Jack Tucker: Comedy Stand Up Hour

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Underbelly Cowgate
August 16th-25th (21:20)

Material: four-stars.png  Delivery: five-stars Laughs: four-stars.png Room: five-stars


Never have I seen as blistering an opening 20 minutes of stand up as I witnessed at The Underbelly this evening. Entering the upper cavern of Belly Button, Yacht Rock and dry ice fill the packed room. I’ve queued for a full ten minutes to get in and the buzz is as thick as the artificial smog drifting over the eager crowd. There is a real feeling that something truly special is about to occur. I’ve been a fan of ‘anti-comedy’ ever since I came across Andy Kaufman’s ‘Tony Clifton’ persona in the biopic Man on the Moon. An aggressive, washed up Las Vegas lounge act who made his name by being so obnoxious to the audience (often ‘plants’) that he would end up in fights, and screaming incoherent obscenities. So enter the stage Jack Tucker, a Noo Yoik Tony Clifton for our current day. He staggers on, dripping with coke sweat, eyes rimmed red from one Coors Light (or smoke machine effect) too many, and he launches his vice-like grip around the audience.

This is very knowing stuff. If Donald Trump possessed any self-awareness, or basic business acumen, he would be milking his moronity in precisely the manner that Tucker does. He rants about “Winners!” and “Losers!” he screams “Fake News!” as he is informed that his audience size is a touch less than the 900 he claims. The capacity is 200. His nods, winks, hand sniffing and pratfalls are tossed out like Miles Davis trumpet riffs, surfing on waves of the audience’s adulation. For we all understand that this is an act. It is, however, very much a double act. His incredibly talented Director, and Tech, toys with him through deployment of sound effects, with surgical comic precision. Initially employing them, literally, like a machine gun to punctuate every bad taste gag and improvised one liner. As the show progresses we notice our unseen performer toying with Tucker by delaying the honks, guitar riffs and ‘Whammo’ noises more and more. This is improvisation as high art, they are having fun, but it is all for the audience.

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It’s not all visceral microphone assisted blowjob jokes, faux hack chat and trite observational comedy about the Weather Channel though. Around 20 minutes in he throws out two casually acerbic lines which prick at the hypocrisy of a Bojo ruled Britain retaining its sense of superiority over Americans having the President that they do. These are so subtle, and finely crafted, that unfortunately they seem to be lost in the cloak of clowning chaos he has cast over the audience. It’s around this point where the issues with the show begin to creep in. He has us so tightly wound, so ready for his onstage rock bottom implosion, which he has left us salivating for, that the middle section of the show starts to drag somewhat. He doesn’t up the stakes with his antagonistic behaviour, and he doesn’t start to throw out the snippets of humanity that are essential for his dénouement to work. So when it does inevitably come, after 10 minutes of circling that feels flat and repetitive rather than character developing, the pathos of the back story to this revolting beast feels forced. There has been no sense of increasing desperation, no shift in energy to the increasingly manic, which should come before he breaks down and gives us his sob story. Which is not to say that ‘The Sob Story’ itself is not incredibly well delivered. An astonishingly brave audience member lends the video camera on her phone to support a performance of, what I can only describe as, the most upsetting rendition of Happy Birthday I have ever partaken in.

This might seem like a minor quibble, but the essence of clowning is to be absolutely, and all, of the character. The mid set dip exposes a hole in the suspension of disbelief required for the audience to really commit to such an unpleasant character, and it almost defeats the purpose of the whole venture. Sob story cast aside, he jumps right back into bad ol’ Jack mode and has the audience in his sweaty, beer drenched bosom again. The show finishes on an incredible high and the obligatory standing ovation, for an hour of pure energy, is duly delivered. I laughed heartily, and the men in the row in front of me spent large portions of the show using their T shirts to wipe tears from their eyes. But I wonder if Jack would have had the courage to finish his set with the purely anarchist spirit of his erstwhile fantasy mentor.

As Andy Kaufman’s agent George Shapiro famously told him “You’re insane, but you might also be brilliant”. On this evidence, Tucker is just a hair’s breadth away.


