21 August 2008

If.com Eddies 2008 Winners, erm, Nominations are Announced

For what may look like a strange decision, the reduced nominations for the 2008 IF.com Eddie Awards have been announced. First on the list is the hot favourite, Rhod Gilbert. Also on the list is the equally relaxed but not perfect, David O'Doherty, bouyed by his particularly strong finish. Russell Kane Has apparently put in a fast paced and well stocked show (I'll be finding out on Sunday) and the joint winner of the Barry Award in Melbourne this year, Kristen Saachal, is the fourth for her two person 'play' (in quotes as plays aren't allowed so it can't be a play). I assume heated debate went on as whether it was Sammy J or Andrew Lawrence who was going to get the final place when someone piped up 'but we are going to give it to Rhod [not least of all to avoid a riot], let's not bother with a fifth'. Sadly, the certainty of Rhod's much deserved victory, especially after his bizarre snub last year, has meant one more act doesn't have a chance to print on next year's posters 2008 nominee.

As for the newcomer award, they have gone one further and reduced it to only three nominees. Sarah Millican has been a strong candidate for sometime (but her remaining run has been sold out for quite a while with no additional shows in sight so I can't add my personal approval) and although Mike Wozniak is an unknown quantity (until Sunday again), it seems inevitable that Sarah will get it. I think they decide to avoid controversy on the night and simply not nominate the excellent Josh Howie for his bold set which confused and upset many. It's therefore easier to placate the mainstream and go with the more acceptable choice. That's fine if she's genuinely the best but why deprive Josh (and one other based on history) with the honour of having his debut show recognised forever.

18 August 2008

O2 3G not UP in SC

When you run through a basic trouble-shooting routine as to why you can't send emails or blog from you phone, way down the list is 'maybe the 3G data network is down for the entire of Scotland'. If it had have been further up my list maybe I wouldn't have wasted so much time yesterday trying to find and fix the fault; I could have just phoned O2 and asked, incredible as it sounds, 'Is your 3G GPRS network down for every customer in Scotland, including anyone who has just paid over the odds for a 3G iPhone or owns a 3G data card, often for business laptops, and is it likely to be down for a couple of days?' to which the answer would come 'Yes'. O2 try something new today - like a network that doesn't work as it should, that's quite novel!

10 August 2008

Jon Richardson - Dogmatic

Jon is clearly a very clever person with an eye for the scientific and word play. Last year his debut show, Spatula Pad, won him a nomination for Best Newcomer. This year he is back and successfully manages to avoid the dreaded 'second show syndrome'. He talks about what annoys him but he is continually cheery and to describe him as 'spouting hate' or whatever other reviewers have is too much off the mark. Clever, positive and full of interesting and accurate observations about what irritates many people is a far better description. He did manage to get a couple of good belly laughs in his show and worked at times with the audience (a good sign of growing in confidence and stature as a comic) and has a very bright future ahead of him. The second comic this year to use the word "tautology" and the first to use "pipette" in his show. He has confirmed his place in my diary for next year - 8 out of 10.

