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Edinburgh Festival 2010

Edinburgh 2010

I done went to Edinburgh, as has been my wont on occasion over the last few years. Yet again I went to the festival and stayed in the excellently located flat with the wonderfully uncomfortable beds that I have the last couple of visits, and I went to see many things. I was also good and didn’t let my hunger for booze blogging materiel get in the way of wandering around between shows and spent most of my time surprisingly sober. I did get food poisoning from a dodgy shepherds (actually cottage) pie, that only led to me missing one planned show (Simon Munnery – the first half was, according to comedy buddy Michael, excellent and new, but the second half was stuff that you have probably seen before if you’ve seen him in the last couple of years), but other than that things went swimmingly.

There were a few things that I wish I’d made time to see, but above all of them is Joe Power. Yes, Joe Power of being exposed as a fraud (although only by inference) in Derren Brown’s recent TV series. His show has had the level of success that I would have hoped, although he has had some with people paying just to heckle and walk out before the end. Michael Legge wrote up a lovely account of his experience with him on his Award-Winning Blog. I really dislike Joe Power, although as I’ve never met him I think it’s fairer to say that I dislike the concept of Joe Power.

For those who like the sound of my voice, me, Michael and other comedy buddy Will Howells did a podcast. Well, we spoke and Michael turned it into a podcast. It’s here, but also clickable on the little thing below:


So, things what I done saw (most of which are represented in ticket and flyer form above):

Daniel Kitson and David O’Doherty’s MacMillan Cancer Trust charity gig – our first gig of the festival and what seemed to be our only chance to see Daniel Kitson, as his one-man storytelling show had sold out despite being on at 10:30am. He generally doesn’t do stand-up any more, focusing instead on scripted whimsy and stories (and is by all reports excellent at it), so this was a bit of a treat. He was seemingly unprepared (and did apologise to the audience when he discovered that we’d paid £15 a ticket) but is man who knows how to do banter, and banter he did for 30 minutes (“You. Name?”). David O’Doherty was good, with a fairly slick show of songs, but he wasn’t really my kind of thing – I like a whimsical man with a worrying beard, notes that remind him to drink his tea and one piece of prepared material about one man’s history with a staircase.

Stewart Lee’s Silver Stewbilee – to celebrate (and publicise) his new book (How I Escaped My Certain Fate, available from some bookshops now) Mr Lee put on a variety evening of various mates of his from over the years. It was a great night, maybe one of the best gigs I’ve been to (especially due to the atmosphere), and featured a bunch of people who I was half planning to see: Kevin Eldon (whose poet Paul Hamilton is a marvellous character), A Ant (aka Bridget Christie aka Mrs Lee), Paul Putner, a cameo from Richard Herring (playing a book tearing heckler shouting ‘tell a joke why don’t you!’ before throwing the pieces of Stewart Lee’s book at him while chasing him off the stage) and a band introduced initially as ‘Franz and his Ferdinands’, which caused an amount of confusion as Franz Ferdinand appearing on stage to back Kevin Eldon singing Machadaynu from Look Around You. The final act of the evening were Frank Chickens, who were recently hailed as Foster’s Comedy Gods, thanks to a campaign seemingly accidentally started by Stewart Lee. They were slightly mad. There were probably other people, but my brain is mush. Stewart Lee rounded out the evening with his 20 minutes on charity that I’ve seen develop in the last couple of times that I’ve seen him – he’s still rather good.

Gutted – a Revenger’s Musical – written by Danielle Ward and Martin White of Karaoke Circus fame, this was the one concession I made to the theatre side of the Edinburgh Festival. I have in recent times become rubbish at watching plays, becoming embarassed that the actors are performing for my benefit. This is something that I need to fix and Gutted went a long way to helping. Some excellent comedic turns, great songs, occasional fluffs, The Penny Dreadfuls (gentlemen of varying height who wore top hats of equally varying height to bring them all up to the same height) indicating by their performance that I had to see their own show, Colin Hoult playing most of the characters in the show, Michael Legge as a blind priest and Jim Bob of Carter USM fame as a wedding singer and dead parent. Thoroughly silly and good fun.

