Edinburgh Fringe reviews: nine comedy shows to see at the festival

PUBLISHED: 14:40 21 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:59 21 August 2017

An Edinburgh Fringe Festival act promotes himself on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

An Edinburgh Fringe Festival act promotes himself on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

PA Wire/PA Images

Which are the best comedy shows to see at Edinburgh Fringe?

Sean Kelly - Sold Your Way - Underbelly Med Quarter - 18.55

****

Yes him, the bald auctioneer dude from Storage Hunters. I’m not sure how long he’s been doing stand-up but it’s an environment he seems very at ease in. He does the right thing is spending some time contrasting the UK to America. We always like that and it’s an easy hit single to play from the start.

He’s certainly lived a varied life, including being in Desert Storm. His “diesel goat” story from his time out there is a highlight of the set. He has a very easy way with people and can certainly spin a good story. And that’s what this essentially is: some stories. There is little structure to the show. No call-backs or repeated riffs, no concept, as such. That may be a technique he learns with time, because without a good structure it tends to be very linear, which can be more like listening to an after dinner speech than a comedy routine.

He concludes by auctioning for charity - quite brilliantly - a stick man he’s drawn. It was a nice way to end the set and funny too. It went for £40

The gig is in a raked lecture room and a comedy club, it ain’t. So to do well in there, and he went down very well, is a testament to his innate quality. With some experience, he could be very, very good indeed.

FOUR STARS

Nick Cody - On Fire - Underbelly Med Quarter - 20.20

***

This is essentially down-to-earth blokey Aussie stand-up comedy, which deploys the word “hero”, “legend” and “champ” a lot and concerns itself with bodily functions for much of the time. In a hit-and-miss set, it was notable how pockets of the audience loved it, while others didn’t laugh once. The numbers about equal.

The venue didn’t help him. It’s one of those large lecture theatres with a tall roof which hoovers up the atmosphere and dissipates laughter into the big empty space.

For my taste, this was all painted bit too much in primary colours. All too block caps and not enough nuance. He’d be an ideal comedian for something such like a rugby club night, I think and there’s definitely a place for this sort of undemanding, p*ss and sh*t comedy. It doesn’t work that well for a general audience, but those who enjoyed it, really enjoyed it.

I first saw him in 2015 and I’m pretty sure he was funnier, brighter and more energetic back then. There was a touch of weariness to his show this week, maybe that’s inevitable at the halfway point of the three week run. You must tire of your own material at some point.

I don’t believe this is his best show, nor his best performance, but he’s a strong performer and I doubt he’ll ever be short of work.

THREE STARS

Sarah Kendall - One-Seventeen - Assembly Studio 2 - 19.00

*****

Having cut herself a fantastic niche as a storyteller stand-up, every new show is hotly anticipated. Previous years have seen her deliver powerfully emotional but always funny stories from her childhood. This years adventure draws on past and present tales from when she was little to now, as a parent.

Her amazing talent, and I have no idea how she does it, is to drop from talking humorously, into relating something upsetting and serious, with the blink of an eye. She seems to be able to control our emotions so delicately. Teasing out plotlines and delivering emotional punches to the gut, then lightening the mood once again, often by imitating her extraordinary mother, with her extraordinary voice.

She has the ability to control silence. Again, I have no idea how and I’ve never seen anyone else be able to do this. But somehow, and she’s playing in a big comfortable room, there is perfect quiet as she spins the stories, as if we’re all in class and she’s our favourite teacher. It manages to be personal and intimate, as though each story is a confession that only we can hear.

Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age but there is something in the cadence of her voice and in the almost vacuum-like noiseless room that made me very emotional and tearful. I think it’s a reconnection to being read to as a child, as well as the subject matter of her stories which revolve around the absurdities, cruelties and injustices of life. What a talent she is.

Magnificent. Simply magnificent.

FIVE STARS

John Hastings - Audacity - Pleasance Courtyard - Bunker 2 - 21.15

****

This is a hard show for me to assess. I laughed until my eyes were almost popping out of my head for about the first 25 minutes. This was largely due to some brilliant improvisational comedy with two audience members who he caught talking to each other. It wasn’t cruel or nasty but it went on for ages as he drew bigger and bigger laughs. Clearly spotting he had a hit on his hands, he wrung every last laugh out of it. Fantastic. The room was in uproar. Everyone loving it.

