than I did... But unfortunately I wasn't overly entertained and I found myself looking at the information sheet handed to me 20 minutes in, hoping I'd find something that would suggest that the play would liven up a bit. It didn't.

Show info here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Little Perspective with Imaan ****

I've met and seen Imaan Hadchiti before and I had him as an early tip for a Best Newcomer Award.

After seeing him do open spots and meeting him person and then seeing some of his videos on line, I was very excited to finally be seeing his full hour long show!

Imaan is a short guy. He suffers from a rare condition called Rima's disease (named after his sister) and when I mean short, he is very small! 3ft 5 inches to be exact... so naturally a lot of his comedy revolves around this.

In this particular show, he shows hidden camera clips, taking whilst wandering around Melbourne which show people's reactions to his size... The reactions are hilarious yet shocking... "Are you human" one woman asks. Imann pauses the video at this point, gives a rye smile then lets her have it with both barrels!

Some people might think that going to see a small person to laugh at them would be uncomfortable, but you needn't worry. Imaan is an experienced stand up and his style will out you at ease immediately. Despite his stature he has no trouble controlling a drunken crowd and it really is easy to just relax and enjoy the show because you are firmly on his side as he takes on the many many layers of stupidity and ignorance that exist in the world!

Being honest, I think I was a bit hasty to be mentioning him for an award... I don't think he is quite in that league yet, but it's still a quality hour of stand up and I'm surprised that the show has not attracted more publicity!

Show info here.

Casual Violence - A Kick in the Teeth ****

I think that in terms of dishing out stars, I'm at my most generous when reviewing sketch comedy. I like it a lot and people like Max and Ivan and Adam Riches have received great reviews from me after getting it spot on!

So I was very much looking forward to Casual Violence, a troupe who have a reputation for macabre, twisted yet hilarious comedy.

The group are comprised of five actors and a musician, who provides atmospheric music during the sketches and some great filler material in between them... Including a joyous love song to one lucky lady in the front row.

The only criticism I have of the show is that it's a little slow in starting. There are around 6-7 scenes which are each introduced then revisited a couple more times during the show. I would say that the first set of scenes spends a little bit too much time setting the story out and not providing laughs, meaning that you're more likely to just smile rather than laugh out loud.

But by the second set, the laughs are starting to get louder and the concluding scenes are a triumph.

The acting is slick, the writing is strong and it has the perfect amount of gore to make you cringe and giggle at the same time!

Although it's not exactly the same type of humour describing the show as the sketch comedy equivalent of "Shawn of the Dead" wouldn't be too far off the mark. It's a collection of unrelated sketches rather than a film, but the feeling simultaneous joy from gore and comedy are rarely experienced together and just as Shawn of the Dead managed it in film, so Casual Violence have managed to do it live on stage! A great achievement.

Thoughts of "The Poppy Man" in particular will send shivers down your spine whilst at the same time make you giggle for a long time after the show has finished.... Want to know what I'm talking about? Go see it! You will not be disappointed.

Show info here.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Trevor Lock - Amateur Sex Tape**

A few friends of mine have a phrase to describe comedians who talk about really random stuff. They call them "Badgers and Jam" comedians. Ross Noble is a perfect example, he goes off at tangents and randomly starts talking about squirrels during a piece of material that has nothing to do with squirrels.

Trevor Lock definitely falls into the badgers and jam category. He goes wildly off course all the time making weird and random observations.

I have a lot of friends who like him and I was told by several people to go and see him. It turns out that I have seen him before, doing a guest spot and he didn't go down well there either.... But I didn't realise that until after the show started.

I was a little disappointed when I arrived and the place was fairly empty (this was a preview show over a week ago so hopefully it's filling up better now) and Lock admitted that the audience was mainly made up of his mates and his flyering team.

He quickly started his show and then quickly went off on a tangent.... "My grandad was scared of flying... and worms... not flying worms, he wasn't scared of flying and worms ,he was just scared of flying and also worms, I don't think he ever saw any flying worms... or maybe he did I don't know, can woms fly?"

Some people really like this type of humour. I don't. I think it's important which you score a show, you give an honest evaluation of how much you enjoyed it. I had a couple of laughs, but I can honestly say I wanted to leave half way through.

Others will enjoy the show a lot more and when I see 4 star reviews for him I won't be surprised because I know there is a lot of demand for that type of thing and I know he has a good reputation. I just don't understand why.

Whether the low score says more about me than the act I'll leave for other people to decide.

Show info here.

Diane Spencer - Exquisite Bad Taste *****

Taking a relatively early slot in the Gilded Balloon, Diane Spencer still has her work cut out to get the audience on side, but by god she knows how to do it!

She sparkles her way onto the stage and starts off with a wank joke setting the tone for the hour.

