Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Grace Petrie | Andy Macleod | What’s Upset You Now? Live | Pam Ford | Sam Dodgshon

From the challenges of living as a butch lesbian to anger management and carehome memories in a clutch of fine comedy shows, reviewed by Ben Walters, Fiona Shepherd and Kate Copstick

Grace Petrie: Butch Ado About Nothing *****

Assembly George Square, until 28 August

It’s hard, Grace Petrie reports, moving through the world as a butch lesbian. She grew up without role models, internalising everyday ridicule and revulsion before eventually achieving self-validation in her 30s – only to be confronted with torrents of abuse from people claiming to be champions of, er, butch lesbians. Petrie’s supposed offence? Sticking up for trans people – which, to some, makes you an enemy of butch lesbians. Even if you are one.

Grace Petrie PIC: Fraser WestGrace Petrie PIC: Fraser West
Grace Petrie PIC: Fraser West

It’s a lot to get your head around – and not, on the face of it, very funny. It’s also an area many are hesitant to engage with, given how fraught it all seems. So it’s borderline miraculous of Petrie to unpack it all in a show that’s accessible, searing and belly-laugh funny. What’s more, it shows levels of empathy, nuance and self-criticality rare in mainstream coverage of the issue.

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Initially, Petrie recounts her experiences around being gay, which was difficult but navigable, and being butch, which proved far harder. She never doubted she was a woman, but society insisted her kind of womanhood wasn’t valid. Petrie overcame this after discovering Hannah Gadsby – her first role model – and, like Gadsby, she gets serious in describing the relation between trauma and art (Petrie is best known as a protest singer).

The funniest material is about the culture war around trans rights, particularly certain prominent proponents’ double standards and ominous notions of a ‘powerful trans lobby’ and ‘lesbian erasure’. These are fantasies, and there are big laughs in exploring their absurdities. But they’re also dangerous because they propose false solutions to real problems.

Petrie has deep concerns around misogynist violence and anxieties about generational changes to lesbian identity. But she won’t channel those into hostility against other vulnerable groups – or stay silent when it’s done in her name. She makes her case with compelling credibility, care, and cracking gags about toilets too. Ben Walters

Andy Macleod: Anoint My Head – How I Failed to Make it as a Britpop Indie Rockstar ***

Just the Tonic at the Caves, until 28 August

Spoiler alert – Andy Macleod failed to make it as a Britpop indie rockstar because he favoured a long-winded, esoteric title over the short, snappy, memorable, monosyllabic Britpop band name norm (Blur, Pulp, Suede). Or maybe because his band’s manager was an inexperienced and unrealistic student union entertainment convener, who went on to considerable fame in a different area of showbiz (no spoilers there).

But at least Macleod got a book and now a Fringe show of the same name out of his brush with Britpop stardom (by which he means Brett from Suede once visited the record shop he worked in). Anoint My Head is gently amusing and accessible to anyone with even a passing appreciation of artistic folly. Macleod’s band The Pointy Birds produced wry songs such as Benefits Office, Blow Your Brains Out – sing along if you know that one, or any one – and Married to a Squirrel, a tender tale of inter-species love, of which Macleod is moderately proud. Fun fact: the Pointy Birds were once third on the bill to a Queen tribute act and a bouncy castle. You’ve got to start (and end) somewhere. Fiona Shepherd

What’s Upset You Now? Live ****

Laughing Horse @ The Pear Tree, until 28 August

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Yet again the freedom of free and pay-what-you-want shows gives me an unexpected treat. James Nokise has left the building, so I ask the all-knowing Brian Dobie for a recommendation and he sends me to see Seann Walsh and Paul McCaffrey. Separately, both are fairly “in yer face” performers. Together, they’re like a comedy Jaegerbomb. The show is a podcast, What’s Upset You Now?, and a dangerous thing to ask in Edinburgh at the moment. Luckily, the audience is not the “feeling uncomfortable” sort, so the lads can unleash an hour of laughter ripped out of other people's anger. Of course, Paul and Seann are angry too: Paul is, he feels, constantly wronged by the world, while Seann’s rage is more that of (as Paul warns us) the “absolute f**kwit”. Even we, the audience, are angry. And our anger is heard. From the lack of the Oxford comma to the unspecified failings of the wife of a bloke in the third row, we get to share with the room that which arouses our ire.

This glorious cathartic comedy vent is so much fun, it’s quasi-therapeutic. Other people's incandescent rage is just funny. We get apopleptic drivers and pissed-off farm animals from YouTube, a one-star review section which is a step into a parallel universe, and several of the podcast’s Patreon subscribers howling their hate into the digital void, to be caught by the boys and played to us. The guy whose life is being ruined by tall burgers? I feel your pain. I laughed, but I feel your pain. One of the most wonderful things about this fury-fuelled show is that McCaffrey and Walsh are having as much of a laugh as we are. And that is a big, big laugh. Kate Copstick

Pam Ford: 24 and Counting! ****

Laughing Horse @ City Café, until 28 August

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Pam Ford is a force of nature. And, as we learn, a force of nurture. She works, when not making rooms rock with laughter, as an activities coordinator in a carehome, and her warm, wonderful hour is filled with fascinating characters sharing the kind of incredible life stories you only discover when you give people time and respect. There are so many layers to this sweet’n’sour Pavlova of a show, and each one is moreish. We meet Frank, who actually SAW the Beatles’ rooftop concert; Penny, who, Pam learns, worked at Bletchley Park; Joanne, obsessed with The Chase and in love with Paul Sinha; and Charlie the ex-cabbie who drove the Princess of Wales. We even meet a chap who played trombone with Louis Armstrong. All fake names and absolutely true stories. We are, as a room, entertained, delighted, amazed and more than a little in love with this exuberant Aussie, so when she takes us through lockdown and loss, foodbanks and debts, the words carry an emotional punch that would knock out any Dead Dad show. You have to have your whole audience with you for this level of deeply personal material to work. Pam has, and it does. We forgive her for having dreadful taste in men and do not even mind being pressed into some (seated) Move It or Lose It exercises.

But she’s not done with us yet. Listening to her talk about the appallingly underpaid and overworked Health Care Assistants is a work-out for your angry bits, and Pam’s. By the time she’s jumping out of a plane strapped to friendly instructor we are all applauding. This is an extraordinary hour of searing honesty, huge laughs and fascinating characters, some of whom work 12-hour shifts for 9.75 an hour. Kate Copstick

Sam Dodgshon: Existentially ***

PBH’s Free Fringe @ OmniCentre, until 28 August

The new Free Fringe venue at the Omni Centre is the quintessential example of how transformative a relatively tiny portion of that Resilience Fund could have been, used in the right place. This could have been a free and funny Shangri-La. As it is, you’re overwhelmed by the potential and a little distracted by the noise spill. But the roster of talent down here is impressive, and you could well spend a day just going from show to show.

Sam Dodgshon is never less than interesting and intelligent in his idiosyncratic funny, and in this hour, having figured out he probably has fewer than 70 years to live, he offers up bowling, death and dying, the terrifying invasiveness of facial recognition software, the idea of “getting a man in” and a crazed tumble down an angry rabbithole lined with pizzas and gentrification. He does NOT, however, offer up any of the cream eggs he scoffs during the show. The simple logic of his deconstruction of the old adage “the more you know the less you fear” is one of the smartest things I have heard all year. He also dances. After a fashion. Kate Copstick