Mel Byron: Standing at the Back

Laughing Horse – City Cafe
Aug 16 – 19, 16.35

The City cafe just up from Cowgate is a restaurant/ night club venue with tiny rooms downstairs. I had arrived for the comedy show called ‘Mel Byron: Standing at the back’ the turnout in the 15 seat room was compiled of couples and a mother and teenage kid.
Mel’s story began with a talk about depression, but she told it with an answer of how to cure and avoid it, by living I think was the gist. She had a spirited attractive feeling about her like she was bubbling with life. The words spanned out at speed with dynamic force of pronunciation, a clown without the makeup.

Never tying herself down to any particular style she instead threw everything together in a kind of combustion on the stage (no stage but a proportion of the room). Her awareness of the room was in every glance she gave you, and after eye contact we were sharply reminded that we were at a stand up gig.

Her intimately personal stories were ripe for a swan song wrapping up of a life story we just entered into. We saw her in a whirlwind of emotions bending bravely and ending with punch lines of rapid fire and tumultuous delivery as if she was escaping a fire.
If the room died she dealt with it, if we were alive she would also arrive but with a killer joke. She had a handbag of props and a fancy hat that she would put on but then in one of her flashes quickly took off again.

Self deprecation, so much a part of comedy, she stretched into unfathomable sizes playing on it like her life depended on it, she also had a grace and personality that if you can catch her in a good mood you would want to be around. She was a well dressed, perpetrator of the room, doing what she can for the loneliest of things being a stand up comedian with a subject and round up to die for.

The story she put together into a ridicule making fun of life’s pain, sorrow and suffering leaving a longer lasting effect on us like a kind of tonic for therapy. The tears of laughter look the same as those of sadness that was the effect of life at least for the 50 min Stand up show called ‘Standing at the back’ by a talented and courageous Mel Byron, who didn’t let you sit still for too long.

Daniel Donnelly

Raul Kohli: Makes it Up as He Goes Along

Laughing Horse – Bar 50
Aug 18 – 28, 18.15

Bar 50 is a very down to earth venue for the free festival at the fringe, something we are very thankful for. But we enter at our own risk, the very small room in the Laughing Horse gig began to pack as the comedian delayed his show to make sure every seat was taken. It looked and felt like a crowd familiar with his spine cracking act.
He stood out, after taking to stage, in casual t-shirt introducing himself as an Anglo Indian beginning his sharp no holds barred mockery no matter the subject. I sat in the back and the room felt like erupting any time soon, he played on this atmosphere in a way that he seemed to be expecting it.

His show guidelines immediately involved all of the room with his questions of: ‘Where are you from? and ‘What do you do?, followed by the very involving question ‘What’s your favourite thing about it? He had to deal with spontaneous improvisation a lot, I confess I didn’t want to talk but thankfully he never pointed his finger at me.

He drew out to a more and more relaxed crowd that he set at ease or set fire to, who offered some wildly hilarious lines about the situation. Raul Kohli grew up in Newcastle and his debut at the Fringe in 2016 speaks of his long evolving career in stand up and we could tell that his show was well polished even as he had the room cajoled in a comedically electric atmosphere created in a tiny room with the scene reflecting on his sometimes tender stories of racism and recollection.

The show was almost intimidating to be at, moving with a feverish pace of surreal and political coverage, resoundingly partaking in a comedy of errors. His power resides in the speculation he makes to turn the world upside down. Using his funny bone and large brain he used these sharpest of tool to strip himself down and put it all into the public domain to share experience.

Giving a voice to the messed up in the world and then make a devastating comedy about it, he does it like a hurricane. Showing how one man with a small audience can exhibit, with ruckus delivery, an exhibition that flew across the board, the room until the end of the planet.

If you want to do something very uncomfortable to bring you out of a humdrum day, or you love perplexity and dangerous nervousness find your way to bar 50, for a fight with words. On a more pleasant side were his lines, cajoling but also his willingness to make mistakes and be unsure, a most accomplished act that the right kind of stand up should be

Daniel Donnelly

Starship Improvise

Pleasance Dome – KingDome
Aug 15-21 (15:00)

I’m afraid I cannot give this show any stars. Not ‘no’ stars, just I don’t want to pin a judgement to the tail of Starship Improvise. But it’s the Fringe! Stars are important! Yes, OK, if it was the same show every night, then quantifying it does make sense, identifying whatever cave in the Parnassian slopes it would have excavated for itself. Starship Improvise, however, I know for a fact can swing from pole to pole. There’s too many variables to give an accurate judgement of this show & I went in two in a row to assess that. The first was weak & draggy, the second was bright & funny. That is the nature of Improv, I guess. One dodgy tangent, one shallow premise, & the whole show is clinging to a colander at sea.

