And so we continue with part four of my reviews of the shows I saw at the Edinburgh festival. It’s getting quite tiring this. Not too many more to do now though. Here are links to part 1, part 2 and part 3.
Glenn Wool: Goodbye Scars at Underbelly
We went to see this as he’d been recommended independently by several people, and I’d never heard of him, so it seemed worth a shot. He’s a Canadian “rock and roll” type comedian, with material about sex and drugs and that. Not usually my cup of tea, to be honest - but there was enough intelligence here that even I could enjoy the jokes about chlamydia.
My rating: 7/10
The Late Show at Underbelly.
Michael Legge was the excellent MC for this. It’s quite hard to find the right words to describe a compere as good - I want to say that he warmed everyone up well, without overshadowing the acts, but that just makes him sounds like a bit of a failure, which he wasn’t by any means. A good MC can really make or break a comedy evening, and Legge’s banter hit the spot.
The acts were:
Andrew Lawrence: I’d not seen Andrew Lawrence before, and I was expecting good, if warped, things. He certainly was very strange. I could imagine Andrew Lawrence being one of Jim Davidson’s heavily mutated great-great-grandchildren after some kind of nuclear holocaust. By which I mean, he’s a fucking strange bloke but I’m not sure I really liked him that much, hence my rating: 4/10.
Janey Godley is a scary Glasweigan who terrified most of the front couple of rows. She was very entertaining and certainly not someone I would want to mess with, so my rating is 7/10.
Rob Deering was the final act, and this was the same day that we’d seen him do his Boobs 2008 show, which I reviewed in part 3. I was worried we would pretty much be seeing the same show again, but fortunately he did what was essentially his show from last year instead. So it was more songs with the guitar and the funky record-a-few-bars-so-you-can-accompany-yourself gizmo - and it was much better than earlier. A drunker audience and a better venue made it an excellent end to the evening, so my rating is a big fat 10/10.
The Mid 90s La La La (Free) at Espionage
This was one of the few free shows we went to. It was Friday, and we’d been in Edinburgh for six days by this point and we’d barely seen any free shows at all, so in the afternoon we decided to go to the nearest one.
Patrick Lappin and John Osborne presented some silly poems about the years 1994-1997. It was apparently directed by Luke Wright, though you have to wonder how much direction goes into two blokes standing up and reading some poems. The material was decent enough for a free show, I suppose, but they could really have done with interacting with the audience a bit more.
My rating: 4/10
John Gordillo: Divide and Conga at Pleasance Dome
We went to see this because it got a five-star review in Chortle. It was in quite a small venue which was packed, and Gordillo opened by trying to revise our expectations down a bit - he was surprised by the number of good reviews he’d got. It was a show all about his staunchly Marxist Spanish father, and I can’t really describe it any better than the Chortle review. I thought it was pretty good, but for me it fell a bit short of the five-star goodness I was expecting.
Here’s a three star review from the Guardian for some balance.
My rating: 8/10
Carnival des Phenomenes at Gilded Balloon
This bizarre late-night show was very cabaret-ish, like the sort of thing you would stumble across in Lost Vagueness at Glastonbury. It opened with some DJing from a man wearing an enormous gorilla head. It was that kind of evening.
