Edinburgh Festival Free Fringe comedy reviews round-up: Alistair Barrie | Andrew O'Neill | Matt Price

Forget the Big Venues – if you’re looking for laughs, you won’t find better than on the Free Fringe with the likes of Alistair Barrie, Matt Price and Andrew O'Neill, reckons Kate Copstick.

Alistair Barrie: PIC: Contributed.
Alistair Barrie: PIC: Contributed.

Alistair Barrie: Alistaircratic ****

Liquid Rooms (V276)

Andrew O'Neill: We Are Not In The Least Afraid of Ruins, We Carry A New World In Our Hearts *****

Andrew O'Neill. PIC: Jamie Mykaela.

Liquid Rooms (V276)

Matt Price: Raging Bill ****

Voodoo Rooms (V68)

Do Not Panic. In an Edinburgh Fringe which Andrew O'Neill describes as “an arms race”, it is still possible to watch thrillingly good comedy performed by great live comics who will remind you that laughter is just better IRL, and to do so for only as much as you decide you want to put in a bucket at the end of a show. I spoke to a woman heading to a show at a Big Venue who said she just felt that the shows there would “you know … be better, you know … because … it's a 'proper' venue.” No. No. If you are looking for comedy, I cannot imagine you will see “better” than Alistair Barrie, Matt Price and Andrew O'Neill. They are, to quote that lady, “proper” funny and I honestly cannot imagine having a “better” time.

The Liquid Rooms are entered through a sort of a secret garden. OK, a Beer Garden. But it is cosy and friendly. You could just chill very happily here and not see a show at all, but that, I have to tell you, would be A Huge Mistake. You might miss Alistair Barrie, a man who writes so beautifully and performs so elegantly that I love every part of his hour, despite disagreeing strongly with about a fifth of what he says. I cannot think of another comedian who could achieve that. Barrie carves laughter from life with the precision of a diamond cutter. This is comedy so classily presented, we do not mind that, quite honestly, we would really rather forget about Boris and Covid. And all those PPE millions. And energy bills. However if we must revisit them, there is no one better to take a comedy scalpel and reopen our still raw scars than Alistair Barrie. He peppers his stand up with tiny, hilarious scenarios with a cast of himself which sparklingly re-funny a tired topic. It is such smart stuff.

But first, he has to sort out some 'tech' problems on stage. Here is the fun of Free Fringe shows for real comedy fans. It is like being allowed into the garage before an F1 race to watch Max Verstappen tune his own engine. Admittedly, not very like that but the principle is the same. I have seen few comics as finely tuned as Barrie. After an enforced career detour into house-husbandry and child-care (his own, fyi), he is back on stage and he is, for an impeccably mannered chap like Al, “f***ing furious”. He is, of course, most wittily, eloquently furious and it is eye-wateringly funny to watch. What is so impressive is that, while oatmilk and child-poo are not quite universal topics this year, Al's targets are very much the same as 70% of the other comics this Fringe: lockdown achievers and paedophiles, monkeypox and Priti Patel. But Barrie hits them with such skill, such 'furious' yet forensic finesse, that it doesn't matter. Give an angry miner and Michelangelo a block of concrete and a hammer and you will get vary different outcomes. Give every comic on the Fringe Boris Johnson...

Andrew O'Neill has, they tell us, at the top of their show, “always been non-binary”. I think most of us knew. Their extraordinary comedy style has always been what we might now term 'content-fluid'. Big laughs, heavy metal, the occult, passionate anarchism, environmental activism and fun, joiny-in games are a volatile mix any time but in 2022 there is something extra, something in Andrew themselves, and the whole of this show is even greater than the sum of its parts.

This is comedy flung on its back and used as a serving board for a socio-politically meaty (sorry, Andrew, some metaphors just do not work as well with the vegan option) feast. There are silly, silly jokes, wonderful carbon neutral hobbies and Andrew has a guest conspiracy expert, but on top of all of this we get thunderingly powerful activist argument backed up with one of their favourite things – facts. Plus the best advice for bringing down Air BnB. For me, one of the marks of a five star show is that it flies at you, picks you up, takes you into its world, makes you laugh, makes you think, makes you feel, makes you care and, in the case of Andrew's hour, makes you play the Counting Game before returning you to reality.

Like Andrew, Matt Price is a comic who, this year, looks like he has, to use an old hippy expression, 'found himself'. Matt is, to be fair, difficult to lose, as he is six foot plus of Cornishman who used to be 24 stone. He has lost a quarter of that and gained confidence, a great hour of comedy and an impressive ability with a skipping rope. But this is not a 'body-positivity' hour. It is a story-telling, grandad-loving, face-punching, gangster-reminiscing, nursery-rhyme-singing, tear in yer eye, laugh out loud joy of an hour. One of the most impressive things about it is that, given the Free Fringe venue, we get to hang out with Matt as the room fills up. And we get to appreciate what a phenomenal talent he has for crowd work. This is a skill all of its own. To be able to fill a room with laughter while a Brummie bloke buys the first round of the day (#chaosmate, suggests Matt) and ferries it, one pint at a time, through the crowd, and do it so well that he ends up being bought a pint himself is beyond impressive. Then to go on to take us all with him to meet his activist Mum, absent Dad and prize fighter Grandad in a hugely personal story ? Yes, we get his trademark searing self-deprecation, and we can see the vulnerability beneath but that is because he lets us. Well, to be fair, he tells us. But finally, Matt Price looks fully, funnily at home on a stage. It is a glorious thing to see. (Cue Chumbawumba).

All shows run until 28 August