26 August 2007

Brendon Burns Scoops If.com Comedy Award!

Yep, I called it correct. Brendon Burns has won the second If.comedy Award for his show So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now. If only there was a Monday performance I could catch him at... He'll reprise it for one night only next year though, as all previous winners do. Tom Basen is the Best Newcomer with his show Won't Say Anything where he doesn't say a word (although he plays music and uses Powerpoint presentations etc to communicate). Likewise Tom also doesn't have a (new) show lined up for Bank Holiday Monday, the last day of the Fringe. What a lost opportunity...

22 August 2007

And The Official Nominees For The If.com Eddies Are...

Well, you've seen my predictions, now here is what a group of strangers has come up with - and their selections couldn't be any stranger to me! The official 2007 if.comeddies Awards will be decided from the following people:
Nominations for the top Award: Andrew Lawrence (dark comedy insulting others); Andrew Maxwell (story telling); Brendon Burns (offensive comedy designed to shock but with a big finale); Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow (character comedy as a Radio DJ playing a lot of music); Pappy's Fun Club (sketch comedy which is apparently eerily similar to last year's nominees We Are Klang).
I'm stunned! No space for Lawrence Leung or Rhod Gilbert let alone Michael McIntyre - it's unexplainable. All nominees have received mixed reviews from the press and public alike whereas the previous three gentlemen have earned nothing but stunning write-ups. The best Newcomer Nominations seem a little bit more sensible although somehow Nina Conti doesn't get a mention? The line up is Jon Richardson; Micky Flanagan; Tom Basden; Zoe Lyons. Saturday night at midnight is decision time, if you don't want to wait until then there can only really be one sane outcome ... Brendon Burns to follow in Phil Nichol's footsteps as the latest winner of the top award in Edinburgh.

20 August 2007

Updated If.com Eddies Awards & Week Two of Fringe '07

Two thirds of the festival gone and we are only a few days from the official nominations for the second If.com Eddies Awards. I'm delighted to reveal my informed choices for who should be in contention: Outsiders for the main award are two of last year's nominees David O’Doherty and Paul Sinha - both worthy of another nomination. Russell Howard drops out of the running as his show wasn't up to last year's standard. Two former Best Newcomer Nominees come storming into contention, firstly Michael McIntyre and more-so Rhod Gilbert who has been a stronger contender for the top award since I saw him on the very first day of the festival. The only person who can possibly beat Rhod to the crown is Lawrence Leung for his hysterical show about trying to be cool. This race is too close to call right now... As for the Best Newcomer Award well still the only candidate is Nina Conti and I think she deserves it too. Finally onto the best of the Festival so far, the 'must-see' list consists of Will Adamsdale, Jerry Sadowitz, Phil Nichol, Frank Skinner and of course Rhod Gilbert and Lawrence Leung.

18 August 2007

Lawrence Leung Learns to Breakdance

Lawrence is an Australian of Chinese decent with a dodgy tracksuit, an excessive beard and diminutive stature and all he want to be is as cool as his elder brother who is a bass guitarist in a band. Being a master at a Rubik's cube and Sudoku he's some way off that goal. He makes a bet that he can be cool and sets himself four tasks which we get to judge whether he is cool or not. These areas are fashion, girls, attitude and dancing. The set up is excellent and the result is excellent - each segment is distinct, perfectly delivery and very funny. This all builds into a massive crescendo with him entering a breakdancing competition with genuinely hysterical results. Lawrence is a wonderful hybrid of Dave Gorman's presentation mixed with Demetri Martin's self-analysis. A new star is born - Five arm supports out of five! See him over and over again and give him the If.com Eddie Award!

17 August 2007

Paul Sinha – King of the World

Paul delivered a stunning show last year talking about his life as a gay Asian doctor obsessed with football (and Liverpool). How could he possibly match that award-nominated show? Well he has and it’s great. Paul has a strange style where he technically rants about things that bother him and delivers other anecdotes without seemingly telling any jokes but what comes is intelligent and amusing stories delivered in such an amiable way that just grabs your attention and admiration. This year he describes the times he has felt like 'King of the World', as well as those when he felt he was 'Twat of the World'. The stories flow so exquisitely and they pack so much entertainment, social comment and amusement in them it's really quite different from any other comic on the circuit. He deserves to be nominated again for the top award - four quiz shows out of five and a proud part of my must-see list for this year and next!

Frank Skinner – Stand Up

Is Frank the greatest British stand-up ever? Quite possibly, he does have the quickest comic mind as amply demonstrated this evening. He comes out into the intimate atmosphere of the Cabaret Bar with almost 200 people ready to hang off his every word (and two eager beavers sitting attentively in the front row). Straight off his mike is dead which he gives us a couple of minutes of great material, everything from disgruntled Scottish technicians to disabled microphone stands. After a short warm up with some good local gag Frank goes into his main act, appointing KT as the moral adjudicator to say if he crossed the line at any point (he didn't, even when he said she had scabby knees from falling over 4 times a week pissed up alcopops). He chooses the world’s most impossible material to make funny, and does it without offending anyone:- paedophilia, being an old man (including his urine) and granny porn has never been so funny and probably never will. In short he still has all of his magic and skill in writing, delivery and speed of thought and keeps to the same style that has brought him such success since he won the Perrier Award sixteen years ago. Five spare mics out of five – a must see for everyone with an interest in comedy.

