Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Nabil Abdulrashid | Mary O'Connell | Liz Guterbock | Ed Byrne | Benji Waterstones | Disabled Cants

The mischievously entertaining Britain’s Got Talent finalist offers sharply witty observations on class, race and takeaway etiquette, kicking off our latest round-up of Fringe comedy. Words by Jay Richardson, Claire Smith and Kate Copstick

Nabil Abdulrashid: The Purple Pill ****

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

Whether it's because of his Muslim faith, family, mental health recovery or Britain's Got Talent experience, Nabil Abdulrashid projects a rock-solid sense of himself on stage, recalling efforts to wrest his own mythology away with mocking wit and forceful slapdowns. In the time-honoured tradition of philosopher comics, he occasionally takes to a stool to share his wisdom with particular emphasis. But he's wonderfully communicative regardless, conveying streetwise intelligence, feigned pique and genuine anger with subtle shifts in expression.

By creating a carefully structured hour of recurring themes but as a black, working-class act who broke through on Saturday night television with contempt for his more privileged stand-up peers and the pre-configured demands of festival reviewers, Abdulrashid is both of the Fringe and outside of it. It is a strong vantage position for satire about race and class in particular even if Jethro, the liberal white friend who advises the Croydon native when he's been the victim of insidious racist sniping, sounds suspiciously like a theatrical device rather than an actual person.

Hide Ad

But then that would only reinforce Abdulrashid's point about us all being too caught up in our own echo chambers. He loves poking at middle-class, white sensitivities, preferring a rougher, sharper-elbowed type of humour. He is a delighted bystander when he encounters a member of the West Croydon "mandem" trying to claim a refund on a takeaway, encountering only beautifully blunt, broken English expletives from the battle-hardened Middle Eastern proprietor.

There is some vulnerability when Abdulrashid reflects on his bleakest moment shortly before fame arrived. But it is presented very much as a watershed moment. And no subject – not even his kids – remains a sacred cow for too long, his instinctive irreverence and seizing of the rare platform he's attained making him a potent, mischievously entertaining voice. Jay Richardson

Mary O'Connell: Money Princess ***

Nabil Abdulrashid: The Purple PillNabil Abdulrashid: The Purple Pill
Nabil Abdulrashid: The Purple Pill

Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Three) (Venue 33) until 27 August

What price can you put on success? Wearily resentful of a comedy industry that can't perceive her as anything beyond being a queer, mixed-race woman, Mary O'Connell is a far more contradictory and conflicted character.

At the core of her thoughtful, probing and punchily funny debut is her relationship with money, which she reveres above everything, even joy. (She is incredulous at her poorer, happier friends.) None-too-fussed about being a crowd-pleasing, mainstream act, she is – she laments – too pretty to be a niche, nerdy performer. And don't even think about brown comics being granted the floor for whimsical clowning, her braggadocios, hip hop-style entrance and fantasised, waterfall musings notwithstanding. Or the fact that she's directed by a prominent clown comic.

O'Connell plays status games throughout, alternately flexing and putting up her guard, with the most destabilising incident to happen to her recently being her entry into an OnlyFans-sponsored comedy competition, the truly obscene amount of prize money causing her successive crises of identity.

Hide Ad

Nuanced and self-aware, Money Princess has lots to say about capitalism, artistic integrity, gender and race. It may occasionally veer into polemic, but it strongly articulates the internal wrangles of a rising performer. Jay Richardson

Liz Guterbock: Geriatric Millennial ***

Pleasance Courtyard (The Cellar) (Venue 33) until 27 August

A 41-year-old bisexual American who's lived in the UK for 12 years, Liz Guterbock neatly aligns exploration of her identity with broader observational material about society, a classic insider-outsider spanning cultures and expectations. Retaining plenty of her Californian optimism despite her adopted home's efforts to extinguish it, she has nevertheless learned to suppress and keep it inside, while also allowing her self-esteem to deflate to more acceptable parameters.

Hide Ad

That, at least, is Guterbock's introductory shtick. And though she presents a carefully argued case for her place in the micro generation of geriatric millennials and their differences and distancing from those who've gone before and arrived since, her peppy delivery and thoughtful examples ensure that she never seems a two-dimensional act inhibited by her persona.