Rob Broderick was the MC, and the acts were:
Frisky and Mannish: Fantastic musical comedy duo who did various songs and medleys, including a brilliantly sinister rendition of Eternal Flame by The Bangles. Check out their website - they’ve got various dates coming up in London. My rating: 9/10
Some disco guy: I’ve no idea who this guy was. He was just some disco guy with a massive wig. He taught us some silly disco moves. My rating: PG
X Files Improv: A guy who apparently used to be in the X Files, doing some improv. He was quite a minor character in the X Files. He apparently does a full show where he takes suggestions from the audience and turns it into a “hilarious” X Files episode. We thankfully got only a small taster of his tedious brand of oh-my-god-I’ve-seen-this-all-before improvised comedy. The disco guy was doing sound effects to the scene and he was by far the funniest, because he seemed to have no respect for the man whatsoever. My rating: 1/10
Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds: He appears on stage wearing only his pants and a lot of makeup, and plays a collection of broken 80’s Casio keyboards and guitars. You couldn’t make it up. Only he obviously has. My rating: £2.88/10
Rick Shapiro: I have a theory that people only like Russell Brand because he used to be a bit of a druggie, and people think that’s so cool it means he doesn’t actually need to be as clever or as funny as he thinks he is. Anyway, this isn’t a review of Russell Brand, it’s a review of Rick Shapiro, and my point is that Rick Shapiro would eat Russell Brand for breakfast. Actually that’s a bit tame. Rick Shapiro would anally rape Russell Brand at a family breakfast in front of his grandmother, pounding harder and harder until Russell Brand’s anus is gaping and weeping blood all over his boiled egg and weeping relatives. Then he would eat him and shit him back out into his grandmother’s eyes. I’d love to extend the metaphor even further, but I think you pretty much get the picture. Also, I’ve just remembered that Rachel’s mum reads this blog. Anyway. Rick Shapiro was a drug-addict rent boy, and is clearly screwed-up in real life almost as much as his comedy is. It was a shoutly, rambling, incoherent mess of a comedy set, which apparently is par for the course for him. Frankly I thought it was absolute crap, and left after enduring it for way too long, as it seemed it might never finish. So, Rick Shapiro wins the honour of my first zero rating: 0/10.
The Guardian has a review of a show that he did back in March, which sums him up pretty well.
That’s all for part four. Only 3 shows left to review…
The Honourable Men of Art at The Stand
Daniel Kitson, David O’Doherty and Andy Zaltzman were joined in the second half by Alun Cochrane for this late show, which was basically just them dicking about. Much of the performance was taken up with a very closely fought Scrabble match between Kitson and a member of the audience. And in the second half, another member of the audience was challenged by Cochrane to a dressing-up race. There was very little prepared material, save for some ridiculous impressions by Andy Zaltzman (Marvin Gaye: “Hello dad, you look cross”), and some comedy songs by David O’Doherty (who has just won the if.comedy award).
All good fun, if somewhat bizarre. My rating: 6/10
Dan Antopolski’s Penetrating Gaze at Underbelly.
Dan Antopolski is back after a few years’ absence in which he has become a parent. This was the theme that dominated, but it didn’t prevent him from randomly flitting between various topics. His jokes are so clever and quick he can sometimes be halfway through the next one before you’ve worked it out, and I think this is probably why he seemes to divide audiences. I think he’s an absolute genius, yet some reviewers (and some audiences I’ve seen at Antopolski gigs) just don’t seem to get him.
Fest, for example, only give him two stars:
"Unfortunately the fact that he's "a family man these days" is the show's only discernible theme ... the increasingly sweaty comic raises few laughs from a tepid audience bemused, rather than amused, by his seemingly pointless anecdotes ... Antopolski conducts bizarre €œconversations€ with himself in the guise of his heavily-accented Slavic cousin. Whilst these lengthy episodes add variety to an otherwise tedious monologue, they become increasingly muddled and near-impossible to follow as Antopolski himself loses track of which voice he's speaking in. Similarly, while his raps about sandwiches, racism and babies are well-delivered, the lyrics are simply unfunny."
The bit about losing track of what voice he’s speaking in - that’s supposed to be the joke. This reviewer must be one of the 50% of people who bafflingly just don’t seem to get Dan Antopolski - you can tell from the phrases like “bemused”, “near-impossible to follow” and the sweepingly arrogant “simply unfunny”. Maybe if you’re simple, it is unfunny.
Fortunately, Chortle agrees with me, giving this show four stars.
"There's a strong sense of cheeky fun running through this, with Antopolski clearly enjoying every minute, happy just to be entertaining himself; if the audience come along too, then it's a bonus."
In the show I saw, Antopolski himself pointed out the crapness of the review he got in The Scotsman, which was fooled into believing that he was re-hashing material from 2002. Which all quite nicely goes to illustrate how reviews are so subjective as to be almost completely worthless. You can’t tell from a low star rating if the show is bad, or if the reviewer just doesn’t like the same kind of comedy as you. Or is unable to be able to identify half of the jokes in the first place.