14 August 2007

It's Time For Action - No More Bottom Left Blue Info Bar On Sky Sports!

For the 2007/8 season, Sky have redesigned their on-screen graphics and moved the info bar containing the score and time to the bottom left of the screen, from the top left where all other broadcasters have it. The new position in the bottom left of the screen means that part of the playing surface and players are being covered up during the game. The bottom left of the screen almost always shows active parts of the pitch, however the previous position in the top left only shows areas of the crowd for 90% of the game and thus can be covered with a non-transparent graphic quite comfortably.

This has annoyed me, and many other people, greatly. As we pay a large monthly subscription to watch Sky Sports we should not have areas of the game blocked out unnecessarily when the info bar can be positioned quite happily in the top left of the screen. To that extent I have created an online petition to insist Sky move the bar back to the top left where it belongs and where it will not disrupt the coverage. Please sign it if you feel the same.

12 August 2007

Russell Howard - Adventures

Russell Howard put in a great high energy show last year with a killer joke about the Queen (on of the best of the festival) and deserved his nomination for the If.com Eddie Award. With such expectation he returns to Edinburgh playing in the Cabaret Bar right after Frank Skinner, talk about pressure! Russell took about 20 minutes to really get going, to move from giggles to belly laughing. He talked about suicide, teasing his little brother, his experiences and ultimately looking for those special moments in life that make it all worthwhile. It’s a good hour of entertainment, similar to last year but without an exceptional gag. His positive delivery and energy is very reminiscent of Adam Hills, only with better material. He also succeeds in taking you back to your childhood (if you are of the same generation as him) with well placed 1980s references. All in all a good show - You won’t walk out blown away and he doesn't pack a killer ending (which Adam Hills does) but you will have really enjoyed your hour. Four photos out of five but lacking that special moment to make it a must-see or award worthy.

Killer Joe

Phil Nichol stars in a new play, the only one this year since he put in two great performances last year as the madcap host of Talk Radio and the quiet brother in True West. Sadly his role is not the lead and not really of great significance, giving the spotlight over to Tony Law as Killer Joe and Ed Weeks as the son Chris who both put in good, but not brilliant, performances. Lizzie Roper is strong as Phil’s new wife, especially give the physical aspect to the role whilst Charlotte Jo Hanbury comes across as innocent enough as the pure Dottie. The story is quite dark: a plotted murder using a hit-man that goes slightly awry when they can’t afford to pay him. There are some twists later on but the end seems a little bit silly even for a black comedy. I fear this show will gain attention for the full frontal nudity, male and female, as well as some sexual violence against Lizzie Roper. It’s not as good as either of Phil’s plays last year but there are some tense moments and the underlying story is good, even with the ending. The set is also very detail (possibly re-using the kitchen from True West) and they make good use of it, dragging us into their depressing trailer park life in Dallas. It just lacks that special something to push it beyond watchable. Three chicken drumsticks out of five.

Punt and Dennis – Stuff and Nonsense

I loved Punt and Dennis as a teenager, I thought their material was great and just the right level of satire. Needless to say I was happy to pay a large amount of money to see them live and in the flesh. After a good opening gag, Steven Punt walking out on stage by himself. He explains that Hugh has this superstition where he wants to come out on stage doing one of his legendary impersonations. With baited giggles we wait until a Hugh comes out doing an amazing Raptor impression. Painfully funny and it deserved to be reprised several times throughout the show! Their show is a collection of well linked observations about everything from politics and the Olympics (bad for Britain), to flat lazy teenagers and TV over the years (including a fleeting cameo of ‘Milky Milky’ to which half the audience erupted and the other half whispered to their laughing friends ‘what’s that?’). It was a hectic hour of continual satire and political comment delivered flawlessly by a perfectly balanced duo. An absolute treat to finally see them live – five clipboards out of five!

11 August 2007

NewsRevue 2007

What more can be said about this institution of topical sketch comedy? Four stars for the past three years from me and oh, four stars again! As always an excellent blend of sketches, musical comedy and one liners. This year the team of four (plus pianist) take the mickey out of Brown, Bush, Britney, Beckhams, Terrorism, Life on Mars, the weather and so much more. All sketches get a minimum of three stars each and some even hit the highest five such as "row row row your boat through the streets of Hull". If you haven't seen Newsrevue go this year and you won't be disappointed. And you know what? You be back to see them every year after just like me.

