Daniel Downie: There’s Something About Mary ****
Scottish Comedy Festival @ The Beehive Inn (Venue 178), until 28 August
Martha McBrier: Who Knew? *****
Laughing Horse @ Dragonfly (Venue 411), until 28 August (not 22)
Weegie Hink Ae That? ***
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24), until 28 August (not 23)
Obie: The Power of Imagination ***
PBH’s Free Fringe @ the Banshee Labyrinth (Venue 156), until 28 August
Mark Nelson: “Comedian” ****
Monkey Barrel Comedy (The Hive) (Venue 313), until 28 August
Generally, by this time in the Fringe, someone is complaining about Scottish acts drowning in the tsunami of funny foreigners. However, reports of the drownings have been much exaggerated and there is much homegrown hilarity still … floating.
The ever welcoming Beehive Inn is hotchin’ with funny. It has the entire Scottish Comedy Festival, where the talent of Daniel Downie as a history/humour mixologist, yet again, leaves me laughing, thinking, and desperate to reread a book that I stuck on a shelf years ago. Mary, Queen of Scots is his subject this year and, in the curriculum of your Fringe visit, it should be compulsory. From history’s “most depressing gender reveal party”, through pre-pay sinning, Irn-Bru and feminism in the 16th Century to an “army of arseholes from the south” this hour is everything learning while you laugh could possibly be. Despite her penchant for making disastrous life choices and horrific relationship history (including a violent, power-hungry drunk and a bloke who raped her) Daniel is a big fan of the Royal Ginger. And he does not shy from more dangerous comedy turf: even football and Fife become funny here.
Full disclosure: I have been a fan of Martha McBrier forever. But with all critical faculties blazing I can tell you this is a wonderful, hilarious, awful, personal show. Maybe even her best yet. Absolutely no-one in Edinburgh tells a tale like McBrier. Her DNA is funny. Everything she says on stage sounds funny. And yet I still happy-cry at the end. This kind of laughter is alchemic, to the extent that, although I am the only one in her audience within two decades of remembering the 1970s – in which pretty much the entire show is set – she has the entire room in the palm of her hand. We start with the Slosh and its variations. Dietary intolerances and triggers sit alongside head lice and skelping, Uptown Top Ranking becomes the soundtrack to much of Martha’s story and it is only as I write this that I can understand the complexity, the storytelling genius and the emotional risk factor in this hour, because at the time I was much too busy laughing. A show involving ’Piskies, God-botherers, alcoholic fathers and murdering mothers, where schoolchildren “buy” black babies and your comic is psychic, ends with us all singing along to Happy Heart with Andy Williams. Go. You can thank me later.
Weegie Hink Ae That? – comprising Gregor Mackay, Conor Hardie and Elliot Hanigan – is an incredibly likeable, understatedly (even the terminally English will understand most of this material) Weegie trio of talent. They have the genetic comedy gift of being Glaswegian (admittedly, I am prejudiced). But to this they bring great sketches, silliness and songs. They also have the nous to make their funny “TikTok-friendly” which fairly boosts their audiences. There is a beardy one (who does the more sensible funny) a bloke with distinctive eyes (who does the weird funny) and one who can play the guitar (who is funny too). It is a great comedy combo and, offering impressive extra value, they turn out to be fantastic musicians. Funny, weegie, phenomenal harmonies and joiny-in songs about Hoagies. What’s not to like?
Another wonderful weegie is Obie. Having elicited a verbal agreement to “have a good time”, he seals the deal straight away with some help from the world’s best-behaved stag do in the second row. “Ah remember goin’ on great stag dos,” says Obie, “three of us wid be dead by this time”. The horror of post-lockdown pub visits by appointment, self-heckling and the moment of genius that is the world’s best ever karma gag add to a terrific hour of comedy that also demonstrates Obie’s finely-honed memory skills as he improvises a story around an onstage list of 70 previous audience suggestions. All we have to do is shout out numbers and laugh. Which we do, enthusiastically. Those overly sensitive to use of the “c***” might want to have a wee Disprin before the show though.
One of the truly great experiences of my Fringe so far has been seeing Mark Nelson at the Hive. Nelson is a great comic anywhere. But here in a venue where, as he puts it “the audience can see me having a shit before the show” he seems more energised, packs more comedy firepower, and when he lets rip at the Tories, Blackpool, depression and old people we get the kind of sweaty, communal rushes of whole-body laughter that you really only get on what Nelson calls “the proper Fringe”. He looks like a comic having a great time. And that feeling is infectious. He destroys Keir Starmer in a single simile, makes a very good argument for not wasting free vaccines on the old, and examines his own multiple identities while body-swerving gender politics completely. His crowd work is comedy gold and a bloke at the front who designs missile guidance systems allows him to give a display of “using but not abusing” a gift like that. As an audience we spend a few minutes with Mark deciding which nation we would wipe out if we could.
Mark Nelson is so much that there is to love about Scottish comedy and you can see he loves it right back. To have someone at his level in the business standing at the back with his Pay what You Want bucket as you leave is a wonderful reminder of what the Fringe could be again. It takes genuine talent and a love of your craft to make it work, though. “The night’s gone to shit now,” he says at the point where we decide we are going to bomb France, and the whole place rocks with laughter. No it hasn’t, Mark. It most certainly hasn’t.