Steve Bennett: Forced to Work

Four years ago I was reviewing at the Fringe & was alerted to the fact that Steve Bennett, who runs the Chortle, was giving shows I’d awarded five stars to, only 3 stars. At the time I suggested he was the Arsene Wenger of comedy reviewing & should perhaps move upstairs to the boardroom. This year he’s still pitchside, & has recently awarded two stars to a stunning show call’d Horseplay Bareback which I just had to give 5 stars to. It was bangin’!

Comparing the two reviews, when Steve says, ‘for every decent idea, there are five duds, which they are rather too pleased to indulge,’ I differ’d by saying the show was, ‘full of the joys of comedy springtime, an absolute freshness of material & the sheer enthus’d excitement in our performers of well, performing.’ Steve also said, ‘the show ends with the ‘real’ them analysing preceding events and talking about their own sex lives – but it feels just as artificial as the rest of it,’ which again differ’d from my own account of, ‘they also dig working with each other – I could see it in their eyes, especially right at the very end when they slipped their masques & talked to us as Kathy & Derek, with the one not talking just looking at their partner-in-crime half adoringly, half respectfully, & fully immersed in the beauty they’d just been creating for us all.’ It’s like, mate, c’mon, chill out, can you just not enjoy yourself & have a laugh. Fer fuc£s sake!

So why do performers, & also any potential punters reading his reviews, have to absorb Mr Bennett’s caustic criticism. The answer, is I think, he actually has no choice but to be a reviewer this year, for there has been a major sea-change at the Fringe. Fundamentally, it is down to the ever-increasing accommodation costs. An extra thousand here, another thousand there & suddenly reviewers can’t afford to stay in Edinburgh any more. The Mumble are lucky, I guess, we’re based in the Central Belt & have maintained good copy at every Fringe since 2013 – next year will be our tenth anniversary. In another ten years we might even be the only reviewers left at the Fringe. Typical month-long rents for the larger houses have gone from £2000 to £5000 in only a handful of years, & £10,000 cannot be far off.

One of the major show groups had 700 reviews booked in for 2019, which has dropped to an alarming 80 this year. The famous old Three Weeks review paper/site has only 12 reviewers on the ground – they usually have 30, and in the past have had 100. Most of the show groups post reviews upon walls for the public to read, & as a Fringe progresses they could become 3 or 4 layers deep – but this year those same walls look as dry as reservoirs in this current drought. The solution might not come soon, unfortunately, which means Steve Bennett could be in the field for the foreseeable future, & at the rate his appreciation levels are plummeting, by this time next year genuinely brilliant shows will only be getting one star!


Doctor Kaboom! & the Wheel of Science

Pleasance Courtyard
Aug 14-21 (12:00)

“Science is for everyone!” declares our steampunk goggled, peroxide, spike-haired host, for the first of many times during this thoroughly uplifting gem of a children’s science show. For it’s not only weird and wonderful homemade experiments being show cased here, but a love of learning, and of life itself. The childlike enthusiasm of our faux-German host leaps off the stage from the get go. The experiments are interspersed with actually very funny and not at all filler gags, and positive role modelling via inspirational little vignettes which avoid the cloying sickliness of ‘wellbeing’ preachers, and positive mindset gurus. Learning, we are led to understand, really is it’s own reward. For it is learning and a love of science which Dr K explains has allowed him make his living traveling the world with his homemade experiments, entertaining adults and children alike. He does throw in a word of warning for any wannabes in the audience however. Air travel can be tricky when you have “Kaboom!” emblazoned on the side of your large and suspiciously shaped luggage.

The ‘wheel of science’ itself is a similarly homespun contraption. Before each section, and with unfaltering enthusiasm, he energetically sets it on its course to allow fate to decide what wonders todays show will lead them to witness. We have the ‘Catapult Shmatapult’, Bio-bulb, Vacuum Vase and the undeniably impressive homemade hovercraft. Audience participation, from the younger members of the audience, is called upon for each section, and todays 6 year old hover-pilot steered her craft with a mix of steely determination and visible exhilaration.

Dr K himself is a sensational, vaudevillian, host. Bon homie, charm, and an incredibly infectious chuckle fire out of him for the whole hour. Parents and children alike are enthralled, entertained, and inspired. Each of the experiments is ultimately replicable at home, and I could see more than one budding Marie Cure & Albert Einstein skipping out of the show at it’s close, bobbing on their feet and animatedly pestering their old folks to scrap the rest of the days plans and head home to embark upon their own quests to master centripetal forces and shoot bottles into the sky.