Xenu is Loose: Only Scientology Can Save Us Now

A parody of Scientology. That's all I read before leaping to buy tickets for this show. Now I know it's also a musical comedy set in the present day when Xenu is released from prison and comes to destroy Earth. It's a quick moving production with some good set choices but it suffers from the age of the cast and comes across as a relatively high school production (the actors are early 20s but I'm nearly 30 and think of myself as mid 20s so that makes them late teens). Xenu has a really impressive costume and comes across as quite confident (even covering up a girl cracking up in laughter). That is a little bit of a theme as there were several mistakes: guitarist falling through the open door; right-click menu appeared on projector screen; stage directions came over mic (come back from the front because of feedback). Okay let's cut to the chase: it was fun, the final confrontation was funny especially with the Tom Cruise reference and the show didn't drag. Above all that it took a stab at Scientology and that's worth me paying money for (unless of course Scientologists were doing it tongue-in-cheek). Three laser beams out of five.

Fatboy

This is an 80 minute satire on the West and its destruction of the world. There, I summed it up inside 10 seconds. Basically Fatboy has an insatiable appetite for food and money (and the occasional killing) and his wife is fuelling him (physically and mentally) and feeding off his actions. Unfortunately whilst Fatboy is very well performed it is also loud and overly littered with swearing that doesn't seem to serve a dolphin, sorry I mean purpose (my gag, I just thought I'd lighten the mood). It is a good play with strong actors and well written script but it does feel quite an effort to get through it when you've long since got the message. I believe it's going to be made into a film; I'd be very interested in seeing the final product especially regarding the length. Sadly it only gets three meals out of five but it has good intentions and a strong message.

Tom Stade - Setlist

I saw Tom Stade perform last year but not his stand up act, it was as the intimidating brother of Phil Nichol in True West. His comic personality is so markedly different from the brute he played then - it's as if he is performing whilst high. Tom comes on stage with an A1 white board with his set list written up, albeit with a couple of re-arrangements in red. The concept is this is all the jokes he's never performed combined into a new show. There are some good gags in there and Tom does his best to try to segue between them although tonight's front row consists of four middle aged women who are at their first comedy show (I over heard them in the bar when they arrived loudly). Not the normal annoying hen party, quite the opposite in fact as Tom struggles to get anything from them. Within five minutes one of their phones goes off and they seemed to show no remorse for it. Sadly their presence causes Tom to skip over some of his more edgy material (minus a point) but he keeps coming back to them and finally cracks it and gets them to laugh at a few things (plus a point). Over all it wasn't a great show but I think a different night might have been a different outcome. Three marker pens out of five and I think he'll get another shot next year.

10 August 2007

Phil Nichol - Hiro Worship

The belated winner of the inaugural If.com Eddy award (he should have won the final P*rrier Award for his show Nearly Gay) Phil Nichol returns with another hour of hectic story telling and guitar playing. This year his story is about idols and hero worship, so clearly demonstrated by his Japanese friend Hiro's worship of the Rolling Stones. The story is about loving your friends and not becoming obsessed with idols and even stalking them. This year Phil is performing on a big stage (quite a contraction in terms actually) in the Stand comedy club (rather than the Stand II). Whilst he is now playing nightly to about 150% more people, his room for manoeuvre is a lot less; the stage is only about 2m2. With his band either side of him he comes across as a rock and roll star although the huge stand mural of a guy in a Mexican hat and a gun to his head is a bit distracting at first (why they could have the black curtain from the Stand II covering it is beyond me). It's okay though because it's still the same Phil Nichol delivering belly laughs rather than the simple facial giggles that a lot of other comics distribute. What has been noticeable about his previous two shows is that he manages to take you with him on his journey and you share his feelings. In previous years this has included fear but you never feel that at any point in this story was he afraid (and there were some opportunities for that to come through). I can't really say if the location and lack of real lighting contrast was to blame (although there is a better lighting rig). The content of this show was, intentionally or just because of the story, toned down a little bit. There were no crude sexual anecdotes that have previously caused so much shock and painful laughter. To be fair this story didn't lend itself to those kind of tangents, I guess it's just obvious having won the big prize last year. On that subject The Naked Racist and Nearly Gay are better shows (and I believe they've been recorded for DVD now) however this is still one of the best shows of 2007 and a deserved full five groupies out of five. Don't delay - see Phil Nichol in the flesh soon (preferably at one of his shows as apposed to stalking him)!

