26 August 2009

The Top Comedy Award - You Are Having A Laugh!

With baited breath, I waited well past 12pm for the first nominees under the new name, the Eddies (or Nica Burns presents the 29th Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2009).  What came through was comedy of such a level that I feel naughty for not buying a ticket to read it!  First off, Rhod Gilbert is not on the list and clearly is disqualified for being a star ("regularly selling out 500+ seat venue based on their name alone", i.e. three extra shows filled up the 700 seat Grand in less than a week).  So this should be a battle between the Pajama Men and Dan Antopolski, plus a few other interesting names...  But it's not.  First off, the lack of Pajama Men *and* Dan Antopolski is outrageous.  Yes they have both been around for a while but I am not aware of any regulations that would rule out either of them.  Dan has won Best One Liner of the Festival and Pajama Men scoped the top award in Melbourne for last year's show (Versus vs Versus) whilst this year's show is a lot better (and nearly perfect).  As I mention earlier, it seems like the panel just do not like agreeing in anyway with the Melbourne nominees (and I'm not counting Kristen Schaal last year as she co-won in Oz for her solo show and was nominated in Edinburgh for a double act play).  Needless to say Celia Pacquloa doesn't get a look in as a newcomer, although she was invited to play at Edinburgh so maybe that rules her out.

So who does make the list?  Tom Wrigglesworth (called it) and Jon Richardson (not a surprise but I though he might be eaked out) are both there plus four others (it's a six entry shortlist this year, making up for the shortened four entries last year).  With six spaces any sane person would imagine Andrew Lawrence and probably Wehn & Kuhnle being in with a good shout of being on the list.  Well you'd be a fool!  John Bishop and perennial nominee Russell Kane both get nods a while both did good shows they weren't brilliant.  Neither of these shows can hold a candle to any of the aforementioned acts and it is quite a shock for them to be on the list with the presence of such competition.  The final two are Idiots of Ants (a sketch group, I guessed Adam Riches's show Rogue Males instead but you would expect a show like this) and Tim Key (a deadpan poet).  The one positive is that everyone is a relative unknown so a star will be made (I was kind of hoping that Rhod would no longer be eligible as he is practically meteoric right now).  The smart money will be on the smart material, Jon Richardson to follow up his newcomer nomination from  two years ago to scoop the top award.  You read it here first!

The first Edinburgh Comedy Award (Eddies 2009) Nominees are out!

The first Edinburgh Comedy Award Nominees are out!  Okay, for first 25 years it was the Perrier Awards, followed by 3 years as the IF.com Eddy Awards, but now we are just going to refer to them as the Eddies.  My sure-fire shortlist is as follows: 
• Rhod Gilbert - And The Cat That Looked Like Nicholas Lyndhurst (unless he is now deemed a Star by selling out the 700 seat Grand for three nights);
• Pajama Men - The Last Stand To Reason;
• Dan Antopolski - Silent But Deadly;
• Wehn & Kuhnle - German Humour Goes Global.

My list is lacking a fifth which could be either Tom Wrigglesworth or Adam Riches's Rogue Males, based on the reviews they have been getting.  Due to the dates I've booked for them I'll only find out what they are like after the actual winner has been announced - it could be quite interesting!  Andrew Lawrence is in with a shout but not Paul Sinha (not least of all because his show is not 80% new material).

The only newcomer I'm really aware of is Celia Pacquola and after going down a storm in Melbourne and winning The Age's Critics' Award she has to be a strong candidate (althought over the last few years both Sammy J & Heath McIvor and Lawrence Leung were over looked for the awards despite being brilliant and winning the aforementioned award).

How did I do?  I'll update this after lunch when the official nominees are out...

25 August 2009

One4Review = One Four Star Review for Everyone!

I noticed a poster for a show that got ripped into by Steve Bennett at Chortle, giving it 2 stars and almost hoping it stopped playing, with a fresh white banner over it saying '***** one4review'.  I was perplexed.  I have stated before that Steve Bennett is a tough reviewer (possibly the only person who can genuinely say that three stars from him is "good") but 2 stars from him and 5 from one4review - shurely shome mistake?  The show in question is Domesti Goodi 2: How To Cope to which Mr. Chortle opens with "If you want something funnier than a range of broadly-sketched characters in search of a punchline, look elsewhere" and closes with it being at risk of closing due to the recession and "Few would probably mourn it".  Compare and contrast to Geoff Evans (whose name appears across the top of one4review) and starts about "...last years show and have to admit they blew me away [this show is] as good, if not better than last year’s version" and in the following paragraph (which is only one sentence long) notes they have "a selection of some of the funniest sketches you will see anywhere". I need to investigate further...

The first thing I did, before reading the review, if check out what was going on with my browser when the page loaded.  It turns out all of their reviews *intentionally* have no images on the page and practically no colours.  The site is written with "Microsoft FrontPage 4.0" which was released in 1999 and subsequently the product has been discontinued.  Take a look at this screen grab for yourself:


I took a closer look at the vast list of shows they had been to see (about 15 per day between the five people) and noticed a common theme:  they were all 4 or 5 star reviews!  I obviously didn't look at every show but everyone I clicked on, even ones other websites said stunk, received 4 or 5 stars.  Eureka!  That's what the domain name refers to -  One 4 (star) Review guaranteed!  This doesn't bode well for all the posters with their asterisks over them, unless they are just using shift + 8 as a text separator instead of multiple carriage returns...

One more thing bugged me - if you are going to give everyone high scores and see so many shows, why is the content so light and almost personal experience rather than reviewing the performer?  I haven't quite worked out my answer but I have got a better understanding of Geoff Evans's style from his closing remarks when commenting about his experience of seeing Lucy Porter "the tickets for her shows are flying out of the door [snip] get your ticket while there may still be some available", John Bishop " If there are still some available then get yourself a ticket now, ‘cause there won’t be any available if you delay much longer" and Newsrevue "[their] tickets soon become like gold dust so my advice is to get your now or there soon won’t be any left".  At least you can't fault him on consistency!

21 August 2009

Paul Sinha - 39 Years of Solitude

This year Paul went with a reference to a classic Colombian book in his title in order to attract a more intelligent punter.  At least he advertised this year and made the guide, which was probably his biggest of many failings last year.  In short due to his mother getting ill he missed deadlines and his show wasn't up to his normal standard.  He also barely had 20% of the venue filled because of this.  This year he fills The Stand 3 and most people are aware enough of him to get straight into this year's show.  Well, actually, last year's show.  The first 40 minutes are identical to last year's show but the big difference is he performs with such gusto and confidence to a crowd that gets him and his style.  His final third is much stronger than last year and is a fitting ending to a good show.  As most of his shows are he examines his lack of bravery and obsession with quiz shows and general knowledge.  He does this in a humble way and also manages to work out issues with his place in the community and indeed world under the many different labels he lives under (mostly gay, Asian and doctor).  Paul is an expert and mis-direction in his comedy and also proudly delivers subtle gags that he will intentionally race past.  He is a top comic making up for last year and restoring faith in himself.  Hopefully he can use this completed chapter of his life to deliver a bigger show at a higher level next year and challenge once again for the top comedy award.  Erudite, analytical and a born-story-teller - 9 out of 10 or five stars (but only if you didn't see last year's show, otherwise it'll have to be an 8).