But when done well, improv is priceless, genius, inspiring, whatever superlative you’ve got at that moment… & so to Starship Improvise which at times is done to that superlative-heavy standard, but then again sometimes not. The idea is, of course, a Star Trek / Red Dwarf style romp thro the crew’s character conflicts & wherever they end up in that episode of the saga. This is on-running, by the way, & people come back episode after episode. I did it for two, like I said earlier, & they are completely different affairs, its just the crew are the same. There’s a captain, a computer, an empath, a dog-man, etc. There’s cool names like Tripp Hazard & Richard Vitamins, & they all bounce off each other & onto the stage & back with a certain sense of giddy professionalism.

Their ship is the Celestia 7, & their trip is mixture of over-emotional interactions & quality comedic quipping, which are thoroughly dependent on how the crew handle this episode’s audience-given themes. The improv is of a distinguish’d level – there’s several Showstoppers in there -, with hardly a stutter or pause anywhere. If you’re a fan of Star Trek or Red Dwarf, especially, you’re gonna absolutely adore this. It is pure sci-fi, tho’ going over very common ground – there’s no cultural earthquake with Starship Improvise. Not for everyone, but for those who it is for it’ll be a great buzz.


Steve Bennett: Forced to Work

Four years ago I was reviewing at the Fringe & was alerted to the fact that Steve Bennett, who runs the Chortle, was giving shows I’d awarded five stars to, only 3 stars. At the time I suggested he was the Arsene Wenger of comedy reviewing & should perhaps move upstairs to the boardroom. This year he’s still pitchside, & has recently awarded two stars to a stunning show call’d Horseplay Bareback which I just had to give 5 stars to. It was bangin’!

Comparing the two reviews, when Steve says, ‘for every decent idea, there are five duds, which they are rather too pleased to indulge,’ I differ’d by saying the show was, ‘full of the joys of comedy springtime, an absolute freshness of material & the sheer enthus’d excitement in our performers of well, performing.’ Steve also said, ‘the show ends with the ‘real’ them analysing preceding events and talking about their own sex lives – but it feels just as artificial as the rest of it,’ which again differ’d from my own account of, ‘they also dig working with each other – I could see it in their eyes, especially right at the very end when they slipped their masques & talked to us as Kathy & Derek, with the one not talking just looking at their partner-in-crime half adoringly, half respectfully, & fully immersed in the beauty they’d just been creating for us all.’ It’s like, mate, c’mon, chill out, can you just not enjoy yourself & have a laugh. Fer fuc£s sake!

So why do performers, & also any potential punters reading his reviews, have to absorb Mr Bennett’s caustic criticism. The answer, is I think, he actually has no choice but to be a reviewer this year, for there has been a major sea-change at the Fringe. Fundamentally, it is down to the ever-increasing accommodation costs. An extra thousand here, another thousand there & suddenly reviewers can’t afford to stay in Edinburgh any more. The Mumble are lucky, I guess, we’re based in the Central Belt & have maintained good copy at every Fringe since 2013 – next year will be our tenth anniversary. In another ten years we might even be the only reviewers left at the Fringe. Typical month-long rents for the larger houses have gone from £2000 to £5000 in only a handful of years, & £10,000 cannot be far off.

One of the major show groups had 700 reviews booked in for 2019, which has dropped to an alarming 80 this year. The famous old Three Weeks review paper/site has only 12 reviewers on the ground – they usually have 30, and in the past have had 100. Most of the show groups post reviews upon walls for the public to read, & as a Fringe progresses they could become 3 or 4 layers deep – but this year those same walls look as dry as reservoirs in this current drought. The solution might not come soon, unfortunately, which means Steve Bennett could be in the field for the foreseeable future, & at the rate his appreciation levels are plummeting, by this time next year genuinely brilliant shows will only be getting one star!


Doctor Kaboom! & the Wheel of Science

Pleasance Courtyard
Aug 14-21 (12:00)

“Science is for everyone!” declares our steampunk goggled, peroxide, spike-haired host, for the first of many times during this thoroughly uplifting gem of a children’s science show. For it’s not only weird and wonderful homemade experiments being show cased here, but a love of learning, and of life itself. The childlike enthusiasm of our faux-German host leaps off the stage from the get go. The experiments are interspersed with actually very funny and not at all filler gags, and positive role modelling via inspirational little vignettes which avoid the cloying sickliness of ‘wellbeing’ preachers, and positive mindset gurus. Learning, we are led to understand, really is it’s own reward. For it is learning and a love of science which Dr K explains has allowed him make his living traveling the world with his homemade experiments, entertaining adults and children alike. He does throw in a word of warning for any wannabes in the audience however. Air travel can be tricky when you have “Kaboom!” emblazoned on the side of your large and suspiciously shaped luggage.

