Comedy review: Phil Nichol and Tony Law, Edinburgh

Phil Nichol: Master of the trainwreck tale. Picture: ContributedPhil Nichol: Master of the trainwreck tale. Picture: Contributed
Phil Nichol: Master of the trainwreck tale. Picture: Contributed
It has been a while since comedy audiences were treated to one of Phil Nichol’s trainwreck tales. This one actually takes place on a train. Until he is forced off it.

Phil Nichol : Too Much, Monkey Barrel Comedy, Until 25 August * * * *

Tony Law: Identifies, Monkey Barrel Comedy, Until 25 August * * * *

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Tony Law & Phil Nichol: Virtue Chamber Echo Bravo, Heroes @ The Hive, Until 24 August *

This is old school Nichol, all outrage and frustration, veins bulging, sweat flying, the comedy embodiment of righteous indignation. Of course we get tales of his long-suffering parents (I hope they are taking a commission because he gets a lot of laughs out of them) and anyone appalled by drug culture will spend the hour tutting themselves into a coma because Phil spends half the show narrative high, at one point, in the company of Bill and Agnes, an octagenarian couple in Brighton.

This is a comedy blast of a show, fuelled by disaster and not a little rage. But there is a through line, a powerful wrap-up (look out Richard Branson, Phil is coming for you) and even a bit of a message. Almost certainly, lesser comics would have stretched and padded and got at least three hours from this much rolling catastrophe. Nichol falls over himself to pack as much into the hour as possible and it is a thrilling experience. When he howls his frustration at people complaining that he is swearing at them, he howls for sweary people everywhere. First time I have seen a standing ovation in a Fringe venue. Fully deserved.

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Fellow Canadian Tony Law might one day find a narrative thread and an accent in which to follow it, but not, as they say, today. Not that that matters as you are enveloped by a kind of crazy Honey Monster and comedy-wrestled into submission.

Law is the unstoppable comedy force and I thought I was the immoveable object but the crazy and the comic, the absurd and the stupidly funny keep on coming and you find yourself giggling helplessly and enjoying the sensation of Tony taking the “funny ideas” bin in his brain and just emptying it over your head.

Tony loves The Infrastructure and Jews, he is an enthusiastic time traveller and has previous experience as a steamboat captain/stand-up in the 1840s. The show leaps from favourite hominids to fallen posh people and from card playing gibbons to revelations in DNA tracing. His young son Atticus features in one beautifully crazed moment, lip-synching Talking Heads. I don’t know if that is in any way right. But it is so funny.

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Tony is bitter, he tells us, he longs to stand in the spotlight of Live at the Apollo, but it is just not happening. He would undoubtedly have to lose the stuff about his close friendships with Jesus and Mohammed, man-eating chimps and time-travelling with a German Shepherd, the Trinidadian accent would be a no-no and the wonderful moment where he announces “that was a riff I am just going to abandon” would undoubtedly be cut. I do not think Live at the Apollo remotely deserves Tony Law. Go and see him live at the Monkey Barrel. Much better.

Separately, these guys are, each in his own way, the kind of comedy powerhouse that will keep live comedy streets, miles, light years ahead of the canned variety. Nothing recorded will come close to giving you the feeling you get watching these guys take a room by storm.

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So I will gloss over the irritating experience that was the first performance of their joint show, which, while fascinating as a psychological study of the dynamics of the double act, brought new depth of meaning to the words “give me back my money”.

Everyone I have talked to says the show is now absolutely entrancing. Audiences are loving it. I do not think, however, that it is too much to ask performers of their experience to do that for their audience on the first day.

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