Carey Marx - The Doom Gloom Boom

Carey has been suggested by numerous people over the years, possibly also by his possible flatmate Phil Nichol.  Finally we make it to see Carey and within minutes are surprised by his act.  His thick London accent conflicts with his laid back approach whilst his material is unusually topical, e.g. male fish in the Potomac River are producing eggs.  To use such strange platforms to build routines on is so different as well as challenging; he is both brave and bright.  His big laughs were on more common themes and have a similar feel to those bombshells Glenn Wool drops.  Several of his best gags have that right balance of offensive-shock and comic-genius that leave a moment of silence as people process and others gasp in.  Overall his set is well constructed and there is a nicely built ending which wraps up most of his hot-button issues.  To be fair there wasn't any story I wasn't aware of but then I'm glued to the science and health pages of the BBC.  A more balanced person might end up learning things during the show, or more likely dismiss his facts as made-up for comic effect!  Thought-provoking, topical and slightly-shocking - 8 out of 10 or four stars.

20 August 2009

Phil Cool! Who's He?

I first saw Phil Cool about 18 years ago as a teenager when he was on tour with Jasper Carrott (that's why I went to the show).  I was quite impressed as I'd never heard of him before and wasn't aware of his TV show but he entertained me then.  How would the situation be as my cousin born that year is now able to purchase alcohol and I am a seasoned comedy critic (wannabe)?  [Deep gasp of breath]  Not well.  First off, the venue is a joke.  Situated two miles from The Pleasance and one mile from the Assembly Rooms, it is buried behind multiple tram-works, down a side street, inside a hotel.  There is practically no advertising nearby and I have not seen a single flyer or poster.  So how do Club West describe their consecutive shows of Jazz, Comedy and Dance?  The Best of the Fest.  I don't think so.  So thanks to some promoters with a death wish, 20 of us are lead into a room with 150 seats in (and that doesn't include large walk ways that could have easily made it into a 200+ seater venue.  Almost everyone is in pairs, which is not really a surprise as tickets are £16 each (!) but he is part of Friends of the Fringe so I would guess everyone is here at 2-for-1 prices.

We've covered a lot so far and we haven't even touched on Phil's show yet.  Doesn't matter, it'll only take a minute...  Phil has always had a methodical delivery but in such a big room with so few people in this really doesn't help.  He runs through his classic impersonations including his incomparable facial impersonations (he seems to alter the shape of his eyes for Bush compared to Blair).  Unfortunately within those impressions he is quite light on jokes and certainly nothing more than a brief blurted ha-ha.  His material hasn't change over the past 18 years and some of his favourites are performed for us.  Including Clinton, Bush, Blair and Brown doesn't really make it up-to-date, for a start the first three have been away for all of 2009.  There has been great debate as to whether this should be a 6 (my initial thoughts) or a 5 (my co-festivaler).  Basically if the show was free and you had an hour to kill should you go and see it or not.  Despite my initial generosity, on reflection, if someone offered KT free tickets to see it I'd tell her not to bother.  That said, it might have been funny if you were high.  Facially-excellent, Bereft-of-gags and Stuck-in-time (I know that's cheating on my three word summary but I don't care!).  5 out of 10 and my first one star show [FYI both Des Clarke and Lucy Porter managed to get 3 out of 10 independently or negative one star].

19 August 2009

3 Stars Make No Sense To Me, Mean, Median or Mode

I've previous explained why I use a superior base-10 scoring system for reviewing things and how it doesn't translate as simply as halving it to get the equivalent stars. Following on from a conversation I had the other day I just want to elaborate on why the five star approach is such as flawed system. With only five stars, the “average” score is surely the arithmetic mean which is (1+2+3+4+5 = 15 / n = 3) three. Yet ask any person who uses this scoring system and three stars is “good”. Maybe they have used a different system for making two stars “average”... I looked closely at various reviews and worked out the median value (the middle one) and surprisingly that is three stars. Lastly I counted up how many there are of each star to get the mode (the most common one) and shockingly that is three stars again! By any measure, mean, median, mode or logic, three stars is “average”. The makes four stars “good” and five stars “very good” leaving no space for “exceptional”. Mirroring that two stars is “poor” and one star is “very poor”. The irony of this is that whilst most people claim three stars is a “good” review, in reality they are being too generous and a average mark is far more accurate which would be … three stars! After much searching I've found some honest reviewers that give 3 stars and mean average or okay. Take Neil McEwan reviewing Des Clarke for The Scotsman, ending with "this isn't the best or most original show you'll see this year but it's perfectly adequate" - 3 stars. Notoriously tough Steve Bennett ends his review of Sammy J's 1999 with "So while you’re almost guaranteed to go away cheerful, you won’t actually have laughed all that much" - 3 stars. I rest my case m'lord. So don't be fooled by any review – three stars is just okay, four is good.

18 August 2009

Jon Richardson - This Guy At Night

With tonight's show Jon proudly enters my '3 and above' list which very few performers get on to, and it's more impressive as it's three years back to back (since he burst on to the scene with his nomination for Best Newcomer.  As I have therefore said twice before, Jon is a very smart person with almost an obsessive personality that becomes irritated about the most irrelevant things.  Having chosen single life (although given his show I don't know how even he can live with himself at times) he has way too much time on his hands which feeds into his geeky-ness.  It's not the big things in the world that get Jon annoyed, but the more left-field things such as the principals behind re-connection charges.  Underpinning this is Jon exploration of does perfection exist and is it only a bad thing.

This year's show is good throughout but he really steps it up in the final 15-20 minutes.  If half an hour was of that quality we'd be looking at a flawless show!  Despite reviewers calling him "hate-filled" and "angry", which is partially true, what makes Jon so different is he is a thoroughly likeable and honest guy but in a different way to the John Bishop.  However you want to describe his specialness the one thing I can guarantee is that he has the formula for a great act with a really bright future.  I will be back for the next three year's, if only I could book my tickets when he starts writing the show (see his show and you'll get the gag)!  Thoughtful, Annoyed and Geeky - 9 out of 10 or five amazing stars.

UPDATED: Jon has made the shortlist for Best Comedy Show and in light of the competition his is facing, you have to believe he is the favourite to win it.  He deserves the award and he deserves to be playing to much bigger crowds next year.

Star Spotting The Other Way Around

Some lucky people get all the luck (it seems wherever you go these days there are redundancies everywhere)! Over the years I've had friends tell me they've seen Frank Skinner and Eddie Izzard doing improv on The Mound and a whole host of other star names not playing at the festival but enjoying the best of Scotland. Rumour has it that two years ago Larry David was here but I am only aware of third hand information to support it. This year I've seen Ja neane Garofalo being interviewed and sat near to Brendon Burns whilst he has an early evening beer (and I scoff down my Curry in a Hurry from the Mosque Kitchen in Potterow). The problem is that they but have shows at Edinburgh, albeit for limited runs. The only interesting person I've seen so far that is Marek Larwood, the diminutive member of We Are Klang. Sadly they are not playing this year, although their TV show goes out on a Thursday evening on BBC3 during August. I did exchange polite smiles with Mark Kermode in June during the Film Festival but it should really be a given that he would be there. Has anyone else spotted an unexpected star in Edinburgh this summer? By the other definition I've spotted several stars this year, just give them a few years to complete their transformation.



Beep beep, beep beep. 24 hours of Comedy and Counting!

We've just entered the second week of the Edinburgh Fringe 2009 and I've already surpassed 24 hours of comedy in real time (none of this fake time for me...)!  And that doesn't include 20 minutes lost to recapping what happened last hour and adverts!  Who has stood out in the first week and a bit?  There are the usual suspects as well as a few surprises.  Rhod Gilbert is only likely to face a serious challenge from Pajama Men to take the top comedy award.  If Phil Nichol had listed his act as Bobby Spade he might have caused some serious deliberations as whether or not he could be up for the award again (just as Rich Hall is a star but his character Otis Lee Crenshaw won the award).  With a little tightening of their acts post preview shows,  Dan Antopolski and/or Andrew Lawrence could be in with a shout.  On last night's performance and in the interests of diversity I wouldn't be shocked if Hennig When and Otto Kuhnle got a nomination for their strong and diverse show.

