Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bob Slayer - Worldwide Bawbag ****

If you are looking for a typical run of the mill night of stand up comedy, then avoid Bob Slayer at all costs.

He is anything but normal. In the past I've seen him pin a dart board to his naked body and let audience members throw real, full weight darts at him.

I've been dragged on stage by him, dressed up as Freddie Mercury and made to sing "We Will Rock You" in front of a packed audience at the Laughing Horse launch Party about 3 years ago.

I've seen him dress up someone as a chicken and someone else as an egg to see who would come first in an arm wrestle.

I've seen him walk in to a crowd of 20 Americans and announce that he was going to speak slowly "Because they are stuuuuupid".

He's also famous for breaking his neck whilst crowd surfing in a wheelie bin at a festival.

All these antics were fairly late on in the evening and we found a slightly more subdued Bob Slayer at 16.45 in his Bookshop, a venue he is running which is more like a house party for stand up comedians the rest of the day/night.

But don't be fooled! A subdued Bob is still far more lively than most comedians. In this hour he managed to convince a woman at the front to admit that she had drunk breast milk (the story that led up to that is a cracker) and he challenged me to take off my Rolling Stones T-Shirt if I couldn't name 5 songs released by them in the 60's including B-sides. He admitted defeat after I named three because I seemed to know what I was talking about and proved I wasn't just wearing it as a fashion statement.

The remainder of the hour was taken up with stories about his time touring with semi famous bands, including a great tale about the time he decided that the comedy night he was about to perform at was a bit too bland so he decided to abseil off a balcony to get on stage.

I'll be honest, I was close to giving three stars rather than four simply because his show was so comparatively tame compared to every other show I've seen of his and it didn't exceed my mayhem expectations, but it wouldn't do him justice. He's still well worth listening to during the day!

But if you like a comedy night to resemble a hilarious drunken party rather than a live at the Apollo gig, I would recommend going to see his late show rather than this one because judging from the stories I've heard, he hasn't calmed down and you'll see the real Bob Slayer in full flow. Something every comedy fan should experience at least once in their lives!

Benjamin Crellin - Comic of Duty ***

Unfortunately I saw Benjamin Crellin on an off day and I'm increasingly convinced that basement of the City Cafe isn't as good a comedy space as it feels like because it seems that most of the comics that I see there seem to underachieve.

I don't know if it's just the room itself or if it's because it's a free venue so close to the Royal Mile that it attracts people taking a gamble, with no clue about what the show is about, so they won't necessarily like the comedian.

Benjamin Crellin is a very clever comedian. His jokes are multi-layered, well thought out and thought provoking as well.

His comedy is designed to expose first world hypocrisy and make you think about the absurd contradictions in modern life.

I liked him and I liked his material, but unfortunately the room didn't seem to enjoy his comedy. He started off attacking religion and his material was well observed but when it didn't hit the right notes it started to sound a little bit preachy and it felt like he was picking a bit of an easy target. (It wouldn't have sounded like that if he was getting laughs but on this occasion he wasn't). I'm no fan of religion so he had me on his side but pointing out that the bible has contradictions has been done to death by more comedians than I could name.

At this point I hoped he'd be able to win the room around, but I think because of the planning he has put in to the show, it makes it harder to fall back on to easy material as it would put him off track, and ruin the structure that he has put in place. The show that he has set up gives him no wiggle room to test the waters, do a bit of audience banter or a few easy knob jokes or whatever it is that works for him, to get him back on track, so he just has to power on and hope for the best. He did, but the audience only offered a few titters at the most.

He committed the cardinal sin of saying how great it was to be in England twice and unlike Lewis Schaffer who did the same thing earlier in the day, but obviously meant it and managed to win the audience back, Benjamin didn't even seem to notice that he'd done it or acknowledge the mistake.

At the end he said "I hope you enjoyed the show, even although you I think most of you didn't get it".

I did get it, but for whatever reason it didn't hit the spot with the rest of the audience on the night.

For me, this was a four star performer, who did a two star show as a one off (my logic for giving him three stars).

I would never normally consider going back to see exactly the same show twice, but if I had time (which I don't), I would go and see it again, purely because I think I would see a completely different show second time around.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous ****

When you hear people say a comedian is one of a kind it's generally not true. There will always be other comedians with the same shtick, doing similar material or acting in a similar manner on stage. Unless they are talking about Lewis Schaffer. In that case, they are right. Lewis Schaffer is truly one of a kind.

I first encountered him at Shaggers in around 2008. It was the start of the Fringe and it was pretty quiet. There were only about 25 people in the show until around 16 American teenagers walked in. Within two minutes, much to the dismay of Nik Coppin the compere and promoter, they had all walked back out because Lewis Schaffer had just told the single most offensive two part Jewish joke I have ever heard. It was fucking hilarious, but I think I'd get hate mail if I even began to describe it.

Ever since then I've wanted to see him do a full hour and I finally got the chance today.

