Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Celya AB: Swimming | Emo Majok: African Aussie | Njambi McGrath: Black Black | Jazz Emu: You Shouldn’t Have | Lucy Frederick’s Big Fat Wedding

A rising French-Algerian comic who balances cultural insight with enjoyable daftness leads our latest round-up of Fringe comedy. Reviews by Jay Richardson, Claire Smith, Andrew Eaton-Lewis and David Hepburn

Celya AB
Celya AB

Celya AB: Swimming ****

Pleasance Courtyard (The Attic) (Venue 33), until 29 August

Both a strongly informed view of the British from an amused outsider and an enjoyable introduction to French-Algerian comic Celya AB, Swimming is a knowing, multi-faceted show that delivers cultural insight with an undercurrent of instinctive silliness. With a smiling, chiding refrain of “naughty!” for everything from rampant historical colonialism to Brexit, AB was already an Anglophile before moving to this country eight years ago. Though broadly warmed by the response she’s received – from the pronunciation of her name to the box-ticking exercises that attempt to package her for television – she’s also been acutely sensitive to the micro-aggressions beneath British reserve and politeness.

As a bisexual of nominal Muslim background, she’s one producer’s dream for fulfilling the diversity quota of his show. But AB herself only deals in such generalities when there’s a cuttingly blunt gag at the end of it, generally digging a little deeper in her characterisation of the people of these isles. By no means perfect, Swimming is perhaps too wide-ranging in its subject matter as she tries to balance so much personal and observational material, while her love of a good joke trumps narrative flow.

This is a minor quibble though, as she’s increasingly allows glimpses of her real personality and vulnerabilities behind the initial Gallic superiority and aloofness that she plays so many status games with. She’s a superb contriver of pithy, memorable lines that either elucidate a truth about Britishness, have a more universal application to xenophobia or sexism, or are just simply daft for the sake of being daft. She’s got more than enough of each to go round. And having got the slightly unwieldy intersectional introduction out the way you can look forward to whatever she produces next with tremendous anticipation. Jay Richardson

Emo Majok: African Aussie ***

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Underbelly Bristo Square (Venue 302), until 29 August

Emo Majok is a supremely likeable comic, with a fluid, relaxed style. He was born in a refugee camp in Sudan, moved to another in Ethiopia and then to Perth, Western Australia. He can remember arriving in a new country, getting his first television and learning to speak English, but as far as Majok is concerned he’s won the lottery of life. He is surprised and delighted that he managed to escape jobs at McDonald’s and Aussie supermarket Coles and is making a career out of comedy.

Majok finds plenty of ways to laugh about being black in a world of extremely white people. He tells us about his ex-partner, his kids and about the gigs he does on tours of mining towns in the Outback. He’s thrilled to be in Edinburgh for the first time and talks to people in the crowd as if he really wants to get to know us all. Majok is a natural performer who makes you think about human and their miraculous ability to adapt. Outside the venue people line up to buy his air freshener merch and shake his hand. Claire Smith

Njambi McGrath: Black Black ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33), until 28 August

Njambi McGrath is one of a matriarchal line of Kenyan women. She is here to tell us about her grandmother, who suffered under the oppressive regime of British colonisers. While her grandmother’s generation went through terrible abuse and bad treatment McGrath experiences the British sense of superiority through countless daily micro-aggressions. Her plan is to turn this back on her oppressors by finding ways to laugh at their sense of privilege and entitlement. This allows her to take some well-aimed cracks at the current UK Government.

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While McGrath adopts a playful style, she finds it hard to keep her righteous indignation under wraps. She has interesting things to say about the way religion and the education system perpetuate and internalise the notion that white people have better ideas. She describes how her grandmother’s people worshipped out-of-doors and made up satirical songs about their oppressors. Her idea is to do the same, in her own way, and use comedy to grab back her own voice and power. It is a bold idea and McGrath sometimes struggles to match her tone and her subject matter. But her uncompromising take on colonial history will certainly make you think. Claire Smith

Jazz Emu: You Shouldn’t Have ****

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (venue 24), until 21 August

Musician Jazz Emu was at the peak of his career until Twitter turned against him after he insulted a famous goblin during a gig at Helsinki Velodrome. Now he has a weirdly specific 55 minutes to make everyone in the world like him again or face the indignity of living at home for ever making foley art with his dad. Archie Henderson’s musical comedy alter ego made his Fringe debut in 2019 before finding a new audience during lockdown with a series of inspired skits on YouTube and TikTok, some of which feature here. “This year’s Gary Le Strange” was the recommendation that got me to his show, and he doesn’t disappoint (if that’s too niche a reference, fans of Bo Burnham or the Mighty Boosh will also find much to like). You Shouldn’t Have is a big, confident blend of surrealism, slapstick (Henderson has the physical presence of a young John Cleese and knows how to use it) and genuinely impressive musicianship. An electronic sax solo played suggestively to an audience member on stage is a highlight, as is the climax, in which Emu unwittingly funds ISIS before deciding that “be a dick to everybody” is a better way forward than trying to be likeable. Andrew Eaton-Lewis

Lucy Frederick’s Big Fat Wedding ***

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24), until 28 August

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Lucy Frederick is at pains to describe herself as a terrible person. But if that is the case then her Big Fat Wedding is not the show to prove it. At the end of this heartwarming and enjoyable hour she counts up the three supposedly offensive things she has said, with none of them likely to lead to a complaint from the charmed audience. A comic look at the process of getting married is combined with a heartfelt body positive message, this skilled performer poking fun at diet culture and the expectation that brides should be thin, all the while wearing the veil she insists should be an everyday accessory, with hilarious pictures to illustrate the point.

The minutiae of wedding dress shopping is a standout section, both funny and an eye-opener for those of us who have yet to walk down the aisle. Meanwhile, a brief segue into the death of her mother and unexplained breakdown of her relationship with her father feels underdeveloped and like it belongs to an entirely different – though probably fascinating – show. Other gently amusing tangents take in lockdown haircuts and a trip to Namibia with her in-laws, before this nicest of comedians gets her well-deserved happy ending. David Hepburn