9 August 2007

Jim Jeffries - 30

There are all sorts of warnings and disclaimers about Jim Jeffries about the language he uses and him doing offensive comedy. I think these warnings may put people off seeing an observant, interesting and above all funny comedian. As Jim often closes a show with, 'if you've been offended by anything I said today the grow up as it's just a joke' (paraphrased you understand). Jim starts with a really funny opener about infanticide after birth (by crushing a baby's head in if you must ask) and it got a huge laugh. He then went on to talk briefly about his solution to teenage pregnancy, outed several famous paedophiles (such as Elvis having sex with a 14 year old Priscilla and Charlie Chaplin sleeping with a 13, 14 and 15 year old apparently) before moving on to longer stories including being diagnosed with 'dick cancer' and his childhood (including porn mags and a vibrator). He ended with him being assaulted last year by an Irishman who was abused as a child and didn't like the material he heard. Rather than walk out he walked on stage and punched Jim several times. All in all his show was thoroughly engaging with some good material and times when you found yourself laughing at some outrageous jokes. What it boils down to is the jokes Jim tells, whether they offend anyone or no one, are funny. Four pints of beer out of five and I'll seeing him again next year!

7 August 2007

The Second Annual If.com Eddies Awards & Week One of Fringe '07

Okay, one week into the festival - who's hot and more importantly who's going to be up for the awards? I have to believe Nina Conti has to be a strong bet for the best Newcomer Award. Her show's really funny and packed full of a wide range of segments showcasing her full range. As for the main award, Michael McIntyre is really getting a great buzz at the moment having put in several great shows. Last year's nominees David O'Doherty, Russell Howard and Paul Sinha (the last two I've had to cheat and ask friends about) should all re-appear plus one surprise outsider. Finally, unable to be nominated for the awards, Will Adamsdale and Jerry Sadowitz are so far the two best other shows around at present, in fact Will's is the best I've seen and the only five star show! Staking my reputation on one person I haven't seen and don't know anyone who has seen the show, I would say Phil Nichol also deserves to be in the 'must see' category. I'll find out on Friday just how good this year's show is compare to the excellent The Naked Racist and even better Nearly Gay.

David O'Doherty - It's David O'Doherty Time!

Stop - it's David O'Doherty time! Last year's If.com Eddies Award Nominee returns with another good show with stronger dialogue but probably slightly weaker songs (although he did an encore of Slightly Super Human Powers). He couldn't re-do last year's gag in his intro song FAQ for the DOD about looking like Alf (it's so accurate!) but it was still a strong start. The show has some educational and funny Fact Attacks separating out stories and trademark songs played out on his mini electronic keyboard and new rap-master. He's no Demetri Martin but his very special in his own way. His best gag was a killer about his first understanding of Argos and there were a few good songs, the strongest being about catching up with a friend he hadn't talked to in ten years and telling her all the things he had apparently done in the last decade. Overall I think it was at least as good as his nominated show from last year (better if you include his special encore) so I think he's going to be pushing hard for the top comedy award this year too. Four white garments out of five!

6 August 2007

Nina Conti - Complete and Utter Conti

Finally, she's back in Edinburgh! Nina Conti and her exceptionally talented partner, Monk (the Monkey), to deliver more mischief. One of the key aspects to Nina's performance is the cheekiness of Monk and her embarrassed and innocent reaction. In her first full length Edinburgh show Nina let's the monkey take control and present a couple of TV shows. These include a Trisha take-off where Monk is hidden in the audience out of sight, a brief talent contest with some new puppets and documentary piece from a voodoo expert. These all come off quite strongly although the could be a little bit tighter and maybe benefit from a bit of direction (as the top comics have taken to utilising). Nina does two pieces where she believes she is her own grandfather and speaks as him talking to a puppet of his late wife. It's quite impressive acting but it saddens the audience and takes away from the vibe she has got going with the audience. One other minor point, Monk doesn't need to use the most extreme swear words to get a laugh, softer ones work better for him. Her crescendo (or climax if you will for those who have seen the show) is a really good extension of an idea she's had before but brilliantly executed. I think she's a strong contender to win the Best Newcomer Award! Four pint glasses out of five!

Pete Firman - Hokum

Pete Firman is a good stage magician employing slight of hand tricks and some good skills (card reading, forced selection) to deliver an entertaining hour of magic and humorous patter. He's nowhere near the level of Jerry Sadowitz in either aspect but good entertainment for adults nonetheless. His tricks start off astounding but then build to get a bit more sinister, i.e. forcing needles through his arm and putting a live mouse in a blender. He does go to great pains to stress that he is an illusionist and this is not real. A nice change of pace from the endless stand-up and especially good for teenagers who have no chance of seeing Jerry Sadowitz. Three forced cards out of five.

Gamarjobat - Rock & Roll Penguin

Gamarjobat are a couple of Japanese visual comics that can entertain people of all ages all around the world with their physical comedy without words. I saw them two years ago putting on a good performance and I though this year it was probably worth going to see them again. The show is split in two, the first half being the new material about rock and roll penguins (them being two and a stuffed penguin being their drummer at the back) and the second half is mostly a reprise of their magic and gags from the first half of their previous show (the better stuff). Their visual humour is simple, clean fun for all ages, although you do find yourself regressing back to childhood when you fall under their spell. It's a show that is delightfully straight-forward with juggling, tricks, slight of hand and universal humour. It does have a tiny sexual innuendo in as well as a tiny bit of 'thrusting' but nothing to prevent you taking even the youngest child (well, okay, maybe not a baby two or three days old). Three false hands out of five.

