Njambi McGrath: Accidental Coconut

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Just the Tonic at Marlin’s Wynd
August 1-23 (16:05)

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Njambi McGrath’s Accidental Coconut is an intelligent, charming and timely piece of stand-up.  In her discussion of the complexities of her Kenyan identity, which has been particularly influenced by the nation’s colonial history, McGrath effortlessly guided the audience through an interesting, if sometimes slightly unfocused, hour of stand-up. A major strength of McGrath’s act was her likeability as a performer, where I found myself almost immediately rooting for her.  For a show that broached several contentious subjects, including popular, contemporary attitudes about immigration, Brexit, and the complexities of Britain as an ex-empire, her stage presence was amiable, and well-suited to a show that was so socially and racially charged.  Encompassing references from the Berlin Conference of the 19th century to Brexit, McGrath’s comic style was a perfect vehicle for communicating an array of complex analyses on British and Kenyan cultures, and showing how the spectre of colonialism continues to haunt African identities today.

In her comic performance, set amid current cries of a by-gone empire, McGrath stylishly refuted a series of aggrandised, honeyed platitudes about historic British power with an enjoyable, resolute confidence.  In dealing with the cliché that the British Empire seized other people’s land through the power of their pleasantries and abundant cups of tea, she eviscerated this by underlining how unutterably merciless the British Empire was in its use of military power, embellishing her historic dramatisations by adorning an overbearingly posh, and very funny, regal accent.  I also found her segments on Brexit interesting, and her comparison between demands for British sovereignty from Brussels that stood in sharp contrast to the less accommodated demands for Kenyan statehood during its time as a colony.  She explored these ideas in a way that not only underlined her own experiences as a Kenyan, but more presciently, her exasperation over how these warped forms of imperial nostalgia continue to permeate contemporary Britain, and the way they continue to disfigure debates over immigration.  The difficulty of projecting these ideas effectively through stand-up comedy can’t be underestimated, so to McGrath’s credit, she maintained a great balancing act between being likeable and funny, yet stimulating at the same time.

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For all of the show’s many strengths however, parts of it felt a little undeveloped, and not particularly well-placed in terms of the show’s overall focus and narrative.  And while McGrath’s immense likeability as a performer meant that the audience largely stayed with her throughout Accidental Coconut, at times I felt like their patience wore a little thin, and couldn’t help but feel some of the crowd started lagging in the final third of the show.  Furthermore, it felt like there was more of an emphasis on ensuring the social, racial and political conclusions of the show landed effectively than making sure the show was funny, or to be more exact, as funny as McGrath’s genuinely strong energy as a performer could have possibly delivered.

This is undeniably a difficulty in stand-up performances that are as charged as McGrath’s show (to borrow from the comic scholar Rebecca Krefting), and to her absolute credit, she delivered whole sections of the show extremely well.  But overall, Accidental Coconut felt like a show caught between comic and non-comic performance, deviating at times between what felt more like a humorous guest lecture at an academic conference than a stand-up show.  Accidental Coconut is a complex comic performance that sets an ambitious and commendable standard for itself in tackling the vitally important racial and socio-political questions which McGrath places at the heart of it, but I feel that until she addresses these deficits, she will continue to do a disservice to herself as an extremely amiable and funny comedian.

James Nixon

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Darius Davies: Persian of Interest

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Just the Tonic at The Tron
Aug 1-25 (14:20)

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The cavalcade of comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe could be forgiven for being a little exhausted as they approached its final days. But having said this, Darius Davies’ Persian of Interest was immediately reassuring, and brilliantly funny. Bombastic, self-deprecating and politically incisive, he was a delight to watch in the intimacy of the Tonic at the Tron. As he took to the stage for his Thursday show, he began by ribbing sections of the audience for their less than enthusiastic applause. Promising a fantastic show – which he certainly delivered – Davies quickly won over these pockets of the audience in no time with an assortment of observational humour and clever social and political analysis.

A major theme of Persian of Interest focused on the increasingly unreliable nature of traditional and online media as a source of reliable information. The opening of his show helped emphasise this, with a prescient, menacing video montage illustrating the United Kingdom and the United States’ lurch towards right-wing nationalism, with snippets of Trump’s inauguration and Brexit. Davies’ montage also cleverly merged these developments with the parallel rise of app-based technologies and the ever increasing reliance on social media to both shape and define our lives. However, on a more ominous level, he highlighted how the use of increasingly sophisticated technology enabled unverified anecdotes and stories to spread quickly and aggressively across the internet without even the feeblest attempts to substantiate it. On a personal level, Davies illustrated the world’s struggle in combating fake news through his recollection of the time he had to throw a 12-pack of heckling Spanish tourists out of one of his shows during the 2017 Fringe, and the scornful, yet hilarious lengths they employed to get back at him on social media through a series of blatantly ridiculous accusations. By showcasing their efforts to the audience, Davies effectively demonstrated how platforms such as Twitter have become as much a reactionary, abusive battering ram against people in the public eye as they are a considered platform for qualified, considered opinion.