Looking forward, we have Jon Richardson tonight who is getting some great reviews.  If he is on form with a solid set Paul Sinha is always a possibility and maybe, just maybe, we could believe the hype about Rogue Males being "simply perfection" - although that quote and five stars did come from Corey Shaw at Chortle.co.uk who is a bit more generous with the stars than Steve Bennett.  It could very well be the strongest line up for the comedy award in many years ... it's a good job I have tickets for the show!

17 August 2009

Hennig Wehn & Otto Kuhnle - German Humour Goes Global

Last year they performed a decent show in what, in their words, can only be described as a bunker.  This year they are a in much bigger venue following a successful stint in Melbourne that saw them receive a nomination and certainly honed their skills further.  The basic premise is that Hennig, the German Comedy Ambassador, and Otto, the funniest man from Dusseldorf, want to take their brand of German Humour beyond just the UK to, let's say Global domination.  If you can't see what is funny about that on so many levels you are just not going to get these guys.

The "big top" venue, Bosco in George Square Gardens, this year branded Udderbelly's Hullabaloo after the Spiegel Tent decided it would be too costly for them to return, is the perfect venue for this mix of humour, music and silliness.  The show screams variety but in a bizarre way.  I counted at least 8 different segments with differing styles of comedy and in all five radically different musical "instruments" being played by Otto.  Hennig is the more classic stand up, performing all his shows with a stop watch around his neck as part of his natural German desire for accuracy and efficiency.  Having watched their show take you through some interesting places and build to an impressive finale, which is then topped by a gag that takes a whole show to make, you cannot help but feel uplifted and glad you witnessed something so different.  If there is any justice in this world we'll be seeing these two on Sunday evening at the Eddy Comedy Award show.  Madcap, European and Imaginative - 9 out of 10 or an impressive five stars!

16 August 2009

Phil Nichol – A Deadpan Poet Sings Quiet Songs Quietly...


After belatedly winning the inaugural If.com Eddie Award, Phil Nichol moved up to The Stand 1 (or Main Space) with a Rolling Stones show called Hiro Worship. It worked well and was a good show but it took away a lot of his brilliance by using that venue. Last year he did a best of show which just highlighted how his style doesn't suit such a wide disrupted space. Selfishly I was delighted to see him return back to the tiny Stand II (only 50 seats) to perform his new show. It turns out though that Phil Nichol is not in this show, but Bobby Spade is the star, a poet with some musical ability. And therein lies the problem. This show should not be branded Phil Nichol but rather Bobby Spade, just like when Rich Hall created Otis Lee Crenshaw he did all his advertising under that name – and quite rightly so! I think Phil Nichol should have done the same thing as it would have been a more accurate reflection of his show. It also would have caused the mother of all debates, as to whether Bobby Spade could go on to win the Edinburgh Comedy Award this year as it was Phil Nichol and not Bobby Spade that won it a few years ago. Given the precedent of Otis Lee Crenshaw winning despite Rich Hall being an established star, I can only assume that Bobby Spade would have been eligible and would give Rhod Gilbert and the Pajama Men a serious run for their money.
As it stands (no pun intended, there are enough of them in this show), this is a mute point and the only thing we do with this show is admire the brilliance of Phil Nichol and the first time he has managed to combine his humour, musical abilities and acting abilities to create an unbelievable show (and it is a show, much more than a simple set). The songs and beat poems Bobby performs put Tim Minchin to shame, the atmosphere and character acting could easily be part of some dark play and the humour is constant and from all angles. Briefly in a few songs you see Bobby's eyes light up like the Incredible Hulk and you know the manic Phil Nichol is burning within, waiting to get out, but he controls it masterfully. It's perfect and comparable to the Naked Racist and Nearly Gay (although it is probably just below the pair of them on the greatness scale).
Before giving Phil an inevitable 10 out of 10, it's interesting to look at the other reviews of his show. Kate Copstick, who admittedly got me hooked on Phil Nichol like a junkie in the first place, aptly sums him and Bobby Spade in her review giving him a flawless score. On the other hand I don't think Steve Bennett over at Chortle quite “gets” Phil Nichol's brilliance. He has given this show three stars and Hiro Worship four stars. This is easily better than Hiro. Furthermore he gave Naked Racist five stars when he reviewed it in Brighton, a few months after Phil had won the ex-Perrier - did he not want to see it before other people make a decision on it?. His best show, Nearly Gay, was only given four stars before being inexplicably looked over for the Perrier (when Laura Solon won it) and anyone who has seen both shows will testify that Nearly Gay edges the title of best show (ever). Don't get me wrong I think Steve Bennett knows his stuff and is a very tough reviewer (he has given both Rhod Gilbert and Pajama Men only four stars this year) but when he gives five stars to Adam Hills for his Edinburgh Fringe 2009 (reviewed in his native Australia in April...) and comment that he overran by nearly half an hour and coaxed the audience into singing someone Happy Birthday which was a little bit trite (paraphrase), or Josh Howie's strong-but-not perfect show last year, it makes the lower ratings for Phil Nichol seem a shade confused.
When he lets himself out, he is the finest comic performer to come to Edinburgh in a decade plus. He deserves a kind of Larry David show, perhaps Curb Your Manicness. No wonder it keeps getting referenced that he was actually born in Scotland, I'm just so honoured to have met him a few times. When you finally do see him you'll wonder just how lived in a world where he didn't exist. Perfect, Incomparable and a Genius – 10 out of 10 giving him a five-star-system-busting six stars.


Mark Thomas – Manifesto

After a couple of years away (since his show about Arms, entitled As Used On Nelson Mandela) Mark is back on tour and it couldn't be more political than this. The premise of his show is that he is travelling the country for policy ideas that can form the basis of the Public's Manifesto. From his Edinburgh shows he will take all the winning (democratically voted on) and present them to a cross-part group of MSPs at the Pleasance to see if they will be taken up by the Scottish Government.

It's a hugely enjoyable and informative hour and a half that is a bit more diverse that his previous shows which have tended to focus on just one subject. Some of the ideas that didn't make it in my show include “everyone must live within cycling distance to work” and “concentrate on one set of roadworks at a time” (transport was a very big issue for residents in Edinburgh for some reason). The winning idea was to fine supermarkets, especially Tesco, for every gram of excess package they produce.

Mark does tell of some non-manifesto related stories that are rewarding. Apparently when having your fingerprints taken there is no law requiring you so sign your name as well, the police simply ask you nicely to. Also when stopped by a police office under Stop And Search they have to have a good reason for doing so that gets documented in the CIT report.  It takes a lot of work out of being up to date with the fight against abuse of power and the ludicrous ID cards.  Political, Engrossing and Motivating – 8 out of 10 or four communist stars.



15 August 2009

Janeane Garofalo

From her early days as the booker on the Larry Sanders Show, to the only person Jerry Seinfeld proposed to, through to the less attractive one of Uma Thurman and her competing for Ben Chaplin's attentions in The Truth About Cats And Dogs, I have always admired Janeane but never learnt who to pronounce her surname. For many years it was Gar-faf-alo until I heard she was coming to Edinburgh when I concentrated and made it Janeane the Gruffalo. Be that as it may (that's a in-joke to people who have seen her this year), she is still a well established American Star doing a decent length run in Edinburgh (and not skipping days out like Jimmy Carr performing Rapier Twit, as all the doctored posters cleverly say).

It seems in her middle age (she's now 45 and look great for it) she is losing words (they are always in the last place you look – why else would you keep looking?), as well as forgetting what she had previously said after returning from a tangent (I get that a lot to be fair). It is probably these two traits that caused to walk off stage in a pre-Edinburgh preview after 10 minutes, breaking up with the audience using the “it's not you it's me” line. Each night however she has been getting better and better (based on other reviews) and fortunately I had the nous to book her last night in Edinburgh (tickets for the show that is, I'm not renting her personally). Put a pin in that for the moment and lets talk about what she talks about this time.