Ewan Law

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Adam Flood & Blake AJ: Joke Boys

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PBH Southsider
August 16-19, 21-24 (19:00)

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


Watching hundreds of hours of new comedy a year, there is nothing quite as pleasurable as discovering unpolished, glittering little nuggets of raw talent. This evening, panning in the Yukon-esque wilds of The Southsider, I found 2 such rarefied wee chunks of the golden stuff. I’ve not had as much time as during previous Fringe’s to check out acts performing in the now oft neglected PBH Free Fringe. In its heyday I would greedily snap up and consume their program as soon as it was released, scouring it for peculiar novelty clowning acts, club scene regulars looking for their big break, or former seasoned professionals delivering a swansong performance, somewhere in a pub off The Royal Mile at 1AM So it was with a genuine sense of excitement that I cycled up to The Southsider, to grab a cheap pint and a ‘free’ show. This was in essence a classic 2-hander, a pair of gigging mates teaming up to head North and try out their material on the hordes of arts fans and tourists that engulf The Athens of the North in August. Though unlike almost every other 2-hander I’ve watched, they took to the stage together, beginning as a double act. Here, as at the end of the show and during the highly entertaining middle section, they showed off their comedy personas with bravado.

Flood greets us first, embodying a confident Low Status performer. If that sounds oxymoronic, well, that’s the point. Low status is notoriously difficult to get right. But throughout the evening he delivered assured snippets of impressions, songs, and anecdotes deeply reminiscent of Ricky Gervais performing as Andy Millman in ‘When the Whistle Blows’. Except funny, very very funny.  A section covering well-trodden ground of ‘accents being misunderstood by machines’ was elevated by his commitment to the vocal gymnastics required to convey an impenetrable Midlands accent , whilst an impression of Stoke’s own wannabe Tom Cruise in Cocktail, generated so much laughter from Floods rubber faced buffoonery that he let it continue, hypnotically, for a full 20 seconds longer than he real ought to have had any right to. “I’ll just do this bit all night shall I?” he asked the crowd. The cheer they threw up created the perfect punchline for him to close the section on. It was a shame then that not all of his set landed as successfully as this. His material delivered ‘as self’ felt a little lacking in the absence of the facial comedy masterclass that we had already been served.. A well crafted, but stoically delivered, 3 minutes about being grown up enough to buy a cast iron sieve, and cocaine, fell to light titters. They wanted more of the Goon.

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Blake on the other hand came jumping out onto the stage in a faux fur pimp jacket, effortlessly channeling a squawky, confident, ‘Cat’ from Red Dwarf. His set was the polar opposite of Floods, some very neatly observed, and original, material relating to his mixed heritage swam in daring territory. If you’ve ever wondered why people with mixed heritage ‘aren’t into BDSM’, Blake will duly educate you. You see he used to be a teacher, and his tales of experiencing racial prejudice from Vietnamese kids named Captain America were both boundary pushing, and highly original. Here though was the fly in Blake’s ointment, his delivery was a little too teachery. The initial bombast of his stage entrance gone once he kicked into his practiced routine. The crowd seemed unsure how to take some of the changes of direction, but the wonderful banter, and anarchic spirit, present in their performances when double teaming, weren’t quite there when they got into the scripted stuff. Both performers fed exceptionally well off the positive energies from the audience, but didn’t always seem quite sure how to switch the pace when sections didn’t land as well.

Those tag team moments though, well what a treat. They oversaw a mid-show auction, with a gag at its heart of beautiful simplicity, in which they again demonstrated an assured command of just how long to milk an audience response. Their closing song pleasantly portentous, as Blake clowned around playing a triangle, manic grin plastered  on his face and Flood, bashing away at his guitar and gurning  like the kid from This is England, on Ecstasy, blasted out “For now we’re just Adam and Blake, but you might see us on TV someday”.

 “Yeah” I thought to myself “ I think we probably will”

Give them another few years to craft their individual performances and hone the exceptionally wide variety of talents on display, or better still, go the whole hog and perform exclusively as a double act, and this pair will polish up nicely into 24 Carat Fringe regulars.

Ewan Law

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Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Culture

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Gilded Balloon Teviot – Wine Bar
Aug 15-21, 23-26 (15.10)

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


Its been ten years since Baba Brinkman premiered his Rap Guide to Evolution at the Fringe, since when he has maintained a high-profile international reputation. But a decade is a long time in the arts, & I was curious to see how his once-groundbreaking  style would fare in 2019. This year, his Guide to Culture is quite a piece. It relays an interesting and insightful philosophy where scientific rationalism meets street culture. It is in combination a history of rap, a hip-hop biography, and a social commentary of politics, sexual dimorphism, equity and equality.

This show is a well-researched and accessible academic analysis of culture, brought to us by a graduate of English Literature and hip-hop enthusiast. His rapping style is a long way from his gangster role models, while the educational content and simplified story telling might give the impression of a patronising schoolteacher, but by the end you cannot help but warm to his passion and openness. He certainly lives by the hip-hop maxim of “keep it real” – transforming an art form that he admits is difficult to appropriate into an engaging exposure of his intellectual interests and social commentary. His lyrics are a long way from the struggles of the streets, but rather a nerdy narrative of social evolution.