His delivery style is very eclectic, it feels like he has about 10 hours worth of material but rather than structuring it into a show, he seems to be just saying whatever comes to mind.

His self-doubt, which pours out into the audience even before the show has started when he's helping seat people in the small room, makes him immediately endearing and it buys him time while he slowly gets into his stride, talking about himself like he was an angst ridden teenager and generally going off at tangents because he has spoken to an audience member, or mentioned something off the cuff and that's reminded him of another joke...

Co-incidentally, he shares a rare skill with Kunt from Kunt and the Gang (my last review). He can offend an audience to the point of almost losing them, before winning them back with a well crafted punch line that either makes a mockery of himself or what he's just said.

He's been described as a lot of things in reviews I've read, and also in reviews he talked about on stage... He seemed to be almost proud of the review from a critic who said it felt like he was watching a mid life crisis unravel in front of him. And it does seem like a very apt description. He's also been described as mildly racist.

I'm very much interested in the language of racism and what different people consider to be racist. You can hear a lot of things in a comedy show that would be considered racist anywhere else. I once joked with a friend that, "there is a lot of racism in the world... and personally I blame the Chinese", a statement which would be racist if it wasn't so absurd and obviously a joke.

I mention this joke because I don't wan to give any of his material away, but you need to know what to expect from his show. He takes no prisoners and everyone is a target. It's that type of humour. This is no sugar coated, made for TV comedy experience. This is about as raw as it gets.

Unplanned, uncompromising and unhinged, not everyone will like it, but I could listen to Lewis Schaffer's random tales all day long.

Kunt and the Gang *****

If you are looking for a night of straightforward offensiveness, filth and fun in a decent venue at 10pm then look no further.

Kunt and the Gang (which is really just Kunt and a couple of puppet props) is a self labelled "minor internet sensation", with some decent smutty and offensive songs on the web that he performs live around the country and beyond, mainly attracting people who have taken a liking to his sense of humour when they have seen his stuff on youtube.

When I talk to comedians, one thing they all really appreciate in a performer is the ability to lose the audience by being too rude or offensive and then winning them back, a feat that Kunt managed a few times on the night I saw him.

Given that a large percentage of the crowd will have seen him on line, viewing classics such as "Sexy Kids" (a song about Jimmy Saville) prior to seeing the show, it's a surprise that he did manage to shock so many people with is offensive jokes, but despite their expectations of crass humour, he managed to get a few gasps from the crowd, creating a real sense that they might turn on him, before he simply performed another "minor internet hit" to win them all back.

Many internet musical comedy performers struggle to fill the gaps between shows and I've heard that this is something Kunt has had to work on. There is still a slight lack of confidence when he's doing his between song banter but he's much better at it than he thinks he is, with a good delivery, some decent call backs and great one liners - his jokes about his crap beard and another about Noel Edmonds being particular highlights.

His opening song about a friend's party and his song on racial equality towards the end were my two favourites but he also added in some of his classic songs including Bangers and Mash and Wank Fantasy.

Quite simply, Kunt never disappoints. I spotted a few other Fringe performers in the show, all of them sat at the front, waving their hands in the air, and generally showing their appreciation for an act that everyone should go and see if all they want is a bit of low-brow, non arty-farty, purile, immature smut!

Take a few friends, have a few beers, and prepare to be offended in the most glorious manner!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Free vs Paid Again...

Other than the shows I've posted reviews for, my Fringe has mainly been taken up with compliation shows. Some that I have seen include:

Pick of the Free Fringe
Hilarity Bites Comedy Showcase
Revill's Selection
Rik 'N' Mix
Big Value Comedy Show

...and of course Shaggers

There are now hundreds of them.

Ten years ago, you had Late and Live, Spank, Big Value Comedy and that was about it. Now they are a dime a dozen. Often 2/3 new acts that don't have an hour of material each will get together and put on a show.

In later blogs I'll be doing a list of comics I've seen and enjoyed within these compilation shows, but before I do that I want to talk about the debate that keeps running and running and getting bigger and bigger and that is free shows versus paid shows.

If you are a regular reader of my blog (I'm not sure if many people are given that most of my hits come from people googling a particular performer that I have reviewed) then you will know a couple of things about me...

1. I don't have thousands of pounds to spend on shows so I spent my money wisely and rarely turn down a free ticket for a show, especially if it's nearby and about to start,

2. Through having a comedian staying at my house a few years ago that my brother knew from working in a venue, I have met a few performers, and also some of the people who run the Free Festival, so I feel I should mention that given the side I'm going to come down on.

I see a lot of free shows. If you want to go and see 7-8 shows a day, which I've been known to do, you can't avoid them, and more and more frequently, you're drawn to the compilation shows because you don't always want to take a risk and you know it'll be a safe bet - even if one comic is bad, the others will mean the show as a whole will be at least average, and sometimes you can get lucky and see three great acts one after the other.

I've also paid to see a lot of shows including the Chortle Fast Fringe and the Big Value Comedy Show.