Newsrevue '08

Year-in, year-out, Newsrevue is a staple of my festival and always provides a good, solid 8 out of 10. There is, however, always an exception to the rule and this year's show is it. Every year I've watched them and this is the weakest year so far. The venue was a poor choice to start with, we were four rows back and struggled to see the lower 1m of the stage. It was probably as bad as when they played in the Odeon - why they moved from Adam House (the C Venue) is beyond me! The opening half hour was a complete right off. Poorly written gags and irrelevant sketches that just weren't funny or far too predictable to even warrant a smile. I hate quoting routines but to demonstrate the depths they sank to, here is a very quick sketch: "I'd like a tank of petrol for my BMW. You'd like a tank of petrol for your BMW? Yes. Okay, that sounds like a fair swap". Tired, old and not topical any more. It wasn't just me, there were several sketches that got minimal laughter or applause out of a 200+ audience. Then, when I'm ready to go to sleep for the remaining half hour, they do a sketch about Gordon Brown's dream which is a mix of Shakespearean plays, suggesting that Gordon's Premiership is a Shakespearean farce. My eyes light up and the clever switching from memorable gag to clever pun. Straight after this, they do two songs that are actually topical and match up with the music (unlike the earlier ones) - one regarding knife crime and the other about the Fritzl children. Sadly we drop down to mediocrity again until the final piece, a Meatloaf medley that lasts as long as any Meatloaf song, containing George Dubya, Hilary and Barack. It works very well and it is a strong close to the show. Four good segments in an hour long show is quite a poor return but they were of a respectable length and three of them were set to music.  It's a shame it says latecomers will not be admitted as you could make a decent show of it if you skip the first half hour.  With them it just manages to grab the a 7 out of 10. They will be better next year, this is definitely just a slip.

9 August 2008

James Dowdeswell - No More Mr. Nice Guy

Same venue, straight after but which a fraction of the crowd (and by that I mean a low fraction not 9/10 or even a top heavy 11/10). Again, I first caught James performing on Edinburgh and Beyond (broadcast on Paramount Comedy) the same as Henning, and he did more than enough to convince me to pay good money to see him. A friend also saw him live last year and really enjoyed him so expectations were high despite the surprising low turnout. Unfortunately, like any show with a reduced audience, if everyone doesn't laugh at a gag, and laugh loudly, it becomes eerily tense and you notice the empty spaces more. Quickly in to James's show that became apparent and despite the noise created by his key audience participator, you couldn't help but fell the atmosphere was dying. He did tell some good stories and have some funny gags but if your act is based around long-ish stories rather than quick fire gags you need a big audience to get away with it. James is a decent stand-up with an interesting take on things but with no gags to really set the show on fire. He is one to keep your eye on (or maybe he can keep his lazy eye on himself?) and at the very least, provides a good warm up to the evening. 7 out of 10.

Henning Wehn & Otto Kuhnle - 1000 years of German Humour

I've seen Henning do stand-up (on TV) before and he is really quite good. It quickly becomes apparent that his partner, Otto, is mainly there for his impressive, but critically not funny, musically abilities. This really reduces Henning's performance to 30 minutes which is not a good thing. We basically get a bit of lesson in the history of German humour with some mildly funny segments along the way with an impressive array of props. A strong opening gag from Henning and a strong closing one add and extra sense that the show was better than it actually was, but in truth, it delivered what it said it would and going in expecting stand-up for 55 minutes was unrealistic. If you are happy with a mix of sketches, dry humour, musical instruments and the odd well crafted gag then you'll enjoy this. Next year I'll hope that Henning does a solo stand-up show. 7 out of 10.

InvAsian - Family

A year without any live martial arts and I'm really looking forward to this. In previous years Jump have charged steep prices for their shows however even they never tried £16 per ticket! But for an hour and a mins it should be decent value, especially as they are BOGOF through Friends of the Fringe. The first thing of note with hindsight is that the show is actually only 45 minutes long! Basically the concept is two families competing for a major award; one is a family me martial art expects and the other are break-dancing divas. Unlike the amusing shows by Jump, the story is irrelevant and there are no actual laughs. What you do get is some interesting and impressive body popping and some death defying and deadly kung fu moves. If either of these things are your bag then go and see it. If you want more than dozens of balsa wood boards being shattered at up to 15' in the air then you'll have to find yourself another show. I fall into the later and as it fixes my need for watching people do things I wish I could it earns a 7 out of 10.

