Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Michelle Brasier | Mr Chonkers | Josh Pugh | Sam Nicoresti | Garrett Millerick | Markus Birdman | The Flop
Michelle Brasier: Average Bear 4stars
Assembly George Square (The Box), until 28 August
Michelle Brasier's fine singing voice and exuberant command of the stage immediately relay that she's not your average ursid, backed by her romantic partner Tim Lancaster on guitar. Yet Brasier, sometime half of sketch act Double Denim, is also sharing her hour with someone else tonight. She frames her appearance with the character of a cutesy brown bear, preparing for hibernation with something more elaborate than a slumber party, a performance by a human stand-up. Suffice to say, both the bear and the audience get more than they bargained for.
Growing up as a youngest sibling largely left to her own devices in the tough town of Wagga in Australia, where schoolmates carried knives, Brasier nevertheless had little comprehension of her privilege of being born into a loving family. The proto-diva sought out drama, unaware that it would find her when it was ready. Looking back now, she can be nostalgic for a time when her nascent, relatively innocent sexuality fantasised about a cartoon character. And her uproariously indecorous tune Young Love in the Summertime fondly recalls adolescent fumbles in a modest bit of architecture seemingly designed for the purpose. Having moved to Melbourne in 2007 to study musical theatre, where she was admonished for her immaturity, a horrific accident saw her hospitalised and having to undergo rehabilitation. Yet much worse was to come.
That anyone could bear the series of blows Brasier had to endure, some of which she experienced while performing a previous Edinburgh run, yet turn her grief and fear into defiantly upbeat comedy, is remarkable. A gracious tribute to her own resilience and humour in the face of terrible pain, her vivacious spirit shining through songs and stories of showy posing undercut with self-mocking wit, Average Bear is a powerful reminder of the importance of seizing the day. Jay Richardson
Mr Chonkers *****
Monkey Barrel (Venue 180), until 28 August
In a Fringe where everyone seems angry about something, it is a wonderful experience to meet Mr Chonkers, who doesn't seem to be angry about anything. All the same, we are in the era of the easily offended and so Kyle, in the front row, gets a bell to ring, should anything make him feel unsafe. The adorable Mr Chonkers offers up an hour which encapsulates the joys intrinsic in performance, ranging across the entire world of performing arts. Some of the genres are as we know them, most are as they exist in the mind of John Norris, who has helped with the show.
Mr Chonkers arrives with fist bumps, Gregorian Chant and a short but sweet display of Dr Brown-esque audience interaction. We get slapstick and silliness, ever decreasing headgear and Hugh Jackman in the “comedy portion” of the show, before moving onto poetry and MILFS. Then a short, but engaging (which, I suppose is the point) display of ‘crowd work’ and a controversial “theatre section” which will probably leave you triggered at any future reference to chicken cacciatore. We are treated to an Italian family scene involving a father and two sons, with and without racial stereotyping, and then as Hugh Jackman. The physical transformation effected by Mr C using only his own neck fat is like a magic trick.
Talking of which, as advertised at the top of the hour, we get something extraordinary involving a meatball as a finale. If you happen to be chosen to ring the bell, try not to leave it until all hell is breaking loose in Chonkers' trackie bottoms before you act. This could well be the show that saves the Fringe from sinking into depression. It has no agenda, it scores no political points, it is full of joy and generosity of spirit. If a show could self-identify, Mr Chonkers would probably identify as happiness. Kate Copstick
Josh Pugh: Sausage, Egg, Josh Pugh, Chips and Beans ***
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 4), until 28 August
Where Josh Pugh's wife is upbeat, he balances their relationship with cynical negativity. And as a comic he tends to define himself by what he's not. A relaxed performer, who immediately puts you at ease, the 32-year-old recently became a father for the first time and his relatable material is coloured by superficial scepticism about his own father's example. Although in truth, this is more a launchpad for observations about Brits' behaviour abroad. And elsewhere in the show, Pugh suggests he may be more of a chip off the old block than he initially allows. Where his tale takes a turn for the distinctive, though, is that the comic is almost blind and when Covid decimated his income, he was forced to get a job with Royal Mail sorting letters, directing them hither and thither on a partially-sighted whim. He and his wife had comparable odds of success with getting pregnant too, with their son finally born after six years of trying, and IVF treatment through Covid disruption. The dehumanising and degrading slog to have a child in such circumstances is nevertheless replete with sufficiently bizarre aspects that are meat and drink to an accomplished observer like Pugh. And he enjoyably wrings the experience for plenty of laughs and, ultimately, feel-good vibes. Jay Richardson
Sam Nicoresti: Cancel Anti Wokeflake Snow Culture ***
PBH’s Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth, until 28 August
There’s a difference between confused and confusing. I am not quite sure whether Sam Nicoresti's show is confusing, or whether I am simply confused, because to me it seems like a work in progress. Impassioned, personal, multi-faceted but, as a show, it might have benefitted from less time throwing toys out of the pram and more time focussing on the genuinely intelligent points that are made here.
