THE MUMBLE TEAM
Are taking their annual Festive Break
SEE YOU ALL IN THE SPRING !!
Are taking their annual Festive Break
SEE YOU ALL IN THE SPRING !!
Material: Delivery: Laughs:
While knowing Russell Brand mainly through his activism and political commentaries, I found myself pleasantly surprised at the eloquence of his new stand-up special Re:Birth. Among his excoriating critiques on British politics, the mass media and political power, I couldn’t help but notice that a major target of his special was himself, particularly as he highlighted his interventions in British political debate and by discussing how he wrestled with his role as a British political comic figurehead. Alongside some rich material on being a father and his past drug addiction issues, it’s this quality of self-interrogation that for me really stood out in Re:Birth.
One element of the show that in my opinion worked very well was Brand’s use of short video segments. I’ve found many political comedians’ use of videos during their acts somewhat laboured, often being employed to act as a means of delivering a punchline without putting in the effort. However, in Re:Birth, the videos he uses encapsulate Brand’s self-confessed, awkward dalliances between comedian and political activist, mocking his infamous interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, a recording of a pre-presidency Donald Trump in which he called Brand a loser, and a final segment in which the comedian invokes an exaggerated, Danny Dyer-ish Cockney accent while in battle with a journo outside 10 Downing Street.
Between segments, the videos work well because they strike at the heart of Brand’s comic message, which, refreshingly, also tears down his authority as a political comedian, or at the very least, questions his ability to effectively translate complex messages through mass media. This material is reinforced by his numerous, eloquent and sincerely heart-felt critiques of the merciless cruelties of the British tabloid media, as well as the myopic disconnect of political culture with everyday life, the latter of which he brilliantly compares to a well-oiled machine of continuous bullshit. It is in these moments that Brand comes into his own, and we remember why, for all his foibles, he still plays a distinctive role in the corridor between British comedy and politics. In essence, Re:Birth acts as a form of comic referendum on his struggles with how he sees himself as a public figure, where the comedian, through videos of his appearances on British news, invites the audience to recognise the contrast with his media image, while simultaneously embracing the numerous contradictions to which he readily admits. In one section in particular, he jokes about the various personalities he possesses that can pop out unexpectedly, giving a slight Whitmanesque vibe to his presentation.
The only major criticism I have with Re:Birth however is Brand’s use of dance movements and raps as forms of punchline or tags, which seemed more akin to a nightmarish Blackpool matinee. I found myself cringing at several of these interludes, which in my opinion did a disservice to both his likeability as a comedian and the political shrewdness of his material, making segments of his special less like Bill Hicks and more like “Knees Up, Mother Brown”. However, in perhaps the strongest portion of his show, and the one that testifies to his eloquence as a political comedian, he recalls his initially reluctant involvement in the New Era Estate rent row. With the protest reaching the steps of 10 Downing Street, Brand recounts how the activists were inevitably side-lined by the media, who unsurprisingly focused on him. He narrates how he remedied this by shifting attention to one of the main activists, Lindsey, during his interview. His subsequent appraisal of Lindsey, as an activist and a fighter is beautifully conveyed, and serves to remind us of Brand’s genuine sympathy with public activism, as well as his own generosities as an entertainer.
In settling on what makes Re:Birth worth watching, it’s not just that’s its funny. Quite the opposite in some segments; some of it, such as his rap / dance / Cockney japes, is frankly a little upsetting to watch. However, it’s also quite comprehensive in terms of the material it grapples with. For example, a recurring theme is his toying with the concept of “simulacrum”, the analysis of something that looks like or represents something else. He employs this effectively in his portrayal of his expectation vs. the reality of watching his child be born, or in his description of the anticipated authority of 10 Downing Street feeling more like a deserted movie set when he visited it during his involvement in the New Era Estate rent row. This disconnect can be extended to Brand’s self-perception as a political comic firebrand / radical / Daily Mail nemesis vs. his personal introspection regarding his efficacy as a political commentator and activist. In fact, he spends a good part of his special arguing that he might be best steering clear of complex political commentaries and forms of activism altogether to avoid jeopardising the possibility of left-wing policies he favours. As he reflects in his material on the successes of the New Era Estate rent row, he argues, “that’s what happens…when people come together, in pursuit of common idea, there is great power. So, I suppose, the lesson was, ‘Russell, shut the fuck up.” [Laughter.]”