Your Days are Numbered! The Maths of Death – a perfect geeky start to the day with as Matt Parker and Timandra Harkness told us all about probability and death. There were audio footnotes to explain why Matt’s maths jokes were so funny and stickers to attach to ourselves as the audience ‘died’ over the course of the show.

Audi, Vidi, Tace – Charlotte Young’s tales of her secret life as an agent working for a shadowy organisation run by a man posing as a caretaker at the Reichstag in Berlin. We learned about secret life of Rupert Bear and Tiger Lily as well as a variety of other random things which worked at varying levels of effectiveness. I think in the end it was let down by a slightly long and drawn out bit of homage to the Brando scenes in Apocalypse Now, but the funny bits were pretty good.

Andy Zaltzman swears to tell the truth, half the truth and everything but the truth – I like Andy Zaltzman, from his overly contrived similes to his obsession with sport (and ability to equate almost anything to an event in English cricket in the last 100 years) and also liked this. Over the road from where I saw him a couple of years back, this was a larger room, full and containing people who had sought him out for an afternoon show. As he’s someone who pumps out 30 minutes of fairly tight comedy with John Oliver every week on The Bugle podcast (now with no homepage thanks to The Times’s paywall, even though the podcast is still free) I was surprised that I’d only heard a couple of bits of this before – definitely worth a watch if you are not afraid of similes.

Paul Foot: Ash in the Attic – watched because I’d heard it was good. I didn’t agree – this was maybe the most unsuccessful comedy show I’ve ever seen. He’s known to be divisive and since his show I’ve done a bit of watching on YouTube and found him to be pretty funny, but this show put my teeth on edge and annoyed me. Looking back on it afterwards I think that I would have liked the second half of the show if the first half hadn’t turned me so much against him, with a particularly tedious and unfunny section that lost the audience completely, myself included. Rants about carthorses being homophobes and an ironic gollywog might have worked at other times, but not that night for me.

Camille O’Sullivan – I have one of her CDs and it’s okay, but nothing like as good as the live show I saw at the festival last year. This show was only a week or so old and it showed – Camille was still getting used to her costume and not doing her normal banter with the crowd, and some of the songs not working quite as well as they might. It got better as it went on, apart from a woeful dip with a cover of Tom Waits’s God’s Away on Business which descended into silly voices (which Waits can get away with by O’Sullivan can’t), and peaked with an a capella version of Bowie’s Port of Amsterdam that almost got a standing ovation half way through the set. Not as good a venue or set as last year, but still a good show (especially when it gets a bit more familiar and starts its inevitable tour).

A Random Open Mic Night – the name of which I have forgotten. We went along to see Will, who I have successfully missed every time he’s performed since I’ve known him and very good he was too. He was best, and not only because he told me to say that. The other comedians on varied from the awful to the okay to the very drunk and awful, so he didn’t have to do much to rise above them. Apart from Mr Howells there was one other decent guy, but the un-pc’ly amusing guy of the night was the partially blind comedian who couldn’t see the compere waving at him from the side of the room to let him know that his 5 minutes was up – after 20 minutes the mc gave in to the obvious pressure from the crowd and wandered on stage and tapped him on the shoulder.

The Penny Dreadfuls – having seen them in Gutted and also individually at Karaoke Circus (the Penny of medium height, David Reed, is the Karaoke Circus band drummer) I was tempted along to this, despite it being sketch comedy (which is a bit close to theatre for my liking). I was in the end rather pleased that I did, as it was quite excellent. Very well polished sketches with a running storyline, ridiculousness and lots of opportunities for Thom Tuck to get dragged up. That boy likes wearing dresses a lot. My cold anti-theatre heart is being slowly melted. I now have a Penny Dreadfuls ‘Mr Princess’ badge, which I am very proud of.