Reginald D. Hunter - No Country For Old Men

A couple of years ago Reg had a really strong set and was nominated for the top award. Last year he had a good set, edgy title but his choice of venue, the Udderbelly, was rather unfortunate as for the opening week of the festival it nearly blew over in the strong winds. This year he is back, in the biggest venue in Edinburgh (well, maybe the Music Hall @ Assembly Rooms is about the same size or slightly bigger but you get my drift) and there is a lot of expectation on him... Can he be the first person to put in an excellent performance in perform in the big venue? Many have tried and many have failed: Ed Byrne - okay and sadly the best so far; Omid Djailli- disappointing and light; Tim Minchin - played safe and coasted. Step forward Reginald D. Hunter to move us and make us cry with laughter as everyone knows he can!

Okay, first off, my expectations were dampened in advance by a conversation I had with Kate Copstick where she was highly critical of Reg, despite being a self-confessed massive fan of his, and felt he was coasting (especially as he is only playing a limited run). The second thing that really knocked my expectations was Reg's new hairstyle. Gone are the cool dreadlocks and instead he has bobble in his hair and (according to his opening gag) looks like a twelve year old girl. The third nagging thing became quickly apparent as he walked a limited amount around the stage and only played to the central section, ignoring the wings (although to be fair I was in the centre having already heard this rumour). Not the best start but on with the laughs! Erm, not quite. He tried to shock a few people who hadn't seen him before with strong surprise ends to his gags but there is nothing funny about swearing at the end of a half decent set-up when you have the talent like Reg has. His call backs were weak, mainly because they revolve around something he thought was edgy and going to shock but no-one really cared or was surprised. The big finale was the only call back to get a decent laugh and certainly wasn't big enough to end the show on a high. He did however make an interesting point about Americans longing for a superhero to come and save them but Jon Stewart, amongst others, made that point a few months back. Was he coasting and has he lost the hunger as he approaches 40? Yes, sadly he has - just like he has lost the edgy titles to his shows too. I suggest he renames this show "No Comedy From Old Men". The curse of the Grand continues, much like the curse of the Music Hall - you know who I am talking about Rich Hall, Adam Hills (despite his fun ending) and especially the WMD size bomb that was the heavily drugged Dara O'Briain. Disappointingly 7 out of 10 - everyone knows you can do better when you have the hunger.

8 August 2008

Fiona O'Loughlin

Fiona was nominated for the top award in Melbourne this year, along with three other women, plus the incredible Sammy J. Despite the fact that every female comic we have been to see being a real disappointment (exempting Nina Conti as she's first and foremost a ventroloquist) we decided to be brave and book another female comic, and another Australian one at that!

[Just to fill you in a few years ago we waited for over an hour for Lucy Porter to finally start due to over-runs and we wished we hadn't. No jokes in her set, just a friendly woman smiling at you and saying how everything was nice and cute - 4 out of 10. Frightening off women for a year it was two years later when we watched Sarah Kendall return to Edinburgh with her stand-up show and the only two funny jokes came in the first and last five minutes respectively, the rest being run-of-the-mill stand-up (a generous 7 out of 10 for actually having two funny jokes in). The following year we give Best Newcomer Josie Long the benefit of the doubt, but all we got was an hour of the daughter every mother wants. Whilst she may be best friends with Lawrence Leung, his comic abilities are clearly not rubbing off on her - 6 out of 10]

So, not exactly his standards for Fiona to match. The first thing that her poster does not convey is that Fiona's performance is that of her (pretending to be?) drunk. She giggles and enjoys herself as if she is sloshed 24/7. Once I came to terms with that and got to grasps with her background, things started to flow. Her stories are engaging with a mix of chuckles and occasional belly laughs (and even an unforgettable gag about IVF children). She talks about life in the middle of the Australian Desert (Alice Springs), the Queen, her children and her relatives. She is entertaining and this year's show is a journey into herself and what led to a nervous breakdown. Some segments are therefore bereft of laughs but you still want to hear her stories and get closure on the incidents. I think she probably will be more out of the older female demographic, much like Josie Long. That said she is the best female stand-up I've seen (make sure the read the qualification above!) but she doesn't have enough in her show to grab an 8 (maybe a slightly faster pace would help), so it's an enjoyable 7 out of 10.

