Hawaiian Shirts, Midgets and Jokes about Faeces: Just another year at the Edinburgh Fringe

One minute your wincing because of terrible jokes about faeces or the Japanese, the next marvelling at the brilliant Oxford Revue or incredible free comedy. At the Fringe, it's all about searching for the wheat amongst the chaff...
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I do not profess to be a thespian. Nor do I carry any pretensions as such. So paying an inaugural visit to the annual Fringe Festival in Edinburgh provided me with ample opportunity to brush up on my theatrical expertise (that was, admittedly, poor despite being an English student), dust down that funny bone and maybe even channel an inner playwright. Stepping off the train, I was immediately struck by something my dad would say, namely that there was a certain ‘buzz’ in the air. Well, it was true. There definitely was something in that musty Scottish air, a sense of anticipation, enjoyment and high spirits akin to the Olympic fervour that had gripped London for the previous two weeks.

And so, after a night’s rest, I approached my first taste of the Fringe with a mixed sense of excitement and trepidation. After all, it was a free show that we decided to go at the last minute, and it was in the back room of a small pub. Nevertheless, I swallowed any lingering doubts as we walked through the front doors, only to be asked, rather disconcertingly, if we were one of the acts scheduled to perform. Now I am not one for making quick judgments, but this did not fill me with a bucket load of confidence. Neither, it seemed, my two accomplices, as we shared a disquieting cringe before taking our seats. Whilst looking around to plot a quick escape route if such a situation materialised, I analysed the clientele that had gathered for the show. Apart from the token happy couple in the front row (the man of said couple was, again, the token person in the audience who thought he was the real comedian), it seemed to be a collection of depressed and lonely bachelors, staring down their half filled glass of lagers hoping for an epiphany. Or maybe just for some good comedy. Well, we got neither.

It seemed to be a collection of depressed and lonely bachelors, staring down their half filled glass of lagers hoping for an epiphany

The ‘MC’ as he called himself, kicked things off to an exasperatingly poor start, saying how he was recycling material from five years previously, which might have been a poor excuse, or a poor attempt at a joke. Who knows. Anyway, his cloying efforts to fill time before the first act turned up came across in retrospect as Matt Berry in disguise when compared to what was to follow. The rather hackneyed and cheap way of churning out one liner after one liner is, even when employed by supposed class A comedians like Jimmy Carr, lazy and generally quite unfunny. When the first ‘proper’ comedian stepped up to the front, Hawaiian shirt and world weary face in tow, his delivery of said one liners were so heartless and so God damn embarrassing, that even he starting making reference to the sound of the air conditioning, such was the ear piercing silence greeted after every ‘joke’ (I wish I could remember one for the life of me). I looked over at my two friends as we bit our tongues and nodded to each other as if to say ‘one more comedian and then we’re out of here’.

Well, the next guy arrived and when he began with a rather uncomfortable racial slur against Japanese people, we knew our time was up. Searching for plusses to take out of that horrific experience, we rationalised that whoever was to follow that was sure to look like a world-beater in comparison.

He began with a rather uncomfortable racial slur against Japanese people

Marching onto the Pleasance, which was the main hub of comedy shows and general festival related activity, we went to a paid evening show hosted by Pete ‘Hoodwinker’ Firman. With a fine mixture of self-deprecating jokes, audience participation and audacious tricks, we were suitably entertained, and the bar was raised for what was to follow on the next day.

The thing about the Fringe, I’m sure you know, is that it is vast. You can scarcely take one step along the Royal Mile without a drama student stuffing their homemade flyers and leaflets in your face. So what follows is an endless quest to find a bin to dispense of these ever-accumulating flyers, while trying to make your way from A to B. As such, the easiest and best way to get about and see things worthwhile is on the basis of good reviews or recommendations by people who aren’t Fringe virgins.

In this case it was the Oxford Revue. From what I had gathered, it was an annual and much-loved show with a strong history of famous alumni who had used the Revue to cut their comedic teeth. What ensued was a light-hearted and impressively varied selection of sketches, put on by a talented cast of eight members. Whilst thoroughly enjoyable, it was difficult to shake the nagging feeling that these were Oxford students, producing high quality comedy, with exceptional acting. Their air of unbridled success on the horizon was all too palpable. Nevertheless, I’d recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Garth Marenghi.

It was difficult to shake the nagging feeling that these were Oxford students, producing high quality comedy, with exceptional acting

Whilst sitting for a break we browsed the listings and came across what looked like a mid-afternoon winner. A 50s-style British wireless drama broadcast, all improvised, and free. We were understandably sceptical after our previous experience of free comedy but with nothing else to do we gave it a shot. What proceeded was my highlight of my Fringe experience; four twenty somethings in suits, completely improvising a story about a lost explorer searching for the Abominable Snowman under the audience-given title of ‘Cooking Bananas in a Canoe’. They even broke into song about a hedgehog at the interval. Strongly recommended.

My final taste of the Fringe was to come at my friends’ reliably endorsed night, Spank. A late night selection of comics, some stand up (including a midget and a twenty minute long joke about her faeces), one impressionist and one Bill Bailey-esque musical performer, and hosted by two very unfunny lager louts, it seemed to perfectly encapsulate the Fringe in a nutshell. A mixed bag, for sure, but when you do find that hidden gem in amongst the rough, it makes it all the more special.

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