Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Rhys Nicholson | Randy Feltface | Carter Morgan | Phil Ellis | Comedy Queers

Smalltown tales of growing up gay in Australia and a fuzzy purple alien obsessed with Liam Neeson lead our latest comedy round-up. Words by Claire Smith and Kate Copstick

Rhys Nicholson: Rhys! Rhys! Rhys! *****

Underbelly Bristo Square (venue 302), until 28 August

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What a delight to watch a comic so completely on top of their game. Rhys Nicholson is in control of every nuance, every tone, every gesture of their beautifully manicured dancing fingers. There is something utterly relaxed about this collection of lightly interwoven anecdotes - yet there is artistry in every minute.

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Rhys takes us inside their marriage, their domestic every day. There are stories of growing up gay in small town Australia, of the surprising differences of hanging out with the gays and the straights. Nicholson is in command of their identity. Newly non-binary, they wear the label with grace, charm and eccentricity - like one of the homemade badges they sell after the show.

So much of this material seems incredibly ordinary. Tales about going to the gym, about growing older, about working in dead end jobs. But everything is shot through with a distinctive sparkle. It reminds me about the notion of comedy being like real life, but slightly tilted a couple of degrees to the right or to the left.

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The huge laughs come in strange and surprising places, with a particularly apposite description of a terrible craft shop reducing me to tears of laughter. Nicholson dances through the show, scattering blink and you miss it micro impressions, almost imperceptible facial quirks and material so elegantly and beautifully crafted you could miss how skilfully it has been made.

It is like an hour full of magic tricks. Nicholson uses weirdness and difference as a superpower. Even being non binary can become a protective shield - as they reveal in an unexpectedly emotive twist. What a privilege to enjoy the work of a performer who can deliver such skilful, elegant and perfectly crafted stand up - and conjure out of thin air big laugh after big laugh after big laugh. Claire Smith

Rhys Nicholson PIC: Lesley Martin

Randy Feltface: Alien of Extraordinary Ability ****

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Assembly George Square (Venue 17), until 28 August (not 15)

It always amazes me that a comic whose face is basically a purple foam rubber ball, with a big slashed mouth and googly eyes, can have such a wide range of expressions. But somehow this absurdly featureless alien runs the gamut of human emotions - as well as being able to dance, sing, do impersonations and stage fight.

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Our cartoon hero can do drunk, dead, horny and engage in staring contests with talkative members of the audience. And make no mistake, he can talk like nobody’s business.

Randy has a lot to say. Quite the intellectual, his latest outing tackles the subject of environmental collapse, with reference to the epic of Gilgamesh, the emergence of monotheistic religion and the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Our little purple friend explores the bizarre habits of various endangered species of animal - which is relevant because he is, he explains, the last of his species.

There is an absurdly long recreation of the 2018 Liam Neeson film The Commuter, which allows an extended display of cartoon violence. Randy Feltface manages to sing, play guitar and recreate the entire history of evolution. His interactions with the audience are quick witted, funny and uncannily real.

There are plenty of glorious laughs in this fast paced caper. But there is also a lot to think about. Alongside the virtuoso puppetry, the profuse profanity and the over the top emotions, there is a deadly serious logical argument about what has gone wrong with the world and what we can do to put it right.

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Environmental catastrophe is emerging as one of the recurring topics of this year’s festival - with ‘the world is on fire’ becoming a recurrent phrase. It says something about the perilous state of the world that we need a purple bubble headed alien to point it out. Claire Smith

Carter Morgan: Dick Jokes for End Times **

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Just the Tonic @ the Caves (Venue 88), until 28 August

Carter Morgan is a relaxed and charming American. An hour with him is laidback and lovely, in its own way. The audience learn a lot about each other, and there are even laughs, not big, but genuine. The only quibble I have, is that, arriving at a post-watershed show called Dick Jokes for End Times to discover yourself in a group, in the dark, chatting about relationships, is discombobulating, to say the least. Morgan calls it 'improvised stand up'. Crowd work, basically. But not as we late night comedy fans know it. Wrong title, wrong time slot, but an unexpected and thoughtful option if you really don't just want dick jokes. Kate Copstick

Phil Ellis: Hedgehog **

Just the Tonic @ the Caves (Venue 88), until 28 August

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On a good day, there is no one better at the comedy shambles than Phil Ellis. On a good day, his shows can be the apotheosis of the art of gentle, hilarious bemusement. This is not a good day. And I am not holding out much hope for tomorrow. Phil is never less than likeable, never unsympathetic and his on stage persona as the entertaining loser is perfectly pitched to please the comedy ear of a UK audience. Tales of the problems of watermelon storage in a shared house, and grim comedy gigs beside dual carriageways, sit alongside more energetic annoyance with people who take stuff back to charity shops, before giving way to more unlikely stories of twins he was unaware he had fathered and his dawning realisation that comedy isn't everything. Which is certainly true of this show. It is a strange hour, only held together by the fact that Ellis is a charismatic performer. This is a great example of that old expression 'the singer, not the song'. Which reminds me, fans of Gary Puckett may be upset. Although, for those excited by the show's title, rest assured, there is a hedgehog. Kate Copstick

Comedy Queers ***

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Laughing Horse @ the Counting House (venue 170), until 28 August

With a few exceptions, this hour is 75% about identifying as queer and 25% about comedy. It is not wholly satisfying for your laughing bits, feeling more like you are at a Queer in the Community support group where announcing “I'm bisexual” gets you an applause break. It is a little on the self-satisfied side for me. Compere Robyn Perkins is punchy and properly in charge and Prue Blake is sweet. New York Puerto-Rican Alana Johnson just doesn't have the greatest gig but everything about her makes me sure, on a better day, she might kick some comedy ass. All 6' 2” of Kate Martin is nicely confident and relaxed on stage. But their spots still feel more like 'sharing with the group' than a late night ten minute set. Reece Thorne packs in more laughs (although Emo Philips and Bobby Davro might want a couple of their jokes back) and Sam Morrison is just fabulous. He is clever, bitchy, has a perfectly judged arrogance quotient … he is practically the perfect super-gay comic. Be aware that you may well leave the gig wishing you were an older, paunchy, grey-haired gay guy. I know I did. Kate Copstick