Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Erika Ehler: Femcel | Amy Matthews: Moreover, The Moon | Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?! | Dan Rath: Cockroach Party
Erika Ehler: Femcel ****
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) (Carnivore 1) (Venue 180), until 28 August
A dawning realisation I've had at this festival is that we're now witnessing the first generation of stand-ups for whom filming oneself as a child was, if perhaps not completely natural, then at least enabled by technology. UK-based Filipino-Canadian Erika Ehler shares a couple of snatches of her 12-year-old self coming back at her school bullies on her own YouTube channel of the time. And it's compelling. Not simply for the evidence of a nascent performer but also as a yardstick to measure how much of a monster she's become since. Commanding from her first utterance, Ehler is unabashedly candid and sexually voracious, chewing up and spitting out ineffectual white men from her vagina like they're going out of fashion, which, on the evidence of this hugely assured debut, they probably are. An opening summary of her faith education and mental health diagnosis, and the store she puts in neither, tells you plenty of what you need to know about her sceptical, dark, bordering-on-nihilism worldview. To call Femcel a sex-positive show would be to underplay the dysfunctionality Ehler identifies and indulges in herself. But as an enabler for her cynically funny material, it's wonderfully fuelled by lust. That she is clearly having such a good time on stage, seeing the reaction she provokes, is infectious. And though she's coruscatingly mocking, there's plenty of sly self-deprecation too. Occasionally, she affectionately champions her conquests and suitors as well, lamenting a lost hook up who dared to meet her perverse enquiries on a dating app with game humour. When Ehler tells you that she's never had a proper relationship, it's scarcely surprising, because she seems like a heck of an undertaking. But love's loss is unquestionably comedy's gain because she's got irrepressible star quality and big vagina energy.
Amy Matthews: Moreover, The Moon ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore) (Carnivore 1) (Venue 180), until 28 August
As Amy Matthews suggests, stand-up comedy probably wasn't the shrewdest career choice for someone persecuted by the thought of other peoples' gaze. When she opens her entertaining Fringe debut with an explanation of Main Character Syndrome, the social media-popularised idea of perceiving oneself as the central protagonist in a film about your life, with everyone else mere supporting cast, it sets the scene for a lightweight exploration of narcissism. And some deconstruction of the hit, almost impossibly twee French film Amélie is amusing enough and absolutely on-theme here, not disabusing you of that notion. Yet while Matthews sardonically reflects on the society-wide implications of ultra-sensitive self-obsessives, she soon broadens her scope to reveal some bizarrely unique neuroses and quietly eccentric behaviour, exacerbated over lockdown. As a well-spoken Englishwoman living in Scotland, this Essex girl is routinely misidentified as posh, highlighting the senselessness of fretting about others' interpretations of your character, particularly after she luxuriates in her minor role in the tabloid fodder of a pop star's romance with a member of the Belgian aristocracy. An engaging introductory hour, by turns drily funny and giddily quirky, Matthews' show might have been sunk by its navel-gazing spirit but instead flourishes.
Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?! ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Baby Grand) (Venue 33), until 28 August
Only the latest adaptation of his life story, after the memoir, the novel and the screenplay, Leo Reich's Fringe debut is a once experienced, never forgotten deep dive into one 23-year-old's marvellously monstrous ego. Disengaging from all of the horror and strife in the world, mental health epidemic notwithstanding, Literally Who Cares?! is a spectacularly self-centred, pulsatingly funny hour, a blizzard of meaningless buzzwords fashioned into something approaching performance art. Commanding your attention from the first, Reich's persona is entitled and irrepressibly needy, intellectually vapid but with just enough intelligence to relate everything back to himself, flamboyant but fey, almost a self-appointed spokesperson for feckless Millennials. So singularly lacking in sincerity, there's little to get a handle on beyond the superficial performance sheen, which admittedly is a crackling script, sensational singing voice and outré, barely containable star quality. Yet Reich does permit a peek into his Jewish heritage, begetting some darkly funny laughs about the Holocaust, though typically it's all fuel for his personal oppression complex. Meanwhile, the thread re-emerging throughout is a break-up with his childhood friend and one great love, the heartache that bends him to occasional pause and reflection. But that's mere minutes in accumulated total, which, alongside damning swipes about Love Island and wise idiot, satirical asides about the pernicious effects of influencer culture, afford brief respite in the psychobabble and me, me, me psychodrama. From initially appearing to be window dressing and interludes of amplified showing off, the songs grow increasingly impressive. And by the end, you appreciate that Reich could have a whole other career in musicals, and is actually restraining himself, no mean feat in itself. It appears only a matter of time before he breaks big and everyone cares about Leo Reich.
Dan Rath: Cockroach Party ****
Assembly George Square Studios (Studio Five) (Venue 17), until 28 August
Watching Dan Rath, you constantly find yourself marvelling at how his mind operates. And I struggle to describe it without reaching for superlatives like genius and insanity. The Australian is intensely awkward and tends to deliver his material with a shell-shocked stare into the middle distance. Yet despite being a truly brilliant writer, he routinely returns to stilted crowd interaction and somehow it works. Two refrains recur, the patently apparent “I'm not doing well” and a more enigmatic admission that he has an “acquired brain injury”. Both are eminently believable as he evokes a slacker, possibly autistic persona of someone plugged into popular culture, probably rather too much so, yet also very much operating on the fringes of society, abused by and abusing it from afar.
Like a millennial holy fool with a smartphone, a renegade for the digital age who reveals not a Matrix but the genuinely crazy, arbitrary rules we've somehow all consented to live by, Rath has probably gone too far rogue now and wandered too far off the reservation to even be considered a conspiracy theorist, one superb 9/11 gag notwithstanding. Distinguishing the modus operandi of the Mafia and Islamist terrorists through the whimsy of their carbohydrate intake, his opening routine on debt is borderline revolutionary and beguilingly persuasive. Other comics have reflected on the death-defying longevity of Keith Richards and Western cultural appropriation of Indian spirituality. But Rath's reasoning for them is operating on a whole other level of logic. Not everything lands, feeding into his awkwardness and alienation. But generally it's because the audience can't keep up, his precise choice of the mot juste to describe something offset by his haphazard delivery, with several routines true metaphysical posers to chew over for hours afterwards. Frequently, even his setups are hilarious. I remain in dumbstruck awe of a typically elaborate routine in which he establishes parallel universes of dwarves jumping between fantasy worlds and reality.