Then it was back to the material, which is good, but I had laughed so hard for the first part of the show, that I think my mirth muscle was out of battery power. So the last half seemed a bit of come down and I felt he sensed this too and panicked a little as he felt the room drifting away from him. We’d laughed ourselves out. It was unfortunate really because the dynamics only played out as they did due to his fantastic improvised comedy at the start.

There’s a good show here and he’s got the funny bones you need to be a consistent performer. Definitely one to see.

FOUR STARS

Phil Nichol - You’re Wrong - Monkey Barrel - 21.00

*****

Anyone who opens their show playing Jimi Hendrix songs on a guitar is always going to endear themselves to me, but it also sets a very appropriate tone for Phil’s unique overdriven show which sizzles with energy and passion, ranging from a whisper to a scream like his whole body is a wah-wah pedal delivering soaring comedy riffs

Phil throws himself into his shows, almost literally pushing jokes out from the stage into the packed room. There’s also a moving message about fallibility and redemption behind, which never stops poking at your laugh gland.

His sheer physical commitment to his performance, delivered with the energy of a man half his age means that you’re never in doubt about his heart-felt passion. With wild eyes and a brain that appears to be working at three times the speed with which he can speak, it is a thrilling hour of hilarity which has a real heavy metal thunder about it, a sound that is unique to Phil.

FIVE STARS

Terry Alderton - All Crazy Now - Pleasance Courtyard - Cabaret Bar - 22.40

*****

The perfect title for this wonderful off-the-wall, esoteric, triple album, gatefold sleeve progressive rock concept of a show. In tandem with Johnny Spurling, you have no idea what is going to happen at any time and little application of logic helps you understand what has just happened. It is a magnificently chaotic catherine wheel of a show which bends your melon like none other you’ll see.

Especially brilliant is Terry’s internal narrative voice which, like some sort of incubus squatting on his soul, is permanently present to advise and corrupt him.

For the price of your ticket you get singing, some barking, some arguments, some disgust and all is mixed together with a multiple personality disorder to make a comedy cocktail or unique flavour. By the end of the show you feel your sanity has been redefined and the world will never seem quite the same again.

A brilliant show that inhabits its own as yet undiscovered dimension of existence.

FIVE STARS

Tom Ward - Love Machine - The Tron - 15.40

****

A comedian can be as well-prepared as possible, but when you need to get something out of your audience in order to use it later in the show and your audience members are uncommunicative and gormless, then it does rather knacker you.

This is what happened to Tom on the day I saw him, meaning that the first 15 or 20 minutes was very flat and he had to work hard to really get the comedy engine revving. Such is the life of a stand-up. But importantly, when he got into the meat and two veg of the show it was a brilliantly creative excursion into a very individual comedic universe.

When he reappears as his mother and proceeds to use loop pedals for tremendous comic effect, it was absolutely hilarious. Even battling with his boring audience input, he puts on what is clearly a 5-star show on a better afternoon.

FOUR STARS

Tom Houghton - Class Half Empty - Gilded Balloon - Wee Room - 17.45

*****

This is both clever, passionate and soulful. Tom knows that as the poshest person any of us have ever been in a room with (he lives in the Tower of London. No, he really does!) he has to breakdown a lot of potential unrelatable posh boy resentment. He achieves this with charm, energy and self-deprecation.

It is a show densely packed with material as he takes us through moments of self-discovery towards a greater understanding of self and life. He’s been playing to capacity crowds all month, albeit in a small room, and from what I witnessed, this is because has a broad appeal.

Although a performer for some time, he’s only a year into his stand up career and it is patently obvious he’s really put a lot of work in to get his chops this good so quickly. He’s certainly a man we’re going to be seeing a lot more of in the near future.

FIVE STARS

Jonny Pelham - Just Shout Louder - Gilded Balloon - Balcony - 19.45

***

Because he’s a likeable comedian, Jonny can ride out weaker material without losing the audience which is just as well with this set. His act centres around his worries, neurosis and various physical issues. It chimes well with his audience because we’re all a mess of fretting, self-conscious failings, but it isn’t delivered with enough cogency and emotional commitment to make it really funny. This leaves you in an odd situation where you can recognise the material is amusing, but in the hands of someone with greater access to the wild dogs of their own soul, would be hilarious. His interaction with the audience isn’t sharp enough and just slowed things up as a result.

Playing to a small audience must be dispiriting, but you can’t take it out on the few who have turned up, nor can you indulge in too much self-pity, because it won’t make things any better.

There’s some good material here and some laughs, but it’s all played on 33 ⅓ when it really needs to be on 45.

THREE STARS

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