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He went on to talk about his struggles with Tinder, and how, after experimenting with creating and using a female Tinder profile, he came to sympathise with women who use the app and the torrent of groin-based photography Tinder introduces them to. It’s a definite highlight of the show, but more pertinently, I felt it underlined the nuances of Davies’ act, and his mixture of a kind of virile, masculine stage persona with moments of well-delivered, subtle progressivism. From his commentaries on social media, it developed into a wider critique of the use of social media by news organisations, and the troubling lack of accuracy and substantiation that goes into elements of their journalism. In possibly the best part of his entire show, Davies enveloped the audience in his tale of how he got revenge on Ryanair’s weighty booking fees through the use of social media, an entertaining vendetta which eventually led to him being welcomed onto BBC News as an unverified witness to a news item he had zero relation to. The majesty of this story lies in its depiction of Davies’ transformation from an aggrieved Ryanair passenger to a morsel of woefully unsubstantiated media fodder on live news, and one accomplished in riveting detail. Furthermore, it provided a prescient take on the vacuity of established, modern-day news institutions, and their struggle to marry the rigours of traditional journalism with an increasing demand to involve their stories in fast-paced, scatty social media reactions and opinions. In a comic tale for the Trump era, Davies elegantly underlined these weaknesses in the modern newsroom to brilliant effect.

An audience’s patience for social and political commentaries within stand-up can often deteriorate quickly, so it’s a real testament to Davies’ act that he was able to skilfully weave funny, observational anecdotes into more serious contemplations regarding the news and modern technology in such an engaging way. I also appreciated how Davies was open to ribbing himself on occasion, such as when he presented a cringe-worthy video of his younger, shirtless self performing a wrestling promo to camera, or in moments when he mocked himself for perhaps being a little too conspiratorial about modern technology. In his fine balance between self-deprecation, accessibility and socio-political exposition, instances like this made his more serious takes on the news and modern technology all the more effective. For the majority of the show, I was really engrossed by Davies’ material and delivery. However, at times I found the use of sound effects slightly jarring, and some of his examples of media malpractice were a little too indefinite to be overly effective. But for a show that tackles both the complexities around the increasing role of technology in our lives and relying on traditional news as a source of information, it makes sense to provide a video element to the show, and for the most part, it works really well. Overall, I thought it was a considered and very funny take on grappling with trying to find truth in a news culture saturated with hyperbolic, and often unsubstantiated spectacle, a light-hearted comic treatment for the fake news era, and I look forward to seeing more of Davies’ work in the future.

James Nixon

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Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch

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Just the Tonic at The Caves
Aug 1-25 (16:10)

Material: five-stars  Delivery: four-stars.png
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This is my last comedy review of the decade, of the Tweenies, & so Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch is a most appropriate choice. Paul Vickers began Twonkey’s Scandinavian saga back in 2010, & more than any other act has marked the progress of the decade. Back in 2010 Obama was president, Boris Johnson was widely derided, Brexit wasn’t relevant & people kinda liked each other, not being constantly bombarded by the elitist & populist control of the media which is sewing division daily in our lives. But one thing that hasn’t changed in that time, well not significantly at any rate, is Mr Twonkey’s sparklingly original cabaret. I’d caught the very first one (I’m a friend of the family) & his second show was included in my personal blog of 2011, which is something of a Hobbit to the Mumble’s Lord of the Rings. Here is the write-up;


Then came the climax of the Beehive session, & PAUL VICKERS surreal show, TWONKEY’S CASTLE. Meeting up with his brother, VICTOR POPE & his mum Anne (see yesterday), we found ourselves right at the front & in the midst of the action. Words cant really describe what goes on in Paul’s mind as he floats from piece to well-written piece, delivering his puppet-peppered comedy with a dead-pan relish. He also sings, & bloody well at that, which gave the show a category of Cabaret. But its not cabaret – you cant really label it. Perhaps Vic Reeves & Des O Connor high on helium gas while Monty Python dance about them naked is kinda close, but its an hysterical ride through a man’s imaganation, & a mind thats growing confident with his material. He’d unleashed Twonkey on the Fringe last year (see you tube below) & where next Mr Vickers… Twonkey’s Space Station?