The space she performs in is a medium sized room, but it's snug enough for everyone to feel involved and not so big that there is a serious risk of empty seats.

So let's be clear. Diane Spencer is filthy! Her jokes are in terrible bad taste but she gets away with it better than any comedian, male or female, that I've ever seen.

Her material is easy to relate to without being hack.... She starts one section with "I don't get drunk, I time travel... I'll explain what I mean"... No one needs an explanation of what she means but we all strap in for the ride anyway and we're all glad we did. Her stories are all fluid and polished with great interlinking and classic call backs.

I've never seen an act that is so ready for TV that hasn't been on TV yet and I fully expect to see her on Live at the Apollo in the next couple of years. She might have to tone down some material but there's enough stuff in there that would be fine on post watershed BBC and everything else is in place, she has the face, demeanour, professional attitude and most importantly the material to carry it off.

A bigger venue and more exposure surely awaits so get in and see her while she's still intimate (in more ways than one) and reasonably priced.

You can find her show info here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Anda Union - The Wind Horse ****

Who says I don't do culture?

A folk band from Inner Mongolia I admit, is a bit of a tangent from my usual Fringe diet of comedy with a bit of theatre (favouring funny plays), but I am a music fan too and I do like hearing traditional music from around the world (I used to love watching the Soweto Gospel Choir promote their show on the Royal Mile and I think there is space for more African traditional music especially as they are not performing this year).

I was particularly curious to hear the "throat singing" in this show, (described to me by the guy who game me the flyer) which plays a big part throughout the performance.

You are welcomed into the Assembly's "Elegance" Tent by the performers who give you a blue scarf around your neck - yours to keep, a nice touch which is in keeping with the surroundings and the quality of the whole show.

When the music starts, it's a lively cacophony of sounds not all of which you can attribute to an instrument. It's not immediately clear that the whistling sound you can hear is coming from the performers throats (I was looking for some kind of wind instrument but couldn't see one in the hands of any performer).

The style of singing means that the performers can make this whistling noise as they sing. It's incredibly powerful and it contributes well to the overall sound. The male voices, although less harmonious, have a similar effect to a Welsh male choir and the string instruments make them sound not to dis-similar to Irish folk group, but with an oriental twist (particularly the drinking song that they played).

Horses play a big part in the lives of the people from the Mongolian Grasslands and one of the highlights of the performance was a song called "10,000 Galloping Horses" during which, the musicians made their horse fiddles scream like wild horses (literally as well as metaphorically).

For me, it was a welcome distraction and a great break from a day of comedy, but for any music fan, this is likely to be a highlight of the Fringe and I expect them to be well received.

(I happened to bump into a former work colleague at the show who was reviewing it for Broadway Baby. He also enjoyed it and his review can be read here (in much better prose than I can muster).

Show information here.

Back to Work

So, my "Fringe Week" is over....

If you've read my blog in previous years, you'll know that it's a flurry of activity at the start of the Fringe, then it starts to tail of in dramatic fashion.

The simple reason for this is that unfortunately I don't get paid for reviewing shows and I quickly run out of time and money and I also have to go back to work!

On the plus side, I've managed to see 18 shows (3-4 of them compilation shows which I'll jut sum up in one post) so I still have around 10 to review, which I'll try and do in chronological order, as well as adding in general thoughts and comments about the Fringe, so there will be plenty more to read about!

Just to quickly say that my highlights were: Max and Ivan, Diane Spencer, Mace and Burton, Bad Musical, Casual Violence and A little Perspective with Imaan... all of which I will be reviewing in the coming days.

I've managed to see shows put on by The Gilded Balloon, The Pleasance, Assembly, Underbelly, Just The Tonic at The Caves, The Alternative Fringe at the Hive, The Laughing Horse Free Festival and PBH's Free Fringe so I've spread myself fairly well across the venues this year! (Kudos to the other venues for offering more papering comps (that's business speak for free tickets) on the first couple of days of the Fringe).

After telling people to head to and support The Stand and associated venues, I've not made it down there yet, although I did make a trip into the Assembly Rooms to eat at Jamie Oliver's restaurant (which was reasonably priced with good service and a decent steak) and have a beer outside Speigeltent. Unfortunately the people I was with wanted to go clubbing rather than see some comedy!

My only disappointing moments were missing out on seeing Kunt and the Gang (who wanted to do a run though without an audience on the 2nd even although his show was due to start then and  few people had turned up for it) and Mugging Chickens who chose not to turn up for their show at all despite it being their 2nd advertised day.

I still want to see Kunt, so I may make another trip down and leave a turd in his collection bucket to exact my revenge!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Bob and Jim - Go **

I started the day yesterday with Bob and Jim at the Udderbelly Pasture.

