Skittish

I am now well into week 2 of this year’s Edinburgh festivals experience, so my body is probably running low on green vegetable-based goodness by now and the city’s cobbled streets have played their traditional havoc with my feet and ankles.  It is also probably time to mention my comedy experiences at the 2013 Fringe.

I should perhaps make clear that I have “views” on comedy – though as with most of my views, these are really rather mutable as I am not terrible good at sustaining dogma in any area of my life (I’d make a very poor fundamentalist).  I think that comedy, like jazz, is best served live in an intimate (even sweaty) venue – it really doesn’t work in a stadium (or even large theatre) and loses something when televised (though survives the transition to radio quite well).  As a result, I tend to stop seeing comedians when they become overly successful and start playing larger spaces, but this has the positive benefit that I do keep having to seek out fresh (to me at least) talent.

The seeking out of novelty does lead me to believe (wholly unrealistically) that I “discovered” some people and I am then quite inappropriately proud when they go onto greater things or critical acclaim.  On the plus side (for the performer at least), I do feel a responsibility to support their career until they become too successful (see above) and I can feel that my work is done.

I first saw Bo Burnham as a rather brief talking head on a BBC4 documentary on musical comedy (two things very close to my heart) and was forced to use a well-known search engine (you know, the one that encourages you to stare) to find out who he was.   Back in 2010, I booked his show on the basis of this rather limited knowledge and it totally blew me (and the critics) away – it was incredible dense with ideas and jokes.  I have been somewhat obsessed by this show (and his recorded output) ever since and was properly excited by his return to Edinburgh this year.  Despite him playing (and filling) an undesirably large venue, I went and he really didn’t disappoint – I should also mention that he is quite sickeningly young and American, so I was overcoming a lot of prejudices to love his show.

I’ve been following John Robins since he MC’d a gig in Cambridge several years ago.  I do worry about the lad as he remains resolutely unfamous (despite producing consistently funny shows) and he seems to play to small and less than full venues each year.  This year’s show was his best yet and I was really pleased to read some good reviews for it.  He deserves some success and I am going to make it my mission to ensure he gets it – though will admit I’m not quite sure how to make this happen.  A project for the long, dark winter evenings, perhaps.  Stuart Goldsmith is a similar project, but more about him in another post.

This has been a very good year for sketch comedy – both the Beta Males and Max and Ivan were largely new to me but excellent and Jigsaw were as stunning as I’ve come to expect.  For me, WitTank were this year’s top sketch act in an extremely silly but very funny show – I even got to take part, playing the triangle in a performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria (which I think we can all agree is a pivotal role).  Actually, I have been starring in rather a lot of shows this year – I think it may be down to the fact that I have reached the age where I am more worried about leg-room than embarrassment and so am not afraid to sit in the front row (though not as yet, with Mark Lawson).

Whilst mentioning sketch comedy, I would also thoroughly recommend Daniel Rigby’s Berk in Progress – which was a little rough around the edges (given its “in progress” status), but exceeding funny.  I shall carry the phrase “mind beard” with me for a while and will never be able to look at Hungarian dance in the same way again.

I’ve tended to avoid “character” comedy in the past, but after seeing a little of him as part of a larger bill earlier in the year I took a punt on Kieran Hodgson.  HIs show based around a fictional(?) flood of the Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough was very funny indeed and once again provided a part for yours truly, as the police inspector’s deputy.  It also marked one of three shows where there has been some form of osculatory action between myself and the comic – another theme of the 2013 Fringe which the broadsheets seem to have missed.  Michael Legge also planted a smacker on me  — though I think I may have been the first audience member willing to play along with the conceit.  I also had a significant role in John-Luke Roberts’ wildly silly and very funny Free Fringe show which involved my apple balancing skills (using only my head) – initially very poor, but then rather too good – and also a slightly uncomfortable (and plain weird) serenade.

I tend to avoid one-liner comics as they relentlessness tends to grate after about 20 minutes.  However, I have heard so much about how great Gary Bainbridge joke-writing is that I decided to risk his show and was not disappointed.  I lasted the whole hour with no difficulty – and could have taken more – and boy can that man write a joke.

In terms of more traditional stand-up, I can also really recommend Alex Horne who’s show has an extremely clever McGuffin and is very funny.  I would also recommend James Acaster, who’s show as very good and very interesting to me as I’d seem a very early incarnation as part of a live ComComPod.  It was funny then and it was fascinating to see how much more funny he’d managed to extract from what might seem rather unpromising ideas in the intervening months.  I’d also really recommend Liam Williams – I’d only seen a little of him before, but his full show is very good and rather original.  It also one of very few occasions where I have found that my knowledge of English Literature was slightly inadequate.

Two people I didn’t see in Edinburgh, but caught in London’s terribly hip Spitalfields (not quite sure how I was allowed in) and would heartily recommend are Tom Rosenthal and Romesh Ranganathan.  I was singularly pleased when I discovered that their shows were deservedly  well-reviewed.

Jonny and the Baptists and Mitch Benn provided some excellent music-based comedy.  Mitch also provided my most exciting moment of the Fringe so far.  At the gig, I found myself sitting next to Ian Rankin – not planned, I just sat-down and looked to me left and recognised the chap and after a few seconds worked out why.  Given the cramped nature of most Fringe venues I was literally (in all senses of the word) touching with him.  I found myself trying to be cool, whilst also trying to decide how much accidental frottage I could get away with – in the hope that even the tiniest iota of his writing talent might rub off on me.

In short, this Fringe has provided a whole range of opportunities (real and imagined) to improve my performing and blogging skills – while I have an immoderate amount of fun (and consume quite a lot of IPA).  I fear it may prove quite tricky returning to my real life next week…

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