The beauty of that write-up is that I could just copy & paste it & it will still stand for today – its all a bit like The Fast & the Furious franchise, which just gets better & better. The only difference between then & now is that certain members of the 2019 audience have their favorite puppets & characters – mine is Mr Vines, Twonkey’s dodgy manager figure. I also saw something this year I thought I never would; a family of probable Christian fundamentalists walking out deriding Twonkey with a ‘that is sick‘ jibe. Twonkey is many, many things, but sick is not one of them.

The Wheel never lies… does that ring any bells? Mr Twonkey

Twonkey opens his show with a videolet of Subterranean Homesick Blues, whipping out the posters of ten years at the Fringe one-by-one… in the correct order! This year’s buzziest creation for me was Leonardo de Vinci’s landlady declaring that famous Renaissance artist was “ahead of his time, but behind on his rent,” while the Twonkiest moment – yes I think the Oxford Dictionary can accept that as a new word – would be when he played a mini-accordion while balancing a series of model fish… upon it’s top!

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At all times the audience sat transfixed, mouths slightly ajar, little drops of saliva collecting in the corners of their mouths. We all (more or less) love Twonkey whether its your first visit, or your tenth, & I have seen all ten! So to conclude; Brexit will eventually be a mere memory, & Trump will die in prison, but Mr Twonkey, or at least the Twonkeyism that he invented, will continue to thrive. I got that knowledge straight from the horse’s mouth, actually, for on asking Mr Vickers will he be back for a new decade, he replied, ‘I’m sure I will keep going but in many different forms and in new and exiting ways. I just need to dream it all up again.’

Damian Beeson Bullen

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Jez Watts: Absolute Zero

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Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire
Aug 22 – 25 (17.15)

Material: three-stars.png Delivery: three-stars.png  Laughs: three-stars.png  Room: three-stars.png


index.jpgThe Cave at Cabaret Voltaire looked attractive as we took our seats and slowly filled the room. It’s one those venues where the brickwork was exposed, a perfect setting for Australian Jez Watts’ brand of raw, close to the bone stand up. He revelled in his reputation for being “dirty”, verging on unacceptable and further reminded us that while we were there for comedy, he was at work, something he did with confidence. As he got into his stride, he confided that the title of his show, absolute zero, wasn’t because he was at rock bottom but was more to do with his state of indebtedness to his girlfriend, someone he revealed that he was going to propose to just as soon as he’s raised the money to pay her back. His prospective wife had in fact supplied the $1000 to furnish his act with the tech he used in his show,but he owed her a further $16000.

Despite this rather appealing revelation, this was a guy who took a somewhat mocking stance to life as he launched into his no-holds-barred reflections on everything from his own worries and concerns to his take on civilisation and the state of the human race. Which he compared to chickens in a George Orwell -esk take on the organisation of society. Nor did he hold back from confronting the audience in a not altogether comfortable way. But it’s up to you whether you take offence, or take comfort in the thought that the crudest japes are working hard for us in the name of liberty and freedom of speech, which is after all is the crux of true democracy.

Daniel Donnelly

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Meatball Séance

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Bar Bados
Aug 22-24 (19:00)

Material: five-stars  Delivery: five-stars
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After the Mumble editor met John Michael flyering for his show in Edinburgh, I got the call to go down to Bar Bados and review him. I’m very glad he did so, for John has transported audience participation to a whole new level, which is always quite a scary prospect for an audience member. Perhaps it was the crazy apron and pants costume, or his announcement of the gay boyfriend that he’d found that made him seem quite unthreatening and he had no difficulty pulling members of the audience up on stage with him to perform various tasks under his direction. In the end at one point there were three people onstage, thus cleverly changing the dynamic of a solo show into an ensemble piece.

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The concept of the show stemmed from the tragic loss of his beloved mother, together with the experience of being dumped by a long-time boyfriend. His demeanour was nothing short of manic as he hilariously set about getting us to perform characters from his life, and ran up and down the small aisle to make us stamp our feet and yell. At other moments he would just stare into the audience seeking out eye contact which it was impossible to resist.

John’s idea was that he would bring his mother back to life in a meatball séance where, with the help of selected audience members, he would actually cook the sizzling meatballs and use them as a ouija board to bring her back, while the rest of the audience would supply the screaming sound effects. He went for it nonstop from beginning to end, becoming more and more excitable at the thought of having his mother back again, and all the while coming out with cute jokes about her and the ex whenever there was any hint of sadness.