The problem with the show is that it is described as a comedy, but therein lies the rub.  There is a significant lack of well-crafted jokes and hard-hitting punchlines – the audience obviously found the content entertaining, but if hilarity is not the priority, why dwell in the comedy listings. However, the show itself is extremely well-written and tightly rehearsed, some of his verses are questionably simple yet his freestyles are undeniably impressive. Baba’s delivery was natural and engaging, and you can tell that he is purely in his element on stage, enjoying himself throughout with an infectious passion that spreads into all corners of the room.

Mat Boyd

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Mark and Haydn: Llaugh

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Just The Tonic @ The Caves
August 16 -25 (17:30)

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


Is it possible to arrest the upwards ascent of Mark Bittlestone & Haydn Jenkins into the highest sphere of sketch comedy? I shouldn’t think so! They were finalists in this year’s Leicester Sketch-Off, & you can see why from the very off. Their introduction is sublime, for they take on the roles of punters at the Fringe going to see a comedy show – art imitating life & something that connects 100 percent with the audience. Even the most established ‘curriculum’ comedians will never tell a joke which everyone in the whole room can relate to – but these guys do, a hatful of them, & from then on we are just melting, caramel pliant, in their hands.
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4415.jpgAfter that extended, satirical & realm-shifting opening, we enter the sun-kissed sierras of their sketches. Mark is brimmingly blond, Haydn is a non-accenting Welshman; they are both young & they fuse tremendously well – in a Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau kinda way. It is one thing to have designed a funny sketch, but it is another completely to possess the aptitude and courage to issue it forth into a possibly hostile room. But these guys are consummate performers with pinpoint timing, so its all OK. Of their nicely-length’d sketches, I love the way they sometimes rewrite each others’ pieces, a competitive collaboration which shows again how willing they are to think outside the box. My very favorite was the pub-quiz, where is utter’d the immortal line, ‘how many palms do you have to grease to get the Punic Wars?’
Llaughs – the two ls are correct by the way, a homage to Haydn’s heritage – is a shape-shifting montage of madness & mirth. You can see the genesis of something pretty special in this set & in these fellas – I’m not exactly sure what its gonna be, but it’ll all be an intriguing watch.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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Sunjai Arif: Which Princess Are You?

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Laughing Horse @ Bar 50
Aug 1-25 (15.10)

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


Sunjai Arif regaled us with sarcasm and quips as he made his way onto the tiny stage, in a tiny room at the Laughing Horse. If we were in any doubt about what the show, “Which Princess Are You” would be about, he immediately set us at ease by stating his love for Disney movies and more specifically, Disney Princesses. He got us involved straight away by asking which princess we thought we were and played a game to discover our inner princess, handing out tiny, not-that-well-made masks depicting said princesses.

The material for Sunjai’s show stemmed from his more than miserable search for love as a young teenager – quite some time ago now, but with a lasting effect on his psyche. He had used his love for the Disney franchise to try and change his younger life, promising himself a fairy-tale ending… but resulting in embarrassing and excruciating failure.

The show took one surreal turn after another as Sunjai – who was not a slender fellow – climbed in and out of tight leotards to play the role of Ursula, his heroine villain from the Little Mermaid, not to mention the beautiful Ariel herself. You have to picture him sitting there half naked with his long flowing hair and beard.  Yep – not pretty! He’d even made himself a cardboard cut-out of the famous Disney palace (yet another budget home-made effort) to put on his head to complete the Disney Diva look.

But the show wasn’t completely bonkers, in fact it even became a bit sad when Sunjai described his realisation that life didn’t really work out as it does for princesses in movies, causing him to lose faith in the heroes he loved so much. With his face half-hidden behind talcum powder, we realised that the comedy and the madness and mayhem was the only way to deal with the pain.

But there WAS a happy ending, as Sunjai charmingly gave us the joyful news that he was now happily married with kids, and told us that from the moment when they found each other, they just never let go. Which just goes to show that it doesn’t matter in the end what sort of princess you think you are. Good on you Sunjai, it was worth being a part of your crazy show, delivered with total wackiness and a great heart.