Sometimes a show can be really badly affected by the time it's on and Bob and Jim's show "Go" is a perfect example of this.

The pair are a quintessentially British double act who cheerfully deliver their material which is well rehearsed and they have a good connection with each other.

Unfortunately, they don't really have much else to offer.

The show's time, location, marketing colour scheme, the mannerisms of the comics and it's general sense of humour make it the perfect show for kids - or so you would think, but there is just enough swearing and jokes that point towards sex etc that make it inappropriate for kids under the age of 10-12.

It most certainly could work with a drunk audience - I've seen many spoof kids entertainers do childish stuff on stage and the drunken audience have got involved and lapped it up.

But you don't have many drunks around at 12.20pm, so the audience is going to be made up of people who have just eaten breakfast and are seeing their first show of the day and on the day I saw it (yesterday) they never really won the audience around despite their relatively high energy and I'm struggling to imagine how they will do it for the rest of the run. (The general murmurs of the other people leaving indicated that they felt the same way as me about the show).

If they had marketed their show to kids and cut out the swearing I could see them being successful, or if they had found a different time slot I could see them making a success of things.

They are definitely not a one star show and I've marked them up for effort and potential, but at that time slot, in that venue, I'm afraid I can't recommend that you see them.

Show info here.

Bane 3 *****

When you come to a Fringe show, you can't always judge how it's going to be set up before you go in.

Some shows have a massive production with lots of props and a supporting cast, others have more of a minimalist feel. Usually, when you head in and you realise it's just one or two people performing with no props, no sound prompts and no other showbiz add ons, think it's is going to be a bit cheap and nasty.

Unless that is, from the first minute, you get drawn in and thoroughly engaged by the performers.

Bane 3 is the third in the trilogy of "Bane" the epic adventures of a mafia hitman. Following the adventures of Bruce Bane, his colleagues, victims and a variety of other characters as he lurks through the murky world of crime, taking no prisoners and delivering asides to the audience as he goes along.

The soundtrack is provided throughout by Ben Roe on the semi-acoustic - and he is outstanding. (I play guitar badly so I can appreciate when someone does it well).

But the star of the show is Joe Bone, who plays Bruce Bane, Vicenzo the mafia goon.... and everyone else in the play. His high energy performance is something that all actors should aspire to. Not only does he differentiate between all the characters brilliantly with effortless switches, he also provides the sound effects without breaking character and adding considerably to the performance and the show as a whole.

It's funny, captivating and will leave you walking away entertained and with a smile on your face.

I saw the first Bane a few years ago and thought it was great, this performance was even better!

At this year's Fringe you can see all three "Bane" performances - Bane 1 is happening on Friday, Bane 2 is on Saturday and Bane 3 is on Sunday - Thursday.

If I had the time I'd be tempted to go back again to see Bane 2. If you've never seen it before, then make sure you catch at least one performance before the end of the Fringe.

Bane has a bit of a cult following but it's surely only a matter of time before he goes mainstream!

You can find he show details here and visit his website here.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Rod is God ***

Brought to you by some of the guys from "Late Night Gimp Fight" a well established sketch troupe, this show explores what would happen if two losers started their own cult to try and make some money.

The characters are very likeable and it's very clear from their performances in lighter parts of the play that the actors are very comfortable performing funny stuff. However, when the play gets on to serious, emotional parts they show they can do a bit of that too!

My main reason for not scoring the show higher is the balance between the two. Late Night Gimp Fight are known for sketch comedy chaos and this play was always going to be a break away into slightly more serious acting but still with a fun comedy twist.

Unfortunately, I don't think the writing was quite strong enough to really nail either or both. It's a funny play with a silly subject, so I was hoping it would built into a high energy crescendo with non stop barrels of laughs (Fawlty Towers style) and it simply didn't live up to my expectations in that sense. The ending was fairly low paced.

Having said that, this is still a very good show. It has good acting, with lots of funny scenes (I particularly liked the cameo from one very famous actor) and like the last show I saw, a bigger audience will definitely contribute to the atmosphere.

You can find the show info here.

Comedian Dies in the Middle of a Joke ***

When I was handed a flyer (and a free ticket) for this show, the chap told me that it was an experimental piece of theatre with audience participation. Fortunately the audience participation was fun and light hearted and shouldn't put anyone off going.

Without getting into too much detail, it's a re-enactment of a "real" murder that happened when a comedian was shot whilst live on stage in London in the 1980's.

The audience members take the role of real audience members, (and put on 1980's style hats and wigs to get into the role). You're given an instruction, such as "when the comedian on stage says this, you should out a heckle - you can say anything you like - it doesn't have to make sense".

The result is an hour of hilarious organised chaos, which will be different every day and the success of each show will depend to an extent on how much the audience get into the spirit of things. 

