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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Naomi Karavani: Dominant

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Just the tonic at Marlin’s Wynd
Aug 1 – 25 (20.05)

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


Just the Tonic at Marlin’s Wynd was another plush Edinburgh venue, relaxing and comfortable. Joining the Fringe’s usual array of stand-up acts, comes Stateside lady Naomi Karavani, who quickly launched in to a series of quips about herself and her life. This set the tone for a performance full of thoughtfulness, honesty and great jokes with cunning, funny punchlines. Her subjects ranged her life as a Jewish woman & beyond, experiences covering desires both met and unachieved – her father’s disappointment in her career as stand-up, for example, and her brother being arrested 30 times. She made me laugh out loud at the sheer irony of her father being more proud of his jailhouse son while berating Naomi for her comedy. It was light-hearted, but nonetheless struck you as a brave thing to do, this fearless determination to express herself without holding back.

Moving to topics such as drugs, archaeology and women’s liberation, sarcasm was her new ammunition as she took pot-shots at all of them. As she talked about her personal America Naomi Karavani took berating to an entirely new level. Her sarcasm was charmingly, well prepared and could only have come from a life vigorously lived and loved. Fresh, exuberant, playful and uncomfortably honest, she drew us into a properly constructed exploration of the joys of life, with all its hardships, all its ups and downs.


Daniel Donnelly

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Grandad’s Grandad-Themed Family Reunion

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Heroes @ Spiegelyurt

12th August 2019 (only)

Material: five-stars Delivery: five-stars
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What is it that makes a spirit funny? What is it that makes a human laugh? I can only sense it myself, but Christian Brighty knows; he understands how the comedy avatars work, how in a time of miracles they can descend like Krishna into a mortal room. That room, late last night, & for one night only, was the surprisingly spacious Spiegelyurt, beside Bob’s Blundabus – a mini-Fringe kingdom all to itself for the more bohemian-minded. Its all a bit 60’s ‘Cisco up there really, & the jacket potatoes are delish.

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As we were led into the miniature circus marquee that the Spiegelyurt reveals, the audience were bubbling up with ‘did you see him in Brighton?‘ ‘Yes,’ was a common reply, & there is no better a positive presentiment for experiencing a show than popular public prescription. I must add, these punters were the bohemian English in town, the one’s whose comedic tastes I trust the most.

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So who were they here to see? A certain Christian Brighty was the answer, a busy bee at the Fringe, who is performing in Privates at the moment, while dealing in various other shows & schemes through his increasingly sophisticated portfolio. Brighty possesses a shock of curly hair that seems genetically descended directly from François-Joseph Talma, but whereas Talma strove for a certain realism in costume at the Comédie-Française, Brighty prefers the other end of the spectrum completely, tho’ fully grounded in a character everybody can love – our very own grandad!

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So to the show itself, which is the most perfect specimen of comedy as art I have ever seen – 24 carot. In essence, Christian dons the mask of our grandad, & we are all invited to the family reunion. Very much a millennial Mike Yarwood, he blends character & catchphrase with operations in a bottomless, marshmallow sumo suit, out of which appear props & fresh costumes with alarming regularity, & on occasion extreme subtleness. It is this aspect of the show that revved up my appreciation into the 5-star aether – half-way through I was settling on 4, but with each innovative eruption from the sumo suit Brighty’s score was dragged up higher. I have never seen him perform before, but I am now a fan of both the man & the persona! As we progress’d through each electric evolution of the act, we discover’d lots of snippets about Brighty’s brainbaby; out of whose butcher’s training, for example, came the ability to pluck a dog & to also differentiate a chorizo from quorn, by sound alone!

There are not many comedic visitors to Edinburgh I make an effort to see again each Fringe, for very few understand comedy as an artform – but Brighty has the measure; & Grandad reflects his, dare I say it, genius, commensurately well. He is still young, but as stylish as a Corinthian column, & can only get better. See you next year Christian, & please, please, please, please, please… keep up & keep improving your brilliantly ebbulient Benjamin Button!

Damian Beeson Bullen

five-stars

 

 

Richard Wright Is Just Happy to be Involved

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Opium Bar
Aug 12-25 (14.50)

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


Richard Wright comes across on purpose as a lower league comedian, East Fife versus Forfar kinda vibe, but believe me he’s definitely due a transfer to a higher division. Richard & his cuddly boisterousness commands the room from the off, & hardly lets go for the full 35 minutes of his show – I firmly believe this is the perfect length for laughter-emittance at the Fringe. During my slick & snappy soulbearing soiree with Richard, I must admit for the first time in 2019 I acquired the glue-gawp – that look of still & shocked confusion when a comedian goes off onto something particularly wild.

