The Scots Magazine
Despite the fact that he had just celebrated 25 consecutive shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, Fred confided that for 2014 he was already planning a “Frederendum”, the show for the next Fringe, which would happen in the run-up to Scotland’s independence vote.
Having been a guest on his BBC Scotland morning show on many occasions, it was interesting to find out more about how he made the leap from accountancy to comedy.
The Scots Magazine
The Irish comedian started his career in Glasgow and revealed that he has more than a hankering to live in Scotland, in part due to his love of hillwalking.
John Bishop, SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Eye candy is rare in the stand-up community. So it was understandable that some of the ladies were getting a little hot under the collar waiting for the arrival of John Bishop for the first of his two nights in Glasgow.
They certainly had to wait. Through announcements, a strange three-minute countdown courtesy of a towering digital display, then a bizarre short film. Designed to heighten the anticipation of the arrival of the long-haired luvvie from Liverpool, it almost had the opposite effect.
As an arena show it needed a touch of razzle dazzle, but when he finally appeared in a sombre, smart suit it felt more like the overture to a motivational speaker than a comedian.
But he’s more than that now. Presenter, actor, writer, charity fundraiser – he’s the all-round good bloke who would always be first to the bar and tackle cleanly during a game of footie. He’s that rarest of celebrities – one with actual talent.
It’s difficult to dislike such an affable guy. He’s a great storyteller but even the best performers need great material at this level, and this wasn’t the strongest from him.
There are echoes of the retro comic here. Not only in the personal anecdotal material – family, wife, chat-up observations as well as little glimpses into his new superstar status – but the high stool and side table was highly reminiscent of Dave Allen.
As blokey as he likes to appear, previous outings have shown more depth – but that doesn’t fill arenas. Who can blame him for making up for lost time, he only started stand up seriously in his fortieth year, but charm won’t always mask weaker material.
Russell Brand, Messiah Complex.
Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Assembly George Square
WITH his deliberately doleful humour, Jack Dee announced that they had tried this show in London- and it didn’t really work. Big laugh.
Perhaps they laughed too soon. Not that this didn’t work, it’s just a format that feels in its infancy – and will fly or crash depending on whoever joins Jack each night.
Audience members were given a shiny card and bookies’-style pen to provide their name and a note of the problem that the help desk could solve. Smacks of a Dave game show? It really did feel like the testing ground for a late night TV show.
He was joined by John Bishop, Sara Pascoe, Jen Brister, and Jon Richardson. With four buddies, it left Jack little to do apart from chair and provide the odd comment.
As great as these were, the show is the panel. With John and Jon at polar opposites of the comedy spectrum, Bishop grins and riffs while Richardson looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.
Pascoe and Brister are sharp and polite, but the hour never really takes hold. Perhaps a limit on the time spent on each problem would help. It’s an idea struggling to find its format at the moment.
Andy de la Tour Stand Up Or Die in New York
IT’S been 30 years since Andy de la Tour did stand-up at the Fringe, alongside Ben Elton and another young guy who had recently made his TV breakthrough – Rik Mayall.
Now he’s back after a none-too-shabby career of acting and writing. Fellow Comedy Store pioneer Alexei Sayle returned last year with as much bluster as 30 years ago, while de la Tour takes a more elegant approach, choosing storytelling rather than conventional stand-up.
His route back involved the challenge of tackling New York’s comedy clubs after 20 years out of stand-up and this is the story of that.
It’s beautifully paced and performed, while being a little “what I did on my holidays” at times, and maybe would have suited a BBC Four documentary format better.
BJ Novak, One More Thing
Assembly George Square
PERFORMING in a lecture theatre isn’t lost on BJ Novak, who suggests that we “open our textbooks”. In fact, it’s the actor and writer known to us through the US version of The Office and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds that opens his first book, called One More Thing.
It’s difficult to make reading from a book at a lectern much of a performance so, like David Sedaris last year, the hour will depend on the strength of the writing.
The comparisons with Sedaris don’t end there. There is a similar fluidity of language and sense of the absurd.