Last year, Adam Riches won the Edinburgh Comedy Award with a show that had lots for audience participation. I don't think this show is as good as that - Master of Ceremonies Ross Sutherland takes a much more hands off role compared to Adam Riches to the point where the audience are doing all the work and apart from the introduction, he spends the hour organising people or just watching!

I have no doubt that if they can get a decent crowd in - more than the 15 or so that were at this preview, then the show will be a great hours worth of entertainment and ideal if you want to try something different.

Essentially, it's just a formula for successful audience participation. I think the vast majority of people going along will enjoy it. Having said that, I think that ultimately it's a little too repetitive - and the fact that the show is 95% audience based means that the performers won't be winning any awards!

Show information can be found here

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Final "List of Things to See" Post Before the Fringe Starts

So we're one day away from the start of the Fringe and soon I'll be able to actually start reviewing shows, rather than just listing stuff I think will be good or mentioning people I have seen in previous years.

But before I get cracking, there's time for one more post about local talent here in Edinburgh!

Outside of August, Edinburgh does have a reasonably good comedy scene. It's nothing compared to the Fringe, obviously, but there are some decent established acts as well as some up and coming guys to look out for.

The experienced guys include Tommy MacKay, the man behind Alex Salmond's Gastric Band, who does some great musical comedy. His act is usually very much based around Scottish politics, so probably more appealing for locals than visitors to Edinburgh. This year he's doing a show called "Oliver Pissed" and it's all about minimum pricing of alcohol. It's a free show!

Scott Agnew has been around for a while - he is doing a specialised type of show called Tales Of The Sauna, which - let's be clear - is all about his experience of gay saunas.... I have seen him do some regular stand up and he's very non-camp and likeable - I guess his subject material is either going to be your thing or it's not! If it is, his show certainly won't be spoiled by his presentation!

Alan Anderson is Scottish Comedy's whisky expert. After calling his show "Whisky Fir Dummies" for several years, he's been harassed by the publishers of the "For Dummies" series of books so its now called "Whisky Fir Dafties". (What a bunch of pricks these people are). Either way, why wouldn't you say no to some free whisky along with your comedy show! And I'm led to believe, although I haven't seen it myself, that it is a very good show.

Finally another very accomplished patriotic comedian. Bruce Fummey is a Fringe veteran, half Scottish, half African, former physics teaching, Burns expert with some outstanding material, great stage presence, charm and story telling ability... and damn it! As I go to insert the link for his show I realise he isn't doing one this year! Ah well, still one to look out for on the circuit.

On to the less experienced acts now... My Friend Chris Bain has been doing material on youtube as Wee Mental Daz for a while, but he's taken a break from that to start doing a mixture of straight stand up and sketch comedy. He stars along side the more experienced Clair Myychael and Anna Devitt in "Charlie Nicholas Bought Me An Ice Cream" which is a mash up of sketch show and straight stand up. He's a naturally gifted stand up and I reckon he'll do even better amongst some experienced comics.

In recent years I've seem local comic Gareth Waugh go from new act competition heat winner to semi-pro and he's starring alongside Chris Conroy (who I've not seen as much of) in Thatcher's Death Party... An interesting title designed to wind up the Daily Mail readers and potentially give them a publicity boost if history manages to catch up with them! Go and see him while he's still free and relatively unknown!

I've not seen much of Matt Winning but I'm a huge fan of Richard Gadd and the pair team up for "This is Awkwarder". If you are looking for straight stand up then this certainly isn't it... But if you want to see something original and surreal then go and see them. There will be awkward moments, pauses lasting a bit too long, times when you're not sure if they are deliberately messing things up or actually messing them up, but it's highly entertaining and wonderfully out-with the norm.

Another bunch young chaps who are growing in confidence are Scot Laird, Liam Cumbers, Dan Petherbridge and Stuart Thompson. Liam and Scot are both improving well. I saw them in a showcase last month and they were both relaxed, with a very good flow and good enough for a recommendation. I've not seen as much at the other two... The show is called "The Kids We Used to Be". I think the theme of growing up is a good place to start in your first Fringe show so they deserve credit for picking a simple theme... Stories of teenage mischief and confusion can be touching as well as funny and the guys easily have enough in them to carry it off.

Finally, I want to give a mention to a very young comic called Gareth Mutch. He's performing in his first Fringe show with Genevieve Cytko and Ray Fordyce called Life, The Universe, Whatever. At 18 he's already impressed me several times. I've heard experienced local comics say they remind him of a young Kevin Bridges (who also started at 17 and brought his Mum and Dad along to his first gig). I would be more inclined to compare him to Lloyd Langford - very cheery, with simple touching anecdotes and a good grasp of observational comedy. He's well supported by Ray Fordyce who has some amazing one-liners. I've only seen Genevieve Cytko in competitions and she looked a tad nervous, but her first full run at the Fringe will hopefully help her overcome that!