Richard Herring - The Headmaster's Son

Richard is a long serving comic with a strong track record of being at the top of the business for several years. I remember as a teenager watching him and Stewart Lee enjoy themselves on BBC2 with 'Fist of Fun' and then 'With Richard Not Judy'. He has been on my list of comedians I have been waiting to see for a long time (too many conflicts at his time slot last year) so this year, finally, I get my chance. After such a build up it's a delight to say I wasn't disappointed like so many others. Richard is still producing sound material and at no point coasting like too many others. This year he is talking about his childhood and what it was like to be the son of the Headmaster. It's a well paced and highly enjoyable journey through his early teenage years, helped by his actual diaries from the time. It's fascinating to see 41 year old Richard arguing with 14 year old Richard about who he really is and how much, or how little, he has changed. The only thing missing from this journey is one or two really big, unforgettable laughs. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of chuckles throughout but it isn't really set up to deliver those explosive belly-laughs. A strong 8 out of 10.

7 August 2008

Marcus Birdman - Sympathy for the Devil

Marcus made a lot of noise last year with a strong show last year, Son of a Preacher Man (which he is), and looked like he was going to follow it up with the other half this year. Unfortunately early on he announces it's not so much about sympathy for the Devil, but apathy for God. He is, it seems, carrying on last year's successful show but with his better, more personal material already used up. Despite his hard-man poster he looks more like a history teacher and it is a pleasure to listen to him and his delivery is quite enjoyable - he comes across as a likable guy that you'd be happy to hang out with in the pub. He has a few good moments, including one unforgettable line about Intelligent Design (Creationism re-branded to sound less religious). He has talent, some interesting concept, good delivery and clearly the power to write some very strong jokes. It's a shame I didn't get to see his stronger show last year but this is a nice introduction to someone I will certainly go back to see in future years. 7 out of 10.

4 August 2008

Tim Minchin - Are You Ready For This?

The real question, to the musically talented Tim, should be 'Are you ready for this'? Sadly the answer will be no. Three years ago Tim grabbed the Best Newcomer Award with a fantastic show 'Darkside' which I had about ten songs, five of which I will never forget. The follow-up show, 'So Rock', had maybe 9 songs, two of which were brilliant and one was so pointless I wish it was never performed. A year without a full show has gone by (probably due to the birth of his daughter) and Tim is back but not ready. Less songs, not one was memorable and the finale was insulting to the crusade. The opening song touches on racial discrimination but within seconds the anagram is solved and the gag is clear to me (good gag, but dragged on far too long). Skip forward several one gag songs, and we reach a song about his wife not being the one that is only really made funny by the anecdote afterwards. A couple more songs that blend into another half hour of disappointment, punctures only by one decent beat poem (with minimal gags) and a couple of baby gags from his wife (excellent as they were, you really have to believe they did come from his wife as Tim's stand-up, as the opening 10 minutes showed, is quite shocking). Finally, with no encore to come and therefore no reprise of Canvas Bags, we reach his final effort about the cruelties of making bears dance. He is accompanied by a bear (looking more like a dog) who clearly doesn't want to dance. Then, in a bizarre moment of irony which he had already refused to do for a song about Jesus and Gays, he gets the bear to breakdance and dramatically soften the impact of the seriousness of the issue. Granted it will get remembered more but I really feel it will lessen the torture bears are put through by such practises and enable more apathy. Quite disappointed, but thanks to two gags from your wife and a callback to the previous shows you get 7 out of 10 (although that means the best parts of a musical comedy show is the talking).

