Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Max & Ivan: Life, Choices | Nathan D'Arcy Roberts: Present/Tense | Patrick Spicer: Yes Haha What | Ange Lavoipierre: Your Mother Chucks Rocks and Shells | Coffee Kid | Sigmund the Viking: Valhalla Calling

A skilled double-act with more than a few years under their belts wrestle with their seemingly precarious career in our latest round-up of comedy on the Fringe. Words by Jay Richardson, Kate Copstick, David Hepburn and Ariane Branigan

Max & Ivan: Life, Choices ****

Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Above) (Venue 33) until 27 August

In a Fringe career of more than 15 years and a significant number of plaudits, Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez have increasingly stripped back the narrative elements and knockabout artifice of their shows to focus on the actual double act at their heart. Life, Choices arrives as something of a crossroads.

With an ITV2 wrestling sitcom in the can and with Gonzalez having recently become a father, they are “cursed” by what a friend describes as “the almost plausibility of their careers”, the hope that kills them. With the stakes never higher, the pair pick at the fault lines of their partnership, the chalk-and-cheese approach of angsty, animated Olesker and the carefree, irresponsible Gonzalez that has served them so well on stage but is putting their friendship under strain as middle-aged responsibility encroaches. They schedule a double act meeting that mutually becomes known as “The Argument”.

Into this fond but slightly fraught reminiscence and planning session for the future, the pair also look to their own fathers for guidance and find a complicating picture. One is a cosseted academic, gently indulging his passions as he drifts through life, the other an absolute wildcard, with a string of relationships and professions behind him (even attracting the interest of Interpol along the way).

The tone is self-mockingly anecdotal and gag-packed at one another's expense. But Max & Ivan have fashioned a highly revealing insight into their relationship that is understatedly polished, plotting points on Olesker's persuasive personality-type graph and sharing intimate Zoom footage of their creative pow-wows that is hilariously honest in its indiscretion, laying bare how they work together.

Through the tensions and irreconcilable differences, the setbacks and mysterious bonuses (the earnings of a much more famous comedian somehow winds up in Gonzalez's bank account) what emerges is a warmly affectionate tale that spans decades and generations, ultimately opening up new chapters in both their lives. Jay Richardson

Max and IvanMax and Ivan
Max and Ivan

Nathan D'Arcy Roberts: Present/Tense ***

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Lounge) (Venue 14) until 27 August

Being mixed-race, Nathan D'Arcy Roberts is used to invasive questions about his heritage, though this former film student can still reference at least one shockingly funny story of a cabbie demanding to know his ethnic make-up. The truth is, if he has an overriding facet to his personality, it's a propensity to see the world through movies (and to resent the cost of his degree). But his own story has a few narrative twists and turns, which he shares in this serviceable Fringe debut.

While he was raised by a single mother in a family full of white women, his loose-cannon Jamaican father was in and out of jail for drug-dealing. This affords D'Arcy Roberts some street-cred when it comes to giving school talks but triggers a spiralling identity crisis when the aspirant filmmaker witnesses his dad in a prison documentary, a shame that he has kept hidden from his white, middle-class friends.

No stranger to soft drugs himself, his rather unmoored sense of self has manifested itself in D'Arcy Roberts drifting somewhat, observing class and racial divides with an attuned eye, but with an incomplete sense of his roots. At the end of his show, and after recent discoveries, he brings these more sharply into focus. Jay Richardson

Patrick Spicer: Yes Haha What ***

PBH’s Free Fringe @ Brewdog Doghouse (Venue 603) until 27 August

It is standing room only in the Brewdog, so when Patrick Spicer suggests “let's get to know the room!” my heart sinks. Spicer is genially, impressively in control of the space. With his obvious skills we could have enjoyed something more than the “what do you do?” and “what is a fun fact about hydrogen?” that we get, pretty much all of which sounds like it has been learned from a bad comedy course. It is frustrating, because, when Spicer gets into his material proper, he is good. Maybe more than good, but the first ten minutes have just got in the way.

The show wanders about as far as 40 minutes of comedy can, in style as well as content. I cannot think of another show with such a broad range. We get cosy, friendly "my mum is Irish” reflections and the problems of learning a language on Duolingo, a delightful breaking of brand new comedy ground with batch cooking, a superb passing one-liner on the subject of dementia and a fantastic rant about estate agents and landlords with possibly the most unexpected ending in Edinburgh.

Spicer’s porn pain is obviously shared by many in the room, judging by the amount of empathetic laughter. Cut the crap chat Patrick … it does you no favours. Kate Copstick

Ange Lavoipierre: Your Mother Chucks Rocks and Shells ***

Underbelly, George Square (Venue 300) until 27 August

Fringe comedy doesn't come much more high concept than this journey through a fitful night’s sleep – or lack of – where the clock always reads 2am. It’s in this psychological hinterland that Ange Lavoipierre’s show is set, with the pyjama-clad performer settling in bed before engaging in a series of conversations with her stubbornly-active brain and the internet, whose suggestions for nodding off prove predictably counterproductive.

One of those lousy ideas is to watch a trailer for The Exorcist, leading to a delightful running joke that sees the demon Pazuzu escape from the laptop screen and run riot in the insomniac’s subconscious. The potty-mouthed entity pops up in a range of cinematic guises (Saving Private Pazuzu being a choice example), while the horror film’s young girl protagonist Regan also seeps into numerous flights of fancy. Fitful nightmares then arrive, punctuated by anxiety, regret and spiralling dream logic.

Ultimately it collapses under the weight of its own ambition. What seems clever in the first half becomes tiresome by the second, as the complexities pile high as quickly as the jokes dry up. Lavoipierre reveals at the end that there are no less than 268 theatrical cues involved in the performance – the tech must be as exhausted as the audience by the time the hour is up. David Hepburn

Coffee Kid ***

Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61) until 27 August

In her debut show, Síomha McQuinn plays Beanie Clooney – illegitimate daughter of George – who is a normal teenage girl, apart from the Nespresso pod which comprises her head (“But I’m willing to get extensive skull surgery,” she explains to a casting agent). Beanie is in the midst of a crisis: she wants to be an actress but can’t get any gigs! Her management dropped her! Her mum is a fancy coffee machine who communicates exclusively in beeps and whirrs! It’s a lot for anyone to deal with, but especially so when your parentage means you have to wrap your head in plastic to avoid attracting bears.

While Coffee Kid starts a little slow, it just keeps getting more absurd and delightful; there are multiple dance numbers, an awkward date with a coffee cup named Karl, a funeral set to Imogen Heap’s 2005 indie anthem Hide and Seek. There’s even a heist scene, featuring a shootout between Beanie and some firearm-wielding ducks (no, it doesn’t really make sense in context either, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless). While the pacing may be a little uneven in places, Coffee Kid is a triumphant, oddly touching breakout show from McQuinn. Ariane Branigan

Sigmund the Viking: Valhalla Calling **

Underbelly, Bristo Square (Venue 302) until 28 August

Ineptitude, silliness and nonsense are difficult to do well in comedy: you have to be a skilled performer. To use repetition to the nth degree you have to create the comedy tension to hold it in your space. Sigmund the Viking is not and does not. The video at the top is great and sets us up for some funny that just does not come. In fairness, almost everyone else in the space is laughing, while I am becoming increasingly irritated, watching a brilliant comedy premise suffocate and die at the hands of its performer. Kate Copstick

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