Janeane opens with some good Scottish gags that go down well and explore many areas about her life including depression, dogs, children, marriage, relationships and her sex life. She has a humble demeanour and is very likeable, even when wandering. Some of her anecdotes are quite funny but mostly there is a constant chuck throughout the show. She is a seasoned professional that just needed to get rid of some ring rust. Probably the biggest annoyance was the frequent distractions of camera flashes or camera displays (for those who remember to turn off the flash) to capture her likeness because you can't find it on the internet... On that point of bemusing devotion there were some mindless heckles, including one “show us your pants” about five minutes after showing she has Spanx (some form of thick tights from what I could see) right up to her rib cage). All in all it was a good performance and a nice way to see someone from the big/small screen (either way it's an NTSC screen) live and in person. Adorable, Open and Realistic – 8 out of 10 or four stars stuffed full of puppy dogs.



Newsrevue: 30th Anniversary

Six years ago I saw Newsrevue's 25th Anniversary show (when they entered the Guinness Book of Records for longest running live comedy show) and they were very good, topical and funny.  Over the years they have had some very famous alumni since their first show almost 30 years ago to the day, August 18th to be exact.  It's a real shame that I have to write this review as they no longer have "it".  Over the last couple of years they have slid further and further downhill until they end up with this year's show.  The first half hour was bereft of humour, something they've been moving towards in recent years.  As anyone fule no, you have to start with a few strong gags and then you can move to lesser material before finishing with a flurry.  You can't expect to bore an audience with 30 minutes of 6th Form level comedy and keep them interested (Just to be clear, that's the writing I'm criticising, not the performing and singing which was good). As such there were several routines that go zero or close-to-zero applause.  Overall there wasn't a single laugh out loud moment and only a few mild chuckle moments. Only two of their songs were even slightly clever satire.  To top all the disappointment, their best gag my a mile, a song about the railways, was completely out-of-date and irrelevant mainly because they performed it five years ago and have started re-using older material. Shame on you!  Your material is supposed to be from the last year only, even your 30 year review songs at the start and finish were both written this year.

Some people have tried to defend them saying they are in bad taste and you just don't get it but in truth you would only think that if you survive on a diet of exclusively BBC1.  It is one of the safest shows on the Comedy Festival and has been year in year out.  It's sad but even at half price (Friend of the Fringe) I don't think the show is worth it.  The cost of two full price tickets would more than pay for a full annual subscription to Private Eye and one edition of that would give you four times the satire and humour in this entire show.  My final gripe is the fact that the show started at 18:01 (one minute late, oh no!) and ended at 18:55 on the dot.  That's 54 minutes not the 60 minutes they are advertising for!  Why should the audience not get 10% of their ticket prices if you are going to cut 10% off your show?  Flat, Unfunny and Un-Topical - 6 out of 10 or two stars (fighting with Zoe Lyons for the worst show of my Festival).

The Press Can't Hack the Edinburgh Fringe 2009

I like looking at other reviews during the Fringe to see if there is something else that I'm not aware of that's worth catching.  There are good sources of info, Edinburgh-Festivals is one (from The Scotsman) and Chortle is another.  Obviously you have to try and aggregate these reviews to get a truer perspective.  For example the man behind Chortle, Steve Bennett, often gives too few stars (four stars for both Rhod Gilbert and Pajama Men yet says they will probably be up for the top award) whilst one of his newer reviewers, Chloe Smith, gives far too many stars for mediocre performances (Zoe Lyons got four stars).  That said, there are far more untrustworthy sources out there, including one4review which gave Domestic Goodi 2 five stars whilst it's getting poor ratings everywhere else (unsurprisingly the one4review is the one that is plastered over the Pleasance tempting audiences to go and see it).

My beef is really with mainstream or old school media (the ones that are struggling to survive) and their lack of coverage of Edinburgh.  As it stands right now The Independent have 9 comedy reviews from Edinburgh on their website and The Telegraph have 10 (although as Private Eye has revealed, the Telegraph frequently use agency copy for their sports coverage and assigned fake names to it so we can't be sure just how many they have done themselves).  I have 19 reviews to date for the 19 shows I have seen, and I couldn't even expense the cost of my tickets!  Seriously though, whilst this is all about the coverage of Art, it is a sad time as newspapers lose more and more money and the real journalists breaking the big stories get cut back further and further.  Maybe they should just employ bloggers to cover Art and Sport and employ their professionals to do the bread and butter investigative journalism that made newspapers what they are...

14 August 2009

Rhys Darby – It's Rhys Darby Time

Unbeknownst to me, not only had Rhys actually played Edinburgh before (in 2003 as confirmed by the lovely cylinder in the Pleasance Courtyard listing everyone who has performed there for the 25th years of the Pleasance as a Festival venue), but he also did stand up here and not character acting. Needless to say there are literally no people in the audience who have come because of that show or because of his stand-up. Not to disappoint Rhys starts with a Park Ranger who gives a butch intro to the show. From a few reviews by reviewers that like to ruin gags before the show, it seems he has tightened up that segment as it does have a few good (and different) amusing lines in it. It's then time to welcome out the man of the hour, the only person who seems to be playing in Edinburgh this year (if you read mainstream magazines), Rhys Darby as Rhys Darby! One of the interesting things to learn is that Rhys has an amusing skill in making sound effects that are Police-Academy good.

After 10 minutes of Rhys as Rhys he delivers a stunning gag accompanied by a perfect physical representation. The moment will live with me forever! Sadly, so will the memory of the next 20 minutes when he suddenly changes track and tells us a story from Hollywood along with two good but unfunny characters. Coming out of this Rhys starts strong as if he has just walked on to follow a comic who has just bombed and killed the mood (which in a sense he has). The last 15 minutes are good, comparable to the first, with some more physical humour and a few sound effects delivered as promised earlier in the set. In all it's a good show from a talented man that has the potential to be great, if he cuts the incredible 20-odd minute lull in the middle. His big gag was great though! Talented, Warm and Surprising – 8 out 10 or four stars calling out 'present'.



13 August 2009

Ivan Brackensbury's - All New Hospital Radio Show

Last year Ivan Brackenbury hosted a special Christmas radio show in one of the hottest venues in Edinburgh, in the hottest month, with a full size Christmas tree and crackers for everyone in the audience each and every night.  That was real dedication and preparation.  What's more his story was excellent, he stayed almost completely in character and his gags were funny.  This year he steps up to the prestigious Cabaret Bar (the room Frank Skinner won the Perrier Award in 18 years ago) and has had to add extra shows due to demand.  What a shame it came a year too late. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a dreadful show, it's just a pale shadow of what it was last year.

Ivan is a "special" person who works as a small Hospital Radio DJ.  The music he plays is completely inappropriate and very funny.  Well, it was last year.  This year gags are weaker and feel like they lack thought.  By his own admission he has less music to chose from with this being his third year in character in Edinburgh.  The first 10 minutes of the show are spent interacting with Justin Moorhouse which was nice enough but it is another sign he has ran out material and/or creative inspiration.  The story is a lot weaker this year and includes an actress, playing an actress, which doesn't really work.  During my show he apparently messed up the big twist and similarly has done the same on other days despite being several days into the real festival and the audience paying full price!  The reason I believe it wasn't a work is down the reactions of the actress, she would have to be stunning to pull off the awkwardness and cracking up at the disaster in Ivan missing his lines.