We are told at the beginning that Dr Kaboom is ‘on a mission to inspire’. When your audience come on stage to actually ‘do science’, banter with children in a manner which never condescends nor patronises, and can provoke laughs gasps and open mouthed wonder, then you indeed have the formula to generate an explosion of inspiration.

Ewan Law

Andy Macleod: Anoint My Head – How I Failed to Make it as a Britpop Indie Rockstar

Just the Tonic at The Caves
Aug 14, 16-28 (13:30)

Death themed awards bait, surrealism, interpretive dance, clowns. Ooftie, a day at The Fringe can fair take it out of you.

Sometimes what you really need in the middle of a jam packed ‘Find the next big thing!!!’ day of speed-walking up hill & down dale, from The Pleasance to The New Town, is a show you want to buy a beer for, hang lazily about in one of the loose queues dotted like capillaries along the sides of The Cowgate, & try to feel vaguely cool and louche, spotting semi, or full blown, famous comedians doing likewise & wondering if they’ll be sitting next to you watching the show that you’re going to catching next, giving you that unique, electric, hit of a brush with fame & all the possible glory it could bring.

In this respect then ‘Anoint my Head’, an hour of laid-back meanderings on one mans experience of trying to make it big in the Britpop era is really just the ticket. Ironically, given the shows premise being predicated on precisely our hosts lack of success in ‘hitting the big time’, the frequent musical interludes (of original, unreleased material no less) are easily the standouts here.

The shows title is taken from the classic Steve Martin comedy The Man with 2 Brains. Within the film the phrases context is a line from an absurd love poem. Within the context of the show it works on three different levels. Our hosts still born rock’n’roll career was as founding member of ‘The Pointy Birds’ themselves the protagonists of the aforementioned surreal, rhapsodic, musings of Mr Martin.

“Oh Pointy Birds, oh pointy pointy. Anoint my Head, anointy nointy”

The second level this works on is the very funny, and gloriously absurd, songs performed throughout by our host. You see The Pointy Birds USP was their own Britpop take on comedy tunes, which had more than a passing stylistic similarity to the poem providing their moniker. Think Spinal Tap dressed as Brett Anderson from Suede, manging to squeeze references to Jeremy Beadle and the Devil into the same love song. And making that rhyme. This was also as we discover, somewhat unsurprisingly, their main commercial downfall. Risque rhyming couplets about marrying a squirrel may make for great fare in madcap 80’s comedy classics, or at an International Arts festival. Not so much in the uber-arch reviews section of a 1993 edition of The NME as it turns out.

The third level the title works on is as a neat metaphor for the music industry as a whole, and A&R men and wannabee managers in general. They tend to shit on artists heads from a great height.

The guitar skills displayed are at times wilfully akin to Father Ted attempting to hit the final chord in ‘My Lovely Horse’, but this sits firmly within the tone of the show as a whole. Names are dropped throughout, with each ‘surprise’ guest appearance in the plot being cheered by an audience clearly enjoying the laid back ‘does what it says on the tin’ nature of the afternoon. It’s a fabulously un-taxing insight into the lower levels of the UK music scene at the time. It is also intriguingly an insight into what it was like to work in a record store featured on the front cover of an Oasis’ single during the period in which they began making their name.

If all of this sounds up your street, and you fancy the opportunity to have a few laughs at Ricky Gervaise’s expense to boot, Anoint my Head will certainly be guaranteed to please.

Ewan Law

John Lloyd: Do You Know Who I Am?

New Town Theatre
Stand Venue 7
Until August 15th (15:40)

Here is a question.

Are there any great comedy shows that this man haven’t been involved with?

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Spitting Image
Not the Nine O’Clock News
The News Quiz
Just a Minute
Have I Got | For You

With a CV of that quality there is no need for the sweaty desperation that can drench a stand up. This is the tail end of a particularly agreeable dinner party in Parsons Green. After the cheese course, ice clinking in the brandy glass, flippers up on the billiards table ‘I remember when chaps..’ anecdotage.

Like being toyed with by a posh benevolent cat. Charming inconsequential and oddly soporific….