Rhod Gilbert and the Award Winning Mince Pie

Last year my festival exploded into life with the magnificent Rhod Gilbert wondering Who's Eaten Gilbert's Grape? Too much noise was made about Michael McIntyre not getting nominated for the top award when the biggest crime was Rhod not getting nominated. This year, much like Phil Nichol, the same crime will not repeat itself. Rhod has got to be one of the strong favourites alongside Sammy J and Andrew Lawrence. This year Rhod has decided to venture away from his safe made-up world and journey into the scary real world. After a few months of pain it all came crashing down in the form of a nervous breakdown in Nutsford Motorway Service Station. I felt Rhod's pain. Twice during his performance, having been overcome with incessant belly laughter, I found the muscles around my diaphragm aching and I could not inhale - I was too sore with laughing to breathe!
10 out of 10 - another work of art, back-to-back brilliance and if he doesn't get a nomination and win the top award, the IF.com Eddie ... we riot!

Pappy's Fun Club - Funergy

Pappy's Fun Club were nominated for the If.com Eddie Award last year and a few derisive things were said about them, including they were cheap copies of the previous year's nominees We Are Klang. Let's get this straight, Pappy's Fun Club are nothing like Klang. They are not as mischievous, they are not as maverick and they are no where near as brilliant. They do laugh frequently throughout their show and improvise regarding screw ups a few times, and unfortunately some of the bigger laughs were from those incidents. They do have some similarity to an earlier nominated group, Dutch Elm Conservatoire, however that is just really for their story arc-ing style and certainly not their writing ability. On a positive note they do bring fun to the show and there are a few moments of imagination in there, but nowhere near to the level of Klang or Dutch Elm. They are as they look: fresh-faced students putting on a decent show and making people laugh. Maybe in a few years they might grow into award winning performers but they are still some way off that.
They are good, but not brilliant and as such get 7 out of 10 (but if you've never seen any sketch group before, they are probably the best around this year).

3 August 2008

Glenn Wool - Goodbye Scars

This year, the interestingly groomed Canadian gives us a show about his divorce and what is wrong with him, as well as what is right. It is a good show with a couple of excellent and unforgettable gags, it unfortunately lacks any political material that Glenn is extremely good at. He touches on why recycling is bad for the planet and takes us through some incidents as a teenager and his honeymoon. The final payoff isn't fantastic and I feel a little disappointed that he isn't as brilliant as he can be (the divorce must have been tough). We'll forgive him this time and fingers crossed he'll be on top form again next year. 8 out of 10.

Dan Antopolski - Penetrating Gaze

After four years away from Edinburgh (due to the births of his two daughters), Dan is back and in quite good form. His show is a mixture of amusing stories, lightning fast gags/puns, and funny raps (including the crescendo of his show which is rather impolite to babies). Dan manages to fly through his material and swing from thought to thought whilst keeping the audience with him. Some of his material is borderline surreal but it loses none of its brilliance. Clearly a very talented man and a welcome return to someone who seems to be able to guarantee a strong show year after year.

9 out of 10 but clearly has the potential to deliver a 10.

Nick Doody - World of Doody

Nick Doody had a breakthrough show a couple of years ago and then the inevitable weaker second show last year. The hope was that he would be back to his best this year, but that hasn't really transpired. Nick presents a show with some new and quite original concepts for routines and gags but his delivery and, to an extent, joke writing lets him down. If Nick had another person guiding him along I feel he would be a lot stronger. He has talent and would make an excellent writer (so long as there was someone there to do some editing), but his delivery and segues are not up to the right level ("Has it ever happened to you.." was a frequent line). To give you an example of his good concepts, hiring a babysitter is a normal occurrence but when she comes around and finds you don't have a child it gets a bit awkward. It gets even tenser when she then finds out you aren't going out. While he did entertain I spent some of the time thinking through his routine and writing my own jokes from his ideas or imagining another performer delivering them in a more authoritative manner. 7 out of 10 and hopefully he will improve for next year.