So that's the talking over! Fringe time tomorrow and I can't wait! Keep an eye on my Twitter feed as well as the blog!

The Trap's "Bad Musical"

I've been going to see Fringe shows for around 12 years now, but I've only been blogging for around a third of that time... Before that, I regularly posted reviews on the official Fringe website (it still lets you do that).

One of the first shows I went to see that really excited me was The Trap's "Bad Play". It was an absolute triumph. The guy who gave me the flyer played along by telling me that it was three guys, and they literally wrote the play on the train on the way up from London, hungover.

It took me a while to realise that it was actually three very accomplished sketch comedians/actors pretending to be shit actors who stopped mid sketch to argue with each other, the sound engineer and half the audience. To put it simply, they spoof bad theatre and the results are hilarious!

I went to see Bad Play 2 the following year and Bad Play 3 the year after that. (The fact that a quick google search reveals this was 2000 - 2002 makes me feel very old, but it seems to be true).

Now, after a 10 year break they are back... with Bad Musical! This is a show that you simply have to see.

I've not seen it yet myself, but after 3 brilliant "Bad Play's" there is no way this can be anything other than outstanding! You can get more info and see some quotes from reviews of heir old stuff on their own website, which seems to have been thrown together at the last minute in true Trap style!

As a serial blagger, I'm hoping to score a free ticket to see the show in the coming days... if I don't manage to get a free ticket, I'll be paying to see it!

Stewart Lee Agrees With Me!

So, it seems like Stewart Lee has read my blog!

Having seen me compare the big four venues to a supermarket, he's only gone and called one of them Tesco and told people to visit The Stand and the Free Festival in his article in the Guardian. Feckin' Plagiarist!

Of course, I'm kidding! It's actually the other way around... I've read Stewart Lee's opinions before and it was his previously expressed opinions along with those of many other comics I have spoken to and agreed with that helped me form the opinion in the last blog.... But it is almost as if he's just taken all my examples and rewritten what I said in far far wittier prose and said "There you go amateur... that's how you should have written it".

As has been established in the comments section of my last blog, the acts performing in the Big Four venues should not be boycotted and if anyone takes your fancy and they are performing there, you should go and see them! (Another thing Lee agrees with me about).

But the idea that there is a "New Alternative" out there is really picking up steam (See Bernard O'Leary's feature in The Skinny for more Stewart Lee and More about the Alternative Fringe) and I see the increasing popularity of the two big Free Festivals, along with the Alternative Fringe and the increase in the power of The Stand and their associated venues as a very positive shift.

Having said all that, in my next post, I'm going to go crazy for a show at the Gilded Balloon, that you MUST, MUST, MUST see....

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A View on the Big Four and "The Alternatives"

In an effort to stop the blog becoming a list of the acts I follow on Twitter, I thought I'd try and tackle an issue that affects everyone who comes to the Fringe... Whether they realise it or not.

Newbies to the Fringe may not know what I am talking about, but any comic who has put any thought into which venue they will be performing at will know straight away what I mean... So, who are this "Big Four"... Let me explain, by starting off with a history lesson...

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was created when a few people who wanted to perform at the official Festival but were told they couldn't, decided to come to Edinburgh anyway, hire a space, put on a show and try to get the reviewers who were there anyway to come and see them....

The following year, more people did the same and here we are, 65 years later with the worlds largest arts festival; the original "alternative" festival.

In the beginning the Fringe was spread over 100's of venues and essentially, that is still the case today. However, something has happened and the best analogy I can give as to how and why it has started is Supermarkets... (stick with me).

We all know that 50 years ago our grannies used to wander down to the high street, get meat from the butcher, bread from the baker etc etc... Nowadays that's all changed and the family will, instead, nip into the 4x4 for the weekly shop to the local edge of town monstrosity while the poor old butcher struggles to compete with a new "Sainsbury's Local", fighting for the well-to-do-town-centre-with-no-kids-yet couples and the dwindling number of other people with cash to throw around.

And whilst we all know that there are struggling corner shop owners, wine merchants and sweet shops out there, we can't turn down the value that the big supermarkets offer on a litre of milk or a pound of mince, so we all shop there and don't support the little guy as much as we want to.

The other things that the big four supermarkets have on their side as well as price is location, marketing, brand awareness and of course, lots of cash!

"But what does this have to do with the Fringe" I hear you say...

Well, the same thing has happened with Fringe venues! The four biggest have grown into behemoths that hoover up the punters and take them away from the little venues. Replace Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrison's with The Pleasance, Assembly Theatre, the Underbelly (complete with the big purple cow) and the Gilded Balloon, and you have your Big Four!

So what makes these places unique? Well, first of all it's the space they have at their disposal! Each venue isn't custom built to be split into performance areas, but it may as well be... Especially The Pleasance with it's hundreds of little cubby holes. By having lots of performance areas in one venue, you create a hub with lots of choice so people see it as a one-stop-shop with everything on offer.

They are also established venues, people have been going there for years to see Fringe shows...

What else? Well, they have the big acts. No self respecting off-the-telly comic is going to hire out a church hall when they can pack in the punters, then sip a cold pint in the courtyard with their celebrity chums and TV Exec buddies, safe in the knowledge that they will get the punters in on the back of their appearance on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow!

(My pub owning buddy would also want me to point out that they also have a competitive advantage because they don't need to pay business rates on the temporary bars that they set up right next to his boozer).

But most importantly, they have the cash, and lots of it! Any act that wants to hire a tiny venue with room for 60-70 people crammed in has to pay around £4,000 for the privilege. That's £3 per seat per day... So If they are selling tickets for £6-7, they need to be at the very least half full every day to cover the venue cost.... Now keep in mind that this is just the venue cost... Not the cost to get to Edinburgh, sort accommodation, pay for their own marketing (including £400 just to get into the Fringe Guide). So if they want to cover those costs, they would need to be 3/4 full and heaven forbid if they were to make a profit they would need to be packing them in every single night....

Now, given that the average audience for a Fringe show is around 12 (I can't provide a source for that but I'm not plucking that figure out my arse... It's true), you can see how hard it can be for an act to make a profit!

But the acts do pay for these venues and they do walk away losing thousands. Why? Because they don't come to Edinburgh to make money, they come to get seen, reviewed, recognised, in short... to get famous.

So what do the venues do with all this cash? Well, they spend it on marketing and make sure the big shows are a success! The smaller shows at these venues usually make a loss, but they do get their name out there and after a few more years filling the venue's pocket with their hard earned cash, they may eventually see a return IF they are talented enough!

So far, so unsurprising.

What has happened in the last few years though has been a little more controversial and this is where the supermarket analogy well and truly ends!

The Big Four decided to get together and create the Edinburgh Comedy Festival which is essentially a marketing machine that only promotes their own shows. They create a great big glossy brochure and distribute it right next to the official brochure in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the punters to choose them. (They have added a 5th smaller company called Just The Tonic into the brochure who are, for the sake of this analogy, Waitrose... but the Big Four are still the key players).

If the five big supermarkets were to get together like this, then small business owners and the Competition Commission would have a serious problem with this, but Fringe venues are not large companies and the Fringe is only one month a year, in one city, so nothing is ever going to be done about this and I'm not suggesting anything should be.

What I do want to do though is let people know where their money is going at the end of all this. Just as I do my weekly shop at Asda, I also start my Fringe adventure every year at The Pleasance for the simple reason that you can pick up free/cheap tickets during the previews, (sadly I don't get press accreditation for doing this blog).

But I'm very much aware that every time I go to see one of these shows and blog about them (assuming I like them) that I'm helping the establishment and there are hundreds of smaller acts at the Fringe for the first time who have great shows, but can't get the punters or the reviewers in (even small fry amateur reviewers like me) to show them how good their show is and get the word of mouth out there!

Now, I'm not by any stretch of the imagination saying that you should not visit the big four... Go for it. If you've seen someone off the telly and you want to see then live then you should. Although I prefer to watch less established acts I know many people like a safe bet.

Just please be aware where your cash is going.

Be aware that you are lining the pockets of the agents and not helping "small business owners" in this case struggling actors or stand ups who still have a day job and are using a year's worth of annual leave to try and get their big break - just like you are not helping farmers or butchers when you but 10 chicken breasts for £9 at Asda.

And if you do go and see a big act, please also make an effort to get out and support everyone else too! Take a risk. Go and see a free show... Pick a 4-acts-for-1 type of gig... (Generally speaking you get two decent ones, an average one and a pretty poor but with sitting through one).

Here's who I think you should take some time to support:

The Stand Comedy Club... They must absolutely rake it in during the festival, but provide comedy all year round in Edinburgh (and still have staff to pay in January when the streets are deserted) so for that alone, they deserve to be supported and deserve their annual bumper month! That's before you even mention that they generally attract the best established but alternative acts, keen to play in a real comedy club. On top of that, owner Tommy Sheppard has got one over on one of the big four by securing the rights to host shows at the Assembly Rooms (previously run by Assembly Theatre who have run off to the South Side to be with their other three buddies) from 2012. Sheppard seems to have several admirable goals; to stop the Fringe becoming too tied to one area (South Side), to keep supporting local and/or up and coming acts as well as less commercial but established alternative comedians and to stop the rampant commercialism of the Fringe.