Adam McCully

Crybabies: Bagbeard

Pleasance Dome
Aug 12 – 14, 19 – 21, 26 – 28
16 – 18 – 22 – 25, 17.50

On the way to Pleasance dome for a comedy sketch show called ‘Crybabies: Bagbeard I was about to see one of the strangest creations of the Fringe. Out came two men with large square helmets on their heads, they spoke in outer space garbled words that needed explaining as it was projected on a panel of material hanging centre stage.

After a ringmaster like introduction to the play already there was an all inclusive medium in operation as circus met with the comedy that the evening would portray. The luckless Chris Mystery was about to face a life changing ordeal.

They flashed on and off stage at speed, at the right was a sign reading Slug Witch Wood’s. As the outpouring comedy of fast lines a general conversation immerged as Chris tried to make his way he was advised on all sides. In tongue twisting dialogue, Chris was in love with his life and revered his mentor doctor with abundant enthusiasm. For it slowly came to pass that actually his life was falling apart. He was in danger though he didn’t know it.

Science and medicine spelled out by costume changes seemed to be random but it transpired that Chris’s world was to be plagued but the reason for this was yet to transpire. As he gradually caught on to the issue at hand he became irate to the joy of the room. It was a lot of story crammed into an hour, offering the thick script up to a craze filled frenzy upbeat and full of energy.

Somewhere lurking in the shadows of the saga a monster was hidden who may have been influencing things, it took part in the cajoling of Chris as multi characters secretly directing things. The show hit the tone of an absolute farce as a sketch show that even reached disembodiment at a big turning point.

With Chris foolishly thinking he could navigate his way he was tossed about as things came at him at pace not least was the notion that he was just a puppet on the end of a string. From this funny calamity on rolled an alien with an absurd talking voice that had us compelled to laugh from our belly.

It was a romp around with action, suggested holiness from naked man in blue plastic bag beard from ear to ear. It was a dedicated sketch show of good and bad taste, offering up a with a sharpened wit a need to take a break to reflect on with laughter. His demise flew across the stage with a goal that everything was directed to an outcome of ultimate momentous revealing to come for the finale. I wasn’t surprised that this show is well attended this year, having a very welcoming and highly pressured comedy/sketch show.

It was all true to life for all of its gratuities in a funny tale of personalities who made the absurd come to life with all the characters of a humorous play with a healthy looking villain; who went too far by killing frustratedly with a blade and a gun. A little nudity took to proceeding, I think to include another heightened spectacle of this man trying to make amends. All of which ironically played to a plot with a twist as he was helped all along with assured guidance by those who looked to do him harm.

A touching story that bent the fabric of space and time to put Chris through exhausting paces, but did he grow or was he not given the chance? Putting everyday life; into an hour of sincere hilarity into and outside the box. It Drew us into a performance of spirited and delectable rushing moments counteracted with writing that had us at their mercy, t’was Bagbeard that saved the day.

Daniel Donnolly

Adam Flood: Clayhead

Just the Tonic at The Mash House
Aug 11-14, 16-28 (17:20 )

After six solid days of watching, writing & absorbing comedy, my first stint of the 2022 Fringe came to an end with a trip to the Mash House – a perfect venue for Free Fringe. There’s a cool bar, free wifi, & the exciting climb to the atticosphere for whatever fun is being offered. Today it would be Adam Flood. Back in 2019, the Mumble reviewed Adam as part of a comedy duo, & saw some promise & potential, so its always interesting to see how the next generations of comedians are developing.

Adam is from Stoke, home of the Potteries, & therefore he is a Clayhead. You might know him from the band Bleachwhale, but probably don’t. When he describes Stoke as the slipp’d disc of the Mecca Bingo chain, such a phrase should give you the very essence of Adam’s keen comedy mind. He proper just slaps you round the face & that with some reyt lines. His set involves a little music, temper’d by an auto-tuner which he uses with a merry effect, & he is the only person in the world, let alone stand-up, to present a legitimate & legal  case for ketamine taking. Crayon-colour’d Adam is a stand-up purist, its straight stand-up, but with big swirls of rainbow fun floating about the set. 

