There are only a few days left to experience the best of what’s happening at the Edinburgh Fringe. Many of the shows recommended by mainstream media can end up disappointing, as it’s easy for pushy PR people to bully amoral, exhausted and apathetic journalists into publishing obsequious and inaccurate write-ups in quid pro quo arrangements tracing all the way back to public school. (“You scratch my back. And no one sees those pics of you playing – and losing! – the biscuit game.”)
As a result, some of the best shows at the festival end up ignored by critics. Which is a crying shame and it’s the public that is the poorer as a result. To try and redress that injustice a little, here’s my ten recommendations (in random order) for shows that are hidden gems worth seeking out while you still have the chance.
A proper underground hit at this year’s Fringe. You know a show is worth watching if lots of comedians and critics – yes, we do break bread together sometimes – sit around raving about how great it is. One review even went so far as to call it the best show at the Fringe. It’s basically a parody of those weekend morning chat-and-cookery programmes, hosted by a celebrity chef and featuring D-list guests, which slowly descends into farce. Comedian and actor Kevin Dewsbury convincingly plays the insincere host, with fellow comic Will Hutchby the increasingly put-upon and frustrated behind-the-scenes producer. It’s well-written, polished and perfectly performed. Click the link below. Buy tickets. Go see it. Thank me later.
Gavin Webster: Jesus Christ’s a Window Cleaner Now
Tyneside comedy icon and one of the finest comic performers on the circuit, Gavin’s a reasonably well-known face having done his fair share of TV appearances. Winner of the “Comedian’s Comedian” (never sure where to put the apostrophe) award a couple of years ago. He’s had some interesting show titles in the past, with “Bill Hicks wasn’t very good” being a particularly striking Fringe entry back in 2012. What’s this year’s premise? “We all end up window cleaners in the end,” he explains. It’s been described as his “angriest hour yet” and Webster in full flow sermonising at you is a sight to behold.
Doing his second EdFringe show, writer and comedian Peter Brush is a man with a niche. His comedy is measured, carefully written and very silly with some razor sharp one-liners thrown in for good measure. This show is a hilarious hour on dreams, nostalgia, terrorism, The Muppets, the difficulties of dog breeding, and emancipating an octopus from human oppression. It’s more accessible than it sounds, which is why he made the final of the BBC New Comedy Awards and has supported the likes of Arthur Smith and Stephen K. Amos on tour, and his work has been included on several BBC shows.
Tony Cowards: Daft Pun
I don’t really like puns. Or rather, I dislike the assumption and/or insistence by many comics that all puns are jokes. They’re not. However, there are a handful of practitioners of the art form I can’t help but admire for their skill. Tony Cowards is most definitely one of them. His one-liners are clever, occasionally very dark and always well crafted. He’s at the top of his game, and one of his jokes is up there as one of my favourite puns of all time. A prolific comedy writer, whose material has appeared on the BBC and West Country radio station Jack FM, where they insert his greatest gags – and he has a lot of great gags – in between songs.
Aussie YouTube sensation Damian Clark brings his fifth solo show to the Fringe. He’s another act that’s proved very popular with other comics, with many returning to see his show repeatedly. Expect high-octane observational standup from a man who’s appeared on television many times in his native Australia, and recently in his adopted home of Ireland too, where he’s written and starred in popular comedy show I Dare Ya!
Hard to believe this show is free entry, so it’s best to arrive early and secure a good seat for what is without doubt one of the best hours at the Fringe.
Colum Tyrrell: The Hookers and Blow Show
The debut EdFringe hour for New York-based vulgar Irishman Colum Tyrrell is in exactly the right timeslot for the material he does. Will he hang the whole show on an anecdote of a drug fuelled experience in Bangkok, when a prostitute he was with stabbed a man to death, like he threatens? Since he moved to NYC in 2014, by which time he was already a multi-award-winner in the Emerald Isle, Colum’s been playing at some of the Big Apple’s most prestigious comedy venues. Not for the easily offended, in the past he’s supported the likes of Kevin Bridges, Jason Byrne, Lee Mack, Steve Hughes and Andrew Maxwell. You may want to check out his weekly podcast, Lowlife Diaries, to get a feel for what to expect when you see him live.
One of the most innovative shows at the Fringe, Vince Atta’s debut hour is a laugh-out-loud mixture of clever jokes and techno-assisted songs. As the title and poster suggest, he uses an audio loop machine to create multi-layered comedy hip-hop for the masses. It’s quite a departure from Vince’s earlier work, of affable everyman observations, but the end result has been well worth his efforts. It’s a fun ride and one of the underappreciated treasures at this year’s festival.
Jinx Yeo: A+ Underachiever
Award-winning Singaporean comedian Jinx Yeo has already made quite a name for himself in the Asia-Pacific area, and claims to be the first comedian from his country to bring an hour to the Fringe. His autobiographical show is all about his clumsy attempts to juggle Asian parental expectations with his unorthodox personal aspirations, and the humour comes from his failures to meet that challenge. Natural on stage, highly intelligent (as the title suggests) and totally relatable, Jinx is well deserving of the critical acclaim he’s accumulated. One to watch for the future.
Any comedy show about disabilities runs the risk of collapsing into worthy mawkishness instead of funny. And there is an element of that with Jay Islaam’s Edinburgh debut at times. However, he ensures there’s enough dark and disturbing gags peppering the narrative to keep his old fans from being disappointed with this hour, which he describes as “a TED Talk with jokes”.
Expect plenty of exasperated and angry explanations about the challenges faced by the Autistic trying to relate to a world that seems alien, and the hilarious misunderstandings that result. With a derisory take-down of anti-vaxxers to top it all off. The show was nominated for one of the (many) comedy awards they hand out at Edinburgh during the festival, and is set to tour at venues across the country over the coming year.
Daniel Nicholas: Scripted
Another Edinburgh debut hour. Leicester-based surrealist Daniel Nicholas has put together something completely off the wall for this year’s Fringe. Shortlisted for a plethora of comedy prizes, he’s as far from the traditional standup as you can get. Bizarre observations, complicated call-backs and a nervous demeanour that lulls you into thinking he doesn’t belong in front of a crowd. You won’t be fooled for long, however. You’re in safer hands than first impressions would suggest. Scripted is a mixture of quirky one-liners and interactive segments involving the audience in absurd games he’s devised to keep things lively.