Fringe comedy reviews: Paul Currie | Kate Smurthwaite | Burt Williamson | Julia Masili | Phil Zimmerman | Post Humour | Comedy Freak Show

Without the noise of big names and corporate PR, passionate, individual comedians have had a chance to shine this year

Kate Smurthwaite

“And gentlemen* in England (or anywhere else) now a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,

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And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That did a decent run at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe.”

(*or ladies, cis, or trans, or non binary persons).

William Shakespeare there, on the nose as usual.

It has been decades since I have seen and had such a happy Fringe. Performers and audiences alike are delighted. Rooms have been full. Audiences have been friendly. The month has been fun. Remember fun? It used to be a big part of funny.

Paul Currie (*****) leapt (he is a leaping kind of comic) at the chance of an August fuelled by passion and talent where the individual performer once again can be seen and heard above the miasma of corporate PR. To be fair, you would be hard pushed not to see and hear Paul. His show is a glorious smoosh of the kind of extraordinary comedy ideas you will just not find elsewhere else, coming at you with the force of a friendly water cannon. I cannot do any of them justice here but you may never eat coleslaw again. The particular genius of the show lies in its unique approach to subjects like gender identity, colonialism, cultural genocide and even the argument for being vegan. But so not panic, Curriefans, there is also much more asparagus than usual in a comedy show, Muppets and a Christmas No 1 if ever I heard one, played on an actual Christmas Tree.

Kate Smurthwaite (*****) has transitioned, this Fringe, from hard-line, feminist politico-comedy to one of the finest, most engaging storytellers I have ever seen. It is the hardest thing for a stand-up not to sacrifice narrative and go for the laughs. She wraps us in her story. Of course we laugh. Rather a lot. But we also get what I believe is called now “the feels” in a dozen different ways. There is not one single person who leaves her room without stopping to ask about Niham, or whether the prick got his comeuppance. This is spellbinding. Makes me almost glad we had lockdown.

Yet another positive side to pretty much an industry-free comedy fringe is that we get to notice all the newbies as well as those who get lost in the tangled web woven by the industrial outfits. Burt Williamson (****) is probably the most memorable new comic I have seen since Wil Hodgson in 2003. It is the bravest and best who do not smooth out their quirks for the stage and whose talent is pretty much unpackaged. Burt is a paradigm example of why we decry the Straight White Male at our comedy peril. He is a softly spoken master of the short-form laugh. His beautifully crafted set is clever in unguessable ways, unexpectedly hilarious at every turn and a great joy wrapped up in a big laugh, sprinkled with adorable.

Such a shame none of the major comedy award givers is here. Except, of course, So You Think You're Funny, the final of which was streamed live as well as performed actually live at the Gilded Balloon.

The finalists are a great bunch this year. Julia Masli (****) (of Malcolm Hardee Award Winning trio Legs) is a mesmeric performer. Generally speaking, I find the 'Gaulier wordless stare' tooth-grindingly irritating. But I suspect it reaches perfection in Masli and it is, indeed, an entrancing thing. Her secret comedy weapon is her sweetness. Even death by shooting is gently hilarious here. However, do not fail to laugh out loud, because Juila has a bullwhip and, although she doesn't know quite how to use it, she is enthusiastically threatening when riled. Her hour is packed with great, disparate craziness including the “What Painting Am I?” quiz (exciting !), magic (ooo!), self harm (not really), and the unusual sight of a leg having an orgasm. Meg Ryan, eat your heart out.

Phil Zimmerman's show Killing Granny (***), despite the title, does not kill any Grannies. It is, like all his shows, extremely odd. For fans of Phil's work, it does contain disappointingly few pigeon impressions. Just one really, and that is really only half pigeon, the other half being Mick Jagger. Phil is introducing more 'dark' material, generally around the pandemic and reactions to it. His is a passionate voice, an angry voice and, yes, an extremely odd voice. But I like that in a comic and as the comedy shortcut to TV becomes the path most taken, it is becoming a scarcity.

Finally, a couple of shows that took an hour from me for no good reason. I possibly misunderstand the title of Post Humour (**). Perhaps it means 'that which comes after humour'. If, by that, the young company involved mean “a loosely linked, quasi surreal, borderline incomprehensible collection of vignettes delivered with minimal finesse, involving stolen stamps and pirates” then well done. My overwhelming memory of the hour is that of the toilet door slamming shut 77 times in 25 minutes.

Comedy Freak Show (**) is a mixed bill offering. Absolutely nothing freaky about it. Not even odd. So, a Comedy Fraudshow then. Except that there is not really enough laughter offered to warrant the 'Comedy' bit. So perhaps Irritating Fraudshow? Even Raul Kohli (one third of the … show) was less than his usual comedy self.

Paul Currie, The Hive, 7pm, until 29 August. Kate Smurthwaite, PBH’s Free Fringe, various times, until 29 August. Burt Williamson, PBH’s Free Fringe, 8.45pm, until 29 August. Comedy Freak Show, Laughing Horse @ the Counting House, 4.30pm, until 29 August. Julia Masli, Phil Zimmerman, and Post Humour’s runs have now ended.

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