Every time I reinvent myself I think I’m getting less cool

Adam’s Fringe fringe, which ‘looks like a barcode in the wind’

Adam has genuine talent – for normal mortals even getting one minute of captivating comedy is extremely difficult, & Adam has more or less master’d his craft & is generally motoring mirthfully along & working the audience well. For Clayhead, the first half was definitely more engaging than the second. There’s some quality deadpan action in there & Adam is on the crux of something – straddling the fence which parts the life of an ordinary worker & one of being a dedicated stand-up comedian. I genuinely think that if he makes the dive into self-inflicted poverty & performance, traveling there & everywhere wherever Thalia beckons, mingling with all sorts of fellow comedians along the way, he would by osmosis become a brilliant comedian. He’s natural & he’s almost there, but not quite. Even so, he’s definitely on the right trajectory very watchable & you’ll have a top laugh with the lad, so happy days!


Nathan Cassidy: Observational

Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters
17:15 Aug 7-28

I guess the Free Fringe is about giving performers a space to deliver their art, with the bare minimum of glamour. The Three Sisters in the Cowgate is a place that people go to, to get pissed. It is famous for it; Hen Parties, Stag Parties et al gather every weekend to get drunk. Its also one of the venues that accommodate The Edinburgh Free Fringe. Free, subject to a £7-£10 contribution at the end of the performance, card or cash kind of free. Now that is funny, in an observational improv comedy kind of way.

Observational comedy works, to some extent, by taking an ordinary, boring, routine event and introducing an element of the absurd. Nathan does this here, and he does it smoothly. The little grubby room, think Tap Room before the smoking ban, which housed Nathan Cassidy’s Comedy show, was packed to the rafters with an audience that he found difficult to work. Or could it have been that the venue was unworkable?

Nathan has achieved, over the years great accolades, for his work as a comedian. I couldn’t help thinking that a performance artist of Nathan’s stature deserved proper stage lighting and a room with curtains.

Sir Michael Caine Award for new writing in theatre Winner 2007
Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee 2012
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Winner 2014
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2015
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2016
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2017
Terrier Award Edinburgh Fringe Winner 2017
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2019
Best show Leicester Comedy Festival Nominee 2020
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2021
Best comedy show Greater Manchester Fringe Nominee 2021
Off West End Stage Awards Nominee 2021
Best standup Buxton Fringe Nominee 2022
Best standup Brighton Fringe Winner 2022.

So with that in mind, was he any good? Was he funny? His material is autobiographical, weaving a tale drawn from adolescence, the subject matter being friendships that end. This triggered thoughtful reflection among the members of the audience and ripples of sadness followed… can such a subject matter ever be funny? Nathan is not a one-liner kind of comic, his explanation of his 40 year old crook back and description of his personal trainer trying to ease his pain was funny. Divine had to restrain himself from offering him the healing that he needed.

So far, this is a familiar stand-up framing. The pre-show advertising and Nathan’s introduction provide an identifiable start and end-point and define the show’s central theme. We know that a sequence of stories, jokes and the odd pun will join the beginning to the end. With much of the heavy lifting already done, the show’s subject matter was dark and not suitable for children the audience can follow the easily understandable narrative arc. Observational is a clever, articulate and original stand-up comedy show. This is stand-up comedy for adults, and Nathan is a very accomplished comedian with the necessary skills to deliver an excellent performance. The material is dark and funny, sometimes scathing and cynical, but it can also be touching and hopeful. It is very well-observed and cleverly put together.

Then, there is the finale, which is very good indeed.

You are never bored and always engaged, and Nathan makes you laugh.

Observational deserves a bigger audience and a much nicer venue, and Divine highly recommends this show.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

Paddy Young: Laugh You Rats

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Snug
Aug 11-14, 16-28 (17:40 )

Its pretty easy why I like Paddy Young. He’s

  • Northern English
  • Well Funny

Those two essences right there are the basic ingredients for a good comedy show. This is Paddy’s debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, & the room was more or less full, which was an impressive start. Paddy himself is an amiable chap, wearing (& selling) a ‘Laugh You Rats’ hat, arm’d with a chainsaw wit & an ability to control the laughter level taps of a room better than I’ve seen done by the most season’d comedians. As I drifted off-piste to study the effects of Paddy’s art, it felt just like witnessing a conductor with his symphonic orchestra. Its almost like magic.

