Tag Archives: stand-up

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

You may or may not know this but the comedy you see on television via the sitcoms, panel shows, live performances etc. plus the Netflix or Amazon specials which are streamed online are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to stand-up, sketch and narrative comedy shows. Because, underneath is a huge population of individuals writing, rehearsing, directing, editing and performing their works live across the clubs, theatres, pubs, basements and attics of the world.

These unsung creative heroes and the occasional lunatic are, on the whole, slogging their guts out following a dream to hit the big time in their chosen stage craft. Either that or they simply revel in performing and delivering their stories, jokes or narratives to the public live. It’s a cathartic experience to release their heart and soul to the world in comedic, theatrical or musical form and most of these people should be saluted for their creativity.

One of the best places to find these purveyors of dance, comedy, performance, mime, acting, music and sometimes science is at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year I went, with my wife, on holiday there for a week to check out some shows and sites and lovely restaurants and pubs!  Here’s a uncritical round-up of some of the things we caught up with. Amazing fun it was too!

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LODGINGS

Like many cities Edinburgh has many great places to spend the night including hotels and other bed and breakfast digs. Many of the acts performing at the Fringe have budgets so will use rented accommodation, hostels, vehicles and ditches too to sleep in. My wife likes some comfort when we stay places whereas I have been happy in the past with the gutter; well, a cheap B & B. So she chose Millers 64 on Pilrig Street and what a lovely place it was too. Run by Louise and Shona Clelland, we experienced some of the best hospitality we have ever had so they are highly recommended. Check out their website here.

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FOOD

Scotland and the North in general has been the focus of stereotypical gags at the expense of unhealthy living including: bad diet, alcoholism and drug abuse. I guess characters such as Rab C. Nesbitt and novels/films like Trainspotting only serve to strengthen such ideas. Of course, if you search it out you will find junk food and drink in any place the world over but I actually ate pretty healthily during my week in Scotland.

Of the places we visited I can definitely recommend La Favorita pizza place on Leith Walk. Moreover, the tasting menu at the Gardiners Cottage was beautifully presented and I very much enjoyed the Indian cuisine at Mother India. There are also hundreds of pubs, cafes and burger restaurants all over Edinburgh.

I enjoyed watching Tottenham Hotspur FC defeat Newcastle FC in the Kilted Pig on the Sunday but my favourite pub was probably The Pear Tree House on West Nicolson Street. It had great beer, food, a massive garden and a constant stream of lively entertainment and music.

Having said that the greatest epicurean treat I had was on my birthday at The Kitchin. The food was absolutely exquisite and what made it all the more amazing was my wife treated me to the meal just for getting a year older. I imagine it was very expensive but the whole experience was fantastic as we also visited the kitchen and met the aptly named owner/chef Tom Kitchin.

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MUSIC

As I only had a week and there is SO much going on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I did not see any theatrical presentations, which, if I’d been there for another week would certainly have been on my cultural agenda. Similarly with musical performances I chose the more comedic acts over others but enjoyed an excellent set by jazz guitarist Graeme Mearns despite this. However, the real humdinger of a show I could not miss was the one by gothic chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. She is a dark storm of a performer who hails from Ireland and sings haunting and very dramatic versions of tunes written by Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave. In the elegant tent where I saw her show I was bewitched by the spine-tingling performance borne of fire, shadow, light and ice.

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COMEDY

I love comedy. It is a noble craft which on occasions can be propelled to the heights of art and was to the fore of my cultural menu in Edinburgh. In fact, on Monday 14th August I watched SEVEN shows beginning at 11am with the last one finished at 10.30pm.  It was a brilliant day and encapsulated all that is great about the Fringe Festival.  This is NOT a review of the comedians I saw during the week as all the shows I witnessed were BRILLIANT! I don’t believe in comedy competitions or star ratings as comedy is too subjective for that. But rather, it’s a round-up of and a shout out to a very talented bunch of individuals I saw; and there were thousands I missed too but there was just not enough time alas.

Musical comedy is something I have been really getting into and the alternative genius Robert White presented an exhilarating off-kiltered-joke-a-second-Gershwin-inspired operetta of his life in a show called Instru-mental. Equally energetic was the wonderful Pippa Evans in Joy Division; while the very talented Harriet Braine delivered some excellent cover songs which also educated us about the history of Art!

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I also saw some excellent club and storytelling comedians such as: free-wheeling Russell Hicks; Irish mirth-maker Rory O’Hanlon; Cheetah Adam Greene; intelligent Scot Stephen Carlin; conspiracy theorist Don Biswas; witty and frantic Nathan Cassidy; the brilliant comedy-swap laughs of Sketch Thieves; the crafty humour of Ben Clover; plus the ferocious, clever and frantic comedy of Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.

Of the shows that arguably had longevity in terms of their narratives then Darius Davies’ Road to Wrestlemania was really funny. It’s a fast-paced narrative of how, when a naïve teenager, he tried to become a World Wrestling star.  Successfully employing multi-media, costumes and music to tell the story it made me laugh (and almost cry) throughout. I also really enjoyed Dominic Holland’s very funny and touching Eclipsed. Holland, who has been a very successful author and comedian found his career eclipsed by his son Tom Holland who last year became the new Spiderman!  It’s a brilliant story about success and family togetherness amidst some excellent comedic observations of everyday life.

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Of all the comedians I saw I was transfixed by the mercurial delivery and off-centre ideas of Tommy Tiernan. A comedy veteran and Grandmaster of the comedic dark arts, he flits around the stage nimbly while his rich Irish brogue delivers a stream of jokes, observations, non-sequiturs and the occasional barmy rant. He covers many subjects such as: life, death, religion, sex, family, immigrants, football, age and so on. An hour in his company is not enough as I could have listened to him for hours.