Still, I think Antopolski is great, and if, on the strength of this recommendation, you go to see his show and don’t like it, then not only have you failed to understand Dan Antopolski, you have failed in life. But it’s all just my opinion of course, because that’s all reviews are. My rating: 9/10
Reginald D. Hunter: No Country for Grown Men at Pleasance Grand
The Pleasance Grand is the largest comedy venue I went to in Edinburgh, and it definitely changes the atmosphere. I much prefer a smaller space for comedy, but Reginald D. Hunter (website is a bit out of date) coped well, addressing the issue at the start of the show.
He makes some very interesting and intelligently argued points about the infantilisation of modern men - possibly too much for the Chortle reviewer, who seems to want more punchlines, giving the show three stars:
"These jokes are good, but the rate's slow, with so much time spent on expounding his opinions, which aren't always compelling enough to deserve such a big chunk of proceedings."
I don’t think the gag rate is important - in fact, Hunter’s ability to keep an entire audience listening silently for ages, before delivering the ultimate punchline, is what makes him so special. It’s rare to find a comedian who can keep us all interested in what he’s saying without needing to deliver a gag every twenty seconds.
My rating: 7/10
Faultless & Torrance: The Three Musketeers at Underbelly
I know half of this duo from the stand-up course I did last year, so I’ll invoke my rule about not reviewing people I know. But I will say that it was really good fun and really, really silly. There is quite a nice review of it by The Stage.
Rob Deering: Boobs 2008 at Underbelly
You can’t help but love Rob Deering, with his big silly face and guitar, and in recent years his exciting technological contraption that lets him accompany himself by recording a few bars and then looping it, allowing him to build up a complete multi-tracked song.
It wasn’t the ideal venue though - a dark cellar that was too big and had a dripping ceiling. The audience was surprisingly small and quite quiet to start with. It took a while to get everyone going, but things had warmed up by the second half.
For a change I will completely agree with the review in Fest:
"The dank interior of the Baby Belly caves doesn't really help the atmosphere either, despite its stoney grandeur. The leaky roof and musty odours, left festering for hundreds of years, simply don't complement the sunshine-and-smiles image that Deering's stage persona emits. This isn't poor comedy, however; it's just nothing new from a comedian that many Fringe audiences have seen before and, while it might please ardent fans, it's not likely to win Deering any new devotees."
My rating: 7/10
That’s it for part 3. I’ve now reviewed 12 shows, so there are 8 left. Until next time…
Here’s part two of my reviews of the shows I saw at Edinburgh, in chronological order. You can find part 1 here.
Just to clarify, since I’m not a proper reviewer, thankfully I don’t have to care about making these reviews particularly detailed, or coming up with a long and contrived treatise on the premise of each show. So these reviews are brief, but probably not very helpful.
Richard Herring: The Headmaster’s Son at Underbelly
Richard Herring has done an Edinburgh show every year for a very long time. I thought it was a lot stronger than the show I saw a couple of years ago, “Menage Ã un” - and I thought that one was pretty good. For a show that’s all about growing up and the relationship with one’s father, I thought the best gag was about paedophilia.
A five star review from Chortle, and for a change I agree with it all.
My rating: A*
Elizabeth and Raleigh: Late But Live at Underbelly’s Pasture
This is a new play written by Stewart Lee. It has a website here. It’s really very silly indeed. Simon Munnery plays a pasty-faced, scruffy Queen Elizabeth I, and Miles Jupp takes on the role of Sir Walter Raleigh.
The Chortle review gives it 3 stars and seems to think they were taking it all too seriously. The Times was even harsher with a 2 star review, but does tell us “Owen Lewis’s production will surely loosen up as the month progresses”. I thought the best bits were when Munnery and Jupp tried valiantly not to crack up, so the reviewers were probably watching very early performances.
It’s not exactly high theatre - in fact it’s all rather sixth form - and it starts off a bit slowly, until Elizabeth enters through the middle of the audience, throwing money. Munnery’s ridiculous facial expressions were worth the price of admission alone, and this is a good fun hour that’s just completely bonkers.
My rating: 1603/2671 (= approx 6/10)
We Need Answers at Pleasance Dome.