Sammy J in The Forrest of Dreams

Sammy J is a Melbourne based musical comic who, through despising Disney, ends up trapped in a magic world and needs to escape. We journey along with the real life Sammy J and around eight puppets of all shapes and sizes that are incredibly well made, voiced and animated (mainly through his co-star Heath McIvor who doesn't appear in the flesh). This show was nominated for the top prize in the Melbourne Comedy Festival this year and won the coveted Critics Award too (following on from Lawrence Leung last year), and if there is any just in the world they will be up for the main prize in Edinburgh too. From start to finish this is a simply superb show with a fast moving storyline, intoxicated songs and hilarious gags. Absolutely not for children.

10 out of 10 - arrive very early and sit right in the middle of the front row for the best experience!

Update: I was chatting with Kate Copstick later in the evening regarding a few shows and whilst she hadn't seen this she was fully aware of everyone talking about it. Prior to that I also had five minutes with Sammy who showed us the great efforts they had to go to to get a huge truck packed up to bring it over here.

2 August 2008

John Bishop - Cultural Ambassador

John is a Scouse comic who my brother raved about last year. He has an excellent story-telling ability and some very good gags (including a strong one about Ringo Starr). Whilst this year's show is titled around Liverpool being the Capital of Culture for 2008, however it is really about his dream (to play for Liverpool FC), what it was like for him growing up and how that relates to his three lads and their dreams. There is no re-admittance during this show as it all builds to a climatic video that is both moving and hilarious.

8 out of 10 and warmly recommended - 9 out of 10 if you have any connection to Liverpool!

Pajama Men - Versus vs Versus

Going into this show, I had no idea about the style of the Pajama Men, other than their choice of attire. I kind of wish I knew more going in as the hour that followed was quite different to everything else out there. Basically the two lead actors (rather than comics) perform five or six storylines with radically different characters which weave together towards the end. There are a few good gags throughout but it's more an acted play than comedy performance. Despite that, and largely thanks to one of them serenading a 15 year old girl by mistake, there is some good entertainment in the later half as well as impressive acting throughout. 7 out of 10.

Will Hodgson - Chippenham on My Shoulder

Will Hodgson has a very unique appearance but yet a diametrically opposed performance. Monotone and standing still in front of the mike, he delivers his stories without pausing for breath. I've seen Will do 15 minutes before and I laughed quite hard however over this hour his stories were too heavy on personal details and too lite on big laughs. He clearly has talent and that has previously be recognised by his Perrier Best Newcomer Award but I think he needs to add a little bit more to his performance and add a few more gags in. I was crying out inside for him to move a bit and work the stage and audience, but it seems, sadly, that is not his style. A stronger show and he can get away with that decision. 7 out of 10.

Gamarjobat - The Western

I've seen Gamarjobat each year for the last few years and they always provide good entertainment with no dialogue. This is their last year in Edinburgh before they head of to Broadway and their own show on BBC 3. In all honesty their best show was Rock 'n' Roll Penguin last year which has less storytelling (yes, story telling with no dialogue) and more performance to the audience at the beginning. This year the split is more in favour of The Western story which takes up at least half of the show. It is good but a little bit slow and probably not as entertaining as their Rocky tribute a few years ago. That said, if you've never seen them go and catch them before you lose your chance to.
7 out of 10 and 'arigato gozaimasu' for all the memories.

1 August 2008

Brendon Burns - Fuck You, I'm Brendon Fucking Burns!

Last year's If.com Eddie Award winning, Brendon Burns, returns with a show in part milking his success as well as exploring the 'Fuck You, I'm ' attitude. Notable patrons include Paul Thomas Anderson, Arnold Schwarchnegar and multiple musicians. It's an interesting idea and if you get bored with any routine you can always just look at his two semi-glad amazonian warriors who are sprawled across the stage on either side of him. He doesn't have the blind aggression anymore, in part it has been replaced by joy and almost happiness. It's a fun show which entertains but never pretends to be anything more than a mix of celebration and zero-pressured writing, after all he's Brendon Fucking Burns. BTW for his final gag there will be one less 'contributor' to it - I know I have it on my desk! 
8 out of 10 and looking forward to business as usual next year once the celebrations are over.