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A consistent semi-finalist in comedy competitions, Richard begins by riffing on his amateur status, stating that his idol was James Cahill, who as an amateur beat the great Ronnie O’Sullivan in the snooker world championships. A big lad, but happy to be so, he also declares how he is not even top-level, can’t-get-out-of-the-house, fat. From here, while the warmth & laughter in the room rises steadily upwards, the material begins its Stygian descent into some rather dodgy, self-deprecation – which straddled the anticoquettish border between poor taste & comedy like a drunkard wobbling home at 3AM. Fortunately, it never went off the precipice, & Richard maintained himself in our affections for the entirety of the show – ‘tho under 16s should not be encouraged inside, despite its early hour.

Another feature are the ‘aaahhss‘ that ripple out from the crowd at the end of every tragic life-fact Richard chooses to disclose. I’ve never quite heard that in a comedy show, but they don’t seem out of place at all, being the melodramatic viola in the string quartet of Wright’s comedy. There is a lot of love in the room when he is bubbling over on full boil, even during the tone-lowering episodes, for luckily he’s made us all fall in love with him by then!

Damian Beeson Bullen

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Byron Bertram: Passport and Prozac

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Marquee – Laughing Horse @ Bar 50
Aug 1 – 25, 20.00

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


Byron Bertram took command of the Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 marquee the minute he stepped out in front of us. In fact he bellowed at us, not in an angry British way, more in a Canadian large personality way. As we sat in the half-filled tent he cajoled us into participation in his laughter, but also in the general uproar, which would be a good word for describing his set. He took us on a journey into the extremes of his over-active mind and imagination, confessing to having a mental deficiency and being on meds, with a burgeoning pride and reality.

Bertram knew his material was comedy adamantine, taking great relish in the fact as he stood full square before us with a great smile in his eyes – he almost didn’t have to say anything and we were splitting our sides with laughter. It got better by the second, ranging from mocking modern culture to quips about his beloved mum, a great character. He joked about alcohol, made comparisons between the police in Canada and Britain, pointing out the politeness of the police here, having no need for guns but instead deploying social skills to enforce order on nights out in towns and cities. When he would scream into the microphone, he wasn’t being a diva; instead it was all part of his charm.

To his credit he was no jovial Santa personality, it was his seriousness about comedy that began to set him apart as a stand up. He even received positive heckling. His idea for the title Passport and Prozac was influenced by his extensive travelling and Prozac being the medication he was on. He was unsympathetic towards today’s PC society, but it was enough to mention it rather than rip it apart, though he would have been more than capable if he’d wanted. But, with a preference for very clever wit and a delivery to die for, Byron’s lack of airs and graces made him a pleasure to watch, listen to and feel improved by, all the while crying tears of laughter. It’s definitely shows like this that make the Festival for me, shows which step out of time and give weight to the theory of time flying when you’re having fun. This was an enthralling and masterful performance from a great traveller from Canada. Well worth an hour of your time.


Daniel Donnelly

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Any Suggestions Doctor? The Improvised Doctor Who Parody

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Pleasance Dome – King Dome
2nd – 25th August (19.00)

Material: five-stars Delivery: five-stars
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I found myself in a queue with pen and cards being distributed to launch the platform on which the latest episode of Doctor Who shall be played out. Our little grey cells are jump-started into action, and already we are being entertained by way of collaboration and audience participation. To have the chance to set the scene and location is a thought-provoking and ice-breaking experience – it is impossible to stay insular while from among the chatter, absurd and quirky ideas seep out from an awaiting crowd. By the time the throng has ascended the Pleasance Dome’s stairs and taken their seats, a feeling of exciting anticipation was felt – an electrifying atmosphere akin to waiting for the latest ride at Blackpool or Alton Towers. It’s just magic.

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Equally as entrancing are are the performances of each and every member of the cast. There are five actors who gel better than superglue, and give so generously to each other that the results cannot be anything other than superb. Such ability to think so fast and adapt at extreme speed to each others’ ever-changing dialogue is such a treat to witness, even if you are not a Dr.Who know-it-all. Last night’s performance was brilliant. Exciting music accompanied searchlights as their beams danced about the stage in front of an azure tardis. Then the cast entered and immediately high-fived the audience – genuinely thrilled to be performing to a packed house.

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The beauty of this production is the variety of plots they will go through – every time different – and the challenges the cast face with such hilarious trepidation linking Dr.Who to his new location. Our performance was ‘The Demon Knitting Cult’ set at Hogwarts with Harry Potter and his mates Ron and Hermione delivering banter that fully embraced the mathematical Dr Who’s mannerisms and lingo, while still keeping it surreally Hogwartian. Terrible timing malfunctions caused Dr.Who to land in London in our time and witness the Gherkin being pelted with thousands of owl-delivered letters leading him to Hogwarts and the antics there, where professors and students alike were unravelling at the speed of light (more or less!). You get the idea! Thoroughly recommended!

Clare Crines

five-stars