So does anything make this show watchable?  In actual fact yes, quite a lot.  If you've never seen Ivan before then this will probably be your last chance.  Okay that gags aren't all top notch but there are still some good musical gags as well as one liners.  Near the beginning of the show he pulls out something he bought from Woolies (I wonder when that gag was written...) and as it stands right now, is the funniest gag of the Festival so far!  Real gold!  It was still an entertaining hour and the main faults are the high standard he set for himself last year (as I didn't see him two years ago).  If he could get through a show without any unintentional screw ups then it might feel a little bit stronger.   His ending is nice, all things considered.  Bonkers, Special and Different - 8 out of 10 or four stars, it's just a shame it's not as good as last year.

12 August 2009

A Century of Critical Success at the Edinburgh Fringe!

Over the past six years I've seen somewhere in the region of ~135 shows which is an incredible amount.  The reason for the title is that as of Monday's review of Rhod Gilbert And The Cat That Looked Like Nicholas Lyndhurst, I have now reviewed 100 shows on PhillG.com!  I still (vaguely) remember my first Fringe show, watching the the Irish comic Colin Murphy on fold out chairs in a room high up in the Pleasance.  Since then I seen so many shows it's hard to keep track, that goodness for my reviews on this website (and of course my older site when it was hosted by wordpress).  I've seen a handful of people four times, all clearly top comics:  Rhod Gilbert (one was in a Best of the Fest show but I saw Award Winning Mince Pie twice); David O' Doherty (inc. last weekend); Paul Sinha (assuming I make it to the show next weekend) and Demetri Martin (although I did go to the same show of consequetive nights, I had to watch his award winning show If I on BBC4).  Phil Nichol stands apart as the only person I will have seen five different shows (although one was his Best Of Album) and I saw both Nearly Gay and Naked Racist twice!

Of course at the other end of the spectrum are those shockingly poor acts that I've actually been moved to walk out on.  There are only a few, but I would walk out of them again and again if I was ever dragged back in there!  Nick Mohammed got 15 minutes before I couldn't take his lack of acting ability and shockingly poor characters.  Prior to that the over-hyped play My Name Is Rachel Corrie, who switched the highly praised actress and the big name behind it, Alan Rickman, clearly was no longer involved, managed to get to the second scene change before we were the envy of the rest of the audience escaping.  I never actually walked out on Des Clarke mostly because I was with a friend and when that show finished we had to make our way home mid-week in the rain.  I said for the shelter not the show.  Dragging up the rear is the woeful Lucy Porter.  Early on in my festivalling days I was convinced by her well produced posters and limited review snippets to give her a chance.  What a mistake!  To this day she is still the standard of ineptitude as a stand up.  She was also my very first walk out (the one honour she does deserve). 

There is actually one review that was never written but has an entry.  It's a good job I didn't write it as it would have moved the 100 position away from Rhod.  The entry for the aforementioned Des Clarke simply says it "will appear in the next few days…".  Why did it not?  I didn't want to waste any more time thinking about such a dreadful act.  Truely one of the worst "comics" I've ever seen.  The following year he teamed up with the only person who could challenge him for that title of "Worst In Show", Lucy Porter.  They are match made in the ninth circle of hell.  Never, ever think of watching either of them.  3 out of 10 for both of them.

To end on a positive there are a lot of talented people I have yet to see and more people breaking out each year.  The future is very bright for the Fringe and Stand Up Comedy in particular.  Only 99 more reviews left until I hit the big two-zero-zero!

10 August 2009

Matt Krishen – Shorter Than Napoleon

I heard a few good things about Matt Krishen last year and saw him in a queue for (I think) Reginald D. Hunter.  Like a select few he gets the chance to show off what he can do in the Pleasance Above.  Before we get into the show, there is a little quibble about something in his show and his reasoning for that.  The Edinburgh Evening News are reporting that Matt and Rob Rouse paid £1,000 for an air conditioning unit to be installed.  During the show Matt claims Rob paid £50 for a portable one from Argos.  They both say the heat is intolerable.  Clearly Matt has never even been to the venue right next to him (Below) when Mike Wozniak is suffering this year; let alone the Upstairs venue which sits on top of a kitchen and year-in, year-out is the hottest in the festival.  Does Matt get extra credit for thinking of his audience of negative points for being a little princess about a tolerable venue?  Neither really as his act is not up to the level that is going to make a difference.  He should have spent that energy concentrating on his routine not the ambient temperature. 

The problem is Matt's material (or all true stories) as a bit bland and the punch lines obvious.  A little bit about Europe with no real gags, same for the metric system, some flattery of America, a then a tea time story about his mad uncle.   He spends the vast part of his final third on a laughter-less recanting of a backpacking trip to Bordeaux where the “punchlines” could be seen some way off.  In all nothing ground breaking or worth opening your mouth to giggle about.  His material is that of a friend telling you the interesting thing that happened to him today, but with a slightly more energetic delivery.  That said he does try hard and has one notably funny and slightly edgier gag towards the end about paedophiles for which he deserves some credit for, coupled with the bonus of teaching us all that French inches (pre-revolution) were longer than British inches (hence the French reported Napoleon as shorter than he was as they used longer inches).  He amused a family of Americans in the front row and offended no-one.  That's about the best he could hope for, the safe family ticket.  Routine, Un-offensive and Effort  - 7 out of 10 or just three stars, helped considerably by a real joke towards the end.

Rhod Gilbert – And the Cat That Looked Like Nicholas Lyndhurst

What can I say about Rhod Gilbert?  Last year he blew Edinburgh away with a show that hasn't been seen since Phil Nichol in his prime.  That one show was good enough to win the top comedy award for three of the last four years (obvious not when Phil won it).  But it didn't.  Praising Rhod after seeing his show a second time (won't happen this time, every show, including the three extra shows, are completely sold out in one of the biggest venues in Edinburgh), I informed him he was a certainty to win.  Modestly he declined to agree and felt they may decide to go with David O'Doherty as he's been around for many more years.  Indeed they did.  The bright side of course is that puts him in the same category as Phil Nichol, being robbed one year only to return the next with an excellent show and win the newly named comedy award. 

Rhod clearly doesn't believe that karma will help him out this year as he has brought a stunning show, matching the highs of last year's triumph.  He talks about his last year and how his life has fallen apart since the reviews of last year's shows came out.  He has lost his flat, his girlfriend, his agent and had a different rage-induced breakdown.  Vacuum cleaner, washing machines, canals Prince Charles – everything drives Rhod the brink of despair.  His material, timing, stage-craft and tempo are all spot on.  I am now aware of him using a director which if true, makes it more impressive.  He is the finest comic on the circuit right now and he is still hitting top form.

Amazingly very few of the audience saw his show last year, the vast majority having caught him excelling on TV at the Royal Variety Performance and on BBC1' stand up shows.  I so thrilled for Rhod that he's getting the attention he deserves as one of the UK's top comics (winning Chortles' Best Headliner Award too).  If Rhod does not win the top award this year, I take out my threat to riot that started after Phil Nichol was overlooked.  He can't win next year because he will be a full on star, no doubt playing the Music Hall to 1,000 people a night.  Perfect, Uber-observant and a Guru.  10 out of 10 which is above 5 stars (sorry Pajama Men, Rhod will be king).

