Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Ryan Cullen | Chris Cantrill | Bobby Mair | Richard Brown
Bad boy comedians are a dying breed, but who doesn’t love a naughty throwback? Kate Copstick finds plenty of dark, ruthless, socially unacceptable routines to enjoy at this year’s Fringe
Ryan Cullen : Caveat Emptor ****
The Stand, until 28 August
In my heart of hearts the Edinburgh Fringe achieved peak excitement when Doug Stanhope had a late night comedy show called The Unbookables downstairs at the Tron. Jason Rouse and Stanhope and even a baby Jim Jefferies ruled that stage. It was glorious. It was lads. It was baaaaad. Now it has become Just The Tonic's all female venue and we are powerfully Body Positive. I guess all things change. But who doesn't love a naughty throwback?
Novelist Josephine Hart wrote: “Damaged people are dangerous”, but I think they also make for awesome, fearless, brutally funny comics. Sadly, proper Bad Boys are not so easy to find these days. They get clean, they get married, they get happy, they get 'woken'. Few survive. And not many are being born. Imagine, then, my delight to get an email suggesting I might enjoy the hardcore and socially unacceptable one-liners offered by Edinburgh debut bad boy Ryan Cullen. As it happens, I do. A lot.
One-liner comedy is a demanding genre. It generally gets its laughs at the 'cuddly' end of comedy. “There's a lot of jokes about murder in this show," we are told by the likeable young Irishman on stage. Murder? Before we even get there we have incest, paedophiles, abortion and a brilliantly funny observation on cottaging etiquette.
Ryan Cullen is charming, and so good at being bad that you might not notice he also offers up some of the smartest political material you will hear and pulls big laughs out of the gender debate so cleverly that even the incurably offended could not find anything to storm out about. But his material has the ruthlessness of a young Jimmy Carr and the sexual turpitude of Jim Jefferies at his most priapic. PTSD and cancer, incontinence, guns and drugs keep the room rocking with laughter (except for a tiny moment of united nodding when we realise how good Ryan's suggestion about MDMA is).
This is extraordinary stuff. Not for you if you can't laugh at a potato famine, but it would be your loss.
Chris Cantrill: The Bad Boy ***
Monkey Barrell, Until 28 August
I am surprised but thrilled to discover the 'delightful' Chris Cantrill's solo show is called The Bad Boy. As it transpires, over the course of a hugely entertaining hour, and despite dressing entirely in bright orange, Chris is not really a bad boy at all. His six-year-old son George, on the other hand, sounds like he has huge potential. George features heavily, with his black nail polish, slasher tendencies, and merciless numerical love-ratings for his parents. If Chris is to be believed, Mrs Cantrill sounds fairly hardcore too.
But back with our eponymous Bad Boy. He carves a whole new – and, to be honest, quite grim – comedy path. There’s his detailed, first-hand description of a vasectomy, an impressively pragmatic theory of fatherhood and he surprises the room with his emissions-focussed obsessing on sex offenders in prisons. It is, however, the elegantly appalling thoughts about his in-laws that justify the show title. If the weather turns, they really need to wrap up warm.
Bobby Mair: Cockroach ****
Monkey Barrel, until 28 August
Bobby Mair is eternally bleak, creatively misanthropic and just so good at finding the negative in every possibility that it is difficult to believe he is Canadian. He has, he tells us, Borderline Personality Disorder, but has discovered “this is a good time to be mentally ill.”
Bobby can be brilliantly brutal with his audiences, and Scots attempting any form of heckling will be met with an angelic smile and a gentle reminder that “you are Scottish, and I do not understand a single f***ing word you are saying.”
It might be genetic, but, on stage, Bobby Mair has a complete lack of compunction. It makes us all a possible target, and it adds genuine jeopardy to his gigs. He finds a sweet 21-year-old girl to terrify about the inevitable disappointment, decay and death that await her. Maggots are mentioned. A German bloke is discovered in the front row to attack mercilessly when Bobby gets to the subject of war. And a woman who is here on a first date with a man she met in a strip joint is declared to be an ex child prostitute. Bobby is now a father, and his views on adoption (his own and his daughter's), child abandonment, and his use of the pram in road safety are classic dark delights.
He, he tells us, “gets no pleasure” from ripping into old people, travel in the UK, mental health and other people's success. Luckily, we do.
His thoughts on war in the modern world are viciously gerontophobic, socially unacceptable, disconcertingly sensible and very funny. And I write as someone who would probably end up clearing landmines.
Richard Brown: Horror Show ***
Monkey Barrel, until 28 August
Richard Brown made his Fringe debut in 2014. It was extraordinary to watch. I don't think I had ever seen anyone so angry. He is still angry, but different. Depression and “two failed suicide attempts will do that to you,” he says. He is, however, always a should-see comic. Warts and all. Once he gets into his stride he is a master of the morbid. The territory where you feel “I shouldn't be laughing at this, but I am” can be dangerous to play in, comedically, but it is where Richard lives. He loves a good, imaginative death, adores Willy Wonka, and has a glorious selection of animals-attacking-humans videos. He is very into animal rights, but less so Ricky Gervais.
Paedophiles and happy comedians, Ed Sheeran and TikTok, Friends and trolls – whether Brown loves them or hates them, he makes them make us laugh. Richard is passionately anti-anti-woke and the deeper we get into his hour, the more of life he finds to be horribly funny about. And vice versa. There is a whole section at the top of the show which is a foray into a completely different comedy genre and it is the best argument for turning up on time I have yet seen. Richard might yet go full-on satirical. That could be lethal.