Fringe comedy reviews: Jason Byrne | Mother | Police Cops | Rich Wilson | Ew Girl, You Nasty | Lovefool | Alex Farrow | Darius Davies | Ross Cullum | Will Duggan

With its misnomer title, Covid having robbed him of his usual hi-jinks manipulating audience members like marionettes, Jason Byrne: Audience Precipitation (***) finds one of the Fringe's historically biggest sellers barely impeded by the pandemic. True, he's had some tough years, separating from his wife, losing his irresponsible but inspiring father, and generally tipping from loveable eccentric into mentally troubled. But the Irish stand-up is now a poster boy for therapy and taking comedy online, with several of his stupidest lockdown stunts shared on screen. Not quite classic Byrne but firing on most cylinders.

Katharyn Henson in Ew Girl, You Nasty

Reminding everyone of the horrors of the office, Mother: Colleagues (***) essentially paraphrases Jean-Paul Sartre to observe that hell is other people you work with. Male-female duos and decent regional representation are under-represented in character comedy, yet Jack Mosedale and Laura Curnick redress this balance somewhat with a show that grows as it develops. Creations such as Brummies Don and Zelda are tediously brash and loud, Brexit writ huge in the misguided belief that their Brit-themed caravan park will be the toast of Spain. Elevating the show though are trustafarian North London siblings and wannabe pop stars Frankie and Francis, a little too affectionate towards each other and surprisingly edgy for an afternoon hour.

Transplanting the vampire-slaying action of films like Blade and Night Watch to the 1990s Madchester scene, Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name (****) is a big, goofy reprise of cinematic genre aficionados Nathan Parkinson, Zachary Hunt and Tom Roe's 2019 Fringe show. With rave culture, pill-popping-induced energy levels but also song and dance numbers like Busby Berkeley channelling South Park, the script is layered with a disorientating number of gags that generally wrench fresh humour from the tired tropes they're sending up.

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Rich Wilson (WIP) (***) also recalls a previous show, reheating a memorable anecdote about working in a gay sauna. Yet now there's an epilogue that gets to the heart of his on stage persona. A late entrant to comedy, he has, as he's fond of remarking, “lived a life”. Geezerish but warmly down-to-earth, Wilson takes you on his journey of a reconstructing male, struggling to adapt to dating again in middle-age and a world that's entirely different from his straightforward, working-class upbringing. Gently mocking the posh propensity for bestowing children with pseudy, unusual names, he capably maintains an inclusive atmosphere even when he encounters such a family in his front row, remaining open to dialogue, passing judgement only in the friendliest terms.

To judge from his hour and Ew Girl, You Nasty (***) though, online sex extortion is on the rise, at least among stand-ups. And Joel Dommett no longer has the last word on being blackmailed for his webcam use and browsing history. Ew Girl, You Nasty is a Covid-update on London-based New Yorker Katharyn Henson's fine 2019 Fringe debut, With shades of Sarah Silverman in her perkily upbeat delivery, daddy issues and gleeful delight in depravity, Henson is a surprisingly youthful former sex dungeon manager, alcoholic and drug consumer whose flirtatious nature extends to suicidal thoughts, and who experienced a hard lockdown on two continents. She can be gratuitously boundary-pushing, to diminishing effect. But there's no denying the brilliant brutality of her analysis of the role sport plays in diverting male sexual violence.

In the same room, Lovefool (***) by Rachel E. Thorn appears to belong to another world, but is another engaging albeit fictional tale of someone putting themselves back together, finding catharsis in sharing. After 20 years of monogamy, failed IVF treatment led to Thorn splitting from her husband, moving back in with her cynical, divorcee mother and regressing to the relationship advice of her teenage reading, Sugar magazine. Relaying the dubious tips from this 1990s glossy - which have not aged well - affords Thorn plenty of easy, rueful laughs. And she supplements her depiction of arrested development by acting it out with her childhood toys, increasingly allowing contemporary pop lyrics to colour her account. Relatable rather than exceptional, the understated storytelling nevertheless makes you care with its steady flow of wry, self-deprecation.

Bats have had a disastrous PR campaign over the last 18 months. Yet the witty, multi-faceted humour of Alex Farrow: Philosophy Pig (***) reclaims their reputation as fascinating creatures, and other animals besides. Philosophy Pig is an erudite meditation on John Stuart Mill's assertion that “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied”, neatly disguised as an entertaining stand-up hour. Reflecting on consciousness, the wonders of nature and the cultural primacy of Cardi B's WAP, the sometime philosophy teacher would benefit from greater focus, his infectious enthusiasm prompting him to range widely across his subject. Regardless, there are plenty of inventive, original jokes in his hour.

A greatest hits compilation, Darius Davies: Don't Be Shit (****) begins amusingly enough, with Davies poking fun at his home town of Croydon and his Iranian heritage. But with the qualifications he puts on his slights it's clear that he's a thoughtful comic, the vivid imagery of his stories framed with social critique. He's droll on his former wrestling aspirations. But in truth, it's his juvenile pranks that really make this show, as he hilariously catfishes pathetic men on dating apps and more pointlessly, takes revenge on Ryanair's penny-pinching, with the BBC's journalistic reputation compromised as collateral damage.

Ross Cullum: Golden Retriever In A Man Suit (***) introduces an interesting cove. I wasn't familiar with him as an actor but can well believe that with his looks and demeanour Cullum does indeed scratch a living playing foppish English bastards in period dramas. This refined, if fleeting fame contrasts with his domestic situation of abject squalor surrounded by violence, more like something out of an Irvine Welsh novel than Withnail and I. With his elegant turn-of-phrase, he self-effacingly corrects his family and others' misconceptions about him, displaying a touch of Neil Hannon in his songs. Currently a work-in-progress, Golden Retriever lacks a bit of structure but the raw materials are present for a fine show.

I'm not convinced by the recurring metaphor of Will Duggan: Ice Cube (***). And neither is he to judge by him reinforcing the notion of his stand-up vocation melting away over lockdown by handing out ice pops. The bribery reinforces the impression of him as a sound bloke though, the funniest guy in the cafeteria of all the bad jobs he's had during the pandemic and before. You wouldn't want him teaching sex education to your kids. But you want to hear about him failing with other people's. The tears of a clown for his hard-hit industry is a hard sell, even in as comedy-savvy a city as Edinburgh. Still, he manages to balance everyman appeal with some proper, laugh-out-loud tales.

Jason Byrne, Corn Exchange, 8.45pm, until 28 August.

Mother: Colleagues, run ended. Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name, Assembly George Square Gardens, 6.45pm, until 29 August.

Rich Wilson, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4.30pm, until 29 August.

Ew Girl, You Nasty, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, 11.55pm, until 29 August.

Lovefool, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, 8pm, until 28 August.

Alex Farrow: Philosophy Pig, Laughing Horse @ 32 Below, 12.45pm and 9.45pm, until 29 August.

Darius Davies: Don't Be Shit, Laughing Horse @ 32 Below, 3.45pm and 8.15pm, until 29 August, and Laughing Horse @ the Free Sisters, 30 August, 9pm

Ross Cullum: Golden Retriever In A Man Suit, Whistlebinkies, 5.05pm, until 29 August

Will Duggan, run ended.

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