Comedy Estonia ***
Laughing Horse @ the Counting House, until 28 August
Ivor Dembina, who is something of a Fringe elder statesman, stops me to impart the kind of news that there should be every other day at a real arts festival Fringe. “Whaddaya think?” he says, gesturing to overflowing wheelie bins and dumpsters, surrounded by piles of plastic bin-bags in all directions. He has been given an award, he tells me, for his Edinburgh City-wide art installation, entitled 'Rubbish'. “It is fully interactive,” he enthuses, pointing at a group of youngsters flinging artisan noodle boxes onto the oozing heap. “No one ever sees exactly the same installation twice.” Genius. “It should be reported in Scotland on Sunday,” says Ivor. Now it is. With people like Ivor around, I am reassured that the Fringe is not dead yet.
But it is overgrown and fat and has become a bully whose weapons are big money, big management and big bureaucracy. And that is giving the Fringe's heart big problems. So be glad we still have Ivor and a few others like him.
I spend my last few days seeing shows on word of mouth. Or because the performer flyers me. The old fashioned way. Imagine then, my surprise when Luca Cupani, after recommending Comedy Estonia, shows me a photo of Ari Matti Mustonen playing to a huge, packed venue in Canada. His is genuinely comedy without borders. And, he tells us, available in a variety of expedient accents depending on who he is talking to. We need him here, beautifully, pointedly ripping into Edinburgh City Council, bringing fresh eyes on the horror that is Cowgate at night. His material on the current war situation with Russia is both jaw-droppingly informative and brutally funny. It is a privilege to see him close up like this. Karl Alari Varma is our host and a genial presence (albeit it is very un-Estonian) as he introduces us to his sniper friend, the Estonian Milk and Dairy Museum and fights an ongoing battle with the mic stand. He is due thanks for teaching us some potentially life-saving Russian phrases. I should point out that all of these guys are doing this in their third language. And they are properly, cleverly funny.
The wonderful, unpredictable darknesses of this gig are continued by Sardu Oigus and his explanation of food allergies and alcoholism in Estonia, followed by a traumatising tale about the unimaginable horror of sleeping in a bunk bed. I do not know if there is an Estonian word for 'icky', but there should be.
Gerry Carroll: A Man in My Position ***
Just the Tonic at the Grassmarket Centre, until 28 August
Gerry Carroll's hour is strangely sweet and raw and like nothing else I have seen. It might have been more comfortable being slightly formatted or directed in spoken word, but the odd pick'n'mix of memories and poems, comic chat and Leonard Cohen feels properly, honestly personal, and is even funny in parts. I would far rather watch this more-than-slightly shambolic hour, in its shambolic venue, than anything that is only here to take your money and promote its tour.
Daphna Baram: Out and About ***
Laughing Horse @ 32 Below, until 28 August
Daphna Baram's Israeli accent has recently acquired Hollywood cachet; she is absolutely the only comic in Edinburgh who cares enough about couture comedy to match her mic muff with her outfit and she rescues vegetables on a regular basis. What is not to like? OK she is menopausal and her doctor says she is overweight, but she has a comedy mum, a painfully true comedy critique of several irritating aspects of English behaviour, and some kick-ass stuff about kids and war and hair-trigger 'offence'. This is time-served, grown-up comedy. Go and remind yourself what that is like.
Ashley Haden: On the Outside Pissing In ***
Laughing Horse @ the Counting House, until 28 August
Ashley Haden is a new generation, old-school, shouty, sweary, political comic. It is lovely to watch. Nice to see the informed anger gene has not ENTIRELY skipped a generation. He is every bit as nihilistic as his ‘Genocidal Liberal’ soubriquet suggests. His main targets are the new legislation proposed by the government. This is the stuff of nightmare and there is the sound of an embryonic Mark Thomas here. And it is wonderful. He is absolutely merciless about anyone over the age of seventy and has never had a decent Baked Alaska, but his thoughts (thankfully, just the one) about “not being able to help everyone all of the time” are the most fist-clenchingly-stupid-verging-on-destructive load of First World childish whining I have heard. Other than that he is terrific.
Vix Leyton: Pedestrian ***
Just the Tonic at the Mash House, until 28 August
This is Vix Leyton's first Fringe. And she has done it just right. Apart from placing her show in the hands of a front-of-house 'staff' whose interest in chat and shared confectionary vastly outweighs any thought of getting an audience into a show – leaving the performer distraught, the audience irritated and the show requiring a ten-minute edit so as not to mess with the schedule.
Vix is naturally funny and her debut is a 'best of' her club sets woven into a seamless 50 minutes of laughs made from well-crafted anecdotage, smart, zingy one liners and plans for her funeral. It also features her comedy mum, who sounds like an hour of hilarity by herself. Vix, smartly, gives us the highlights. And they are joyously full of funny. It is a joy to see a strong female stand-up doing strong female stand-up and sharing interesting, intelligent thoughts without dragging us down some 'searingly honest' rabbit hole. I am genuinely looking forward to next year's show already.
It has been a difficult Fringe for the smaller acts, the newer acts, the Fringe acts. But I have never seen so many good shows as I have this year on the real Fringes. Down here people co-operate, people support each other. It is a miracle and a huge relief to know that this attitude is still alive, that the spirit of crazy and creative lives on, that passion for performing still counts, despite all that has been done to squash it. You can still have freedom and fun at the Fringe. And that should be treasured and encouraged.