What is quickly becoming apparent to me is that the difference between the paid compilation shows and free compilation shows in terms of quality is zero.

Looking at solo shows, whilst you can be fairly certain that an act in one of the bigger Pleasance venues is going to be better than a show in the Jekyll and Hyde at midday, the gap between free acts and paid acts is getting smaller.

When it comes to compliation shows it has already completely disappeared.

A quick example... The Big Value Comedy show that I saw was on Sunday. It was the 7.30pm showing. My friends had paid £5 at the half price hut. I had to pay £10 because I decided to go last minute. Not exactly big value but my fault I guess.

The show was in a venue that was fit for habitation only by a troll (the old fashioned kind). Damp, dark and hot and under a bridge. The "whale's vagina" as more than one of the comics called it (the second not realising that the joke had already been used that night and wondered why it never got a laugh).

Two of the three comedians were OK. One had a bad night. The first guy was black and did "If it wasn't for us your music would all sound like Eurovision" material. Standard fare for a black comedian. The final guy was from Yorkshire and most of his set was about his stereotypically tight Yorkshireman Dad. Again, hard to call it anything but hack. (I have googled the show to try and remind myself of their names but they don't appear to be listed anywhere and the Fringe listing only lists comedians who have done the show in previous years - presumably because they decide the line up after the deadline for listing the show).

Both comedians got laughs and they are competent open spots, but it was barely worth braving the heat for. The less said about the girl in the middle the better!

Afterwards I ventured over to the Pick of the Free Festival at Espionage, and saw 3 acts, all of whom have hour long shows at the fringe. I then went to Shaggers where I saw 5 comedians, four of whom have hour long shows and who have been doing the Fringe for years and one newer act who was outstanding.

The only show I paid for that day was the worst one.

On other days:

At Sy+ I saw Marcel Lucont - now getting TV gigs - for free. At Espionage I saw Ian Cognito, who has been gigging for 20 years or more - free. I also saw Bruce Fummey who is one of the top full time Edinburgh acts.

At Hilarity Bites I saw Diane Spencer, John Gavin (another local lad with a good reputation) and Diane Spencer's boyfriend Kevin Shepherd... for free. (It's great watching them do Shagging material one after the other and hearing both sides of the story).

The list goes on and on...

10 years ago the Big Value Comedy Show was exactly that £5 and good value... Now, it's £5/£10 more than you need to pay to see a show that is just as good if not better.

25% of shows at the Fringe are now free to get in, (whether it's through laughing Horse's Free Festival or PBH's Free Fringe) with a voluntary donation at the end and the free section is getting bigger every year (the main reason the total number of shows at the Fringe is on the increase too).

A lot of acts that pay thousands to one of the big venues to put on a show one year, are switching back to the Free Festival the following year because they are at least guaranteed the money in the bucket at the end of the night.

What will happen next? Those in the know seem to think that the bigger acts will switch to free shows, thus stopping the smaller/newer acts from getting slots at the Fringe at all.

I disagree. I think it will force the big paid venues to charge less for their performance spaces, which is a great thing. It'll mean performers have a chance of making money. Something that is near impossible at the moment.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Diane Spencer - Hurricane Diane *****

Whilst I like to experiment and go and see new acts and people I have never heard of, my girlfriend prefers a safe bet... it doesn't have to be Live at the Apollo standard but she wants me to take her to a show that I know she'll like.

So after a few days by myself seeing random stuff, I took my girlfriend out to see a show or two and my first pick was one of my favourites from last year.

Now, let me start off by saying that a large number of blokes, say that they simply don't find women funny. I have a theory about that. Women can be funny - very funny, but they are at their best when they are a little bit filthy - as are men. When most people see a comedian for the first time it's usually on the telly (if that's not the case for you and you get out and support live comedy all year round then I doth my cap to you).

More often than not it's on the BBC on a Saturday night on McIntyre's show or the aforementioned LATA. As we all know, there are certain things you can't say on the BBC. I've never seen Sarah Millican live and from what I've seen of her on the TV she's not one of my favourite comedians but I'm smart enough to know that she can't have got where she is without performing successful gig after successful gig. I think the reason I don't like her is because I'm watching a diluted version of her on the BBC and I think that is why a lot of men don't find women funny.

Anyway, to the show. Thankfully, the version I saw of Diane Spencer was the uncut, uncensored version, back with material just as filthy as last year.

The set opened up with Spencer telling us all about her country upbringing in a little in a cottage with a smoking chimney and a big hedge, in a little English village where everyone knows everyone, with her half deaf Dad etc etc... at which point my girlfriend and I looked at each other because she was describing her parents and their house to a tee. Diane Spencer's upbringing is idential to Helen's. The only difference being Helen's house is a few hours further North and her Mum doesn't speak in double entendres.

I digress again... Diane quickly got the audience on side and spent the whole hour switching between filth, nostalgia, sex, heart warming stories, more filth... you get the idea until at the end the audience the audience were swooning!