Simon Amstell - No Self

It is rare that I agree with Kate Copstick, lead arts critic for the tabloid newspaper The Scotsman. She has been right on Phil Nichol and Demtri Martin amongst others but she inevitably give big name comics, i.e. those on TV, good reviews no matter how they actually perform. This is one of those times. Host of Never Mind The Buzzcocks Simon Amstell comes out with a big reputation to justify. The audience is packed full of about 450 people and a large number of which are laughing at *everything* he says because he is on TV (believe me, what he is saying is not funny). So he gives some girl in the front row cancer and a man AIDS by his magic powers and goes on to try to get laughs out of the idea of clown rape (that's rape by a clown) and surprise surprise he fails. When he finished talking about splitting up with his boyfriend,a section that came across as quite lazy, the moves into a brief middle section where he talks about boycotting things and trying to do the right thing. This all is supposedly linked to the idea that 'self' is the same as 'ego', we are all in fact one living entity. Anyway his final third, supposedly his strongest material, is about trying to end with some laughs about half-being involved in the Tsunami. After that he prepares to wrap things up by switching to a brief talk about pictures taken during 9/11. He then calls back to a weak and obvious, if not cheap as well, joke he did at the beginning of the show and I swear on my life a few people let out a mild giggle and that was it. Everyone could see that weak callback coming but then out of nowhere he says that was his big finish and he expected a much bigger laugh!

This is where Kate Copstick comes in. Rather than giving Simon a poor review for weak material and an ending that bombed spectacularly (when he left the stage he ran off to about four seconds of applause and then the clapping stopped dead), Kate somehow thinks he is some form of visionary and has giving him four stars! The mind boggles! To add further salt to the wound, Kate closes her review with "This goes against all my beliefs about comedy, but I think he doesn't need a better ending, he needs a better audience. I hope I haven't alienated anyone". You must be joking! Your review came out today meaning you either saw him on Saturday or on Sunday with me. The first third of the show was carried by the people who have paid to see him because they recognise him off TV and laughed at everything he said, even joking about give a poor guy in the front row AIDS for real! The middle part was passable at best and his final third was weak limping along to arguably the single *worst* ending to any comedy show I have ever seen! Even Brendon Burns asking a woman to kick him in the nuts in Jongleurs was better than this! Yes you have alienated nearly 500 people by saying they don't know comedy and you have some form of mystic power of judging comics, somehow related to their mainstream TV appearances. The only thing worse than Simon Amstell's two star (and very best) show is the disgraceful way Kate Copstick ended her review insulting every audience member except herself. Avoid them both at all costs! [BTW the current rating on edfringe.com is 2.75 out of 5 with 31 votes in and it seems during the preview shows he has admitted to the audience his performance have been rubbish!]

5 August 2007

Will Adamsdale - The Human Computer

Two years ago Will Adamsdale appeared in Edinburgh with a short-run show called Jackson's Way. It got noticed and with a bit of help from Stewart Lee the show got extended and out of nowhere Will landed the main comedy award the then Perrier Award. Will's new show is spilt into three sections. He talks about computers as the technophobe that he is and shares his observations. He then builds a fully interactive 'human computer' that we help interact with and he follows our instructions. Unfortunately something happens and Will is trapped inside this computer and spends the final third trying to escape. The whole piece is delightfully put together with a perfect mix of observation, audience interaction and story telling. His performance is strong and his set is divinely inspired. The audience erupted with a huge round of deafening applause when he finished and my hands still hurt the next day. I now regret even more that I didn't get to see Jackson's Way when I had the chance. Will has now joined my list of elite comics that I rush to book before even looking at who else is playing (they are Demetri Martin, Phil Nichol and now Will Adamsdale, plus Mark Thomas and Robert Newman but they are for different reasons). My first full FIVE pointer stars out of five! Sheer brilliance!

Josie Long - Tryin' Is Good

There was a lot of talk about Josie Long last year when she scooped the inaugural If.com Eddies Best Newcomer award. The Evening Standard describe her as "the most distinctive comic of her generation and too delightfully indiosyncratic to be mainstream". Once you learn that the Evening Standard is a stable mate of the Daily Mail maybe then you won't be surprised to learn that quote is quite overblown. Josie is good and is certainly quirky with a lot of hyperactive energy. Despite what the Evening Standard says she just follows the normal path of the standard stand-up comic: make a statement/joke, act out a situation which that last line just described and maybe one more. Nothing special her although her personality and *some* subject areas make it slightly different. She is not however, anywhere near the brilliance and uniqueness of either Demetri Martin, Daniel Kitson or Phil Nichol. Think of her if you will as a quirkier modern Victoria Wood, even bearing a slight physical resemblance to her too. It's the type of show you would send someone's mother to go and see - and there were a lot of middle aged women in the audience. As for me, she was good and entertaining but she sits on top of a pile of well performing comics with a solid hour show but not enough laugh-out-loud material (such as Russell Kane and Andrew Lawrence). Three paintings out of five.