Sarah Millican – Typical Woman

It was a sure thing that Sarah was going to win the Best Newcomer Award last year once Josh Howie was not nominated.  Since then she has blossomed into a confident and competent stand up comic, returning with a new show having performed on what ever you want to call the BBC's cheap to make stand up show.  The theme of Sarah's show is the question is she a “typical woman” or “typical man”, and why those phrases only ever apply in the pejorative sense.  Sarah's style is the quint essential but stereo-typical woman.  Her material touches on her boyfriend, being a feeble woman and her other clich├ęd female traits (living off chocolate, flagging self esteem, defining herself through Cosmo and talking too much).  In her post-divorce transition to stand up comic, she has undergone this interesting liberation which helps her take these traits to a new and empowering level of post-feminism.  Even analysing the difference between the sexes doesn't seem as trite as you would imagine.  She makes you chuckle and giggle throughout her set but never really hits the hard belly-laughs.  Contrast this with John Bishop who probably makes us laugh half as much for the same total amount (scientifically measured in GiggleQuants, Gq).  She is the best female stand up I've ever seen, with Australian Fiona O'Loughlin a little way behind, then (also Australian) Sarah Kendall some way off, with Zoe Lyons way back still and finally Lucy Porter providing the proof of negative side of the GiggleQuants scale – Remember of course Nina Conti is not a stand up which is why she doesn't count, not least of all because she is excellent.  Femini(ne/st), Simple and Refreshing – 8 out of 10 or four “very good” stars.

Mike Wozniak – Clown Shoes

Last year Mike Wozniak came out of nowhere to get a nomination for Best Newcomer.  It wasn't much of a surprise when Sarah Millican won it (although the lack of nomination for Josh Howie was a surprise) but Mike was one of the surprise packages.  This year his moved up to the the Pleasance Below, a painfully hot venue that Josh Howie had to struggle with last year.  There are a few big fans in the room creating a bit of un-necessary noise (as they are not actually making a difference) yet perplexingly, Mike has chosen to perform without a, well, mike.  He does have a strong projected voice for the most part but when he gets to quieter sentences it becomes a struggle to hear him, even just halfway back in the venue.  Combined with the heat and no circulation this does have a negative affect on the gig.  Three people did leave (one early one, the others two-thirds in) which I'm sure were in part due to the venue but also in part due to his style.

As far as this year's show goes, Mike is threading his stories around his father's 60th birthday and the science roadshow they create, starting at their home town of Portsmouth and ending, well, in Portsmouth too.  There are four or five main routines loosely based about honouring his father, including a movie script, some science trivia, the science of fingers (that is not a joke) and interspersed with some hit and miss impressions of scientists.  There is some subtle humour in his routines and if you can last that long, most get wrapped up quite well in his second movie script (the dream sequence).  His movement around this stage is quite good, using the entire area and has a nice box to manage his props in.  Given his movement I would imagine that he felt using a hand-held mic would be inhibiting but I can't imagine why he wouldn't have opted for a headset, a la Sammy J or Madonna.  All in all his performs well but with the heat and slow material it is a bit of a trek.  It feels like a free-form lecture from your Sixth Form Physics teacher (or more specifically my Sixth Form Physics teacher who also had a Nigel Mansell moustache).  A better venue and perhaps a bit fuller set and he could have a bright future.  As it stands, he is commended for returning after his Best Newcomer Nomination (as everyone should).  Odd but Interesting Science-Teacher - 7 out of 10 or three stars (good but either get cheaper tickets or be a big fan).

9 August 2009

David O'Doherty - David O'Doh-Party

David scooped last year's award with a very good show (did he get a five star review anywhere?) but was not the deserved winner, that was Rhod Gilbert.  There was a fear expressed that David may win it in a kind of 'lifetime achievement' award before he became too big to be eligible.  This year, as last, he has less songs and more stand-up.  That's not an inherently bad thing as his songs were not always winners.  Out of his four songs this year (and one of them was the intro) only one was actually truly funny.  That song played to David's strengths, seeing the mild irritations that we all experience but nobody else grasps.  Some of his stand-up was good, not as good as his shark fear from last year, but still better than a lot of other shows out there.  Overall all he put in a sound performance which is all you can really hope for from the returning winner of top Comedy Award.  [On that, I think it should be made compulsory that all winners are required to return the following year or they will be stripped of their award.  I think it's disrespectful to Edinburgh not to, even if you are just reprising your winning show.]  Likeable, Astute and Entertaining – 8 out of 10 which is a reliable four stars.

Russell Kane – Human Dressage

A few years ago Russell was nominated for best newcomer at the same time as Russell Howard was up for the top award.  The latter Russell has gone on to guest on and host various TV shows whilst the former Russell has had some exposure but has clearly grown as a comic.  When I first saw Russell it was clear he had talent but he kept falling back on too many childish gags.  Now that reliance on easier aspects of his humour have been taken away without affecting his more cerebral stuff or keeping this base aspect to his routines.  He is himself this strange dichotomy of chav and cultured literature enthusiast; arse and analyst.  His show this year looks at the forced ways we act and how over enough time well take those traits into our actual personality.    Having spent sometime looking at various members of the audience we are regaled with how his gran is his hero and how he sought to confuse and irritate his father.  We also explore some of his cruel streak in relation to his brother.  His material is insightful, both in terms of his life and the human experience in general.  You wrestle throughout the show much like his dad must have, with this strange character breaking your assumptions and making your question what you do.  All in all he has a pretty strong show, albeit he did miss out two sections as he ran long and briefly had to summaries them ahead of his conclusion.  With those extra routines perhaps he would be pushing for a perfect show...  Insightful, Interesting and Unashamed – 9 out of 10 which is another five star review for poster-town.

Heath McIvor – Randy's Postcards from Purgatory

The master puppeteer from Forest of Dreams embarks on his one-puppet show about Randy who retells how he went from a drifter into finding love, losing it, ruining things and his life falling apart.  The biggest compliment I can pay to Randy is that he is everything I wanted – a continuation of the King!  Let me explain...  There is one character in Forest of Dreams that is so cool and so awe inspiring that 35 year old men quote lines of his over a year after seeing his show!  That character is the bright orange King.  Randy is in essence, the King but as a normal person who has to live the consequences of his sometimes-raucous actions.  This adds several sombre moments to the show and results in a more varied emotional ride.  The dialogue is good and well performed, the puppeteering is exceptional and his segues and flashbacks are very imaginative.  The show is packed with many big laughs as well as continual giggles throughout.  Heath clearly brings the offensively funny gags to the table, as well as incredible puppets.  If you loved the King this will make you very happy indeed.  I may very well go back to see him again.  The one downside, Randy took all the applause, Heath didn't accept any...  Masterful, Imaginative and Raucous – 9 out of 10 which is five stars on the simpler reviewing scale.

Sammy J - 1999

Following on from last year's stunning show “Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams”, Sammy J and Heath McIvor has separate shows (but are reprising the Forest of Dreams at weekends).  First up is Sammy J in the first of his 50 year story arc tracking his life.  The idea is every five years he will add a new piece adding to the fictional history of his life.  We start this epic with 15 year old Sammy J as a nerd back in school in 1999.  This piece looks at a chain of events which happened to a Sammy J in his final year at school (that's Sammy J the performer, not the real Sam Jackson).  In short we follow Sammy through his life with his only friend, to being bullied and intimidated, to confronting and overcoming the bullying in the most unusual way possible and, in a sense, wins the girl of his dreams.  Needless to say this very superficial overview doesn't ruin the intricacies of Sammy's dark mind and the strange scenes you share in during the performance.  Sammy clearly brings the darkness and musical abilities to the partnership he has with Heath McIvor and whilst his show works on his, it can't compete with when the pair of them are together.  Darker, Sympathy and Balls-y – 8 out of 10 (four stars) and  a good follow-up to an unsurpassable show.

UPDATE:  In all the excitment of the the Fringe 2009 and seeing the Sammy J's new show, I completely missed the fact that this is my 400th posting!