To my left there was a big group of local older men in their 50's (that had to keep going in and out to the toilet/bar during the show) and after the show a couple of them were having a chat at the urinal, as you do.. One of them said something along the lines of:

"Brian says all women stand-up's are shite. He was tryin' no tae laugh, but he gave up aboot half way through and joined in wi' the rest of us. Fuckin' brilliant".

I have nothing more to add. If you think women can't be funny then I challenge you to go and see her.

Even if she does end up on the BBC minus the masturbation jokes (which she surely has to at some point -  I thought it would have happened by now), I still think she has the charm and semi-clean material to prove a few doubters wrong. 

(I'm talking about her stuff from last year about getting drunk at her sisters wedding and leaving herself surprises when she's drunk, along with this years material about parenting - just in case you've seen her shows and you are wondering what I am talking about).

Anil Desai's Another Night at the Movies ***

I saw Anil Desai at the Laughing Horse Launch Party and he absolutely tore the place up with his 3-4 minute set of quick fire movie impressions, so I made a decision there and then to go and see him and I managed to do so about a week later.

His material on the preview night centred around a story about a reply to a racist heckler which he took care of in character... well several characters. It was fantastic. The laughs just kept on coming.

In his hour long show you don't expect it to start that fast and keep going, you expect things to be a bit slower, building up to a big ending and that was the case when I saw his full show, with the first 15 minutes mainly introducing himself and getting to know the audience. Whilst he has a good degree of likeability, it did drag on a tad and it was relief when he got on to his impressions.

The show ambled along nicely, with an audience member shouting out random names from a deck of cards provided, and Desai obliging with a short impression most of which were well above average.

He had some fun stories about female reactions to his performances and his grand finale was well worth waiting for, he earned the cash I put in his bucket at the end!

There were two unfortunate things about the show though. The first was the slow start which I've mentioned. He could easily have squeezed more material in if he had it.

The second was that he made the classic movie mistake... putting all the best bits into the trailer.

I'm not sure if I would have rated the show differently had I not seen him use his big finish a few days earlier, but to me, if you have an hour long show and you do previews to promote that show, then you really should be confident enough in your other material to leave out the big finish, just in case people come and see you.

Anil Desai is a great performer and with a little more material he'll have the makings of a very good show in a year or two.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Sean McLoughlin ***

Sometimes a slightly awkward comedian can make the audience feel awkward too, and stifle the number of laughs and enjoyment of the show. If you say you are crap, then people will think you're crap unless it's blatantly obvious you're not.

Sean McLoughlin is capable of talking about his own poverty, and even his own sexual problems and how terrible he is at life in general without losing the audience at all.

Talking about America, working in a call centre, sex and being pessimistic in general are all well trodden paths and it can be pretty easy for comedians broaching these subjects to venture into narratives that will be familiar to most hardened comedy fans, but his material was not too unoriginal and mostly well observed.

For a comic doing his first Edinburgh Festival this is a very competent show.

Unfortunately when I was there he forgot his ending... which he owned up to on stage. If he hadn't I might not have noticed and just assumed that he hadn't thought up a very big ending...

If he had nailed the ending, his material and likeability was good enough that he could possibly have earned himself four stars... the potential is there and he has some great jokes, but unfortunately he did forget it, so I can only give him three for that reason.

I've certainly paid more to see a lot worse and with him being a Fringe newcomer, there is no reason why he can't do a lot better in the future.

Star Ratings

I have had a great run of four and five star shows!

Unlike reviewers in newspapers who often get told where to go, I do this for fun so I tend to pick shows I think/know I'm going to like and avoid things I'm going to hate. I also go back to see the same show twice if I really like it (like Doug Segal who I reviewed for the second time recently and Diane Spencer who is about to get another great review for me).

This means I am more likely to give four or five star reviews than most newspapers...

A lot of publications have recently felt the need to clarify what their star ratings mean. I think in general the problem is with a three star rating.

To most reviewers a three star review means it's a pretty good show and you should go and see it. To most people reading a review, a three star review means that it's two stars away from being amazing and one star away from being worth seeing.

To me if a show is better than "just all right" and falls within the "well worth seeing" category, I give it four stars, which takes away any doubt.

To me three stars is an average show, that I would not be bothered about missing, two stars is someone who is trying hard but not quite getting across to the audience and one star is someone who is so bad they piss me off, either because they are completely deluded or self absorbed that they fail to see how bad they are.

I also take into consideration the whole experience... I'm not going to give a show a lesser review if my enjoyment is spoiled by a heckler, but if the theatre space is completely inadequate or they pack in too many people to the point that it's completely uncomfortable then I may factor that in too.

Ultimately though, and this goes for all reviews, not just mine... The description of the show should give you a much better idea of the reviewer's thoughts than the star rating. If a reviewer hasn't got their thoughts over well within the body of the text then they have failed.

Stella Graham - A Pint of Stella ****

My friend Nik Coppin suggested that I go and see Stella Graham, another act performing as part of the Free Festival, in his words, "because she does some good stuff".