Paul Merton & His Impro Chums

When Paul Merton walked out a few metres on stage in front of me I was in heaven! I was a big fan of his stand-up and really enjoyed his show although I'm less keen on his improvisation work but that's just because of the strength of his surreal stand-up. He then takes my breath away further by introducing Richard Vranch, the pianist from Whose Line Is It Anyway? The rest of the cast are Jim Sweeney (now performing in a wheelchair due to the effects of MS), Andy Smart and (soon to shock herself with some really risque words) Suki Webster. Tonight's performance included a variation on the erm game, Freeze & Switch, Audience Suggestions, 3 man interview (one person played by three men) and finally Lost Shakespeare. The show was quite funny as you never really expected what was going to come next. The only downside is that the comedy was a bit shallow and all about speed rather than substance. [I thought my audience suggestion was quite good although it wasn't picked. They said suggest something like 'two sumo wrestlers' or 'a man at a peep swho' and so I suggested the situation of 'someone without a spell checker'] As glad as I am that I've finally seen them live, I can only give them three audience-suggested stars out of five but I would recommend everyone to go them see them once (although they are already sold out for this year).

Breaker Morant

This is a play about the Courts Marshall (the correct plural of Court Marshall) of three Australian "commandos" serving in the Boer War. The leader was the eternally philosophically happy Harry Morant, played perfectly by Adam Hills and his lieutenant was proud and aggressive, again good casting with Brendon Burns taking this role. In short the play highlights a very dark point in the history of British Military 'Justice' but then if you look at recent miscarriages of justice including Deepcut then nothing much has changed over the last 100 years. The cast perform well and the story builds to it depressing end, instilling anger in any decent viewer. The scene change is signalled by a powerful double hit of a drum which is a nice touch and builds the tension further. It's not as good as last year's Talk Radio but it conveys the story and message very well. It's a good history lesson but it doesn't really move you, other than in the aforementioned shame about British 'justice'. The set is clever and well used with the sole exception of the bottom right corner or the Union Flag - the red and white are the wrong way round! Other than that unnoticeable flaw, a solid production that probably got the best out the main cast. Three khakis out of five.

Adam Hills - Joymonger

This was a very weird experience. Adam started his show off with some great audience interaction but then went on to deliver 50 minutes of mediocre material. The actually content of his crescendo was not that great either. The weird part of it is that despite the soft material he managed to make it sound funnier and get a much better laugh by the enthusiasm and positive energy he put into his delivery. The climax of the show suddenly built into this massive diffusion of happiness that left every single person in the audience beaming with joy - hence the title Joymonger. I have never seen any comic transform material, let's say a low 3, into a solid 4 by their delivery and positive outlook but Adam Hills did! The last time Dara O'Brian was in Edinburgh performing he bombed quite spectacularly in the same venue. A broadsheet reviewer said something like 'Dara is someone who could make reading the FT100 sound funny yet he manages to perform an hour devoid of laughter'. I think we've found the real comic holy grail here - Adam Hills did transform okay material into a great show. I defy anybody to go and see him and not leave stuffed full of joyousness. I'm glad I've finally seen him live, you need to see him once too! Four limbs out of five!

Tom Allen ... And Other Short Stories

Tom Allen is a very young, confident and slightly camp-sounding performer who regaled us with several short stories about his life. He doesn't do jokes, just shares with us interesting moments in his life that have humorous aspects to them. His unfaultering delivery was quite astounding for one so young, although the show felt more like a one-man show than a comedy performance. A couple of his jokes were a little bit obvious but his performance was quite engaging and you were happy to be along for the journey. Probably the easiest way to improve a future show would be to co-write it with someone who could steer it more towards comedy to provide more opportunities in the future. As it stands it was a good show but I don't think I'd return to see him next year unless his style evolved into something focusing heavier on laughter. It will be interesting to see where he is in a few years as his professionalism on stage was really quite surprising. Three scout-badges out of five.

Andy Zaltzman - Utopia

Andy Zaltzman is a great political comedy writer and is one of the lead writers for Bremner, Bird & Fortune. This, combined with my award of four stars should tell you all you need to know about this show. I've already recommended him to a close friend and when asked about what jokes he does I talked about the ballot paper, President Hu, political systems and the environment. Even I learnt things listening to him! What I'm trying to say is Andy Zaltzman is great and a must see show. But, if you don't follow politics or have a reasonable knowledge of international events then sadly you are going to be a little bit lost. If you after presentation over content then again, Andy is not for you. He made some excellent points, not least of all a wonderful attack on the worthlessness of a ballot paper in a first past the post system (as they use in England and for the UK general elections) and some great environmental observations. Expand your mind, go see him! Four utopias out of five.