Mark Watson hosts this late-night game show, with Alex Horne in control of some silly PowerPoint animations and sound effects. Tim Key reads the questions, but for the most part seemed completely pointless. He seemed to be enjoying himself, which is all very well, but he did little to entertain anybody else. Also I found his beard and glasses inexplicably annoying, probably because it looked like he was trying to be Daniel Kitson, when he clearly wasn’t. Maybe I’m being too harsh on Tim Key. Maybe I just wasn’t seeing him showing off his full potential. But I’ve Googled him and I still can’t work out what the point of him is.
Anyway, “We Need Answers” is a game show where contestants have to answer questions that have been sent in that day to AQA, the text-a-question-and-they’ll-answer-it-for-a-quid service. We got a free book of the best AQA questions and answers as we went in. It made me wonder why the hell I had to pay to see this show, given all the references to fucking AQA everywhere. Maybe I could have texted in and asked. Maybe I could have texted AQA to ask what the point of Tim Key was as well.
The contestants were Richard Herring. who we’d seen mere hours earlier in his own show, and Kirsten Schaal, who played the fan in Flight of the Conchords. It was a closely fought match, and at one point they each had to erect a tent, though I don’t think at any point that had been a question that was texted in to AQA. It also seemed a bit dangerous with them erecting the poles in a confined space. I don’t know what they would have done if they’d taken someone’s eye out. Maybe they’d have texted AQA.
All in all it was a bit too much of comedy love-in for me. It was entertaining enough but I wasn’t in any hurry to go back to see the subsequent rounds of the competition.
My rating: 3/10
Daniel Kitson: 66a Church Road - A Lament Made of Memories and Kept in Suitcases at Traverse Theatre.
Daniel Kitson is a genius and without a doubt my favourite comedian. I saw him doing stand-up at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre earlier this year, where he spoke for a while about moving out of his flat in Crystal Palace. In this new one-man theatre show in Edinburgh, he fills in the details.
It’s basically a love story, with the flat fleshed out just a though it were a human character, warts and all. Kitson sits in the middle of the stage, surrounded by suitcases. At various points, the suitcases light up to reveal miniature dioramas of parts of his flat. It’s captivating, brilliantly written stuff. I can’t find a single review with a bad point to say about it - not this one, this one, this one, this one or this one. An excellent, amazing, fantastic show, and we seem to have a consensus. How can Kitson possibly follow this up? Maybe AQA knows?
My rating: 66/66
That’ll do for part 2. That’s 7 shows reviewed, 13 left to do, so stay tuned.
I’m going to try and write something about each of the 20 shows I saw at the Edinburgh Festival.
Reviewing is a strange and often pointless form of literary endeavour. Being a professional reviewer must be difficult - you can’t just say “I liked it, it was quite funny, you ought to go” for everything, which is possibly why some reviews just seem to try too hard. I don’t have any need to hit a particular number of words with these reviews though, so, as with my review of the last festival, some of these reviews are a bit short.
In a few cases it’s a bit weird for me to write about a show, because I know (or at least met) the people that put it on, and it seems strange and rude to write about them behind their backs. They may well stumble across this when Googling their own names or show titles. So for some of the shows I’ll exempt them from a rating.
Now, maybe I’m easily pleased, but I generally liked everything I saw. But while Googling links to put in here, I have come across some harsh words about some of the shows, often by reviewers who must have been desparate to come up with something interesting to say. They probably really wanted to say “I liked it, it was quite funny, you ought to go”, but that would mean they got fired. Some reviewers have written such utter crap, I have felt compelled to comment myself, so in some cases, this will actually be a review of the reviews.
Rather than try to do all 20 reviews at once, I’ll do the reviewing in multiple parts. The shows are listed in the order I saw them.
On with part 1….
Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa Walk Into a Bar… (Free) at Voodoo Bar
This show was on at the same venue as my show “Of Mics and Men”, and immediately afterwards. They certainly seemed to be doing a lot better than us with the audience sizes - the show I went to was pretty full, and Steve Hill and Laura Rugg kept us all entertained for the full hour. I’d have gone away happy if I’d paid money for this.