So I took a trip away from the busiest part of town during the festival, over the Jekyll and Hyde pub to see this one hour solo show.

I quickly discovered why Nik liked her! She's basically a female version of him. Likeable, with a great hour of material, focusing on growing up, being mixed race, relationships, being a bit geeky etc...

It's a daytime slot so the crowd wasn't as lively as it could have been but she still managed to deliver a full hour of very competent stand up and kept the crowd engaged.

This is Stella Graham's second Fringe, so she had plenty of material and didn't have to spend 20 minutes at the start of the show bantering with the crowd just to fill the hour! The material flowed well for the entire show.

Conventional wisdom states that most comedians don't get any real recognition until their third Edinburgh Fringe. In my experience that's when they start to pick one theme and do a full hour of comedy that's connected to that theme and intertwine the narratives in a way that impresses reviewers and comedy aficionados.

Stella Graham's hour is still a mixed bag of material, she hasn't picked one topic and made most of her material relevant to that topic for the whole hour - which could see her do even better, but it's still a fantastic show and she's definitely worth seeing now, as well as being one to watch in the future!

Globophobia ****

After watching a fair bit of comedy I decided to take on some slightly more serious theatre on a recommendation from a friend.

Globophobia is a collection of monologues and two person dialogues that explore different fears which seem irrational to most people.

Throughout the hour we go between individuals, explaining how their fears manifested themselves, to couples who struggle to deal with the consequences of the irrational behaviours which result from these irrational fears.

I was particularly pleased to read in the notes that the play is written, directed and starring local talent and I was even more pleased to see how well they pulled it off.

The room is small, only 20 seats available (I counted) which works well for the intensity of the play - although I couldn't help thinking that they deserved at least a second row - I hope Sweet Venues are not charging them too much!

The acting from all the performers was top notch. They were all believable in their roles and didn't falter on what was their first performance (I'm a bit behind with my blog, I saw it last Thursday along which quite a few other shows).

I was particularly impressed by Des O'Gorman who played a slightly weird and disorganised husband, a role he's suited to if his stand up comedy which I have also seen before is anything to go by.

Since seeing the play I've noticed that they have picked up a couple of other four and five star reviews (there was at least two other reviewers taking notes when I saw it, meaning it's likely to sell out given the size of the performance space).

My only criticism, and this is personal preference more than anything else, is that I prefer scenes to be more connected than they were in this play. It really is more of a collection of short plays rather than one big performance and seems to have been written in a way that helps the actors showcase their talents more than to tell one big story.

But showcase their talents they did! As I said, the performances were great and the switching between scenes was smooth and professional. I expect they'll sell out for the rest of the run and everyone involved in the play will go on to bigger and better things.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Nik Coppin - Mixed Racist

I'm sure I've mentioned before that Nik is my mate so this isn't a review as such, but I saw his show today, so I thought I'd blog about it.

Over the years he's done some interesting material on race, from the unique perspective of being mixed race himself...

He's had a few overly PC people objecting to him discussing these matters, see my 2011 blog for evidence of this, but nothing compared to his run in with a radio DJ in Australia just over a year ago.

You can go and search the story on-line and get an idea of what happened, but it's much more fun to hear it from the man himself at 6.30pm daily in the Three Sisters.

I've seen his show so many times that I could probably tell you most of his jokes, but he's got some great new material this time around and at today's show the audience (mostly dragged in by me because Nik was too lazy to flyer) were very receptive to his show and really enjoyed it. The whole room warmed to him.

He's one of the most experienced comics at the Fringe that is still free and I reckon the style of the show, which is a full hour long story rather than a collection of routines will suit the fussy reviewers who want something more than just funny gags!

Go see him!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

How to Make a Killing in Bollywood *****

On to day two of the Fringe and I was still up for taking a risk or two. Not every risk this year has paid off so far, but I knew it was only a matter of time.

I managed to pick up a ticket for How to Make a Killing in Bollywood and when I found out it was in the debating hall at the Gilded Balloon, I knew it would be a pretty big show (that's the room they use for Late and Live).

As you'd expect, the show has a fair bit of Indian Bollywood dancing - which generally wouldn't be my thing, but it was all in short bursts and it was fun, light-hearted and endearing and very much in context and necessary for the show.

The story is about two fast food workers/actors who are fed up being offered acting jobs as shop owners or taxi drivers so they head to Bollywood where they hope they'll have more success.

From the beginning when they set the scene in the take away, right to the end of the show, the actors keep your attention with their energy, enthusiasm, and comic timing. The flow of the play is very easy to follow and well planned and the space they have on the bigger stage gives the actors the space they need to express themselves well.

With it being a show made by people of Asian origin, racial stereotyping was mentioned, but it was all in context and not at all uncomfortable. The dialogue was very realistic which only added to the charm of the play.