Rich Hall

Rich Hall is back in Edinburgh doing semi-political comedy but this year doesn't mention Dubya at all (except to say that he hasn't mentioned him). Rich is a total professional; he interacts with the audience with such friendliness and controls the situation when the (drunk) hecklers start getting out of hand. He is at the top of his game. He has a lot of things to say, mostly about things that annoy him but if you had a gravely voice like his wouldn't you adopt that mannerism? Yes he has a political message but so long as you are aware of the antics of the household names of Gore, Cheney and Bin Laden then you'll be fine (and if you don't you must be living in the cave next to the last one for the last few years). His show ran on as he started improvising and found himself stuck and needing a big finish. He used the only one liner he has ever written and I thought it was quite funny. As that was apparently only the second time he'd used it, I want to share it with you now: 'I was in this restaurant in Germany waiting for my meal and the waiter came over and put a plate down with two dots on it. I said to him "no I ordered an omelet"!' I laughed... Four carbon footprints and I'm glad to have finally seen this real pro live.

4 August 2007

Reginald D. Hunter - F*ck You in the Age of Concequence

Last year's winner of the Writers' Guild Award for Comedy, Reginald returns with a new show as good as ever. His writing is really good and his delivery is strong, relaxed and friendly. It's like listening to an author reading his favourite work, some other critics have described it as hypnotic. His material is guaranteed to make you think as well as laugh. He has some much to say but doesn't get involved with cliches or politics which is another refreshing aspect to his show. The biggest down side was his flow and the atmosphere in the audience kept getting interrupted by the strong winds ripping through the E4 Udderbelly making the lights and scaffolding swing and the sides and curtains flare up in an unhealthy noise. Reg dealt with it professionally and took time out to ad-lib so as now to have things overshadowing his prepared performance. It also ended slightly early but I think that was because of the interruptions ruining parts of a build-up. If you went to see him in a week on a still night he'd probably deserve four stars but I'll have to wait until next year to find that out. As it stands, three FU films out of five but that's mainly due to things beyond his control.

3 August 2007

Jerry Sadowitz- Comedian, Magician, Psychopath

I was weary about got to see Jerry because of the really offencive things he's said in the past with the (seemingly) sole intention to shock. My mate (take a bow Bob) also warned me having seen him the first night. He must have forgot a lot of lines and routines last night as tonight he was brilliant. Yes there is a frightening large amount of swearing but it adds to the anger and comedy. I would say tonight the better part of his act was his 'stand-up' and then the magic (considering he is widely-regarded as one of the best close up magicians in the world that's saying something). There's no really story to his work, just seemingly random rants on all diverse subjects. I think I only found two gags, maybe three at most, un-funny and that wasn't a question of taste. The best gag was whilst doing a trick with 2 coins he said "now watch closely, like Mr and Mrs McCann should have been doing". He then went into a great routine that was quite well received all things considered. Four chosen cards out of five - go and see him this year, he's worth £13.50 of anyone's money!

Stewart Lee - 41st Best Stand-Up Ever!

Stewart Lee is a great stand up. He is meticulous in his wording and delivery and the control he exerts on his audience is almost unrivalled. His work leaves a lasting impression in your mind, not least of all thanks to his use of repetition. As always some other 'comics' get slaughter with the stunning delivery and I'm delighted to say this year that was Russell Brand (I'm ignoring Tom O'Connor as I don't believe that was part of his subtle attack) - well deserved! Other things (quite rightly) humiliated were the Daily Mail, Tabliods, Richard Littlejohn, Jimmy Carr, Al Murray's audience (who agree with his xenophobic jokes) and of course Channel 4 even though he is performing in the E4 sponsored venue. Most of the British population don't get away either as they are primarily idiots who have no idea of comedy or art, much like the 20 or 30 people who control television. This swipe is definitively backed up by what 'the public' vote as the funniest thing on TV every year - Del Boy falling through the bar in Only Fools and Horses. A really poetic and artistic end to his show leaves your mind open and refreshed, hopefully remembering his poignant argument that political correctness is a necessary softening of the language to negotiate and try to stop the abuse and pain previously inflicted. If you want to go and see a smart, intelligent comic who will remind you of all the bad things in the UK to avoid (see above) then make sure you catch him - he's just not for everyone (such as those people who think the funniest thing ever on TV was Del Boy falling through the bar in Only Fools and Horses). Three politically correct stars out of five - I will be back to listen to him again next year.

2 August 2007

Michael McIntye - Live at the Pleasance

A star is born! Awesome! Great stage presence! Wonderful audience interaction! These are all my words about a genuinely funny guy who nobody could dislike. Last year Michael had some good material but at the beginning he was a bit short. That was because there were only 15 people in the audience and so very difficult to interact with and break off into different areas. For this year's preview, there were about 100 people packed in and he was on fire! The former University of Edinburgh student felt so at home with the heavily mixed crowd and went through areas as diverse as terrorism, politics, human interaction and his own life. His comedy is a perfect mix of story telling, observational, audience interaction and even surreal thoughts capped off by being very clean (maybe three or four swear words throughout the entire show). The only thing he missed was maybe one or two sidesplitting jokes - if only he could have lifted his bus story from last year into this show (but people would have noticed). You must go and see him this year, I'll be stunned if he is not nominated for the IF.com Eddies Award. Four big smiles out of five - he'll go very far!

