As we might have said on Sesame Street, “this year's comedy on the Fringe has been brought to you by the letters W, I and P”. Sadly, while theatre performers, dancers, musicians and even sketch and burlesque entertainers alike seem to have found the time and energy to “progress” to a point where they have no shame in asking an audience to pay for and applaud their shows, stand up comics, in very many cases, have not. Interestingly, few of those offering us the chance to watch them 'progress' would seem to have an interest in progressing very far, as, generally, they are only coming up for a couple of nights.
Happily, among the acres of pop up bars and food trucks there is still a more than decent Fringe comedy experience to be had. (Which reminds me : does anyone know what the maximum permitted ratio of pop up bars and food-trucks to actual performances is before an organising body can legally no longer call it an Arts Festival? But I digress.)
I have almost reached peak despair for things Fringily Comedic when I arrive at the Canon's Gait and am wrapped in the old muggy embrace of body heat, beer and laughter. The basement venue is flooded, we are told, and so Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians (*****) have moved upstairs into the main bar. Some here, obviously, have just come in for a pint, only to find themselves drawn into the very heart of the Free Fringe, and I shall always treasure the sight of three young guys with statement hair attempting to 'make a noise like a cusp'. You do not often see a Comedy Damascus Road Experience, but I think I did. PBH's Greatest Hits offer as much silly joy as they always have (Adolf still loves Eva btw) and he is a supreme MC. The 'Some Comedians' are, generally, marvellous, moreish and hilariously idiosyncratic.
Tom Little is a huge talent. Watermelon, crisps and Metallica become the unlikely stuff of comedic glory. Tom is perplexed by just about everything and almost tipped over the edge by Family Fortunes and you would give him a great big hug and tell him you didn't expect him to be a squirrel, were you not laughing far too much to do so.
If Flanders and Swan had ever got filthy they might well have produced something much like Luke Meredith. He is a class act, with a penchant for daleks, BDSM, drinking and generalised, top-drawer rudery. He also has a tiny ukulele and really knows how to use it.
Sam Dodgshon is 22 and has recently discovered his own mortality. His comedy is dark and brilliant - DNR directives might not sound funny but Dodgshon and his grandmother make them the stuff of body-shaking laughter - and the thought that there are comedy minds like his and Little's around is very exciting. Sam is part of University College London's latest troupe but if you see his name on a mixed bill anywhere, G0.
In the basement at 32Below, Alex Farrow (*****) has created what one might call a Mary Poppins of a show. His Philosophy Pig is practically perfect in every way. Fans of Cardi B may disagree. JS Mill, Nagal, Nietzche and Schrodinger all make an appearance in this endlessly delightful, funny hour. As do crabs, morn' horn, 30 minute orgasms, classical masturbation humour, and bats. Lots and lots of bats. Farrow himself is like a non irritating Jack Whitehall crossed with Rob Newman and his Pig is hilarious, silly, rude, clever, personal, political and thought provoking. Then a bit silly again. And they say men can't multi-task. Also, you may never eat cake again. Go.
Will Mars (****) is another smart comic. And – joy of joys – his show My Life's A Joke! is a fearsome comedy creation, delivered gently and comfortably with the gag rate of a one liner show and the narrative line and personal revelation of an autobiographical comedy hour. Mars also has the comic skills to handle genuine audience interaction and throw in a bit of politics. This has to be the apotheosis of one liner comedy. And what I see is only the fourth show Mars has done. Go.
Sameer Katz's God Loves Irony (***) might disappoint God. There is not a huge amount of ironic material. Perhapes that itself is the irony. It is, in any case, a laugh-packed way to spend an hour. Katz is a Californian and has all the ease and confidence that tends to come with that. This is a laid back, wide ranging show with laughter coming from airplane exit seats, babies in buggies, broken dogs, and some properly fresh-feeling funny about new showers and tattoos. This is an hour to relax and enjoy. It is well crafted, intelligent stuff. A little, as I look back, like clicking on ‘I Feel Lucky’ on a comedy Google search. But where none of the results is just rubbish. Eventually, we get irony. By which time I have laughed so much I am not bothered. Which is ironic.
Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians. Alex Farrow: Philosophy Pig, Laughing Horse @ 32 Below, until 29 August. Will Mars: My Life's A Joke!, Laughing Horse @ the Counting House, until 29 August (except 23 and 24 August). Sameer Katz: God Loves Irony, Laughing Horse @ the Counting House, until 29 August.