8 August 2009

Dan Antopolski - Silent But Deadly

Dan returned to stand-up and Edinburgh last year after 2.5 years away for the birth of his two children.  He has previously been nominated for the top award and last year showed glimpses of his abilities.  With a further year under his belt he returns and even in a preview show (with notes on the floor of the stage) he is very, very good.  One of the great things about Dan is his mixture of material and delivery: some puns, some one-liners, a few mini-stories and full-on routines.  Add into that two perfectly performed raps and you have one hell of a show with a high laughter rate.  His subjects sweep from his young girls to international politics to common expressions.  Dan is clearly an intelligent guy with the ability to jump from debased crude puns to subtle jokes that could skip right past you.  His big finale is very strong which wraps up all of his madness if a perfect moment.  Given an extra few days to fine tune his performance and I think there is every chance that he will be up there sweating on the Eddie Comedy Award.  Fast, Plentiful and Resourceful - 9 out of 10 and a deserved five stars (with the potential to hit a 10).

John Bishop - Elvis Has Left The Building

Last year was my first exposure to John Bishop despite being the biggest comic to come out of Liverpool in many years.  He has a warm and friendly manner and tells his stories in such an amicable way you can't help but like him and enjoy the experience.  This year's show, which was still technically a preview, starts slowly about unconnected subjects including the some guys in the audience.  The title is a small reference to a documentary he saw in which he realised he is now the same age as Elvis was when he died. 

It takes a good 20 minutes before he moved to his strong suits, notably his bizarre job, his family and his father.  In short John's material revolves around his continual quest to manage the strange aspects of being a comic whilst also trying to be a man, a husband, a father and a son.  On paper sets about his son trying to be the new lion in the pride should be old and tiresome but John's likeable (Scouse) nature make them enjoyable and funny.  Yes, he does spend sometime towards the end talking about Liverpool Football Club (and why wouldn't you?) which still appeals to anyone with basic knowledge of football.  Whilst I have mentioned there isn't a steady stream of gags, moreover humour from the situations, I haven't stressed just how funny those situations can be.  I'm talking about bent-over, hard belly-laughs. It's very hard not to connect to John and be sucked in to his world.  As such it's hard not to leave his show uplifted and thoroughly amused.  Open, Likeable and Truthful – 8 out of 10, that's four stars of amiable fun.

Phillip Escoffey - Six More Impossible Things Before Dinner

Phillip went down a storm last year and I booked these tickets based on word of mouth.  He starts the show as a thinner Martin Clunes double, who just makes sure nobody believes he is a psychic and also finds out that literally nobody in believes in psychics.  In short his hour long performance stretches your beliefs and makes you question everything, not least of all “could he be psychic?”.

He starts with a simple card test using two helpers from the audiences and having them standing behind him.  He confidently declares who has every card in a suit by looking at the men and then reading their faces if they are lying.  Topping that he repeats the stunt without either of the men looking at the cards and not looking at either man; quite impressive.  Pushing things further we explore luck and random chance by means of a bingo game increasing the entropy yet helping one lady predict incredibly random events without knowing it.  His penultimate piece is an incredible piece of tarot card reading which rapidly evolves into simple premonition and in a sealed letter reveals a wide range of details about the lady and the audience as a whole.  The downside was with the venue running late we had to skip his finale where is was going to reveal a selection of a 1 in 120 envelope which we scribbled down two connected words whilst waiting in the queue.  I really which we had been able to stay... 

Phillip's show is smooth but without gimmicks or any sleazy magician's patter.  He doesn't push you in any direction or make you think along any predetermined lines.  Think of him as a softer Derren Brown.  Abnormal, Baffling and Impossible – 8 out of 10 or four stars, but of course Phillip already knew that.

Laura Solon - Rabbit Faced Story Soup

Four years ago Laura came out of nowhere and won the last Perrier Award (before it turned into the if.com Eddie Award).  This was a shade controversial to say the least.  She didn't acquit herself well at all during the comedy awards show, her act was apparently only suited for a tiny venue.  Couple that with the fact that the other nominees were very strong performers, the biggest scandal was that Phil Nichol's exquisite show “Nearly Gay” was completely overlooked and didn't secure a nomination despite being the best show in the last few years.  [Justice was finally done the following year when Phil won the inaugural if.com Eddie Award, much like Rhod Gilbert should do this year]. 

So after a couple of years away working on various BBC Radio shows, how does Laura's return stack up.  It's interesting to say the least.  Laura's play (and it is categorically a play) is about how she came to write the final chapter of an incredibly popular crime thriller novel.  By retelling this story she plays about eight different characters to different degrees to success.  Her literary agent is quite impressive, reminiscent of an aged Bebe from Fraiser.  Her voices are varied and interesting, although nothing close to the abilities that the Pajama Men are showing.  The story has some engaging parts and a few slow parts and whilst the humour is limited throughout the set she does has four or five very funny gags included.

In her time away Laura has become a much stronger performer with a greater range of writing and acting.  She seems very well suited for radio – and I don't mean she isn't aesthetically pleasing, she is.  She performs as if we are a different audience, without breaking the fourth wall, as you would in a radio play.  That is admitted one downside, her physical presence there seems almost redundant.  She is accomplished in what she does and entertains a decent sized venue of predominately middle-aged people, if you will your stereo-typical radio listeners.  Maybe if she had a co-writer it might have packed a bigger kick.  Smile-able, Radio-esque and pleasant - 7 out of 10 which is 3 stars, good but not great.

7 August 2009

Glenn Wool - Let Your Hands Go

Glenn is a top performer who's strength is in political or sensitive material.  Last year he was good but spent too much time taking about his divorce.  This year, playing in the Bosco Theatre in George Square Gardens (where the Spielgel Tent usually is), he performs in essentially a circus venue with a hell of a lot of noise coming from outside (4 out of 10 for the venue being used for a stand up gig).  He does take a while to get into full swing but as he touches on later in the show, this is a preview and some bits won't make it (he has his notes on his table).  The first quarter of his act is about women and it starts to dawn on me that maybe in this bigger, 200 seat venue, he's going to play the more obvious routines and skip his natural strength (maybe he is auditioning for a TV spot).  Thankfully, out of nowhere, he segues into a taxi driver saying "I'm not a racist but..".  And with that Glenn returns to the festival!  Racism, Religion (although a bit sloppy with some of his Chrisitan stuff), South Africa and Corporate Greed.  You would be a fool to touch these areas if you didn't have great talent and strong material.  Thankfully Glenn has both in abundance.  Thought-provoking, Insightful and himself Juxtaposition - 8 out 10 (that's 4 stars again for the astrologists amongst us) with the potential to hit a 9 later in the festival.

Tom Basden - Now That's What I Call Musical-Based Comedy

Two years ago Tom scooped the Best Newcomer Award ahead of Jon Richardson (a good comic who I've seen and enjoyed twice).  In his first return to Edinburgh since winning, a lot of expectation rests on his shoulders.  The most apt way to review Tom is to describe his style.  Imagine a hybrid between Demetri Martin, Dave Gorman and a little bit of Alex Horne...  It actually works very well.  He plays multiple instruments in unusual ways, make full use of his projected presentation [I don't know if he is using Microsoft's PowerPoint so I'm not going to assume and call it a "powerpoint presentation"], uses little coloured in drawings, likes playing with words and is obsessed with Google.  He did have three or four really big laughs (proper moments of comic genius) and his four sections flow quite well.  The introductions to each section distract you nicely for some intrinsically funny things (there's that word again, I'm thinking it'll be word of the festival).  He does try a few bits that don't completely work (then again it is a preview) and his material is pretty safe but still quite amusing.  The only drawback is the lack of an overall plot, thread or goal that could weave the four sections together.  It might provide a bit more tempo and a slightly tighter set.  All in a money well spent and an enjoyable hour, despite the drawback in being in Upstairs, the venue based over a kitchen.  Versatile, Inventive and Different - 8 out of 10 or 4 stars if base-10 is too hard for you to relate to.

6 August 2009

Andrew Lawrence - Soul-Crushing Vicissitudes of Fortune!