The Shack... A new all year round comedy club run by Edinburgh stand up Jojo Sutherland! A modern venue that turns into a 70's/80's themed disco at night. This is their first Fringe, and they only have a limited number of acts (who are not yet listed on their main website - get it sorted Jojo) so you have to do a venue search on the official site to find out what's going on there. I don't know enough about all the acts to comment on them but given how well connected Jojo is, I reckon there will be some very decent acts on at their late show.

Then you have the two free companies: PBH's Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival. I should warn you, there's some history between these two... The politics in this situation is interesting to say the least and is well covered by Claire Smith in The Scotsman. I've always supported the Laughing Horse Free Festival because I know Alex Petty and many of his acts, but there are some equally good performers in the PBH Free Fringe... and it's not really about the promoters, it's about the performers! Both give platforms to a tremendous number of new acts. You do have to do your research more if you don't want to waste the odd hour on an absolute stinker of a show, but if you don't mind taking a risk (not that you're losing anything other than your time) then go an see as many acts as you can!

Finally, another venue that's claiming to be the new "alternative" is the Hive. They are running some free shows, but they have set aside the peak times for paid shows, with ticket money split with the performers, so that the acts don't have an initial outlay! John Fleming has spoke to the creator Bob Slayer and sums up how it will work here.

So, there you have it! As far as choice goes, Edinburgh has literally everything! It's a comedy and culture smorgasbord!

My advice... Spend your money wisely. Put fun first, but don't forget where your money is going!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

More Stuff That Takes My Fancy...

OK... before I start I'd like to plug a blog similar to mine, that seems to be just starting out.... The Insider's Guide to the Fringe They started with a "Place to Stay" guide and have moved on to recommending shows. It seems to be a young couple of Fringe Fans contributing to this blog....

As always, Doug Segal seems to have sniffed them out early and charmed them into recommending him. Way to go Doug!

They have picked a few shows from acts that I have reviewed before... Other than Doug, I have also seen Nina Conti before (very good).

I saw Sarah Kendall around 7 years ago and she had some great lines and got cracking reviews... The crowd were a bit funny with her the night I was there and she didn't get the big laughs that I had heard she was getting every other night, but still a very capable stand up and with another 7 years experience in her she's going to be seriously good.

I also like the look of Trevor Noah and One Night Stand (not for any other reason than they've stood out in the Fringe guide as shows I'd like to see, so I've googled them).

So good luck to the new kids on the block! I hope they enjoy writing about their experience!

On to my picks now... My early tip for Best Newcomer Imaan has put up a new video plugging his show... Watch it and if you like the look of it, go see it!

I've seen a little bit of Kate Smurthwaite at a few 4-comics-for-the-price-of-1 shows and she's been excellent. Go and see her if you like a bit of left leaning satire. She's also well known for being the star of the Atheist Bitch Slap video on youtube which has proved to be popular. A top top act and one of the best acts I can find in a FREE show!

Another act that I don't think will be free for too much longer is Ashley Freize. A great musical comedian who has written the book on how to put on a Fringe show.... Literally (well, co-written it at least). He has some cracking sex based songs... the one about shagging old ladies is a particular favourite of mine!

I'm also a big fan of Lewis Schaffer.... He doesn't do comedy by numbers.. he can be quite eclectic, but he has some of the sickest lines I've ever heard (the work "sickest" applies equally to both the old school and new school meanings). He is a frequent subject of John Fleming's excellent blog. The link will give you a better idea of the show you are likely to see - I couldn't have put it any better than John! Kate Copsick of The Scotsman agrees and that paper put him on last years list of the top ten shows to see in 2011. (Just about every other act had been on TV regularly the past year).

Sarah-Louise Young is bringing back her popular Cabaret Whore for a short run... with the best of her shows from the last three years... She used to be part of the Free Festival, you're too late to see her for nothing, but she's well worth paying for. As it's a "best of" show with old material, it's a very safe bet to go to during the previews for only £7.

Another very funny lady that you'll need to part with your hard earned cash to see is Diane Spencer. Her blurb on the fringe website compares her to Joan Rivers and Sarah Millican... If you are one of the many people who don't find Sarah Millican overly funny then don't worry, I don't either, but I loved Diane Spencer! Millican comes across as being deliberately smutty, Spencer does it effortlessly (so for me the Joan Rivers comparison is a far better one)!

I've raved about him before, but the king of deadpan suave and sophisticated comedy is Marcel Lucont. One of the few comedians I've seen over and over and not tired of. He has some great videos of longish sets on youtube... Don't spoil his show by watching too many... But here's a 3 minute set! He's also hosting a Cabaret Show on Fridays.

Coming next... I'll give you a run down of some local talent performing at the Fringe, many for the first time!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fringe Guide Is Out!!!