As a childless, perimenopausal woman, it would be easy for her to fade out of society's purview. But she's a doughty, dedicated advocate for womanhood. And the sense of having nothing to prove is conveyed by her easy, conversational delivery, making the lightest of political statements as she draws you in to her well-crafted, endearing story. Jay Richardson

Ed Byrne: Tragedy Plus Time ****

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) until 27 August

Ed Byrne’s brother Paul was a comedy writer, whose speciality was helping comics create funny, well-crafted and beautiful Edinburgh shows. He died last year, so in his honour Byrne has created … well, you’ll see.

This is a show made out of love. Byrne creates a portrait of his brother: brilliant, funny and more than a little wild. But this is also a show about siblings and how they drive you mad while still being the closest human beings to you on earth.

Never fear, it is very funny. As Byrne assures his audience, he’s been doing this a long time, and he knows how to land the laughs. And he knows Paul would have wanted this – for him to make the funniest possible show about his death.

Byrne is thoroughly at ease on stage, but he’s also still experiencing grief. So at times he’s close to tears on stage and at other times he’s angry. Covid played a part in his brother’s death and Byrne is beyond furious with those who would rather believe in conspiracy than fact. He is also angry with himself: over wasted time, lost opportunities and mistakes he made which cannot be undone.

Hide Ad

Woven into the fabric of the show is a meditation on comedy, on the sort of minds that make it and how and why the darkest thoughts can make the funniest moments. And there’s a conversation with his brother – you almost feel as if Byrne has treated him as a collaborator – helping him tell the story and create the laughter.

It’s a privilege to be here, the back-in-action Assembly Rooms Ballroom packed to the rafters with Byrne fans, all laughing heartily as he shares his heartbreak and his joy. Claire Smith

Hide Ad

Benji Waterstones: You Don't Have to Be Mad to Work Here ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 28 August

A welcome addition to the burgeoning genre of comedy shows and accompanying memoirs from the medical frontline, psychiatrist and stand-up Benji Waterstones presents a compelling account of life in the NHS mental health sector and the psychological toll it wreaks on those that practise.

Combining colourful stories of a would-be werewolf and the deluded women convinced she was destined to wed Harry Styles, there's abundant humour in the eccentricity encountered for sure. But Waterstones suffuses his tale in compassion for these lost souls and a health service overwhelmed, while the slow-moving trainwreck of his own burnout gathers pace alongside.

Although the physician's need to heal himself and re-examine his reasons for entering psychiatry are evident from the outset in his drolly dark observations, there's a more uncertain narrative arc in which Waterstones’s efforts to help a potentially dangerous patient are impeded by lack of resources, with the fallout ultimately falling hard upon him.

Carefully seeding and foreshadowing his tale, You Don't Have To Be Mad to Work Here is a fine advert for its forthcoming book form but could be more theatrically audacious and surprising. But although Waterstones is a polished storyteller, he retains enough anguished intensity to convince you that he still cares deeply. Jay Richardson

Disabled Cants ***

Laughing Horse @ Bar 50 (Venue 151) until 27 August

There are many reasons for handing out stars. And with a show that changes every day it can get tricky. The comedy here – from a revolving lineup of disabled comedians and friends – is not the slickest you will see and it does not push many comedic boundaries. But the atmosphere in this little room is wonderfully relaxed and friendly, and that is a huge plus in a Fringe that is frequently neither. The comedy is honest stuff and MC Benny Shakes' crowd work – especially with the carees and their carers in the front row – will not find its like anywhere else in Edinburgh. The material here is personal, sometimes darkly so, and that gives it heft.

Hide Ad

Emerson Young is sweet and occasionally filthy, which is a killer combo, Ian Younghusband is a mine of information on how to have sex with a broken neck and “stupid hands”. Fans of Miley Cyrus will never see her the same way again. Mark Nicholas has impressive skills with audience interaction and carves laughs that you don't see coming out of incest. The hour you spend with these guys is fun as well as funny and its relaxed approach is, I believe, the way forward for differently abled comics to go. I hate to quibble with a carefully thought-through title, but these guys definitely can. Kate Copstick