However, while Sedaris uses personal experiences, Novak takes off on wonderful flights of fancy that are also grounded in reality.
Beginning with The Rematch, his update on the Tortoise and the Hare, where the hare demands a rematch, it’s seemingly simple ideas that are given Novak’s gracefully original slant.
A warm, intimate, hilarious hour – bring your pennies to buy the book and shake his hand afterwards.
IN the ultimate act of audience participation, Andy Zaltzman asked a question of his crowd before he, or anyone else had even reached Edinburgh. In an e-mail to all ticket holders, there was a request to send him a topic that he could satirise on their behalf.
This suggests a spontaneous, off-the-cuff hour, which of course it couldn’t be for a man with Zaltzman’s brand of intellect. But that’s not to say that there is no on-the-spot thinking and reaction.
However, it’s clear that political satire is his game and that’s his strength.
When it heads off from that it becomes a little less sharp, but there’s a genuine warmth to him that is missing in many other comedians who don’t shy away from the highbrow.
TRANSLATING TV success to the live stage is a tricky one, particularly when that success has had the benefit of make-up and costume. Prosthetics, cross-dressing and location filming have created the running jokes that make up the inventive Cardinal Burns sketch series.
Dustin Demri-Burns and Sebastian Cardinal didn’t tread the traditional stand-up route, so face the challenge of making their characters, alongside new creations, fly on a black stage with a limited dress-up box.
All sketch shows are hit and miss, but there’s little that doesn’t work here. The biggest laughs comes from close interplay. It’s not a double act as we’ve known it, but it’s clear how the pair bounce off one another when they are fully inside their creations.
It shows the strength of the television show that there was disappointment that favourite characters such as Banksy and the girls from Young Dreams didn’t make an appearance, but many of the new characters were so strong on a first outing is a good sign.
Robert Newman, New Theory of Evolution
Stand in the Square
IT’S fair to say that many people left Robert Newman’s hour shaking their heads, the majority in awed disbelief that he can take such complex ideas from science and break them down before getting the laugh from something altogether sillier, while others, quite clearly, just didn’t have a clue what was he was on about and still expected him to say “that’s you, that is”. However, the scale and ambition of the piece is startling and crucially (for comedy) incredibly funny.
The premise of the show appeared to be research into turkeys on the France/Belgium border, who proved his thoughts on the inheritance of genetic behaviours. Indeed. He deserved a quiet room, however, instead of what he described as an Afghanistani yurt. He battled on well over the boom of fireworks, even drawing some laughs, imagining what the council tax couldn’t afford thanks to the nightly pyrotechnics. “Boom! There’s your Meals on Wheels. Boom! There’s your needle exchange…”.
It would be interesting to see a transcript of a show as packed with ideas, flights of fancy and historical storytelling. It takes his level of performance and commitment to make it work.
Assembly George Square
Many comedy performers on the Fringe are the angel on the shoulder, providing laughs at topics that are also important and worthy. Frank Skinner is the resident devil on the other.
Such a skilful performer, an absolute master of pacing his material, and undoubtedly one of the quickest thinkers ever to wander the stage with a solo microphone, he gives a little prod with his comedy trident and like many instances where it feels somehow wrong to be laughing, it makes the experience so much more enjoyable.
Unlike his former partner, David Baddiel, who cursed the trappings of fame in his show here last year, Skinner is happy to enjoy the benefits.
Perhaps the only downside is the fact he felt his reputation as a naughty boy meant that there needed to be a fair bit of larking about below the belt.
For many people in the bar, the first experience of Kerry Godliman was Channel 4’s Derek, and her subtle and multi-layered portrayal of Hannah, the apparently eternally optimistic manager of a care home.
Timing as outstanding as this isn’t created in front of a camera, however, and it’s clear that she is that rarest of performers, one who manages to combine stand-up with acting and bring her best to both.
The subjects covered clearly mean something to her rather than being chosen for comedy value. She also gets the prize for the best description of the invasion of Edinburgh in August, dubbing it “a jester conference”.
Even her approach to talking about her young children is fresh, and even though it isn’t labelled as feminist comedy, you can bet that every woman left the room feeling much better about herself
Andrew O’ Neill’s History of Heavy Metal
Heavy metal is funny, so we’re off to a flyer. As intense as its followers are, it’s a genre that knows what the outside world thinks of it, and is happy to laugh at its own excesses. A fair proportion of the audience are denim-clad, with patches, patchouli and lots of hair. They already know where the devil horn hand signal originated but they love seeing their passion vindicated from a performer as smart, passionate, and engaging as O’Neill. With electric guitar and a fine range of distortion pedals at his disposal, the show is peppered with loud examples.
The show delivers what it promises and it could gain the same cult status as many features of the genre itself.
Joz Norris- Awkward Prophet
Like many handsome young chaps in comedy, Joz Norris seems to do as much as possible to detract from his looks. Just 25, he could easily be 20, but this is an assured performance that demonstrates potential. The wacky clothes aren’t necessary and if anything detract from the material, which isn’t quite as strong as the performance. Having said that, it’s an enjoyable hour and a chance to watch a potentially massive future comedy star cut his teeth.
MONDAY, AUGUST 11
THERE’S a reason comedy aficionados return to see Simon Munnery. Each offering is packed with inventive absurdity, so for those who enjoy challenging rather than cheeky, with a great deal more than superficial observation, there’s a guarantee of the unexpected. So it was difficult to know whether he would really be regaling us with musical versions of the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher’s writings.
As he said himself, titles for Fringe shows need to be submitted long before most comedians know what the show is going to be, so Kierkegaard might have been a curve ball.
It isn’t. Munnery actually does devote a fair chunk of his hour to old Soren, not just delivering passages but providing much anecdotal and autobiographical detail. Other topics are covered, blending his cerebral approach with some beautifully childish jokes – a bit like the grooviest philosophy lecturer ever.
Without his ambition, the Fringe would be poorer, but this hour has a fair bit to go to match some of his previous excellence. It feels unprepared, which can be great, but the audience needs some clarity to keep up with the riot of ideas. If anyone can make this work, eventually, he can.
Paul Foot: Hovercraft Symphony in Gammon # Major
TO maintain a measure of individuality in comedy takes more than a silly haircut and strange show title. Paul Foot has both, but has also crafted a quixotic persona that has gathered a dedicated following, the Guild of Paul Foot Connoisseurs.
The eccentricities of the show are clear from the beginning. Even though what he does is essentially still stand-up, the use of extravagant language is mixed deliberately with physical comedy and more base subjects – my American neighbour did ask what a “gusset” is.
It’s an hour of organised chaos and one that will divide. If you like it from the off, it will be a glorious hour; if you don’t, it will be an extremely long one.
Glenn Wool: Wool’s Gold
THE title is a clue, and it’s an honest description. This is what Canadian stand-up Glenn Wool regards his best material, so after 20 years on the circuit we should expect a pretty solid hit rate.
First impressions of Wool are of the guy that Central Casting would place in every neon-signed dive bar, throwing a punch when the hero had spilled his beer.
When he discards the trucker cap he’s still imposing and much of his commentary is not for those who like their political comedy with extra PC, but he manages through the roaring and the bluff and bluster to maintain the many layers in what he’s saying, without recourse to the audience wink.
He also manages to link the pieces from shows over the years seamlessly with a running thread. In the end he seems more like the guy who would understand that sometimes beer gets spilled and be happy to take another one from you.
The broadcast credits on Susan Calman’s poster show that she should probably have her own room at Radio 4 now, and as she looks out on her audience, this isn’t lost on her.
She immediately identifies those who have purchased tickets as either those who have heard her on the wireless or lesbians.
It’s a bigger, shinier venue for Calman than ever and she is honest about the effect that becoming better known has had on her – not always positive.
Calman has paid her dues. She has slogged through the circuits and MC spots over years, so now that she is getting that wider audience, she is an accomplished stand-up and always likeable, even when she’s being spiky. Honesty will do that of course.
Even though the show charts some dark times recently, the future looks brighter, even though her main ambition is to be the first female Doctor Who. The Daleks should prepare themselves for a proper challenge.
Bridget Christie – An Ungrateful Woman
So, following her award-winning A Bic For Her at last year’s Fringe, Bridget Christie was asked what she’d be doing next, as if an hour of feminist comedy had wiped the slate clean and she could now tackle important issues like space hoppers and Spangles.
Thankfully in An Ungrateful Woman, Christie takes the issue further – much further.
In the hands of a less skilful writer and performer, bringing the campaign against female genital mutilation into an hour comedy wedged between breakfast and lunch could be a disaster.
However, she manages to frame the issue in the context of her own experiences of sexism and in the admission that while the public feminist stance is fairly recent, it’s a full-time job, much to the irritation of her “fictional on-stage husband”. The crowd knows this is Stewart Lee, and in his role as fictional on-stage husband, he does come in for a gentle pounding, leading to highly amusing mental pictures conjured up by this apparent peek into their everyday domesticity.
Although there are moments of fancy, Christie is a truth-teller. That she has managed to break through without compromising and in a comedy world still dominated by men is astonishing.
Rubberbandits, Continental Fistfight
Gilded Balloon Nightclub
Last year, it was a huge, marvellous surprise. In the past year, as a confirmed fan, it’s been encouraging to see the genuinely sharp and funny pseudo-rap duo Rubberbandits becoming a little more high-profile, with some famous supporters giving tracks like Hey Mister and Fellas a right good share to their followers.
More than many others, they have been performers of the internet age. The downside is that we see the new tracks as they are released – so it’s much of a gig atmosphere.
To balance that, however, the characters of Mr Chrome and Blind Boy Boater are becoming more developed with more traits of the traditional double act.
It’s not for the faint-hearted but if your comedy chops can take a little hot sauce then Rubberbandits could be your Fringe surprise of this year.
Gilded Balloon Billiard Room
HE is a good bloke Kevin Day. He’s honest, he’s likeable, he’s intelligent, and has the ability to see the absurd in the blindingly obvious.
So why isn’t this show funnier? Perhaps it’s an expectation thing. It was the first time seeing a full stand-up show of his following years of being pleased when his name is mentioned as a guest.
The show does have a strong start and there are some exceptional belly laughs along the way, but there’s just an expectation of more. With such an impressive pedigree of writing, it seems strange that so many minutes are taken up with telling us what we are about to see. When he’s firing on all cylinders, it’s superb stuff. When he’s not, it’s testament to his nature and the ambition of his polemic that it’s just a disappointment not to like it more.
Anna Morris Would Like To Thank
WITH a strong online following for her monster bride Georgina, Anna Norris lets her loose as host of this character comedy show.
As compere of Woman of the Year, Georgina links Morris’s well-constructed and skilfully performed characters. In these four wildly different women competing for the title, the accents are pitch perfect and in a small space Morris is fearless in committing to the more confrontational aspects of a couple of the characters.
While wondering if the music provides a little bit of padding, the writing is pretty polished, and one song, a dark twist on a Disney classic by the suburban baker is a gem.
Silky: Tribute Act
The Stand 4
LATE night at Stand 4 and the room is half full. That means 10 people of which one is Silky and one’s doing the sound.
But the gems that can be found in the tiny rooms eh?
Before starting, Silky pops in and asks if anyone needs to go for “a whizz”. The sound guy takes up the offer.
When the hour proper begins, Silky offers a blend of anecdote, observation and song. It can be gentle but occasionally roars. He’s like your funny best friend – only funnier.
Silky isn’t someone you’d see emerging from the dry ice of Live at the Apollo, but he’s a darned sight funnier than some of Radio 4’s current comedy output.
Barbara Nice: Squirrel Proof
THE post-lunch slot can be tough one. Audiences slightly sleepy from a glass of rose and ready for some gentle character comedy from Barbara Nice.
It doesn’t take long for them to be shaken from their torpor. As a concept it’s not wildly original, and many people will see some shades of Mrs Merton in there, but without giving the game away it manages to subvert the apparent cosiness beautifully.
Played with Janice Connolly (Phoenix Nights and Coronation Street) it has the fuzziness of Peter Kay’s shows with a stranger edge.
When it gets into squirrel territory, the show takes off and manages to convince a crowd to become involved in some rather bizarre antics.
Catriona Knox Thinks She’s Hard Enough
Imagine, if you can, Joyce Grenfell channelling Edwina Currie. Got it? Good, because it gets even stranger. Thankfully the cast of characters in Catriona Knox Thinks She’s Hard Enough is original, completely thought through, and unlike many other character-led shows, well written.
With no pretence that there are any wings to be introduced from, Knox welcomes the audience as they file into the attic space.
The best character actors are consumed by their creations and it’s a treat to see Knox do this up close. Every gesture and small eye movement adds to the roundness of each creation and although the characters are large, there are elements of Olivia Colman’s subtlety in there too.
Subtlety isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Red B*****d appears, in the misshapen costume that evokes a demon who has stolen then eaten all the pies.
Visuals aside, this is far from zany. Although it sits into the comedy programme and there are many laughs, it is much more than a chuckle fest. Theatrical and slightly surreal, it takes audience participation to new heights. Challenging and slightly frightening, 70 minutes with Red B*****d offers all the fun of the fair – if being trapped in a warped Hall of Mirrors is your idea of fun.
Not for the faint-hearted, but one of the most thought-provoking and rewarding Fringe shows for years.
For all fellow coulrophobics, the c-word is clown. So, it took a recommendation from a trusted friend to join the queue for Trygve Wakenshaw’s physical comedy, Kraken.
A Gaulier-trained clown, it becomes clear from the first few minutes that it matters not a jot whether we can appreciate the skill of his performance, it is simply the tool by which he makes us laugh. Heartily. And almost continuously for an hour. Many of us have mimed our sides being painful with laughter – ironically no mime is required here.
It’s a beautifully paced stream of consciousness that uses some vocalisations. For those who are not au fait with Gaulier, they will recognise moments of great physical comedians such as Rik Mayall and Steve Martin.
No matter what description Kraken has in the programme, this is simply a show for anyone who likes to smile.
On a similarly simple stage, Danny Bhoy returns for his tenth Fringe. This year all proceeds from his 12 nights will be distributed between local charities.
So no money spent on fripperies such as set. No matter. As a stand-up who has dedicated himself to live work rather than sitting on panel shows, he keeps his observations fresh and extremely funny.
However, beneath the affable exterior is something steelier, as the front row punter who was using her phone found out when he offered her twice her ticket money to leave.
The fact that he hasn’t gone down the TV talking head route means that his material is always a surprise. Still only 40 and easy on the eye, his growing reputation in the US and Australia could see him following in the footsteps of Craig Ferguson.
Stewart Lee, Much A Stew About Nothing
For any stand-up, everything is material.
Of course it was not so surprising, considering this show left the city a shade more than six weeks ago after selling out its entire Fringe run. He explains he is back here as he will not play a certain chain of theatres, no doubt leading to much Googling from his acolytes after the show to find out why.
It was billed as a work in progress during the Fringe, and he still describes it as a testing ground for the third series of his TV Comedy Vehicle, to be recorded in December.
He has made a point of distancing himself from the “management stable” stand-ups, but apart from his reluctance to get involved in the panel show circuit there is a marked difference in his approach to stand-up.
The subjects ranges from Ukip to Planet Of The Apes to satirical animals to a Latvian friend. When he is running with an idea, plotting its path, and unveiling the ultimate intention of what he wants to say, whether political or cultural, no one can touch him.
Perhaps the most admirable thing about his stand-up is it can look shambolic but at the same time it is clear just how hard he has worked to make it so.
Oh, and it’s extremely funny.