As it was only a preview, the crowd was modest but by the end of the show everyone, including me, was clapping along to the music - and that was with last night's hangover still in full swing.

I expect this show to do really well.

Free Festival Launch Party

Heading to the Free Festival Launch Party has been a habit for me on the first day of the Fringe!

After one comic stayed with me during the Fringe I got to know a few of the people involved in organising it so I get to rub shoulders with some minor celebrities and up and coming acts.

This year it was held at the Three Sisters, or the FREE Sisters as it's known in August, in a tent outside, rather than in the Counting House.

They have around 10-12 acts on stage for 4-5 minutes each and the line up was the best I've seen! Not even the rain spoiled the show.

Anil Desai was my favourite act by far. He did a 2-3 minute routine that would have been worth the entrance fee alone if his show wasn't free! He is on at the Counting House at 9.15pm and I hope to get along.

My buddy and temporary flat mate Nik Coppin was compering and I also got to see Imaan, who I reviewed last year do a decent little set.

I finally got to see Kunt and the Gang do a couple of numbers and he didn't disappoint and I was impressed by Sofie Hagen. Normally when I see a female comic doing fat jokes about herself I roll my eyes but she was totally different. She absolutely nailed it.

I also got to meet loads of other acts who I hope to see at some point during the Fringe! Thanks again to Alex Petty for inviting me along!

Doug Segal - I Can Make You a Mentalist *****

A bit of disclosure before we start... I've met Doug Segal a few times since I first saw his show in 2011 and he is a thoroughly nice bloke. I met him at the Pleasance and he invited me along to his show and although I don't like to see one performer too many times, I have been following his progress and I was interested to see how his act had evolved.

He's got five stars from me in 2011 and he has improved his show since, so as I can't give him six or seven, it has to be five again.

The 2011 show was in a small room in the Three Sisters. He's now got himself a decent sized room in the Gilded Balloon. He's also got a giant projection screen and more elaborate props, generally adding to the slickness and professional appearance of the show (although on day one he didn't know exactly where to put them all - an endearing and forgiveable problem on the first day of the Fringe).

Last time he was trying to make predictions and read people's minds... this time he managed to get an audience member to do the whole thing adding a whole new level of difficulty! He really does turn THEM into a mind reader.

I don't have a huge amount more to add to the previous review that I linked to above. I still have literally no idea how he did any of his tricks. He's still fantastic at what he does.

When I spoke to him before the show and he was worried because he got so much press coverage last year that the same people don't want to feature him again... But he managed to create queues out the door in his first year through word of mouth alone so I have no doubt that he'll do the same again this year!

He was also worried during the show because he randomly picked an audience member and it happened to be another performer - comedian Bec Hill. I can confirm that she was picked totally at random by another audience member.

He worries far too much. The rest of the audience loved the show as much as me... the chatter has already started and once again he'll be the name on the lips of all the punters who want a fun packed hour of comedy mind reading.

Sad Faces Threw A Party ****

This show has a simple premise. Three guys hosting a party, but there is a better party downstairs.

The Sad Faces by the looks of things are a pretty experienced sketch troupe from London, so you'd expect a pretty high laughs per minute and that's exactly what this show delivers.

They keep your attention for the full hour, it's surreal in a good way, and some of the "Icebreaker conversation starters" that people could go either way on, got more and more ridiculous as the show went on but they were a particular highlight from me.

Although I wasn't totally blown away at any point (maybe I've seen too much of this type of comedy at the Fringe), but I still enjoyed it a lot.

A very safe bet for an afternoon show. They won't disappoint.

Don't Drop The Egg ****

Some shows at the Fringe take themselves really seriously. Too many do actually. Far too many.

You can sometimes feel the intensity of the performers trying desperately hard to get noticed, suffering for their craft, even when they are putting on a pretty silly comedy show!

Other times, you get a bunch of lads who just want to arse around on stage and play exaggerated versions of themselves to see how they get on. Don't Drop The Egg is very much that. Three ex-rugby players, acting like rugby players, but turning it into an hour long play.

Certainly in the UK, pretty much everybody has either played rugby, dated a rugby player, or at least watched a bunch of rugger-buggers "on the lash" - quite possibly ruining everyone else's night out, so everyone can relate to these guys pretty much straight away.

The players welcome you in to the venue by psyching you up and asking for a "big game performance" and for the rest of the show, you are one of them; transported into the changing rooms as the "Clapham Falcons" prepare for the biggest match in their history.

The show evolved from a youtube clip which went viral and this is the first time they have ever performed live. There were one or two signs that this was the case, mainly in the structure of the play which had an ideal ending around 40 minutes in (which I can't mention without spoiling the play) which was followed by a "job interview" sketch that could have gone in far earlier and was much lower energy than the previous part.

But that didn't take away from the fact that it was a great little show in a great little room for this type of comedy (Pleasance Cellar). I've seen some brilliant stuff in there over the years including Adam Riches and "Bad Play" who are both five star shows and whilst these guys aren't at that level just yet they certainly have a similar brand of comedy which is unadulterated pretentious-free fun.