In doing so, Re:Birth provides a refreshing take on contemporary British political comedy in the way in which it questions its own worth in the public sphere. While British comedy is nowhere near as traumatised as its American sister and its cultural defeat at the hands of the satire-proof titan of Donald Trump, Brand’s special gives glimpses into the nature of this mode of culture and its relationship with public commentary and politics. While his stand-up provides a poignant example of the championing qualities of British political comedy, with its exploration of alternative ideas, protection of the downtrodden and its ridiculing of old cruelties, Brand also gives us cause to reflect on the exalted role of comedians as contemporary social and political guardians by highlighting their own limitations. In doing so, it stands out as an intelligent and self-aware piece of stand-up comedy and I look forward to his future contributions. I just hope he goes a bit easier on the dad raps next time.
Funny man Dave Gorman comes to Edinburgh Playhouse this week as part of his With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint tour. It was announced in June that the upcoming (already largely sold out) tour has been extended for a second time with 19 new shows added in early 2019.
Starting this September and now playing 61 shows at some of the biggest theatres in the country, including Edinburgh Playhouse on Sunday 9 September, this tour will see Dave combine his unique and critically acclaimed style of stand-up and visual story-telling. As the title suggests, Dave is bringing his laptop and projector screen with him so expect the ‘King of Powerpoint comedy’ (The Guardian) to have more detailed analysis of those parts of life you’ve never stopped to think about before. Hey, not all heroes wear capes.
Ratings and critical hit, Dave Gorman Modern Life Is Goodish returned to Dave in 2018 for a fifth series – attracting a peak of 1.5 million viewers and regularly receiving a total audience of over a million per episode, the show is one of UKTV and Dave’s (the channel) most successful original commissions.
This will be Dave Gorman’s first new live tour show in four years and follows on from Dave Gorman Gets Straight To The Point* (*The Power Point). A two-time extended sell-out UK nationwide tour, it saw Dave sell out four shows at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, as well as the Hammersmith Apollo, and take the show to New York for a ten-night run off-Broadway.
Hello Amy, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Amy: I was born and raised in Edmonton, and now I am based in Vancouver.
When did you first develop a passion for performing?
Amy: As a kid, I was always putting on “plays” and “magic shows” for my family. I loved being in front of people! But then, the self-consciousness of being a teen crept in, and I became shy, and forgot about that passion. During high school, my very encouraging drama teacher suggested I join the improv team, and the rest is history!
So, Amy, your improv skills are much sought after, you’re like the Don. How did your teaching of improv come about & where are you with it today?
Amy: Well, I don’t know how much I am like a mob boss, but I certainly do love teaching! I started teaching years ago through Rapid Fire Theatre, coaching in their tournament for high school students, and also running classes for adults and children. In Vancouver, I teach with Blind Tiger Comedy.
Can you tell us about CHiMPROV?
Amy: It is Rapid Fire Theatre’s weekly long form improv show. It’s really excellent. Every Saturday you can catch different troupes doing very interesting improv. The troupes will experiment with editing, genre, and character in a long form setting.
Can you tell us about your trip to Monkeyfest in Bogota?
Amy: I visited Colombia several years ago to see my friends at Picnic Improv. They run a very cool improv school, as well as circus classes. Bogota was beautiful – I’d love to see more of South America one day!
What does Amy Shoshtak like to do when she’s not being funny?
Amy: I love going to metal concerts, and hiking in the mountains. I also love nachos.
Can you tell us about Gossamer Obsessions?
Amy: Paul and I started working together over a decade ago, doing improv at Rapid Fire Theatre. I really admired his approach to comedy. He always plays smart, while still sharing the joy he’s experiencing on stage. We got together to write a list of “Gossamer Obsessions”. Then we turned that into a performance. And then we wrote more, and started performing regularly. And so Gossamer Obsessions was born.
The show is framed by two curious narrators (The Vicar, and his Petulant Ward), who share parables and cautionary tales with the audience (these are the sketches). The tone of the show is purposefully whimsical, jarring, and still hilarious.
You & Paul live in separate cities. Do your creative processes involve a lot of skyping?
Amy: You nailed it! We skype every couple weeks and work on writing in google docs.
What are the secrets to a good sketch?
Amy: I think if it makes you laugh, then you are on the right track. Finding your own voice in creative work is one of the biggest challenges. Try not to worry about doing it right – just do it, and try it out in front of an audience!
Can you describe your working relationship with Paul Blinov in a single word?
You’ll be bringing The Morality Puns to the Vancouver Fringe, can you tell us about it?
Amy: The Morality Puns is our third full-length Gossamer Obsessions sketch show.
Where have the sketches come from?