The ‘wheel of science’ itself is a similarly homespun contraption. Before each section, and with unfaltering enthusiasm, he energetically sets it on its course to allow fate to decide what wonders todays show will lead them to witness. We have the ‘Catapult Shmatapult’, Bio-bulb, Vacuum Vase and the undeniably impressive homemade hovercraft. Audience participation, from the younger members of the audience, is called upon for each section, and todays 6 year old hover-pilot steered her craft with a mix of steely determination and visible exhilaration.

Dr K himself is a sensational, vaudevillian, host. Bon homie, charm, and an incredibly infectious chuckle fire out of him for the whole hour. Parents and children alike are enthralled, entertained, and inspired. Each of the experiments is ultimately replicable at home, and I could see more than one budding Marie Cure & Albert Einstein skipping out of the show at it’s close, bobbing on their feet and animatedly pestering their old folks to scrap the rest of the days plans and head home to embark upon their own quests to master centripetal forces and shoot bottles into the sky.

We are told at the beginning that Dr Kaboom is ‘on a mission to inspire’. When your audience come on stage to actually ‘do science’, banter with children in a manner which never condescends nor patronises, and can provoke laughs gasps and open mouthed wonder, then you indeed have the formula to generate an explosion of inspiration.

Ewan Law

Andy Macleod: Anoint My Head – How I Failed to Make it as a Britpop Indie Rockstar

Just the Tonic at The Caves
Aug 14, 16-28 (13:30)

Death themed awards bait, surrealism, interpretive dance, clowns. Ooftie, a day at The Fringe can fair take it out of you.

Sometimes what you really need in the middle of a jam packed ‘Find the next big thing!!!’ day of speed-walking up hill & down dale, from The Pleasance to The New Town, is a show you want to buy a beer for, hang lazily about in one of the loose queues dotted like capillaries along the sides of The Cowgate, & try to feel vaguely cool and louche, spotting semi, or full blown, famous comedians doing likewise & wondering if they’ll be sitting next to you watching the show that you’re going to catching next, giving you that unique, electric, hit of a brush with fame & all the possible glory it could bring.

In this respect then ‘Anoint my Head’, an hour of laid-back meanderings on one mans experience of trying to make it big in the Britpop era is really just the ticket. Ironically, given the shows premise being predicated on precisely our hosts lack of success in ‘hitting the big time’, the frequent musical interludes (of original, unreleased material no less) are easily the standouts here.

The shows title is taken from the classic Steve Martin comedy The Man with 2 Brains. Within the film the phrases context is a line from an absurd love poem. Within the context of the show it works on three different levels. Our hosts still born rock’n’roll career was as founding member of ‘The Pointy Birds’ themselves the protagonists of the aforementioned surreal, rhapsodic, musings of Mr Martin.

“Oh Pointy Birds, oh pointy pointy. Anoint my Head, anointy nointy”

The second level this works on is the very funny, and gloriously absurd, songs performed throughout by our host. You see The Pointy Birds USP was their own Britpop take on comedy tunes, which had more than a passing stylistic similarity to the poem providing their moniker. Think Spinal Tap dressed as Brett Anderson from Suede, manging to squeeze references to Jeremy Beadle and the Devil into the same love song. And making that rhyme. This was also as we discover, somewhat unsurprisingly, their main commercial downfall. Risque rhyming couplets about marrying a squirrel may make for great fare in madcap 80’s comedy classics, or at an International Arts festival. Not so much in the uber-arch reviews section of a 1993 edition of The NME as it turns out.

The third level the title works on is as a neat metaphor for the music industry as a whole, and A&R men and wannabee managers in general. They tend to shit on artists heads from a great height.

The guitar skills displayed are at times wilfully akin to Father Ted attempting to hit the final chord in ‘My Lovely Horse’, but this sits firmly within the tone of the show as a whole. Names are dropped throughout, with each ‘surprise’ guest appearance in the plot being cheered by an audience clearly enjoying the laid back ‘does what it says on the tin’ nature of the afternoon. It’s a fabulously un-taxing insight into the lower levels of the UK music scene at the time. It is also intriguingly an insight into what it was like to work in a record store featured on the front cover of an Oasis’ single during the period in which they began making their name.