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This performer turned the venue into his own playground, dotting around here and there, one moment standing on the windowsill the next perching on the back of a chair. I would say he had us eating out of his hand as he took his deranged idea and ran with it all the way to the point of bringing his mom back to life. This show seemed crazy and out of control, but was in fact a masterful piece of theatre, skilfully put together and orchestrated by this American who touchingly wanted nothing more than to celebrate his mother’s life. An unexpected gem not soon forgotten.

Daniel Donnelly

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Bad Boys

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Laughing Horse @ City Cafe – Las Vegas
Aug 21-25 (22:30)

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Bad Boys is the most misleading title at the Fringe. For a start, they consist of a young man & young woman – Jamie D’Souza and Chelsea Birkby. Secondly, both their comedy & general demeanors are, in fact, rather good. There is a loose vote at the end to decided which of the two, plus a random punter, are the baddest boy in the room, but its rather meaningless really as a concept. Still, everyone at the Fringe needs a theme, right? So to the comedy itself. Two things contribute to coaxing the laugh-receptors of the brain into chortles, which help Bad Boys take off. The first is the time, 22.30, perfect for those about to go out on the lash, or are winding their lash up, with each demographic glaikit & glowing with life. The second is the disco-lights, his random radiancies combine with the lovely warmth both comedians project, inducing the feeling of being at an early 90s rave on some very happy drugs.

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Chelsea introduces things – she’s a natural MC – with Jamie’s swirling carousel of comedy following soon after. His material was nice & mixed, as was his race (as is mine) & I loved his phrase, on bemoaning his girlfriend giving him extremely short notice he was about to meet her parents – ‘once you go brown, you let your dad down.’ Classic. After 21 days reviewing in a row, my mental turbines had reached a curious state, being in a higher state of exhaustion. My brain was still alert however, like a sniper under a blanket, & I began to listen to the laughter which Jamie created. It felt like being at a Grand Prix, with the rise & fall sounding very much like a nneeee-ooooowwww between each rapid-paced, crowd-pleasing gag. Continuing the car motif, about half-way through his set he gave out a flurry of jokes which felt like we were going through the gears, with each eruption of laughter increasing in energy & volume.

Chelsea was next, her cloudlike tresses tumbling through the mists, & despite not being as natural a wit as Jamie, nor as polished, she is just a cute-puppy’s worth of cleverness & class. ‘Nobody likes Mumford & Sons if they don’t like sex,’ she declares, with the coital connexion forming a large part of her set. Her bipolarism pops up, the hypermania of which she compares to the imbibing of buckfast. She is more interactive than Jamie, while her youth is important – Chelsea is still quite excited about the world & as a 43-year old seeing it through her eyes again, she is quite revitalizing. Together, she & Jamie form a happening team, who I guarantee anybody at the Fringe will enjoy.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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Will Rowland: Cocoon

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Free Fringe @ Bar Bados Complex
Aug 21-24 (13:30)

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After seeing Will Rowland in a sketch show called Crizards last year, I thought I’d bob along to his debut full show at Bar Bados. I like his dreamcatcher presence in a room. Unfortunately on the day I went a pipe had burst or something & the whole venue had been shut down. Not to be deterred, I made my way back the next lunchtime & settled myself before him. It was a great start, with Will spraying fabreeze into the room via a strategically-placed fan to counteract any smells from the previous day’s sewage.

So to Cocoon, Will’s aptly-titled name for his debut. I say apt, because Will is very much a work in progress, not quite hatched but definitively alive & throbbing with energy. He has a rather blase approach to his set, an easy-going drollness that spends half his time, at least in the early stages, looking down on his own role as a performer from a punter’s point of view. A comedian’s comedian.

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Will in his Lewis Carrolesque section

Will is a beamer, he’s always on the edge of smiling & I enjoy comedians who laugh at their own jokes in the unpretentious manner. As we watch him at work, his face is an enthrallingly rolling watch, its like a tractor beam that keeps pulling you in & focused on the comedy. He is also the least invidious comedian I have ever seen. The set he presents is a wee tour de force around his family; dad’s there, mum pops up & I’d love to meet his granny, who refuses to laugh at his jokes or approve of his career choice. I’d tell her, ‘look love, be proud, the guy’s good!’

The one problem with Will is that if you lose your own focus for a second, you step off his train & its difficult to get back on again. He just needs to learn how to work a room better, tho’ to be honest the Bar Bados experience is tricky, with him having to compete with two nosiy shows on each side of him, including a very noisy bunch of Icelanders hunting for trolls (or something). I would prefer to have seen Will in a different room where I could enjoy the ride undisturbed from start to finish & allow his slick cerebrality to infest my laughter-spheres.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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