Amy: The ether.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street…?
Amy: Saturday Night Live meets a fever dream. A critic once called Gossamer Obsessions “19th century stoner humour”.
What will Amy Shoshtak & Gossamer Obsessions be doing after the Vancouver Fringe?
Amy: After Vancouver Fringe, I’ll be working on my Dialogue and Civic Engagement Certificate at Simon Fraser here in Vancouver, and helping produce The 20th Vancouver International Improv Festival. Also, Halloween!
Hello Rob, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Rob: Raised in Derby, Living in Leicester, currently in Calgary.
Why comedy, what is it about being funny in front of other people that makes you tick?
Rob: I’ve always liked entertaining folk since I was king Herod in the school nativity. And the sound of a bunch of people laughing is lovely. Also, I sometimes talk about some pretty rough subjects in my shows, so it comes down to that thing George Bernard Shaw said about how if you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.
You’re also a dab hand with a quill. Can you tell us about your poetry?
Rob: Anyway, basically I do stand up poetry, which is a bit like stand up comedy, but it rhymes and there’s no jokes in it. I used to do loads of poetry slams too. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to returning to Vancouver is its fantastic slam scene.
You’ve shared stages with numerous personalities & luminaries; who have been your top 3 & why?
Rob: Sue Townsend, who wrote the Adrian Mole diaries. She was a really interesting speaker and her books are hilarious. Tony Benn, old school Labour MP. He was a delight. Dick Fish, who sings for punk band the Subhumans. I grew up on punk rock, particularly the anarcho stuff, so Dick was a childhood hero. I gigged with his band, Citizen Fish, once or twice in the 90s, and then he started doing spoken word, so I gigged with him a bit more. He’s lovely and he always spoke to me like we were mates. I was all awestruck and dithery, but it didn’t seem to phase him.
You’ve got three famous figures from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starter, mains & dessert?
Rob: It would have to be the three wise men, surely? They’d be pretty interesting conversation with a few beers in them. Actually, maybe two wise men and a translator. I’m not a very cook, but I live in Leicester and there’s a lovely South Indian place near me. We’d go there.
You’re bringing a show to this year’s Vancouver Fringe, can you tell us about it?
Rob: It’s a murder mystery set on an Alzheimer’s ward. I was a psych nurse for a number of years and I also love murder mysteries. There was also a lot I wanted to say about dementia. So it’s funny, with the occasional moving bit.
What’s the difference between a Canadian audience & a British?
Rob: I can only speak in terms of Fringe festivals, because they’re the only Canadian audiences I tend to do. Generally speaking, Canadian audiences tend to be a lot bigger, because their Fringes are better – the whole model is different. This leads to more questions than answers, I know. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Also, Canadian Fringe audiences are orientated more towards theatre, whereas UK Fringe audiences (particularly in Edinburgh) tend to be more focused towards comedy. In terms of what they laugh at though, it’s actually very similar.
What is the creative process behind writing your comedic material?
Rob: It starts with the idea that makes you giggle, or at least ignites something happy in the old grey matter. Once that happens, I then I like to write many pages of drivel which, several drafts later, I then use to I bore the people around me. Then it’ll do a scratch performance in a pub near where I live, and then it’ll do a tiny Fringe festival somewhere I lick the beast into shape. And then it’s ready!
What are the key ingredients to your style?
Rob: I like lots of light and lots of dark. And it goes in and out of rhyme. And it’s both kinds of funny.
You have twenty seconds to sell the show to someone you are flyering in the streets of Vancouver – what would you say?
Rob: It’s like Clue meets Memento. (That allows a few seconds in case they’ve not heard of Memento, then I can refer them to Google…)
August 24th (one-off show)
Bob’s Blundabus is a rickety wee venue, but before every show there’s always a hub-hub bubbling up in bohemian defiance of the conventional Fringe. Chatting to a comedienne in the queue called Rosie, I asked why she was coming to this one-off, late night show by fiery young upstart, Sam Nicoresti. Her reply was that she had seen a version of it down Leicester & thought Sam had smashed it. Maybe it was gonna be worth staying up note-taking until 01.30 AM, after all…
Sam’s 80 minute show sees us all essentially invited to his sleepover; a royally ridiculous, dangerously deranged, cleverly victuallated masterwork-in-progress. Our curly-hair’d boy wonder commences proceedings by bursting from the womb of a tri-breasted Holy Madonna puppet, Monty Python style, with the audience-strings forming fallopian tubes for the ‘Ceremony of the Egg.’