There’s a harsh review of this on The Stage website, though, that moans “it is crying out for good production and some leavening of the marauding egos of the two protagonists”. Seriously, come on. What the hell does “production” mean for a stand up show? They seem to be primarily annoyed that the title is inaccurate. No, Hill wasn’t quite Hitler and Rugg was hardly Teresa, but do you seriously think that was the point? Would it have made the show any funnier? The reviewer is basically saying “well everybody enjoyed it and laughed a lot, but the fucking title was wrong, and for that reason it’s a bit shit”. What an absolute cretin. I rate this reviewer a twat.
The show however was damn good. My rating: 8/10
Paul Conneely: A Beginner’s Guide to Happiness at Holyrood Too @ Faith
I’ve met Paul Conneely a few times and he was also part of the “Of Mics and Men” line-up for the first week, so I’ll avoid the embarrassment of reviewing his show, though I did enjoy it. This is another show where Googling the title brings up a harsh review though, this time by Nick Mitchell in The List:
"The highlight of Paul Conneely's torpid rumination on happiness is an anecdote about missing a train when a man at the front of the ticket queue asks a meaningless and complex question while those behind suffer silently. I can identify - not so much with the joke, but because I found myself suffering silently while the Londoner stumbles through time-honoured comedic fodder in a lumbering, clichéd, evidently nervous manner."
The highlight of Nick Mitchell’s review was when I stopped reading it to look up “torpid” in the dictionary. I found that it meant sluggish or dull. I can identify - not so much with Mitchell’s opinions, but because I found myself suffering silently while I read this lumbering, adjective-strewn, content-free pile of crap that tells you nothing about the show whatsoever.
John Hegley: Beyond Our Kennel at Pleasance Courtyard
After apparently covering the letters A to H in the Alphabet of Animals last year, John Hegley kicks straight off with the letter I. Where H was for Hamster, I is for Invisible Hamster. As expected there were lots of silly poems, songs and daft audience participation - such as getting us to make dogs with our hands.
He gets a five star review from Chortle. Not sure what they’re on about with him being “grumpy” and “angry” though - and again I have to reach for the thesaurus (well, the “definition” link on Google anyway), this time to come up a better adjective. “Morose”? He uses a quote from a review saying “awesomely mundane” on his posters, which I think sums him up nicely.
My rating: 9/10
I think that’s enough reviewing for the moment. 3 down, 17 to go. More tomorrow, or maybe shortly afterwards…
I’ve just performed the last of my 10 Edinburgh gigs - 8 “Of Mics and Men” and 2 other open mic spots. It’s been a very good experience, and having a constant daily slot at the same venue has been massively helpful for honing my technique. As I said in my earlier post, audience sizes have been variable, and for the two gigs I did today they were rather drunk and shouty, but I think I’ve managed to cope quite well.
I have seen 19 shows, as far as I can recall, and despite my initial plan only 2 of them were free. That’s not going to be a pleasant credit card bill, but it has been a hell of a lot of fun and most of the shows have been excellent - I’ll post some full reviews when I get back, as typing them on an iPhone keyboard while the drunks of Edinburgh shout outside the window on this Saturday night would just send me into a frenzied rage.
I’ve been getting up at noon all week, and going to bed at about 4am, usually after seeing one of the late shows. To my mind these are the correct times for my natural sleep cycle. Annoyingly we have to check out of the hostel at 10am tomorrow and I don’t think my body clock’s going to like that much. Or having to go back to work. The rest of my brain might take some time to adjust too, after a diet of constant comedy for a week.
I don’t think I’ll miss this hostel much though. It’s fucking loud out there with all the drunken shouting and there are some fireworks going off out there as well. It’s midnight and I need to go to sleep soon so I can get up and check out in time, but I don’t think it’s going to quieten down for a while. After the last Edinburgh festival, I wrote on this blog that I’d like to stay somewhere more central next time. If anything we’re far too central. Far, far too central. There must be a happy medium that permits both easy access and the ability to, you know, actually go to sleep. The relative tranquility of Forest Hill will be a welcome relief. In the meantime, thank heavens for earplugs.