It's that exciting time of the year! The Fringe Guide is out and you can start picking your shows... So I have... Here are my initial thoughts!

There are a lot of acts I saw last year making a return and a few that are not... I'm particularly disappointed to see that Adam Riches isn't making a return after winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award. After finally getting the recognition he deserves, he'd be sure to sell out an even bigger venue, but for whatever reason he's decided not to come back... Almost unheard of for a winner. Colin Hoult is someone I had tipped to follow in his footsteps (I thought he also had a chance of getting nominated, but they probably didn't want two similar acts nominated so Adam Riches must have edged it) but he is also staying away.

Top of my list of shows that I saw last year that would happily see again are:

Max and Ivan: Show Detail and Last Year's Review

Doug Segal: Show Detail and Last Year's Review

Max and Ivan are an absolute riot, with an incredible amount of energy, they pack in barrels of laughs into an hour and are great value at around a tenner.

Doug Segal is very quickly growing in popularity due to is on stage likeability and his off stage promotional skills (he'll have retweeted this ten seconds after I post it). He's gone from "I'll see how it goes at the Free Festival" to "Holy Shit I packed out every night I should really get a decent venue and start charging" in only one year... So he's now being represented by Mick Perrin and can be seen at the Guilded Balloon for the same price as Max and Ivan!

I'll also mention Shaggers (as I often do), run by my mate Nik Coppin who also has a solo show and a child friendly free daytime show called Huggers... Despite my bias, I think you'll struggle to find anyone strongly disagreeing with my assertion that Shaggers is one of the best late night four-comics-for-the-price-of-one shows... and definitely the best free compilation show!

Next I'm going to make my first bold prediction of 2012... and it's for Best Newcomer... A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Imaan Hadchiti at the Fringe and saw him do a 5 minute open spot. I've kept track of him on the web and after performing is show "A Little Perspective" in Oz he's making his full fringe debut at the Gilded Balloon in a multimedia/hidden camera based comedy show that tracks peoples reaction to his lack of height. You may not think it due to the amount of hair he has but he's only in his early twenties... which makes his ease on stage all the more impressive. He has everything to go all the way! You heard it here first!

I also have shows that just take my fancy, starting with Rom Com Con, a new perspective on the Rom Com genre from Mace and Burton, a sassy duo of single females who try to meet men in the way that female characters in romantic comedies do... Sounds a bit dangerous to me (particularly as I know Pretty Women is one of the films they feature) =, but they're still alive to perform the show for a second year after getting some great reviews last year... Including from Bernard O'Leary in The Skinny Might take the girlfriend to that one!

Lots more recommendations coming up as I digest the Fringe Guide over the next few weeks... Then it's time!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tourism Displacement, The Olympics and The Fringe

According to Malcolm Roughead of Visit Scotland, people who choose to come to London 2012 won't be swinging by Scotland whilst in the UK. Unsurprisingly, people who are coming to see the Olympics, want to watch the Olympics, see London and the South East while they are there, and generally soak up the atmosphere.

But at the same time, there is a secondary group of "displaced tourists" who will make the trip to Scotland instead of London to avoid the inflated hotel prices and all the rest.

So it seems that all the worry that was floating about the Fringe last year about 2012 playing second fiddle to the largest sporting event on earth have been turned on their head.

As a Fringe enthusiast, I'll be delighted if this turns out to be the case! Whilst there will never be enough crowd to go around for the number of shows hosted in Edinburgh during August, feet on the ground is essential and if we don't get numbers pouring into the city then everyone loses!

But as London fills up, these people have to go somewhere and the biggest arts festival in the world isn't a bad second choice.

In particular, I very much hope that the Fringe Office plan to hit London hard when they come to advertising 2012.

When I say "We need more Londoners in Edinburgh during the Fringe" I can just here the murmurs from the local skeptics... "aye like a durty big hole in the heed" or "I didn't realise that was possible".

At the same time, why would a Londoner want to swap, packed buses, streets full of tourists hogging all the taxis, overpriced venues selling overpriced tickets for.... Well.... More of the same. (With the only difference being that in Edinburgh, visiting Londoners would sweat their bollocks of when they're stuck in a hot dark venue not designed to have people rammed into it, rather than outside in the English sun).

But negatives aside (every silver lining has a cloud and all that), the Fringe is a magical place to be. Yes, the Olympics are special, but if like me, you'd rather watch an up and coming comic run rings round a heckler that watch an up and coming athlete run round and round a track, the Fringe is a cracking alternative.

And isn't that how The Fringe started out? As an alternative? Maybe being a real alternative again will bring out the best in the old girl?

Maybe the doom and gloom merchants will be right and the numbers will end up down... Or just maybe, 2012 will keep confounding critics and trends in the economy and be the best in years!