New Flyering Tactic - Forget About The Talent

What makes people think I love the Assembly Rooms? It's a good building and a great set of venues but I don't think anyone could really love it. So with that in mind why have people tried to hand me flyers this evening saying 'more comedy in the same venue'. It's probably a shock to them but I make my Festival choices based on the artist not the room. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I should be talking to other people saying "Oh I love this room, I've been in this room every Festival it's been here. I think I saw this room on BBC3 last month doing a documentary".

Robin Ince - Knew This Would Happen

Robin Ince is a very well read and intellectual comic with a lot of really interesting and asute things to say. He takes us on a journey like a trendy sociology teacher (a reviewer described him as that and it comes up in the show). Appearing on stage with several dog-eared, post-it note filled books probably gives you a good idea of what the next sixty minutes is going to be like. Don't get me wrong, he's nothing like Mark Thomas or Robert Newman who have major points in their shows. Robin is similar to Stewart Lee, taking occasional pot shots and well-deserving targets, such as the ever popular Daily Mail. Tonight's performance was only his second preview and was packed full of material, some good and some bad. There are also the tangents that Robin disappears on that seems to eat into his hour's performance. If Robin got rid of some of the silly, almost childish parts (probably in because the show is still a work in progress) I think he'd be really hot. Who else could talk about Orchid Beetles in a comedy show and get a laugh? I would recommend Robin Ince to most people, especially if they enjoyed science in school (astronomy, biology and physics are all touched on), however I think it's really important to see him towards the end of his run when the show is properly arranged and tight (that's my plan for seeing him next year). Until then he gets 3 stars (large bodies of exploding gas that is) out of 5 and a 'go see him' endorsement but with the preceding caveat.

Assembly Rooms Shocker - Accept Flyers Before Your Show!

I know this is totally in contradiction to my previous thoughts of being a foreign mute amputee but it's definitely worth taking a flyer or two before going to see anything in the Assembly Rooms. Why? Because it's so warm in there and there is no ventilation or even fans (which they have in the Pleasance). So get your flyer and you look like you are supporting another show at the same time as being able to fan yourself cool.

1 August 2007

Des Clarke - Destiny

Des Clarke's review will appear in the next few days...

Warning - Pleasance Cavern Performances Can Hurt!

Rhod Gilbert made the observation within moments of starting his performance and he is not wrong! In the Pleasance Cavern there are three rows of seats right in front of the stage. This first is chairs, the remaining two are joined padded seats. The back or third row has a tiny 6 inch vertical support and that's it. Sitting there for an hour is extremely sore on your back! The middle row is fine as there is a metal pole running above the tiny vertical support which can be used as an upper back. Avoid the third row at all costs (unless you can sit at the very edge where you could lean far back and use the stairs as support).

Rhod Gilbert - Who's Eaten Gilbert Grape?

I tried to explain to a friend of mine about Rhod's style before we went in to our first show of 2007 and Rhod's third time in Edinburgh. The best I could come up with was dead-pan but that's not right as he does have lots of energy. Rhod put it best himself when he said "I don't do comedy, I do misery". The reason he's at the Comedy Festival is that there are no Misery Festivals. The problem with Rhod's dark and miserable look at the world and 'his' life is that it's painfully funny! He starts of talking about Wales and the Welsh language and after a couple of really great jokes (someone died in his Welsh class trying to pronounce things and he swallowed his tongue) he tells us early on that he has a tendency to make things up. This show however, is about the similarities between his recent life and the film, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. There was a little bit of a lull in the middle but I think that was mainly due to the girls in the front row that seemed to have all the answers to his questions (who has an older dog, whose parents divorced at a younger age etc) and it just got a little repetitive talking to the same pair (not really Rhod's fault if no-one else had the necessary story to interact with). We follow on this journey and go through parts of Rhod's past up to last year when he finally me his one true love, in a similar way to the other Gilbert. There's joke to left the audience completely silent for one, maybe two seconds until a couple of quick people actually got it and a large wave of laughter and applause bounced around the room (those are my favourite moments of any show). His journey culminates in the shocking realisation about his penis (the fact that it's older than Sydney Opera House being one) and up to the birth of his first child and an epiphany of true happiness and potential. Maybe at the very end of the show do you get a slight glimpse of the true Rhod Gilbert but by then you're too busy having your mind messed with to full notice. A great performance with really good material - possibily a nominee for the IF Comedies Award. Four leeks out of five - Make sure you catch him!