Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Mary Beth Barone: Silly Little Girl | Harun Musho'd: Why I Don’t Talk to People About Terrorism | Kate Barron: Losing Myself | Julia Masli: CHOOSH!

Deadpan reflections on modern relationships and a properly bonkers clown with prop-stuffed trousers are among the highlights of our latest Fringe comedy round-up. Reviews by Jay Richardson and Claire Smith

Mary Beth Barone: Silly Little Girl ****

Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs) (Venue 33), until 28 August

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Comedy was never part of Mary Beth Barone’s plan. But her grandmother had a premonition. And as she’s more open to astrology than the Catholicism she was nominally raised in, who is to say where her destiny lay? Cold-eyed, unsmiling and deadpan to the point of emotional blankness – the Stepford Wives allusion of her publicity images are well-earned with references to ex-best friends piling up like cadavers – this American is a detached, ironic narrator of her eccentric adolescence.

Mary Beth Barone
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Raised in a loving, encouraging family – more’s the pity for her memoir – she nevertheless had a precocious appetite for performance and celebrity that perhaps should not have been quite so encouraged. Manipulated footage from her school talent show reflects the cynicism she now applies to her youthful dreams. And her 10-year-old’s poem about 9/11 remains memorable for all the wrong reasons. But photos of her home modelling shoots and portfolio snaps from a modelling school are both humanising of her and disturbingly sexualised, first a child recreating the poses she saw in magazines, then a 15-year-old made-up and inappropriately styled in swimwear and other outfits.

Barone makes no explicit link between these experiences and her subsequent body dysmorphia, stand-up vocation and brutally dark sense of humour. But it could not be more heavily implied. Though bisexually open and avowedly sex positive – or “totally sex pozzie” as she puts it in her aloof opening remarks – it’s probably fair to say that Barone is jaded about relationships, both from her plug for her hit show Drag His Ass, about “overcoming f***boy addiction”, also playing at the festival, and her worldly-wise, sardonic views on modern hook-ups.

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One defining routine about why guys and girls shouldn’t date because of their differing conversational motivations is both brilliantly persuasive and a signature bit: Barone distilled to her prematurely pessimistic, satiated essence. Happily for audiences, the fact that she’s now seeing a Brit means we should be seeing more of her. Jay Richardson

Harun Musho’d: Why I Don't Talk to People About Terrorism ***

PBH's Free Fringe @ Legends (Downstairs) (Venue 96), until 28 August (not 24)

British-born, of Swiss and Sri Lankan parentage, Harun Musho’d has an even more complicated ancestry and religious background than that would suggest. Playing on his ethnic ambiguity, the inconsistent Islam and Catholicism in his upbringing and a personal near-miss, he muses on the recently fashionable, now sidelined, subject of terrorism.

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Smart and fond of a tangent, alternately digging deep and superficially into the subject, it is a measure of Musho’d’s narrative skill that he can also accommodate some frankly jaw-dropping, drawer-dropping revelations about the ne’er-do-wells in his family. One relative’s philandering may have been too extreme to feature unedited in salacious gossip rag Take A Break, but it is recounted in full here.

As a human resources manager in the House of Commons and a comic of a certain vintage, Musho’d is accustomed to taking a long view of terrible behaviour. And with equal parts ambition and playfulness, he argues that Brexit, the UK’s botched Covid response and several other disasters stem from one incident at Camberwell Bus Garage several decades back.

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His use of irony and repetition has previously drawn comparison with Stewart Lee. And that’s on full display in the tongue-firmly-lodged-in-cheek routine about why he doesn’t like Muslims. As he acknowledges, by the time it collapses under its own farcical logic though, it’s more Monty Python. Jay Richardson

Kate Barron: Losing Myself ****

Just the Tonic at The Tron (Just the Tonic at The Tron) (Venue 51), until 28 August

Kate Barron's a redoubtable performer, a frank, instinctively filthy comic who seemingly wants you to take her as she is. From an emotionally repressed, blue collar Canadian family, she came to live in London three and a half years ago. And despite some issues working out the difference between posh and gay in her day job, she's settled into the dating game in England, barely having to adjust her levels of mediocre expectation.

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Still hooking up with trash men then, but finding plenty of material in these unsatisfactory encounters, with a perverse, almost masochistic appetite for them. A larger lady, who recently shed a significant amount of weight, she's also had to get used to being a freshly viable target for sexual predators, the darkness of this routine forestalling any sense of triumph at her losing the pounds.

Though often dryly sarcastic in her delivery, Barron is, against all expectations, a romantic, applying a Disney filter of appreciation to quite messed up situations. However, a recent rewatch of The Little Mermaid with her niece has let the scales fall from her eyes as to its oppressively patriarchal message, her identification with the film’s villain, Ursula the sea witch, more ostensibly on brand. As is being the funny fat friend in her circle of acquaintances.

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This doesn’t tell the full story though. With lockdown exacerbating her issues, Barron conceived a radical plan to deal with them, one way or another, once and for all. What follows is a sincere admission of her underlying struggles and a moving appeal for empathy. Restrained in terms of laughs at this point, Losing Myself has already banked enough of those to recalibrate a dynamically funny hour into a hugely affecting one too. Jay Richardson

Julia Masli: CHOOSH! ****

Assembly Roxy (Venue 139), until 28 August

Julia Masli is a properly bonkers Eastern European clown. She begins in an oversized pair of trousers, held up with braces and stuffed with god knows what. She has a squirty device on her hat, which enables her to rain on herself, shower the audience or dribble water at will.

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Masli plays lots of tricks on the crowd. She makes us take hold of a gun and shoot her. She asks us to look after her dog. At various points Masli dies, is reborn, bleeds, menstruates, cries and gets caught in a snowstorm. Parts of her body appear to fall off and she is forever on the brink of some act of outrageous self-harm. All her props are hidden in her trousers, or concealed in a tiny orange suitcase lying on a table on the stage.

We don’t hear her voice often, but she has a lovely mellifluous way of speaking. She uses it to good comic effect when she tricks members of the audience, then turns on them with a startled and angelic-sounding rebuke. There are elements of her story that are slightly baffling. It’s not clear where her journey begins and ends and why she changes character and sex when she strips down to her underwear. But we know her unspoken narrative covers the great philosophical questions and encompasses life, death, poverty, hunger and exile. And her tricks, illusions and faux innocence are often very funny.

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“Choosh" apparently means “bullshit” in Estonian – and Masli shows us plenty of the messy uncomfortable struggles of life. But she finally finds a way to escape her suffering which fortunately does not involve guns, bullets, blood, dismemberment or death. In the end Masli the clown finds a way to be free and we rejoice and celebrate her moment of liberation. Claire Smith