Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviews – Maria DeCotis: Emotionally Unreasonable | Zoe Coombs Marr: The Opener | Amy Webber: No Previous Experience | Josh Weller: Age Against The Machine | Cal Halbert: Calcoholic

Maria DeCotis is perhaps the best American stand-up to come to Edinburgh in years, and she's not even in the Fringe programme. Australian Zoe Coombs Marr resurrects her monstrous alter ego Dave with dizzying results.

Maria DeCotis: Emotionally Unreasonable ****

Laughing Horse @ Eastside (Venue 164) until 27 August

This is a rare discovery: a terrific hour of stand-up from a truly gifted comedian and it's not even in the Fringe programme. Maria DeCotis is a New York-based performer who also stars in the effective psychological drama Before the Drugs Kick In at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall. She's very good in it too but it's not her material, this is and you can feel the sheer joy and supreme confidence she has in it.

It's tough to garner a big crowd for an afternoon show - even on the Free Fringe - tougher still to perform comedy to a small audience but when you're as talented as DeCotis you make it work.There's a lovely consistency to her material as it keeps returning to matters of gender - even in foreign languages. She keeps prodding curiously at sexism as if it's some amorphous blob she's just discovered washed up on the beach. It's clearly important to her as she was once stuck in an unfortunate marriage to an Italian man - "still abusive, but in a metrosexual way" - but never, ever forgets to be funny about it. "He would gaslight me - but while moisturising."

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All her material carries the ring of truth as she's clearly driven by an endless intellectual curiosity. If this makes for stray observations that might prove uncomfortable for some it just makes them all the funnier for others. There's a constant quizzical quest to push at the boundaries even if it means resorting to musical comedy ("hacky, I know").

Hell, even her songs are good - Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fan - and give the show a neat structure. DeCotis is the best new American stand-up I've seen since Michelle Wolf. Do whatever you can to see her because the next chance you get she'll be starring in her own Netflix special. She's seriously funny and seriously that good. Rory Ford

Zoe Coombs Marr: The Opener ****

Maria DeCotisMaria DeCotis
Maria DeCotis

Pleasance Courtyard (venue 33) until 27 August

It’s been eight years since Australian comedian Zoe Coombs Marr last brought her monstrous alter ego Dave to the Fringe. Now he’s back and is as leery, lairy and reactionary as ever - a perfectly-pitched parody of a very particular type of standup we’ve all seen, dripping in toxic masculinity. The performer would perhaps have liked to have kept him retired but, in a comedy world where lurches to the right often result in big paydays and television appearances, he sadly seems more relevant than ever.

Coombs Marr ends up opening for her own creation, starting the show in a dressing gown and explaining her need to resurrect Dave. It’s an interesting move, breaking from previous shows where she launched straight into the character. In one way it adds an extra layer to the performance - a self-confessed over-complicated meta-narrative - but it also suggests a lack of faith in the audience to understand the joke. As the introduction comes to a close, facial hair is hastily stuck on as the transformation takes place in front of our very eyes. Dave has entered the building.It turns out that he’s been in a coma for the last six years, missing plenty of topics worthy of his less-than-unique hot takes - including the pandemic, the #metoo movement, cancel culture and the trans debate. It’s the latter that provides the title of the show - a tongue in cheek ‘tribute’ to Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special ‘The Closer’, which saw the American accused of transphobia. The criticism of his namesake baffles Dave, as does much of the modern world, leading to anger, fear and confusion.

It’s soon clear we’re not just getting Dave, as (the character of?) Coombs Marr starts to pitch in, providing the Frankenstein to his monster. It’s dizzying stuff that threatens to become too clever for its own good, but the sheer quality of joke writing holds it together even when everything else is falling apart. David Hepburn

Amy Webber: No Previous Experience ***

Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Attic, venue 288) until 27 August

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Tapping hard into millennial angst about the job market, the premise for Amy Webber's Fringe debut is that she's performing her CV and casting about for employment. A young woman of varied talents, including impressive opera singing pipes and speaking Japanese, she's nevertheless lacking in focus, having had various semi-successful stabs at being a pop star, DJ, and, after a fashion, school teacher. Playing a mini-keyboard on her hip, music is high in the mix of her loose, occasionally baggy hour, that still bounds along amusingly, borne on some freewheeling audience involvement and Webber's peppy enthusiasm. An extremely potted history of musical composition is a bit skimpy, even if that's largely the joke. And she's not exactly being devastatingly satirical in her characterisations of the various BBC radio channels. But she does a nice line in parodying Olivia Rodrigo and she's appreciably sanguine about the extremely modest airplay of her debut single. The dismissal of her by an agent last year leads into a more candid coda, where she outlines most forcibly yet the stakes for her in making it in entertainment. More power to her elbow too, as hers' is a sympathetic tale and she's an engaging act. Jay Richardson

Josh Weller: Age Against The Machine ***

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

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With an upfront blend of know-it-all cynicism and rueful, tail-between-the-legs weariness, Josh Weller shares a compelling tale of pop stardom nipped in the bud. Signed to a major label ('s foreign subsidiary) when he was 23, he was chewed up and spat back out within a year and relates that process now as a 37-year-old in vivid, often excruciating detail. Contextualising the crushing of his dream by dint of boiling down the dominant musical styles of various eras and bands to a single burst of parody, he also outlines the exploitative and disgusting practices of the record industry, with his greatest claim to fame being an acclaimed writer-producer ripping him off for a hit song. Equally though, he admits where he was also perhaps guilty of plagiarism, such repackaging being the lifeblood of the business. And he plays his chart untroubling debut single, Pretty Girls, which with the benefit of hindsight, now betrays big, vindicative incel vibes. There's a spiky jadedness and arrested development to Weller's admission that he looks forwards to his friends' divorces so they can rejoin his manchild orbit. But in comedy he seems to have genuinely found a vocation better suited to his personality, with moreover, seemingly more music career tales to divulge in the future. Jay Richardson

Cal Halbert: Calcoholic ***

The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4 (Stand 4, venue 12) until 27 August

Who doesn't love a comeback kid? Almost 22 months sober and living in a leaky tent during the festival, the only way appears to be up for Cal Halbert, who's hit a number of rock bottoms in his life but now seems resurgent. In this wry but clear-sighted, unsparing account of his addiction to booze, the former Alcoholics Anonymous sceptic doesn't shy away from some pretty difficult and degrading episodes. Still, virtually every routine deserves its inclusion by virtue of the steady clip and quality of the gags he's strung through it. A straight-passing gay guy with a once promising professional tennis career, growing up in the insular Tory stronghold of Shrewsbury, he struggled to find his tribe. Yet he revelled in the conviviality of the pub and seized on the town's only regular queer club night like, well, an addict. Subsequently moving to Newcastle opened up a whole new world of possibilities, even a stable relationship. But his escalating drinking put it and much else in peril. With supplementary anger issues and a distaste for AA's religious underpinnings, Halbert has nevertheless found his own variation of the path. And it's an almost beatifically composed, accomplished storyteller who shares this uplifting tale. Jay Richardson