Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Larry Dean | Alex Franklin | Crybabies | Sean McLoughlin | Kylie Brakeman Presents: Linda Hollywood's Big Hollywood Night | Micky Overman
Larry Dean: Fudnut ****
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 3) (Venue 515)
Deservedly nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award, Larry Dean's latest show is a mature, ambitious hour of storytelling that packs comedic and emotional punch and risks giving the Glaswegian scallywag a good name. With his expressive face and willingness to be vulnerably open, Dean appreciates that he gives off a mentally troubled air. And it's part of Fudnut's charm that although this is suggested in throwaway lines at the top, it quickly becomes apparent that it barely scratches the surface of his issues.
Dean has the requisite checklist of fashionable mental health problems for the prototype modern stand-up, making him sympathetic. But he also shares aspects of his sexuality that require more selling to the audience and deeper discussion with his latest therapist. A tour de force early sequence finds him reeling off his bleakest recent moments to the dancing accompaniment of upbeat, 1970s disco, a spoonful of sugary silliness to briefly summarise his recent desolation, suggested by the unfailing comic instincts of his friend and director Paul. Yet more jeopardy and the core anecdote in his show is about him being stopped at Abu Dhabi airport carrying CBD oil derived from cannabis and prep pills for the prevention of HIV, a considerable error of judgement in a state which infamously takes a dim view of drug use and homosexuality. At his lowest ebb though, whether preparing for his full body cavity search, facing down a homophobic audience member in a rush of fight or flight survivalism or getting humiliated by his posh, lawyer boyfriend, Dean smiles through the tears, inspired by Paul to try for an audacious comedic first.
As a companion show of sorts to John Hastings' being staged on the same street, and indeed, Sarah Keyworth's elsewhere at the Fringe, Fudnut is part of an impressive legacy that'll perhaps make you change your perspective on the power of comedy.
Alex Franklin: Dinosaurusesuses ***
Just the Tonic at The Caves (Just the Wee One) (Venue 88)
Alex Franklin's a likeable livewire, unable to stop himself from performing even before his crowd have taken their seats for a late-night medley of chaotic, absurdist comedy. A zoology graduate with a strong anti-climate change agenda, he's also trans, which he glosses over with an endearingly simple explanation, and has ADHD, which becomes abundantly clear from the other 99% of the show. Bouncing around his cave venue with mad, Tiggerish energy, it's impossible to keep up with every tangent he takes off on. But he frames it around the Jurassic Park-style tale of a Triceratops revived in 2045 and charged with being the hero that saves the planet from destruction. Pretty goofy, but appealingly resistant to polemic or preachy didacticism, and he surrounds it with songs, beatboxing and maths humour, plus a tremendous routine transplanting the quirks of the boardgame Cluedo into a world with real-life consequences. Not everything lands. But he's eclectic, risk-taking and inventive, with the fact that he barely stops smiling throughout the hour an appreciated bonus, the enjoyment of a performer stretching themselves rather than their material too far.
Crybabies: Bagbeard ****
Pleasance Dome (10Dome) (Venue 23)
With shades of E.T., Midsommar and The Wicker Man among others, Crybabies' wonderful follow-up to their best newcomer nominated debut establishes them as heirs apparent to The League of Gentlemen. A multi-character, sketch narrative spoof spanning science-fiction, horror and star-crossed romance, the trio of James Gault, Michael Clarke and Ed Jones throw so, so much into their cartoonishly outrageous plot. Yet enough of it sticks for it to be considered an unequivocal triumph.
Set on Slug Witch, a mysterious island full of eccentrics off the English coast, erstwhile science teacher Chris Mystery (Clarke) dreams of being accepted into the Institute of Brilliant Scientists, a frathousey club of boffins. And when he chances upon a mysterious alien, the monosyllabic Bagbeard (Gault), it seems his life might finally be turning around. Except that there's a sunglasses-sporting hitman, Agent Victor Valentine (Jones), roaming the woods. And his boss is making other plans for Bagbeard.