Paddy’s set is a heart-warming tale of self-inflicted downward social mobility, all in the name of remaining true to your passion – in Paddy’s case its stand-up, from where all roads lead to London & the inevitable flat share with strangers you don’t get on with. The ‘Nonce Wing for beans & toast,’ I think he call’d it. You can buy a whole terraced street in his native Yorkshire for what you’d cough up for just one month’s rent for a London boxroom; but Paddy has soldier’d on with his destiny, & despite never having seen him play before, nor seen him on the telly, there is a definitive sense of polish I sens’d to his act which must surely have come from his garnering experience in the capital.

Every film in the north is about the one person in town who is not a moron

Paddy is a ‘two jokes for us, one joke for himself,’ kinda guy, whose unevasive honesty is refreshing. All thro’ Laugh You Rats we get lots of lovely northern-ness, including a chief central segment about his compatriots, their identity, & how it transposes into London life. The best part of Paddy’s oeuvre, however, is the smoothness in which he bounces off the crowd’s banter – I mean the effortless transitions were rizla-thin. My personal favourite bit of the show was the Hitler section, concerning his addiction to Doctor Morrell’s drugs; ‘am I a bad guy?’ whispers the Fuhrer on a particularly heavy come down. Priceless.

Paddy after the show in an impromptu Q&A with an adoring audience

I was chatting to a couple of lassies from the audience afterwards, one of whom said she’d gone to drama school with Paddy & found him well funny then. And Northern, those two aforementioned ingredients of a good show. But there’s much more to Paddy, & hopefully more to come, because he does seem to have a unique voice.


Emily Wilson: Fixed

Pleasance Courtyard: Beneath
Aug 11-16, 18-29 (22:25)

Whether prancing about her living room as a toddler in front of her parents, youtubing her teenage way thro duets with her gay friend Austin, reaching the final house of the American X-Factor with said gay friend, or performing her debut show at the Edinburgh Fringe, New Jersey’s Emily Wilson is a really watchable young lady who loves to be watched. It is the second & third of those experiences which has led to the fourth, a cathartic & stylish reappraisal of her infatuation with Austin & their journey together to the level of almost making it as pop stars live on national TV. Almost.

Emily has literally turned all that teenage angst & hope, & then devastating rejection – which could easily have turned her into a crack head or summat – into a really fun hour of video clips & some witty, melodic, catchy songs of her own. Flight of the Conchords standard. This is perhaps her best ability, & at 26 if she can bang out a few more numbers like I saw with some rapture last night, there’s a great chance she’ll be back on national TV, the main goal of her a life (that shit never leaves people really).

As multi-media Millennial art form Fixed is fantastic, as an actress Emily handles the emotional torments of teenage dreams with breathless assurity, & as old skool cabaret its proper top-notch stuff. Yet ultimately it is as a story-teller, with all its secret nuances, that Emily excels, & even tho’ she admits its still stoumach-twistingly cringey to watch what she endured, the way she sings to her younger self at the end of the show, frozen in time (2011) in an X-Factor bubble, shows she’s on her way. Where she goes next is up to Emily, & I hope she’s back this year looking to excavate fresh caves of creativity rather than hold an extremely talented candle to those she has already explored.


Chelsea Birkby: No More Mr Nice Chelsea

Just the Tonic at the Caves
Aug 8–28, 15.40

Back on the old streets of old Edinburgh it’s exciting to find your way to the next show to see. I arrived at the Just the Tonic at the caves underneath Northbridge & was there for a comedy written and performed by the delectable Chelsea Birkby called, ‘No More Mr Nice Chelsea.’ I went on to spend a more than amusing hour finding out what she had put together as she flips from being the nice girl to a ‘really nasty bitch.’ I love a good journey of discovery!

Chelsea has cooked up a good, intelligent set – her polished writing skills are laudable, a series of clever jokes built chiefly upon a solid foundation of audience interaction. We were all in high spirits on this sunny day and made her welcome with many an easy laugh in response. As she slapped down gratuitous skits on some rather personal matters – including her own mental health which was both touching & funny – her timing was generally good, if a tad off here & there, but Chelsea can definitely take an honest place among the comedians diaspora of the Fringe.

As the show progressed, Chelsea relaxed & let go a bit, but there was also a hint of befuddled nervousness here & there. I’m sure by the end of the Fringe & then going forward, she’ll be a slick comedy machine, but she wasn’t quite there the day I saw her. All the pieces are there for a great show, instead of a good one, & I would like to see this show again to see how she’s progressed. I’m sure she will accomplish a firmer grounding on which to elevate this show to the heights it deserves.

Daniel Donnelly