Three years ago I saw a twelve year old Andrew (okay he was 25) with huge ginger hairdo perform a vicious routine with incredible lyrical dexterity.  He was nomination for the Best Newcomer Award but I didn't feel he was my cup of tea.  The following year he was nominated for the top award in what I believe is the first ever back-to-back newcomer-to-main award nomination.  On that basis I took another look last year and I was not disappointed.  This year Andrew steps up to a much bigger venue (and a cooler one) and sucks you in to his world like very few of the top comics can.  You really believe everything he says, whether he is hating his life, his job, his agent or his life.  He has slightly more confidence than last year and is a bit more relaxed, which translates to apathy to the audience, which translates to laughs.  Inside 10 minutes of his show I had huge tears dropping from my eyes on to my trousers (not streaming down my cheeks as I was bent double with laughter).  Any comic who viciously attacks reviews and the media at the same time as crucifying the latest Star Trek film gets my endorsement.   He could still tighten his show to hit the highs of a 10 and make himself a contender again this year (which he deserved last year but they had one less nominee (probably a ticketing problem!)).  Disturbed, superb and oddly-poetic - 9 out of 10 or 5 stars in poster-speak.

Pajama Men - The Last Stand to Reason

Last year the Pajama Men returned to Edinburgh after a few years away and delivered a good but weird show.  It was well acted and well performed but not really that funny.  Imagine my surprise when the winners of this year's Barry Award in the Melbourne Comedy Festival, following the likes of Demetri Martin and Daniel Kitson, were the Pajama Men for last year's show Versus vs Versus.  Something must have happened since their return, perhaps a metamorphosis into something altogether different.  With an open mind I returned to see if I should believe the hype.  Unfortunately it is worse than I feared.  They will really push Rhod Gilbert hard for the top award at Edinburgh - they were sublime.  They are this year's Sammy J (going down and storm in Oz and riding that belief over here).  There show contains incredible characters, stunning acting, exceptional accents and a plethora of very funny gags, all wrapped up by an over arching storyline.  They received one of the strongest and most forceful round of applause and cheering at the final curtain that I have heard in a long time (perhaps since Rhod last year).  You will never, ever see another show like them.  I may very well go back to see them again.  Is there a downside?  Yes, TV could never do justice to their act, they need to be seen live.  Insane, Transcendent and Phenomonal - 10 out of 10 (the first of the year), that's 6 stars out of 5, an award deserving show.

5 August 2009

Zoe Lyons: Miss Machismo

Two years ago Zoe was nominated for the Best Newcomer Award.  That in itself is not a big deal as they frequently make strange choices for the Newcomer nominations (hell, they gave Laura Solon the top award out of nowhere!).  Last year she won Dave's Best One Liner of the Fringe Award.  As far as I am concerned, Dave have never shown a single thing relating to Edinburgh Fringe on their channel so when they feel they have the right to create such an award is beyond me.  Either way, the gag was quite straight forward and just mildly amusing (and certainly not offensive!).  So what is she all about and how does she perform? 

At times Zoe sounds like a cross between Joe Pasquale and Andrew Lawrence (I bet you never thought you'd see those two names next to each other!).  Unfortunately, she is too much like the former and rarely scratches the bottom of the level of the latter.  As it was preview night it was good that her first show was tightly performed with well rehearsed material but sadly it just wasn't funny.  The audience was at 50% capacity and 90% of them were female [okay they then bussed in an additional 25% "Just For Laughs" staff who laughed too hard and every comment]. Most of her attempts at humour were either obvious puns or basic unfocussed insults on targets that are far too basic.  Her edgier material would only have shocked a Daily Mail stalwart.

The real shame of the act was that on very rare occasions she briefly showed glimpses that she could think of something intrinsically funny.  There were three good comedy ideas she brought up in the hour, but in all cases ruined it by 60 seconds later reverting back to her weaker, lazier style.  It seems Germaine Greer was right after all... women aren't funny and Zoe does nothing to dispel that idea.  Incidentally she doesn't go down as the worst female comic, that honour still stays with Lucy Porter (and just to be clear, Nina Conti isn't a stand up comic which is why she is exceptionally funny and not included in the above statement).  Zoe starts the Fringe off with a 6 out of 10 [only see if the tickets are free and you need to kill an hour of time, e.g. on a plane].  That translates to 2 Stars on much simpler rating systems.

It's Go Time ... But Not For All Of Edinburgh

It's Go Time, the Edinburgh Fringe 2009 is here! It's just a shame that two of the main events, Jazz On A Summer's Day and The Festival Cavalcade, are both disrupted by the destructive force of the Trams. Last week, it took 20 mins to walk to M&S from the Gardens, which is barely 500m. The main parade is moved to Holyrood Park and with the year of mayhem, the foot traffic in Princes Street has hit a record low. What can compound this misery? How about the news that the works won't be finished for Christmas, despite working through the Festival, and they'll have to come back to continue work in January. I think a feature in Private Eye is due for this level of ineptitude - Trebles all round!

4 August 2009

Mapping 5 Stars in to 10 Points Isn't Obvious

Normal people seem to be happy with a 5 star ranking system for, well, just about everything!  I've stated on many occasions that is not flexible or accurate enough which is why I use my special base-10 system with detailed rationale.  It does occur to me however that there is a cross-over with the 5 star approach, especially when it comes to the Comedy side of the Fringe.  You see it would be very difficult to get a show that would get less than 5/10 - the financial backers would not let this happen.  Yes, outside of comedy this is very possible and of course during the EIFF it's happened a few times. 

Here's how the ranking systems cross-over: 
1 star  = 5 points (walk out if you mistakenly end up in there);
2 stars = 6 points (if it's free and you need to waste an hour);
3 stars = 7 points (okay if you're a big fan and/or cheap tickets);
4 stars = 8 points (very good and worth full price, recommend to others);
5 stars = 9 points (excellent, beg other people to go and see it!);
+ stars = 10 points (perfection, pay for your friends to go and see it).

You can see the benefit of having an extra level to differentiate the class of 5 stars.  There are shows last year that were grouped together that actually dragged down the ranking of, for example, Rhod Gilbert and Sammy J by only giving them 5 stars and not 6!


The bottom half of the scale is the mirror image (or evil twin) of the top half, i.e. 5 points being if it's free and you have time to kill don't go and see it (or walk out).  The remaining ones are:
4 points = Even if you are in desperate need of something to do ... don't!
3 points = Very bad in all areas.  You would fall out with a friend over them making you watch this.
2 points = You'll actually hate yourself for sitting through this, it's that bad.
1 point = You wish bad things on the creators so they can never produce such an abomination again.

And for completeness sake, here are some films that plumbed those depths:
5 points = Scary Movie 2
4 points = Armageddon
3 points = Process (2004)
2 points = Anatomy of Hell
1 point   = Ecsatsy of Robert Carmichael

2 August 2009

I Was Right About (Lizard) Spock!

So, I guess I was right then. Not only was Star Trek over-hyped, but the so called good acting was really over-over-hyped. Simon Pegg was laughable as Scotty (and that's at, not with), Chris Pine's Kirk was border line Wes Crusher and the less said about Checkov the better. McCoy was the only stable performance but so much noise was made about someone nobody (Zachery Quinto) from an over-hyped TV show (Heroes) as Spock. Unfortunately this casting was probably the biggest missed opportunity (and that includes giving the talented Eric Bana woeful scenes that didn't need any acting ability) for one of the Fringe team to have a stroke of genius . And now it seems the TCA agree with me in recognising his genius. Sheldon Cooper, expertly played by Jim Parsons, won the best comic performance and is up for the same award in the Emmy's. Imagine how great Jim / Sheldon would have been as Spock... Damn shame!  If they made their inane casting decision by rock, paper, scissors then they probably need to look up the full version: rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock!