Comedy on TV and in the clubs is safe and inoffensive. Comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe is no different, because most of the shows don’t exist for your benefit. They’re being staged in the hopes of grabbing the attention of industry bigwigs and broadcasters. So, it makes sense to be as bland and agreeable as possible, because that’s what the real target audience – i.e. people who can help your showbiz career – seem to be looking for.
However, not everyone at the Fringe is pandering. Not everyone is desperate to be liked and accepted. And provocative performers haven’t gone extinct just yet. If you want politically incorrect jokes, to be taken out of your comfort zone, or to hear someone challenge social orthodoxies, then here’s ten acts I’d recommend you go and see at Edinburgh Fringe 2016. If you’re a bit of a pussy, though, then best avoid all of these.
Will Franken’s endured many insults, but “coward” certainly isn’t one them. It’s a bit of an understatement to describe him as an “alternative” act, as there really isn’t anyone like him on the circuit. He mixes observational comedy with satirical sketches, impressions, character comedy and throws in some blasphemy for good measure. He spent almost a year living as a transgender woman, and briefly became doyenne of the regressive left… until he started challenging their politically correct paradigms.
A vocal critic of white liberals, trans activists, #BlackLivesMatter and those who get rich from the “diversity” industry, he laments the death of genuine and worthwhile satire. Franken also insists on applying the same standards and scrutiny to Islam as other comedians gleefully do for Christianity. And that just isn’t acceptable in the current climate, is it?
Tommy Tiernan: Out Of The Whirlwind
Father Ted alum, radio DJ, and Lenny Bruce fanatic, Tiernan is by far the most successful comedian in this list, but no stranger to controversy. Repeatedly rebuked by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, and criticised for wisecracks about drug addiction, disabilities, immigrants and gay gypsies. But perhaps his most contentious joke was an off-the-cuff gag about anti-semitism and the Holocaust. The audience lapped it up. Then religious and community leaders lined up to condemn him, like the sanctimonious pricks that they are. I won’t post what he said here, but look it up. Google is your friend. And Tommy is hilarious. Go see him.
Nothing is sacred when Lewis Schaffer takes centre stage, so brace yourself for jokes about race, rape, religion, sexuality, 9/11 and Madeleine McCann. Renowned for his publicity stunts, the neurotic Jew Yorker claims his 2016 EdFringe show is sponsored by a Palestinian freight company. Comedian’s comedian, and winner of an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award, he’s a gifted performer, who seems to revel in building trust with the audience and then deliberately self-sabotaging his hard-won rapport through off-colour interjections, before winning them back again. A trick he pulls off repeatedly at every performance, on a masochistic merry-go-round of his own making.
Bob Walsh: Wrong Comedy
Now in its fifth year at the Fringe, Bob Walsh’s love-letter to sick and twisted humour will feature, as before, a cast of the country’s most offensive comedians joining him on stage to push the boundaries of good taste and decency. It’s an hour of distasteful comedy that doesn’t pretend to be anything but outrageous.
This is Bilal Zafar’s first Fringe hour, off the back of success at this year’s New Acts of the Year Showcase, where he topped the bill. Cakes accounts Bilal’s adventures baiting British nationalist patriots online, by pretending to run a Muslim-only cake shop and taunting the poor, outraged EDL enthusiasts – with obvious learning difficulties! – who took umbrage. There are definite shades of Dave Gorman in this PowerPoint-heavy presentation full of acerbic takedowns of innocent underclass Twitterati, whose only “crime” is devotion to their nation and a desire for religious and racial homogeneity. Bastard!
Geoff Norcott: Conswervative
Possibly the only out politically Conservative (big and small ‘c’) comedian around. An unlikely attitude for a trade unionist’s son who grew up on a South London council estate. Norcott is more than just a class traitor. In a staunchly Corbynist comedy circuit, he’s considered downright deviant. It’s a wonder he hasn’t mysteriously choked to death on a Fairtrade vegan quiche in a tragic green room calamity. Conswervative gives Norcott an opportunity to spell out his uncompromising stances on issues ranging from depression, benefit fraud and the maudlin British obsession with the NHS.
Schoolteacher-turned-comedian and burlesque performer, Glory Pearl brings her Naked Stand-up show back to Edinburgh a year after it was first at the Fringe. She holds the distinction of being the first female comic to perform entirely naked at the festival. A trained pole-dancer and trapeze artist, she began performing burlesque in 2008, appearing at many international festivals. Following serious injury in 2011 she had to re-evaluate her relationship with her body, and became increasingly frustrated by contemporary discourse on beauty and body image. Expect an intelligent discussion about our relationship with our physical selves.
Mickey Sharma: Sharma, Sharma, Sharma, Sharma, Sharma… Comedian
Pakistani-born, Birmingham-based and with an Indian passport, Sharma was a late-bloomer sexually. Making up for lost time, he’s now a voracious vag-hound, and takes supreme joy in telling you about his disturbing quest for sexual satisfaction. Trawling the (free) internet dating sites, sifting profiles for the most gullible women he can entrap. A self-professed feminist, Sharma bellows tales of facing off with foul-smelling pudenda, violent humping, and cock-teasing the punters at gay bars. You’re guaranteed a polished, and energetic, show by a very physical storyteller, with more vulnerability to him than you first expect.
Ivor Dembina: I Should Have Listened To Ivor Dembina
“See me before I’m dead!” Dembina declares, as he celebrates thirty years at Edinburgh Fringe. Known for his anti-Zionist and socialist views, Dembina was part of the group of Jewish left-wingers who signed an open letter in support of beleaguered Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His staunch criticism of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians has resulted in smear campaigns, and protests both outside and inside his shows by Zionists, as well as interrogation by the Shin Bet. His decision to ban comedians who endorsed the Jewish National Fund – an organisation he considers “racist” – from performing at his own comedy club has angered many in the tribe.
Dembina has also raised puritan eyebrows with painfully honest discourse about his personal experiences with sadomasochism and sex workers. Go see him live. It’ll be eye opening.
People often walk out in disgust when Jay Islaam is on stage, with his “lesbian sex doll and custard” routine a particularly contentious segment that thins out the crowd. Those who stay, however, are treated to sublime profanity-laden tirades against politically correct dogma.
Considered something of a heretic in his own community, for a willingness to poke fun at Islamic cultures and their hypocrisies. The first (and only) time he was allowed to perform at a “Muslim comedy” show, his material was so blasphemous (and pornographic!) they cancelled all future bookings within moments of his walking off stage. Islaam is an equal opportunity offender on the whole, and says there are only two groups he won’t mock: children and the disabled. Everyone else is fair game.