An absolute must see for all rugby types!

Minnie and Mona Play Dead ***

My first day of the Fringe had more surrealism than most and Minnie and Mona Play Dead certainly had a degree of weird about it.

It's a play about suicide, but it's funny... says the flyer.

When I took the ticket I knew it was a bit of a gamble... How funny can a play about suicide be?

It turns out that the warnings about the play being about that are overstated. It's mentioned a few times and there are 1-2 deliberately provocative mentions but overall, it's pretty tame compared to other stuff I've seen at the Fringe that didn't have such warnings... and there were quite a few laugh out loud funny moments in the play as well.

The best bit of the play was the two actors who were very into their characters, had a high degree of professionalism and didn't even come close to fluffing a line (an achievement on day one).

The worst part for me was that the storyline was slightly over-layered. When you get a play about people putting on a play things can get confusing and although I followed the plot and the sub-plot it was kind of hard work to keep up. I like to relax into a show and enjoy the performance without having to think too hard and when the actors go from playing themselves (but still in character) to playing their actual character you feel you have to concentrate a little bit harder.

Again that's very much just my opinion and others might enjoy the complications and call me too simplistic.

But overall I was impressed with the show and I definitely would see the same theatre company put a different play on (although I wouldn't be so keen to see a different theatre company put on the same play).

In The Words of Meatloaf... **

My first show at the Fringe this year was character comedian Joe Fairbrother.

His show is set in a small performance area in the McEwan Hall, or "Daisy" as it's known by the Underbelly team.

Around 13 other people joined me for what was going to be a tricky show at the best of times as lunch time crowds are not known for their liveliness.

Fairbrother is certainly a very likeable chap, his appearance is fairly similar to Simon Amstell, he's slim with dark wavy hair and he has a similar smiley way about him.

My problem was that his character comedy just didn't work in a room so small with so few people. It doesn't have any punch lines, instead he relies in getting laughs from a kind of David Brent style of awkwardness which didn't bear much fruit on this occasion.

I always feel bad giving two stars to a comic that has potential to do better, but was unable to when I was there due to the general circumstances. I could see his act working in a friendlier space at a later time slot with a bigger audience, but at that time, with that crowd in that space, it didn't.

It's a massive, massive challenge for comedians to go from friendly comedy clubs at night time, to soulless temporary performance spaces during the day and still get the same level of response from the crowd. It's a particularly hard ask on day one of the Fringe.

He certainly isn't the first to have a bad opening day and he will no means be the last. But it was a bad opening day.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

2013... It's Almost Time

The thing I've noticed about this Fringe is that there have been no massive pre-fringe controversies.

There are no worries about clashing with the Olympics any more... It's back to the usual performers complaining about the Fringe being elitist, with the big four venues hoovering up all the cash and the up and coming acts complaining that the "Live at the Apollo" crew are stealing all the punters!

Richard Herring is giving away a free DVD with his show this year instead of paying a fortune for posters and flyers, which prompted less well known comedian Lewis Schaffer to give away Richard Herring DVD's with his tickets! Nice touch!

The Fringe has long had the reputation with performers of being a money drain with little reward. The old phrase "You might as well stand in a shower for a month ripping up £50 notes" has become so well used that I think almost everyone, including me has forgotten who originally said it!

But I think all performers should be coming into the Fringe with their eyes open now! The Free Festival and Free Fringe set up's both give people the chance to make a name for themselves without an initial outlay and if you're good enough you will be spotted eventually.

I've got my week off planned for the opening days of the Fringe and as usual I'll be posting all my experiences, good and bad, on here. I'll try not to be too controversial (my Spank review at the tail end of last year ruffled a few feathers, but I stand by everything I said).

In previous years I've posted lists of shows that people should see. If I do that again I'll just be repeating myself as I've not had as many chances to get out and see lots of local acts this year. All the acts I've recommended previously are still excellent.

If you are stumbling across my blog for the first time them may I point you in the direction of some previous posts:

The Big Four Venues Versus the Rest (with an interesting alternative viewpoint at the bottom).

How to make the Perfect Fringe Show

Tips for People Giving Out Flyers

And finally my tips for getting the best value out of the Fringe (since writing this, the area around Bristo Square has become a much better place to pick up free tickets as well).

As well as blogging and Tweeting I'm going to try my have at using Vine videos and if I meet any interesting performers I'll maybe give them 6 seconds which will get tweeted out!

Less than a week to go!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Burns Night

Burns night is coming up soon.. Here is my gift to you.... A modern twist on Tam O'Shanter.

As teenage neds ride on the bus
Wi’ ilka plukes across their puss
As Chelsea tractors sit and wait
Aboot the sonsie posh school gate
While noble men traipse hame fae toil
Wi clobber stained in engine oil
They ogle as they pass the nappy
But they’ve got tae keep their woman happy...

