It has often been said, mostly by those with no medical training, that laughter is the best medicine. While I was up in Edinburgh, I developed a cold (OK, as this did not involve a lab and a team of rogue geneticists perhaps I should say a caught one) and I am unconvinced that any over-the-counter ‘medicines’ have any positive impact on the progress of the virus (except – if I’m lucky – for acting as a brief palliative). However, my location and the time of year did mean that I did extensively self-medicate with comedy. The cold proved very mild and the worst of the symptoms swiftly passed – could this be down to my frequent laughter? Or was this purely coincidental? As I am unwilling to be infected with multiple cold viruses and then ‘treated’ with varying degrees and styles of comedy we will probably never know – sorry folks, my commitment to the advancement of scientific knowledge only stretches so far.
Despite my obviously overweening self-regard, I do realise that the vast majority of the readership of this blog will not be visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. However, this is also true for significantly more august organs with a much wider readership and the fact doesn’t stop them – and so it won’t stop me. Plus, I do have an actual reader request for my comedy highlights! And, you never know, these funny folk may visit a venue near you one day…
So, in no particular order (though I have not properly randomised the list) are my favourite ‘acts’ from those I saw over the last week.
- Kieran Hodgson (FF): this is the third year I’ve seen Kieran’s one man show, in which he tells a story playing all of the characters. The bad news (for me) is that his genius has now been recognised by others, including a 5* review in The Guardian, which may make him rather harder to see in future (or it may involve arriving very early to be sure of a seat).
- John Robins: probably my 5th or 6th visit to his Edinburgh shows. He really is a very funny performer, mining two-and-half relatively minor incidents for a full hour of laughs.
- Brett Goldstein: my first time, inspired by seeing SuperBob earlier in the year. He was a lot of fun, and surprisingly soft-spoken given that when he is invariable cast as a thug when you see him acting.
- George Egg: almost a speciality act with jokes. George cooked a full, three course meal using only the equipment you find in a typical hotel room. e.g. iron, kettle, trouser price etc. At a time when many struggle to microwave an instant meal, the man should be an inspiration to us all – and perhaps placed on the National Curriculum. His poached sea bass was glorious and you will never look at a wire coat-hanger in quite the same way again.
- Max and Ivan: incredibly funny, apocalyptic story-telling.
- Alfie Brown: inspired to see him following his interview on ComComPod. Very funny and the finest Derby accent you will ever hear (including in Derby!).
- Stuart Goldsmith (FF): I’ve seen and loved all of his Edinburgh shows. This was his first time on the Free Fringe and he seemed much more relaxed and the show was excellent. Arrive early as it tends to fill-up.
- Nick Doody (FF): effortlessly funny, intelligent comedy. I think we can all see why I’m not paid as a critic – this is nearly as bad as writing “satisfactory progress” in a school report, but Nick was brilliant and criminally under-attended last Tuesday.
It was great to see some old ‘friends’ doing well, some newer discoveries and some acts entirely new to me this year. None of the people I saw are massively famous (as far as I know – be aware, this does not preclude massive fame) and it is hard to see the character comedy, in particular, working as well on radio or TV. As I grow ever more ancient, I become increasingly convinced that comedy works best seen live and preferably in a small, sweaty venue – somehow it loses something important on the television and in larger spaces and even, sometimes, on radio (which is the medium that introduced me to comedy). In so many parts of the country, it seems so hard to see a broad range of comedy – and, particularly, the full hour scale shows which can be important for more narrative acts. I usually have to travel to London or Edinburgh to see old friends or expand my comedy horizons – a situation not helped by the fact that the ‘industry’ seems to believe that comedy should start late in the evening with little thought for those who have to catch the last train home (and the rail industry’s view that this last train should be well before 10pm unless it departs from London).
I always suspect that live comedy is missing a substantial, albeit latent, audience who are put off by the difficulty of seeing so many acts and the late nights and/or additional hotel costs which even the keen must endure. Then again, I am broadly recognised as slightly odd and so generalising from my own experience may be fiscally irresponsible. Nevertheless, if I had a larger parlour (and owned a few more chairs), I would be tempted to book acts myself and then attempt to defray the costs across an audience of 20 or so friends or acquaintances (or total strangers with cash – though this may cause issues with my lease): I suspect a couple of hundred quid (plus standard-class rail travel) would be enough to tempt many to indulge in a mid-week visit to the south coast. I suppose I could rent a space – but this increases the costs and so would require improved marketing to boost the audience and keep my costs down. Then again, how much can a church hall or pub room cost? I think I shall investigate: if things go well, I could have a whole new career as a live comedy promoter!