If all of this sounds up your street, and you fancy the opportunity to have a few laughs at Ricky Gervaise’s expense to boot, Anoint my Head will certainly be guaranteed to please.

Ewan Law

John Lloyd: Do You Know Who I Am?

New Town Theatre
Stand Venue 7
Until August 15th (15:40)

Here is a question.

Are there any great comedy shows that this man haven’t been involved with?

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Spitting Image
Not the Nine O’Clock News
The News Quiz
Just a Minute
Have I Got | For You

With a CV of that quality there is no need for the sweaty desperation that can drench a stand up. This is the tail end of a particularly agreeable dinner party in Parsons Green. After the cheese course, ice clinking in the brandy glass, flippers up on the billiards table ‘I remember when chaps..’ anecdotage.

Like being toyed with by a posh benevolent cat. Charming inconsequential and oddly soporific….

Adam McCully

Crybabies: Bagbeard

Pleasance Dome
Aug 12 – 14, 19 – 21, 26 – 28
16 – 18 – 22 – 25, 17.50

On the way to Pleasance dome for a comedy sketch show called ‘Crybabies: Bagbeard I was about to see one of the strangest creations of the Fringe. Out came two men with large square helmets on their heads, they spoke in outer space garbled words that needed explaining as it was projected on a panel of material hanging centre stage.

After a ringmaster like introduction to the play already there was an all inclusive medium in operation as circus met with the comedy that the evening would portray. The luckless Chris Mystery was about to face a life changing ordeal.

They flashed on and off stage at speed, at the right was a sign reading Slug Witch Wood’s. As the outpouring comedy of fast lines a general conversation immerged as Chris tried to make his way he was advised on all sides. In tongue twisting dialogue, Chris was in love with his life and revered his mentor doctor with abundant enthusiasm. For it slowly came to pass that actually his life was falling apart. He was in danger though he didn’t know it.

Science and medicine spelled out by costume changes seemed to be random but it transpired that Chris’s world was to be plagued but the reason for this was yet to transpire. As he gradually caught on to the issue at hand he became irate to the joy of the room. It was a lot of story crammed into an hour, offering the thick script up to a craze filled frenzy upbeat and full of energy.

Somewhere lurking in the shadows of the saga a monster was hidden who may have been influencing things, it took part in the cajoling of Chris as multi characters secretly directing things. The show hit the tone of an absolute farce as a sketch show that even reached disembodiment at a big turning point.

With Chris foolishly thinking he could navigate his way he was tossed about as things came at him at pace not least was the notion that he was just a puppet on the end of a string. From this funny calamity on rolled an alien with an absurd talking voice that had us compelled to laugh from our belly.

It was a romp around with action, suggested holiness from naked man in blue plastic bag beard from ear to ear. It was a dedicated sketch show of good and bad taste, offering up a with a sharpened wit a need to take a break to reflect on with laughter. His demise flew across the stage with a goal that everything was directed to an outcome of ultimate momentous revealing to come for the finale. I wasn’t surprised that this show is well attended this year, having a very welcoming and highly pressured comedy/sketch show.

It was all true to life for all of its gratuities in a funny tale of personalities who made the absurd come to life with all the characters of a humorous play with a healthy looking villain; who went too far by killing frustratedly with a blade and a gun. A little nudity took to proceeding, I think to include another heightened spectacle of this man trying to make amends. All of which ironically played to a plot with a twist as he was helped all along with assured guidance by those who looked to do him harm.

A touching story that bent the fabric of space and time to put Chris through exhausting paces, but did he grow or was he not given the chance? Putting everyday life; into an hour of sincere hilarity into and outside the box. It Drew us into a performance of spirited and delectable rushing moments counteracted with writing that had us at their mercy, t’was Bagbeard that saved the day.

Daniel Donnolly

Nathan Cassidy: Observational

Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters
17:15 Aug 7-28

I guess the Free Fringe is about giving performers a space to deliver their art, with the bare minimum of glamour. The Three Sisters in the Cowgate is a place that people go to, to get pissed. It is famous for it; Hen Parties, Stag Parties et al gather every weekend to get drunk. Its also one of the venues that accommodate The Edinburgh Free Fringe. Free, subject to a £7-£10 contribution at the end of the performance, card or cash kind of free. Now that is funny, in an observational improv comedy kind of way.