Invisible Dot …by The Sea – an unknown show, recommended by Niki, with a to-be-announced bill at a to-be-announced location that we were promised was By The Sea. We piled on to coaches and after a quick burst of Cliff Richard and Summer Holiday listened to seaside organ music until we got down to the shore. There we were let out and led to Portobello Town Hall, sat down and then presented with a brass quartet until the comedy started. Compered by Daniel Kitson (yay!) we had sets from Kevin Eldon (doing his poetry again), Colin Hoult (doing his ex-army movie obsessed wannabe film maker character), Josie Long (being lovely), Tim Key (being Tim Key) and Stewart Lee (doing his 20 minute bit on charity again). It seems that I wasn’t the only person who’d seen it before (as you’d expect from the audience, who Kitson described as Stewart Lee’s ‘homest of home crowds’) but unfortunately one person decided to let the rest of us, including Mr Lee, know by shouting out the next line during one of the large number of pauses that punctuate the set. This inspired Stewart Lee to point out that while he was contractually obliged to be on stage for 20 minutes he wasn’t obliged to say anything, before standing motionless and silent, staring towards the heckler for a few minutes (as caught on camera by Michael). He did continue and finish, even if he did promise to do it word for word the same as earlier in the week while lying on the stage facing away from the audience, and was, as usual, hilarious. A very strange end to the gig.

Andrew Collins: Secret Dancing – the other half of the Collings and Herrin podcast and a show that I felt I should go and see through a strange loyalty to Mr Collins, despite the things he says and writes occasionally annoying the hell out of me. Having seen him do bits of comedy around town I wasn’t expecting much new and was pleasantly surprised, with a quite tightly written hour of comedy with only a brief dip into the well worn Secret Dancing of the title. He does wear the influence of his various comedic friends on his sleeve, with dips in to Lee and Herring’s style books as well as others, but he pulls it off very well and I’m tempted to seek him out if he does another show. This was the last in his run and we turned up 45 minutes early, which was lucky as they had to turn people away in the end as the room at Bannerman’s (part of the Free Fringe) filled, even down to standing room near the front. Impressive.

Goring and Stokes: Nerds of a Feather – a recommendation from Mr Howells again and another show delighting in the geeky. Chris Stokes was up first with a half hour of tight and well put together stand-up that I rather enjoyed. Primed by Will I looked for potential geeky errors (he said that he reckoned he might be the only person in the room with a favourite episode of Columbo – this was wrong for both the time Will saw them and also when I was there [Season 6 Episode 1 – Fade in to Murder, one of William Shatner’s finest roles. I had to look up the episode number and name, which Will didn’t…he is best at Columbo]) but could only point out that the Captain Kirk wore a red dress uniform in most of the Star Trek films, rather than the yellow command shirt of the TV series. The boy had done his research. Graham Goring had a slideshow of funny pictures to go with his stand-up and while I laughed much louder and more frequently during the second half, it’s Chris Stokes’s set that I still remember. Both excellent though.

Edward Aczel: Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better – A man who describes himself as a ‘semi-character based anti-comedian’ who I’ve seen do excellent short sets didn’t quite pull off a full hour to the same level of success. It didn’t help that the Friday night audience were expecting constant laughs, where Aczel is not a man who provides on that front, deliberately. There was a flip chart graph of audience enjoyment, SWOT analysis, a constantly held and read from script, a random pulled from the audience (who was either the best plant ever or the most fortunately chosen volunteer of all time) and constant uncomfortable pauses. I like him, not many others in the audience did.

Barry and Stuart: 98% Seance – I saw these guys on TV a few years back and didn’t take too much convincing to take a chance on them for my Friday night show. They are great showmen and while I could see how many of their tricks were done (although far from all) this mattered as little as it should. The only problem was an unwise choice of volunteer for the finale which meant that the end of the show was wrapped up a bit quicker than they would have liked and didn’t work quite as impressively, but it ended well and was worth a watch.

Ian D Montfort: Touching the Dead – our final show and one that had been recommended to us all week by Niki. Tom Binns, of Ivan Brackenbury fame, doing a new character – a Sunderland psychic with a strong connection to side of spirit. It was quite excellent, with slightly uneasy moments as he seemed to do bits of cold reading that worked alarmingly well (with much speculation afterwards as to whether it was people going along with what he said, prior knowledge or just good cold reading skills), occasional magic tricks and a lot of well written comedy. But the bit which I felt gave the best insight into the show was his comment, in character and veiled in words so as to keep in character, that it’s not stupid people who fall for people like Joe Power, it’s people who are in need of what they seem to be providing, no matter how intelligent they are or not. A show poking fun at the psychics and not so much those who are taken in.

All in all an excellent week. As ever, it was far from a relaxing holiday but there will be another trip organised next year. I have enough people interested already that I have the excuse required to look for a new flat. One with comfier beds…

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