From this showbizzy opening it all gets wilder & weirder & more & more bizarre. Along the way I loved the naturality of a football-terrace audience delightedly bursting out into spontaneous drunk-o-clock chants. ‘Dad-dy! Dad-dy! Dad-dy!‘ we all cry as Sam’s disfigured Bahometean father turns up to the sounds of the Stygian swamp, wondering what the bloody hell all these people were doing in his house! Into the mix, & up to the sleepover, came an assortment of Sam’s pals; a sumptuous banquet of floorspots for folk like Dr Jellywoz, Jimmy Slim (AKA Mr Vesuvius), & Sam’s old school bully, Andy, who ends up in a duel with our host funnier than the one at the end of Blackadder III.
Then we reached the hour-mark. It was 01.10 AM, my mind had just started to wander to the thirty mile drive home & doing the maths on the alcohol-consumed thro a day’s reviewing, time spent for it to pass out of my system & whether I was safe to drive. It was only natural, 50-60 minute shows are the proven, boredom defying norm & we’d just broken thro’ the threshold. But Sam is no kowtowwer to convention, & he was ready to give us twenty minutes more. ‘Am I gonna enjoy this,’ I asked myself, ‘well Mr Nicoresti, over to you…’
I needn’t have worried, for at that very moment he pipes up, ‘we have come to a very important part of the show – lets play pass the orange.’ And so we did, starting another time-blurring rush of fun, sketches, chanting & – most importantly of all – lots & lots of laughs. Seeing Sam’s sleepover loftily upstairs at the Blundabus felt morphingly like being on a shortish flight, with the characters coming on stage as if they were air hostesses bringing different stuff like food, drinks, magazines, gifts… you get the idea. All praise to the pilot, then, who is pulling off something so undeniably phantastic, & so thoroughly enjoyable, that a new Knowing Me, Knowing You could be on our hands.
Aug 25-27 (21:30)
Material: Delivery: Laughs:
The shipping-container-cum-21st-century-comedy-space, Pleasance That, was brimful with Friday night revellers, all waiting for our comedian to land inside & let laughter splash into the air. With the audience spread out in a feminine delta, our alpha male strutted inside the womb-room beaming confidence. Who was this fine fellow? Well, he was just about to embark upon an hour answering that very question. For a start, the nimble-witted joke-wizard that is Rob Holland is only 23, but he’s already sounding professionally articulate. Born in the Nineties, nurtured in the Naughties, & blossoming in his debut Now, Rob is a philosopher-poet who postulates like the banner-bearer of a new wave of comedy about to erupt from the Millennial fountain.
The highest summits of Rob’s range were his spirited dalliances with tonal prose poetry, chaunted over tracks like David Gray’s Babylon. He is a natural poet, & they are soooo good, that when he reverts to his, albeit pretty decent, comedy patter; a part of you is anticipating the next ‘performance’ as if we were queuing up at Disneyworld or summat. Still, that’s not really a criticism, its just an observation that to experience Rob doing his performance poetry is like seeing a rainbow-coloured balloon rapidly inflated, so totally brilliant are his room-warming pieces.
Overall, Rob is an erudite phraseologist with a sabre-rattling dash. He does have a couple of flaws, however, like dissing my fuckin’ home town of Burnley for one. Perhaps it was unintentional, but when doing comedy in Scotland, it is better etiquette to dis either Edinburgh or Glasgow depending on your location at the time. An Englishman reinforcing the Daily Mail Tory mindset this far north by mocking underprivilege through the medium of attempted humour is best left out of the set.
But Rob is definitely getting there, there’s a lot of good stuff swirling about, & as he opens up his life the guy we’re getting to know seems a sassy addition to the circuit. I did observe a marked hypersensitivity to room temperature & the mood-sways of the audience, which does need to be eradicated for him to progress. The show is all & he is our glorious juggernaut. For me, the 23-year old Rob feels like a talented lieutenant in the Light Horse Artillery – he knows he should be in the Heavy Cavalry proper, but he hasn’t quite earned his spurs. Time & a couple more arduous Fringe campaigns will earn him a change of regiments, I am sure.
Underbelly Bristo Sq
Aug 25-27 (14:30)
Material: Delivery: Laughs:
UCL Graters are a sketch group that have emerged from the lecture rooms of University College London & thrust themselves into the brutally ruthless Napoleonic battlefield that is the Edinburgh Comedy Fringe. Their very seaworthy vessel is manned by 3 lads – Joe, Luke & Sam – & two lassies – Izzy & Felicity -, whose varicoloured sweaters give them the appearance of children’s television show presenters. With hair & figures unflummoxed by age, they together showcase with extreme ebullience an hour of rather eccentric ideas – but was it comedy? Elongated sketches concluding with a dodgy pun/punchline are interesting to watch – like surreal theatre – but ultimately just timorous humour at best.