With a long, lank physicality reminiscent of Nigel Planer in The Young Ones, Gault achieves a heck of lot whilst remaining virtually expressionless and restricted to few words as the otherwordly starchild. Meanwhile, Jones as the square-jawed yet emotionally repressed Valentine delivers a hugely enjoyable performance as a Man In Black/Matrix-style baddie, resorting to slow-motion ultraviolence at the drop of a match. Holding it all together, Clarke isn't overshadowed by his clownier sketchmates, keeping a twisty, turny, gag-packed script ticking over as the trio jump in and out of supporting characters and make a virtue of their few props. With so few sketch acts surviving at the festival nowadays, much less thriving, Crybabies appear to already have the necessary strong visual sense and presence to make the transition to television.
Sean McLoughlin: So Be It ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath) (Venue 33)
One wonders what they make of this show in the Chinese politburo and the research labs of Silicon Valley. Because Sean McLoughlin is leaning his tall, awkward angular frame into full-blown tech paranoia, convinced that The Powers That Be are listening in to him. After all, if he's got nothing to hide, what's with all the full body cavity searches he keeps getting asked to participate in? Few comics inhabit the persona of the wise idiot as well as McLoughlin, lashing out at his peers at the start of his show for failing to talk about the real conspiracy of Covid-19. So committed to staying off The Grid that he lays false breadcrumbs in his search engine history, and so resistant to The Man that he's eschewed his venue's overpriced offer of a chair in favour of a demeaningly small stool he's swiped from his accommodation, he does a pretty convincing impression of a man on the edge.
However, it transpires that McLoughlin once aspired to the power he runs fearful of, with a dark secret of youthful political ambition. Moreover, his concerns about the surveillance state aren't completely unfounded. Married to a Canadian, they have to complete a bureaucratic nightmare of paperwork to convince the Home Office to let her remain in this country. And there's an Orwellian aspect to the levels of privacy they have to sacrifice.
The sheer intricacy and level of detail in So Be It are remarkable on their own, with the self-degrading, underrated physical comic eliciting big laughs from his water breaks and supposed checks of his notes. What's more, there's a superb lead up the garden path gag that exquisitely encapsulates the show, turning a lovely moment of personal happiness into a looming nightmare hanging over him.
Kylie Brakeman Presents: Linda Hollywood's Big Hollywood Night ***
Gilded Balloon Patter House (Nip) (Venue 33)
An idiot's guide to the entertainment industry told by an idiot, there's lots to enjoy in Kylie Brakeman's Fringe debut as grotesque talent agent Linda Hollywood. For the most part, the showbusiness satire is broad to the point of parallel universe cartoonish, with the LA-based comedian apparently stitching together her biggest viral hits. However, the virtual smash cuts of the subject matter only reinforce the demented energy of the production, particularly as Brakeman plays several of Hollywood's clients too, from a very funny six-year-old divorcee stand-up to a celebrity sex therapist who, against all requirements for plain-speaking, advises purely in euphemisms. By the time the audience meets Hollywood, she's already peaked, a leaked recording of an unguarded, anti-feminist remark ensuring that more and more of her high-profile clients leave her as the show progresses. Interestingly though, it also emerges that she had a past as an actor herself, with a skit about the gratuitous nudity in straight-to-DVD schlock hilariously played out to its logical conclusion, yet with absurdly funny subversion. Essentially targeting every aspect of the US dream factory, Linda Hollywood's Big Hollywood Night is too shallow and scattergun to fully satisfy, but it's a frenetic romp all the same.
Micky Overman: Small Deaths ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (The Hive) (Hive2) (Venue 313)
One of the more confessional, revealing hours of stand-up at this festival, Small Deaths has UK-based Dutch comedian Micky Overman shading in the background to her dorky awkwardness. With instinctively low self-esteem, she's been too easily impressed by confident people, browbeaten into doubting herself by everyone from her postman to the more toxic boyfriends she's had. With the misfortune of being born to parents who are still together, robbing her of trauma to react against, she tried emulating her father's rock solid grounding of himself in classical music. Yet she couldn't even master the geekiest of all instruments, the oboe. Taking more after her mother, she nevertheless lacks her innate confidence too, borne out of a particularly peculiar education scenario. Still, the enquiring Overman, whose cultural analysis is probing and thoughtful, has belatedly come round to the idea of not gaining her validation from men. There's a burgeoning feminist streak to this hour, with Overman perceptive on the ways that the beauty industry and Hollywood manipulate women's insecurities, even if she foregrounds her own by reflecting upon one of the most intimate, embarrassing afflictions it's possible to imagine.