Daniel Donnelly

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Will Penswick: Nørdic(k)

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Just the Tonic at The Caves
Aug 1 – 25 (13.30)

Material: five-stars  Delivery: five-stars Laughs: four-stars.png Room: four-stars.png


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Will Penswick is the creator of bobble-hat wearing Paetur Paetursson, a Faroese detective reflecting & refining the recent western adoration of Scandinoir. You can catch both man & character right now at the Edinburgh Fringe, & I strongly suggest you do so – its ‘free’ & its funny & it restores faith in the ability of the Fringe to bring the very best out of its performers. The show is called Nørdic(k), & what makes it so bloody special is that the ‘actors’ in the story are pulled out from the audience. It really works, for Will is a proper reflex ninja, with the ability to bounce off our spontaneous responses with a natural alacrity befitting his clear talent.

Paetur Paetursson is a bobby on the beat & also with the beat, being one of the Faeroe Island’s top DJs, the setting of which forms the background to the murder he has to solve. This one-man show is an easy & warm wonder – the narrative never slows, always quick to change scene & vibe. There’s a few dodgy puns toss’d into the mix, which do work as accoutrements actually, & overall Nørdic(k) is a slick & laugh-laden concept, simmering with Will’s energy & incredible confidence. His dulcet accent is also pitch-perfect, & to be honest the cleverly conceived script & the quality delivery makes Nørdic(k) a better spectacle than most theatrical offerings at the Fringe.


Dmian Beeson Bullen

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Jon Long: Planet-Killing Machine

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Underbelly – Clover
August 14th -26 (21:30)

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


If you’re after a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, something to satisfy all appetites and have your friends and family walking out of a show with you smiling and saying, ‘I’m glad you chose that,’ get yourself along to Jon Long at The Underbelly. After my annual 2 week Fringe staycation, I was back at work and feeling knackered already. A 6am start did not help me in mustering up motivation to get myself back out and in the thick of it. So to call it fortuitous that I was off to review Jon Long, would be a serious understatement.

Long strolls onto the stage as relaxed as you like. He instantly starts bantering with the crowd, full of understated bonhomie and big-grinned charm. He is clearly a young man who does this a lot. As if proof were needed, he begins by sharing his tales of woe at the part-time job he has taken to fit around his gigging, at a waste disposal plant. This allows him to give himself the moniker of ‘Stig’ (of The Dump, not Top Gear), and this self-prescribed nickname fits precisely because of his broad appeal.

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The demographics in the room are clearly displayed as the hour flies by. Each nugget of his set provokes a different level of laughter from every section of the room. Older folk laugh at the ‘Millennial gags’, the London crowd laugh at his sing-song tales of commuter hell, and I am in hysterics at his confessions of insecurity when attending his first Scottish Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. This is material that is sharp, well observed, and invites everyone to be part of the fun. A number of shows that I’ve been to in the last few weeks have suffered from too many niche, or geographically specific references. Our Jon is too seasoned to make that mistake. The songs he performs are both singalong catchy, and funny. I’ll confess to being usually deeply antipathetic to musical comedy. Tonight though, by the end of our troubadours toe-tapping numbers, I was singing along happily to each catchy chorus, as was everyone else in the audience.

And the crowd were with him from the word go, I took joy in observing the whole room continuing to clap after the lights went up at the end of the show. You see all comedy at The Fringe doesn’t need to be challenging, or controversial, or telling a deeply sad story. Long spends a pleasantly humilitous 2 minutes explaining why he didn’t fall into the pity trap of writing a heart-wrenching piece about his own addiction issues. Sometimes all you really want on a night ot is laughter, camaraderie, and a warm buzz in your chest when you leave the venue. This is why, when he finally gets into his ‘Save the Planet’ section, the audience is receptive, and it’s an approach that more activists should take. He gently pokes at the hypocrisy of armchair activists, and holds his hands up to his own ecological foibles. Just like Kermit, he gets that it’s not easy being green.

I had one critical thought throughout, and that is the speed of his delivery. When telling stories, speaking as ‘a character’, or singing, Long’s delivery is perfect. However there were sections where he was delivering to the audience as himself that felt churned out at far too high a words-per-minute count. A 4-minute section on The Maldives was almost completely lost to me as he rapidly fired out the words in a monotone, but nonetheless charming fashion. The overall quality of his material, and good will he bought from his audience from the off, compensated for this to a great degree.

As I left and started scribbling in my notebook I noticed that I was striding down the road with a spring in my step and a song on my lips, all thoughts of my early start at work again tomorrow deliciously absent as I bounced home. I was genuinely grateful to have spent my evening with Jon, I only wish that I’d brought some of my own friends and family along with me. I know that I would have had the pleasure of seeing a similarly nonchalant spring in their steps too.

Ewan Law

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