Observational comedy works, to some extent, by taking an ordinary, boring, routine event and introducing an element of the absurd. Nathan does this here, and he does it smoothly. The little grubby room, think Tap Room before the smoking ban, which housed Nathan Cassidy’s Comedy show, was packed to the rafters with an audience that he found difficult to work. Or could it have been that the venue was unworkable?

Nathan has achieved, over the years great accolades, for his work as a comedian. I couldn’t help thinking that a performance artist of Nathan’s stature deserved proper stage lighting and a room with curtains.

Sir Michael Caine Award for new writing in theatre Winner 2007
Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee 2012
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Winner 2014
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2015
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2016
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2017
Terrier Award Edinburgh Fringe Winner 2017
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2019
Best show Leicester Comedy Festival Nominee 2020
Best solo comedy show Buxton Fringe Nominee 2021
Best comedy show Greater Manchester Fringe Nominee 2021
Off West End Stage Awards Nominee 2021
Best standup Buxton Fringe Nominee 2022
Best standup Brighton Fringe Winner 2022.

So with that in mind, was he any good? Was he funny? His material is autobiographical, weaving a tale drawn from adolescence, the subject matter being friendships that end. This triggered thoughtful reflection among the members of the audience and ripples of sadness followed… can such a subject matter ever be funny? Nathan is not a one-liner kind of comic, his explanation of his 40 year old crook back and description of his personal trainer trying to ease his pain was funny. Divine had to restrain himself from offering him the healing that he needed.

So far, this is a familiar stand-up framing. The pre-show advertising and Nathan’s introduction provide an identifiable start and end-point and define the show’s central theme. We know that a sequence of stories, jokes and the odd pun will join the beginning to the end. With much of the heavy lifting already done, the show’s subject matter was dark and not suitable for children the audience can follow the easily understandable narrative arc. Observational is a clever, articulate and original stand-up comedy show. This is stand-up comedy for adults, and Nathan is a very accomplished comedian with the necessary skills to deliver an excellent performance. The material is dark and funny, sometimes scathing and cynical, but it can also be touching and hopeful. It is very well-observed and cleverly put together.

Then, there is the finale, which is very good indeed.

You are never bored and always engaged, and Nathan makes you laugh.

Observational deserves a bigger audience and a much nicer venue, and Divine highly recommends this show.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

Paddy Young: Laugh You Rats

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Snug
Aug 11-14, 16-28 (17:40 )

Its pretty easy why I like Paddy Young. He’s

  • Northern English
  • Well Funny

Those two essences right there are the basic ingredients for a good comedy show. This is Paddy’s debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, & the room was more or less full, which was an impressive start. Paddy himself is an amiable chap, wearing (& selling) a ‘Laugh You Rats’ hat, arm’d with a chainsaw wit & an ability to control the laughter level taps of a room better than I’ve seen done by the most season’d comedians. As I drifted off-piste to study the effects of Paddy’s art, it felt just like witnessing a conductor with his symphonic orchestra. Its almost like magic.

Paddy’s set is a heart-warming tale of self-inflicted downward social mobility, all in the name of remaining true to your passion – in Paddy’s case its stand-up, from where all roads lead to London & the inevitable flat share with strangers you don’t get on with. The ‘Nonce Wing for beans & toast,’ I think he call’d it. You can buy a whole terraced street in his native Yorkshire for what you’d cough up for just one month’s rent for a London boxroom; but Paddy has soldier’d on with his destiny, & despite never having seen him play before, nor seen him on the telly, there is a definitive sense of polish I sens’d to his act which must surely have come from his garnering experience in the capital.

Every film in the north is about the one person in town who is not a moron

Paddy is a ‘two jokes for us, one joke for himself,’ kinda guy, whose unevasive honesty is refreshing. All thro’ Laugh You Rats we get lots of lovely northern-ness, including a chief central segment about his compatriots, their identity, & how it transposes into London life. The best part of Paddy’s oeuvre, however, is the smoothness in which he bounces off the crowd’s banter – I mean the effortless transitions were rizla-thin. My personal favourite bit of the show was the Hitler section, concerning his addiction to Doctor Morrell’s drugs; ‘am I a bad guy?’ whispers the Fuhrer on a particularly heavy come down. Priceless.

Paddy after the show in an impromptu Q&A with an adoring audience

I was chatting to a couple of lassies from the audience afterwards, one of whom said she’d gone to drama school with Paddy & found him well funny then. And Northern, those two aforementioned ingredients of a good show. But there’s much more to Paddy, & hopefully more to come, because he does seem to have a unique voice.