The workers pass a lonely hearse
As centuries turn, the roles reverse
Just like the honest gent inside
Man’s freedom’s on a one track ride
It’s time for maidens fair tae shine
Tae play the bingo, drink ilka wine
Get fou an roll back in at three
While the bairns sit on their faither’s knee

This truth fand honest Tam O’Toole
He’d picked his lad up fae the school
And took him hame tae watch the telly
While Kate went oot tae gaun get wellied
His boy was the apple o’ his eye
His joy his pride, for him he’d die
Tam wis right proud, his son his glory
But his mother, that’s a different story!!!
E’er since the wean had come along
The passion and the spark was gone
Her beauty faded every year
Unlike her e’er expanding rear
Tam ne’er got too many chances
Tae enjoy the thrill o’ Kate’s advances
When she was fou, she’d try it on
But by then Tam’s will was all but gone

So to our tale: A lonely night
Tam hame alone, the telly shite
Nae fitba’ on, no’ e’en darts
Just the smell of curry and wee Tam’s farts
His take away dish, stuffed in the bin
Kate could put a new bag in
If bingo’s where she wants to go
He’ll let the rubbish overflow

Then in the corner of his eye
A shinin’ sleek we toy he spied
The lid still open, light still on
Surely nothing could go wrong

Silence flowed around the hoose
Tam quickly glowered at the moose
Wee sleekit cowerin’ snazzy device
Keep well clear was Kate’s advice
But the internet’s a spider’s web
It grabs you at your lowest ebb
It drags you in wi’ muckle force
And for any pleasure provides a source
Tam gave the tim’rous mouse a shoogle
And before he’d even opened google
He felt a stirring in his loins
And his fingers wandered to his groin

Oh Tam, what pleasures await inside
The web will take you for a ride
Whate’er your secret heart desires
The web will light a thousand fires

Tam started off wi’ something light
Lesbians going out for the night
Walking past a random jogger
Chatting her up and trying to snog her
His heart was beating ilka fast
He didnae ken how long he’s last
So he minimised these ladies fair
His heart was set on something mair

His mind cast back to Halloween
His last one as a lonely teen
Invited to a student party
We lassies fair and ilka arty
A noble witch had caught his eye
And no matter how young Tam did try
He couldnae forget that cutty sark
As he wandered hame, long after dark

E’er since that night his heart was turned
And deep inside the passion burned
Not for lassies, fair and fine
But for girls wi’ evil oan their mind
And what better way to relive that pleasure
Than by browsing websites at his leisure
He quickly typed in Halloween
And was fair bowled o’er by what he’d seen
Girls dressed like de’ils, a sullen witch
They hardly even wore a stitch
Zombie sluts, the walking dead
All doing things that can’t be said
Tam coudnae stand it any mair
He dropped his troosers oan the flair
But in his haste tae bash and pound
He didnae hear a janglin’ sound

O’ Tam, you’re in some trouble deep
You really should be fast asleep
Instead you’re dreamin’ o’ lassies fair
As Kate comes wanderin’ up the stair
Through the hall to the living room door
She dropped her keys doon on the floor
She wandered in, switched on the light
And chanced upon a hideous sight

Luck wisnae on poor auld Tam’s side
The light on full, nae chance tae hide
The timing wisnae helpful too
As she wandered in, he fired his goo
He grabbed his loins with all his strength
But it wouldnae stay inside his length
He let it go and started squirtin’
All over Katie’s brand new curtains

Silence fell across the room
And Tam could sense impending doom
With Kate’s jaw still stuck to the floor
He bolted for the living room door
But Kate was closer and won the race
Her ample frame not leaving space
Tam had to stop and accept his fate
His chances weren’t looking great

His eyes looked up and met her stare
Would she be angry, would she care?
Tam got his answer fairly quick
As she gave his baws a muckle kick

Tam’ doubled o’er and near’ passed out
As Kate gave him a piercing shout
“Ya’ filthy shite, ya’ durty clart
Chuggin’ o’er a dirty tart
Stop cryin’ like a little lass
Or I’ll stick ma high heels up your arse
I can’t believe you ruined ma curtain
I hope your baws are really hurtin’”

But by no means was the violence finished
And as poor Tam’s tiny cock diminished
Shrivelled, yes, but not too small
For a well aimed handbag to the balls
As he lay there, bollocks almost deid
She cracked an ash tray o’er his heid
He slumped across the living room floor
So she jammed his fingers in the door
Then finally the coup de grace
She smashed his guitar across his face
She finally stormed off in the hump
Leavin’ poor Tams willy, scarce a stump

With the violence finally at an end
She left his poor old cock to mend
He thought it was over, he had no idea
That weekend, they were off to Ikea
“I want new curtain’s; guess who’s payin’”
Was Kate’s brand new favourite saying
“An ashtray too, and a brand new rug
The last one’s covered in your blood”

So whene’er to wank, you are inclined
And dirty thoughts run in your mind
Check she’s no’ comin’ up the stair
And remember Kate and poor Tam’s mare.