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OVERALL

So, that was my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The whole experience was fantastic to me as I was around the things I love such as comedy, music, food and booze for an intensely concentrated week of pure culture. If you’re like me and hanging around watching shows and feeding off the energy of a cultural oasis then I highly recommend it. I would say a week is definitely not enough for what’s on offer in bonnie Scotland during the month of August!

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NETFLIX STAND-UP COMEDY SPECIAL REVIEWS!

NETFLIX STAND-UP COMEDY SPECIAL REVIEWS

My latest themed viewing was to look at some of the comedy specials on Netflix. Having said that given there are so many comedy specials on Netflix the word “special”, if I’m honest, has kind of been rendered redundant. Nonetheless, there is an abundance of brilliant stand-up to choose from and here are just a few you can see.

Comedy is probably the most subjective of cultural crafts or art to review as what one person may find hilarious another will just not! So, I have not given marks for these wonderful performers as they are all very funny and I won’t rehash any gags but more examine their respective personas, style and themes.

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CRISTELA ALONZO – LOWER CLASSY (2017)

I hadn’t heard of this comedian before but she presented a breezy and very energetic set from the solid working class Latino persona. The gag-rate was extremely high as she covered subjects as: growing up in a poor family; religion; parents; losing weight and gym etiquette. It’s conventional but Alonzo is so likeable you cannot help but smile.

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BILL BURR – WALK YOUR WAY OUT (2017)

One of my favourite US comedians delivers another decent set of jokes and observations about the stupidity of people and life. With his aggressive persona he spits out barbs at: fast food, people on diets, American politicians and the dumbness of everyone. Arguably not as cutting as his prior specials like I’m Sorry You Feel This Way (2014), it’s still quality misanthropy from a brilliant comic.

HANNIBAL BURESS – COMEDY CAMISADO (2017)

I saw Hannibal Buress’ cameo in the Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) film but wasn’t too familiar with his stand-up. However, he impressed me with his grouchy confidence and routines about kids, zipper etiquette and the now obligatory US comedian bit about Bill Cosby.
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JIMMY CARR – FUNNY BUSINESS (2016)

Jimmy Carr is the Rolls Royce of one-liner comedians. He has a sharp style and delivers near-the-knuckle gags-a-second.  He breaks up the rat-a-tat style by inviting the audience to heckle him and brings them down with fantastic put-downs. If you prefer your stand-up to be quick and slick and politically incorrect then go for him.

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DAVE CHAPPELLE – AGE OF SPIN (2017) / DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS (2017)

These are two brilliant shows from uber-comedian Dave Chappelle who, having had a long break from performing stand-up comedy, came back to the form with these Netflix Specials. Age of Spin is the more complex as he discusses celebrity culture, media and controversy with routines about OJ Simpson and Bill Cosby. Deep in the Heart of Texas is the more conventional of the two but contains wonderful jokes and storytelling about his family, kids, relationships and the perils of being a famous comedian who gets sex-tape blackmailed.

BRIDGET CHRISTIE – STAND-UP FOR HER (2017)

I’d seen Bridget Christie on the Alternative Comedy Experience and was very impressed. Her writing is especially well-crafted as she expertly examines gender politics from a confident liberal perspective. Her delivery is exasperated yet very sharp, as the patriarchal world is quite rightly ridiculed for the pompous ass that it is. She is intelligent funny and also very silly despite the depth of many of her points.

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LOUIS CK – (2017)

Louis CK is a grandmaster at misanthropic, shocking and angry comedy which pulls no punches in his exasperation of modern day living. His most recent show is arguably less grumpy than others I have seen but his coverage of topics such as: abortion, religion, sexuality, drugs and family etc. are expertly written and delivered in his usual inquisitive yet twisted way.

STEWART LEE – 41st BEST COMEDIAN EVER (2008)

I watched this special from over a decade ago as a sort of comedy control experiment as it is probably one of my favourite shows ever. Self-anointed-metro-lib-elite comedian Lee conjures up jokes referencing: his mother’s quilts, insects, Carphone Warehouse, racism and 1970s old-school comedian Tom O’Connor; all while analysing his own place in the life and the comedy world in general. Lee is just a brilliant writer who fashions humour both in his writing and desperation of life itself.

NORM MACDONALD – HITLER’S DOG, GOSSIP AND TRICKERY (2017)

Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald is an absolute comedy legend and recommended for those who enjoy deadpan, off-centre and laconic humour. His routines look at everyday life but he has such a skewed perspective of the world his writing echoes in your mind way after the laughs have passed. I was especially taken with his view on “accidental” revenge suicides, the unfailing loyalty of dogs and the joy we once had when taking photos.

KATHERINE RYAN – IN TROUBLE (2017)

Canada boasts many fine comedians who cross the Atlantic and perform in the UK. The sassy and sometimes shocking Ryan is just one of those excellent performers. She is smart, elegant and sarcastic in her barbs on celebrity culture, relationships and family and friends. She holds court and chats with the audience in a breezy, uncomplicated and funny show.

REGGIE WATTS – SPATIAL (2016)

Watts is a somewhat bizarre performer who eschews traditional jokes and observations for a jazz-like-impro style; which is difficult to get into on-screen if I am honest. However, he is a brilliant musician and has a fantastic soulful voice which all combine amidst the strange bleeps, beats and stoner-like non-sequiturs to impressive effect.

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