It does feel as if the whole hour (in which Sam tells us they will solve the gender debate – spoiler alert, they don't) is some kind of metaphor for Sam themself, who has fairly recently identified as genderqueer and is thinking about further transitioning. There are flashes of brilliance and Sam demolishes the haters of the chosen pronoun with strategic deployment of HM the Queen. Unisex clothing, liberals in echo chambers and drug-taking occupy that most interesting of non-binary comedy spaces, the intelligent specific point/funny, but too much time is spent on shredded video montages of various hate figures and tropes like Tom Bonkerton, a 'right wing' podcaster. A 'comedians coming out' theory is a psychology PhD in microcosm, and the show is certainly worth a visit, even if mainly to allow Sam to work through their issues in laughter. Kate Copstick
Garrett Millerick: Just Trying to Help ****
Monkey Barrel, Until 28 August
Garrett Millerick is great when he is angry. And he is angry, although it might be the gout. He has also given up smoking, which is having tricky repercussions for his social life. He does offer a pretty much irrefutable and absolutely hilarious explanation for why millennials are so angry with boomers all the time. I almost feel guilty. But I am laughing too much. Millerick has a way of finding an enraging comedy rabbit-hole and making it impossible not to follow him all the way down. The erstwhile tsunami of spam for 'sluts' in his area, the toxic smug of the solar panel and the ecological leeway it buys you, the great Russian comeback, and the world of second-home ownership form a seamless comedy howl into the abyss of despair, incomprehension and raging against the problems of today.
Religion, stuffing the Queen, Artex ceilings as the finest political metaphor in Edinburgh, the joy of fighting for real taxis, and the Welsh all hurtle past in a blur of proper belly laughs. Even Greta Thunberg would laugh. But it is when Millerick gets his teeth into Jeff Bezos and the straight white billionaires, the cruelty of the digital town square and how the internet flies in the very face of God himself, that you just have to get on board and enjoy the thrill of his comedy white water rafting. In an Edinburgh which is not short of a Twitter gag or thousand, this show is probably the funniest that the online cesspit will get. He is wonderfully, likeably angry and, boy, does he know how to work it. His final sentence, which does not even have a joke in it, has the room erupting with laughter. Cathartic. Clever. Funny. Kate Copstick
Markus Birdman: The Bearable Heaviness of Nearly Not Being ****
PBH’s Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth, run ended
Having a stroke is not one of the things that you will find listed as a way to help hone your comedy, give it focus and create a fascinating and funny show with as much wit as there is woe. The comedy skills have to be there in the first place, of course, but this most personal hour is the best thing I have seen Markus Birdman do. It is not stand-up, of course; he is sitting down for most of it. The man has had two major strokes and is about to head south (not a euphemism) at the end of the week to have an operation to repair the hole in his heart. Sit-down stand-up is very relaxing to watch, especially when it is all as funny as this. Dreadful, obviously, he had a stroke for goodness sake. But funny. Some of the lines here are more beautifully crafted than anything his heart surgeon will patch together in his holey ventricles. We get a combination of storytelling, observation and jokes that have had some real intensive care in the writing. Fantastic combination if you can manage it. He can. Advice from dave@wakeupsheeple sits alongside drugs, drinking and donating blood. The fun effects of “going radioactive” are almost as funny as his memory of double-decking in the gents' toilets. Yes, it is every bit as unlikely, and much funnier than that sounds. It is all stroke-related, but the beauty of the hour is that at no point does it become simply a linear narrative with some jokes implanted. This is more like an energised collection of comedy pop-up memories from his … stroke bank. As if having a great show isn't enough, Birdman also has Edinburgh's smartest bucket speech. Don't be mean, the man's not well. Kate Copstick
The Flop: Band of Idiots *****
PBH’s Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth, run ended
No matter how bad a day you have had, The Flop will make your heart sing. To be honest it will make all of you sing. And everyone else in the room. Do not be alarmed as you find yourself making some extremely strange noises. Lean into it and you will love it. We are all part of the Band of Idiots now and a kind of improvised jazz fills the space, loosely led by Dan Lees (on guitar) and Tom Penn (on double bass). It is heavy on the enthusiastic improvising and not so skilled on the jazz, although the smart looking woman in front of me was surprised to find herself offering up some rather impressive scat (the musical kind, of course. Albeit Dan and Tom can, I suspect, persuade anyone to to anything and all without saying a word).
The third flopper, Cammie Sinclair is ill, so the front row are promoted from mere rattling, honking and dinging a bell to, in one case, playing the violin. He couldn't. But he tried. Fans of metronomes in comedy will be thrilled to see them take centre stage at last and, should you end up as an egg-thrower, be aware, underarm is safer. Riffs with a mind of their own, tragic laments and the most irresistibly, hilariously, incomprehensible bluegrass belter that the world of music has ever produced.
The finale is another joyous affair and, once again, The Flop's fearlessness in creating new musical genre cocktails offers up what can only be described as ‘Bill Haley does Play School’. By the time the entire audience is on the tiny stage together, I can believe that Dan Lees and Tom Penn could take over the world by weaponising the power of nice. It would be such great fun. Kate Copstick