There are clearly five highly intelligent minds at work here, & at the piemaking factory of their brainstormings it can easily be observed how the details have been pored over & poured in. Indeed, the endearing qualities of Panopticon are the variety, the rapidity & the originality of the scenes – I still can’t quite call them sketches as they lacked, like I said, the killer comedy blow. There were some entertaining moments, granted, the Brooklyn Community Theatre’s production of Aladdin leaps to mind, but again it was more of an interesting spectacle than laugh-out loudness. But, the artform is constantly evolving, & I am 42 years old, & these guys are barely in their 20s – therein lies the rub. Are they actually hilarious & I just don’t get it? The truth lies, of course, somewhere in between, but the UCL Graters’ sauce definitely needs thickening with some funnier flour.
August 24-26 (23.00)
Material: Delivery: Laughs:
The BBC’s BattleActs! boys, Brendan Murphy and Kiell Smith-Bynoe, are bringing something rather special to this year’s Fringe. Playing Frankie Paradise and Louie Valentine, they are your classic singer-banter double-act, expert light entertainers in a field where light entertainment is what we punters are really all after. Their playhouse is a nice & comfy little quadrant that is the Pleasance’s Bunker One. Their pianist is shit hot, & their routine as swinging comedy kings is a see-thro,’ flower-stuff’d vase of invigorating & variegated variety. In laymans’ terms we have Murphy’s hyperactive Jim Carey bouncing off & into Smith-Bynoe‘s Sammy Davis Junior. The latter, especially, did what it said on the tin, a smooth-tongued posture prince with an instinctive manifestation of the ghosts of crooners past. As for Murphy, he seemed as if a brick had been wedged into his performance pedal, so relentless – but never annoying – was his train.
Experiencing The Crooners is like being up on the deck of a gust-sailed caravel, wave-skimming to Cathay, sipping comedy cocktails thro’ a sustained rush of controlled pursuance. The boys sing us a selection of classic croons, shortened & adapted for their comedy needs of course, & on well-timed occasions get the audience willingly involved. Their show has a proper trig-point too, for the beat account of when Smith-Bynoe ‘Kicked the Devil in the Face’ is of optimum entertainment. To summarize, The Crooners is a very well-crafted party, quite niche, but quite beautiful, as if it were one of the École de Barbizon in a quiet corner of the Louvre.
Underbelly Bristo Square
August 1-26 (17.15)
Ian Smith is man on the rise. Last year, at the fourth time of asking, he won the ‘People’s Champion’ Amused Moose Comedy Award, & its dead easy to see why. He’s a good ol’ laid back northern lad, y’see, which makes him naturally salt-of-the-earthy, & he’s a proper funny un’, n’all! Goole’s own comedy gyrfalcon welcomes us all into his nest of familial friendliness. He’s the kinda guy you want to get blasted with & play Risk; he’s like an ubernerd, but the one who gets all the fit chicks & the best drugs. Three weeks into the Fringe, & five minutes into watching this refreshingly funny comedian, I felt like I was back at the beginning of August, highly excited that all these talented people had come to my city to perform, & up for a reyt laugh.
Spending an hour with Smith allows us to penetrate our world via the distorted mirror of his imagination as he powerpoints & gabbles his way thro’ Craft. Like an industrious waterfall he rarely pauses for air, while his material is of the obscurer, kitschy type – the War of the Worlds brass band segment for example – & the stuff he gets up to near to, & at the, end is off the scale.
About half-way through Craft we reach the raison d’etre of his 2018 show – the ancient Japanese art of origami, which Smith very shrewdly tell us, via wikipedia, ‘followed on from the invention of paper.’ This is a really welcome & integral part of the adventure – it never feels contrived – as are the hilarious subliminal messages which Smith slips in from time to time.
Sticking with the Japanese theme, Smith even found comedy in haiku, which reminded me of one of Basho’s classics, ‘Furu ike yakawa / zu tobikomumizu no oto,’ which translates something like, ‘Old pond — frog jumps in — sound of water.‘ Thus, in this instance, Ian Smith is the frog who has – like a comedy cannonball blasted out from the origami boom – leapt into the antique pond that is the world of Fringe comedy, where he is definitely making a noisy splash.