Having seen only one of the acts nominated for any of the Foster’s Comedy Award the musical talent whoturned 20 during the festival, Bo Burnham I am not, I think its safe to say, much of a barometerfor whats been hot at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. But such is the scope and scale of theFringe nowadays, there were of course dozens if not hundreds of outstanding acts which did notmake the shortlists, and its a pleasure to have the chance to celebrate just a few of them here.
Sketch comedy may not have featured on either of those lists this year, but three sketch acts all very different – were real highlights of my time in the Scottish capital.
First up were the oddly-named Delete The Banjax, a four-man (well, three-man-and-one-woman) troupe who are simplyfun incarnate. Great songs, a winning mix of personas, an abundance of silly ideas and an excess ofcharm, their show is lo-fi joy, and Ive no doubt theyll come back with something even stronger nextyear.
The Penny Dreadfuls David Reed, Thom Tuck and Humphrey Ker – have been around rather longer,to the extent that they have undergone a major, Madonna-esque reinvention for this years show.Their Victorian garb and sketches gone, theyre now decked out all in yellow and black, and haveallowed themselves the freedom to write sketches on any topic their imaginations can muster anything from backstreet wrestling broadcast live on the net to the Twilight saga, as it turnsout. These extended skits are brilliantly written but its the performances proper acting chopscombined with perfect timing and a lovely rapport that really put them at the very top of thesketch comedy game. The three gents also put in scene-stealing turns in Martin White and DanielleWards excellent new musical Gutted which was no mean feat, considering they were having todo the stealing away from this years stand-out character comedian Colin Hoult.
Diane Morgan and Joe Wilkinson meanwhile are excellent stand-up comics in their own right, butcome together as Two Episodes of MASH to deliver sketches which they say tend to peter out.They do themselves a disservice, however; this show is actually packed full of proper set-up andpunchline jokes. Unusually for a sketch show, however, this is understated, quiet stuff a realchange of pace and hugely appealing.
Away from the sketch comedy, there are several one-man performances that have emerged fromthe pack when asked as I have been dozens of times since returning from Scotland which wasthe best show I saw. Just like last year, David ODohertys metamorphosis as a performer continuesto astound and delight. Now playing in the proper theatre surroundings of Pleasance One and not,as he says at the top of the show, some STD clinic commandeered by the Fringe he, Boyles Law-like, has grown to fill his surroundings, and elicited the best audience reaction I experienced on theFringe this year with his songs about Shakira, animal facts and the offer of practical help on bicyclemaintenance.
In complete opposite to David ODohertys shaggy dog stories but just as wonderful, another of myfavourite shows featured ream upon ream of stunning one-liners. John-Luke Roberts Distracts YouFrom A Murder sees Roberts attempt to keep our mind off the blood-curdling screams emanatingfrom the wings by insulting every member of the audience with pre-written insults which rangefrom your hair looks like you borrowed it to my personal favourite you laugh at adverts in theplaces they want you to laugh. A creative concept, genius writing and spot-on delivery meansRoberts will have gained legions of fans with this debut solo show oh, and he certainly wins the asyet non-existent award for best flyer.
Another show I have found myself recommending to anyone expressing even the slightest interestis Terry Saunders 6 and a Half Loves, a story of perfect and imperfect love between three couples,accompanied by Saunders own animations. Simply performed and with some wonderful throwawaylines, this is an engrossing and intelligently written show. Aussie Claudia ODoherty meanwhile (norelation, although she did co-write 100 Facts About PandasMonster Of The Deep 3D to the Fringe, and what a magical and very funny show it is. She tellsthe tale of a now-defunct underwater community Aquaplex through flashcards, Blue Peter modelsand verbatim theatre, and there is a lovely twist at the end of the show which kept me beaming fordays.
Let’s return to those Comedy Awards, won many would argue deservedly by Russell Kane after three nominations in a row, while Best Newcomer went to the endearing Roisin Conaty for her meandering but likeable and astute set.Ironically her material hangs on the hook that she felt she wasn’t sufficiently successful in life to give advice to anyone younger than herself; now that she’s an award winner it will be a harder case to make.
There have been rumblings that Bo Burnham, while unarguablyprodigiously talented, did not really do anything beyond the call of duty, as you might expect ofthe recipient of the Panel Prize for someone who captures the spirit of the Fringe. Personallymy opinions on this are mixed with the fact that (whisper it) I didnt actually enjoy his show thatmuch, despite being hugely impressed by his songwriting, but as an alternative, may I offer comedyproduction and publishing company The Invisible Dot. As well as bringing several regular shows, theyalso took around 400 audience members on a magical mystery tour for a show by the sea, hosted analbum launch for Tim Key at Avalanche Records, arranged the wonderful Inaugural 3-Sided FootballTournament on the Meadows and placed four specially-adapted telephone boxes around Edinburghin which you could listen to short stories by the likes of DBC Pierre, Will Self and Mark Watson, forfree. Beyond the call of duty, Id say.
More Edinburgh: Read our Fringe Theatre Highlights