The Five Percent Fringe

So its back, the Edinburgh Fringe, tho’ not as we know it, Jim! Wandering the streets of heartland Edinburgh in August is usually met with an avalanche of humanity, colour, flyers & foodstuffs. Not this Covid-hit year, tho’, when its all a bit like going to a nightclub before 10 PM when it was free entry, a few ghostly figures scattered about the tables & no-one dancing to the DJ whose just been given a half hour on the decks before starting his glass-collecting shift.

For me, who has run the Mumble since 2013, when during the Fringes has risen my senses of appreciation & creative faculties to such a pitch, I could bang out 4 or 5 pretty snazzy reviews a day – for this Fringe I thought I’d just pop mi ‘ead in for a few hours & see some funny stuff at random.

M’lady & our dog on Arran

My Fringe began in Arran with a visit from m’lady to the bookshop I’m opening there – a base to create some musical theatre on Robert The Bruce. With m’lady taking a turn for the fluey worse, I drove us all the way to East Lothian, & on the next day bobbl’d into town on the bus in bright all-day sunshine to see my first comedy show in nearly 2 years – Deathbed Confessions of a Hypochondriac by award-winning sketch comedy troupe, UCL’s MDs Revue.

The queue at the Surgeon’s Hall for Deathbed Confessions

I found the experience more philosophical than funny. University sketch comedy is a staple of the Fringe & watching the team go through their topical satires on the vaccination wars & the decline of the NHS, roll’d out via a stream of entertaining characters was, well, unoriginal. There were no orgasms of hilarity, only a feeling of titterflies assembling in the belly. But that’s not the point of university sketch comedy in general, its meant to meet minds & mould possible future icons of comedy. I’m not sure if I saw any Hugh Lawries or Dawn Frenches, but none were unlikeable, & no sketch bomb’d, & it was a fun way to start my day wandering the Thalian temples.

The second outing began with a drift down to the Cowgate where hardly any puntersouls did wander. I was taken by a big sexy poster of Ollie Horn, whose excellent Japanese stuff I’d reviewed a couple of years ago – a funny guy & nice to see him full size. I’m sure his posters are going to continue to get bigger over the coming years, he’s quite a talent.

As I was passing Opium nightclub I was flyered by a tall American-sounding gentleman & I said, ‘sure bruv, I’ll see ya show.’ Running about like a mad ‘ead during the Fringes, off to review performers who’d paid for their review, I never get a chance to see random stuff on the spot. That’s why people buy a Mumble reviewer, its the only way to cut them a swathe through the teeming seas of prospective shows.

“Would you be friends with yourself if you weren’t you?”

Gary Bird

This year no money’s changing hands so I felt freed up to be flyered, & I’m glad I did so. Gary Bird was the guy’s name, who soon transformed me into a patient & himself into this Groucho Marxean, cigar-puffing maniacal doctor for a lovely monologue of word-perfect delivery – every slightest nuance of accent was issued into the room without flaw. His stuff was funny too, comblended together under the title of Psychoanalyzing the Audience, it sees Dr. Hoppenbopper, from the Geneva Institute for the Technically Insane become almost an intimate friend so full of insight-scented warmth is Bird’s creation.

Copluating gastropods

After pottering about town a bit, dining with the pigeons of Nicholson Square, & watching the operatic mating of a couple of slugs, I came to the second half of my day oot! Gary Bird had given me the Free Fringe booklet, so I had some choices on where I went now.

After seeing sketch comedy & a phantasy monologue, I opted for straight stand-up & a biocom, the latter being a comedian humourising real-life events. The stand-up was Alistair Barrie, whose show Unfurloughed was played out to a full house at Whistle Binkies.

It was my first stand-up comedy for nearly two years & I found him proper funny for a bit – he was smashing it & the room – a sizzling set of lockdown anecdotes & Tory bashing all of us could connect to in some way… but then the novelty was soon wearing off. I mean, the world has changed during the ‘Great Reset,’ it really has. I want more from my comedians, now, I’ve decided. The cliche-quiches of Sketch Comedy & Stand-Up are reliques of the past & from on I’ll only see them if I’m paid to do so, a sentiment triply confirm’d by the excellent Kate Smurthwaite, whose brilliant show ‘The Last Mayor of Fihalhohi’ I honoured with its own review. For this I’d had to queue up outside Banshee Labyrinthe for my token, given out an hour before her show started – this was 6.20. I then dash’d up the road to watch Barrie at 6.25, then snook out before the end of his show to see Smurthwaite at 7.20, a mad Hamster like dash to end my Five Percent Fringe.

Kate Smurthwaite outside the Banshee Labyrinthe

So, a big shout out to all those who made it & made it happen this year. I’m glad I’ve done my bit & I must admit the next day I was ready to go again. But then I’m like, nah, that’ll do for this year, m’lady needs her lemsips, & settl’d content knowing the Comedy Gods have stay’d alive thro’ the lockdowns – some just surviving & some thriving majestic.

Damian Beeson Bullen


The Real Gary Bird

Dear Mumble

Thank so much for your generous review of my son’s performance in “Psychoanalyzing the Audience”.  Just one correction, however: His name is Gabriel — the performer.  I am his father Gary — the author.  I admit to having had second thoughts about pointing out the error, as I took some pride at having my name in the limelight, however, briefly.  Alas, though I felt no compunction at receiving praise I did not deserve — I have, admittedly received such little praise throughout my life that I will take it in any form — I could not do so at the expense of my son.  (Although the money we spent raising him and the sacrifices we went through, I really DO deserve the praise!)

My wife and I have not seen the play yet, but are flying to Edinburgh tomorrow from Geneva to see it this weekend.  Cheers and thanks again 

Gary Bird (the author)

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