Fringe comedy: Use it or lose it

Elaine Miller on stage at the Stand Comedy ClubElaine Miller on stage at the Stand Comedy Club
Elaine Miller on stage at the Stand Comedy Club

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Fringe comedy has been Disneyfied this year, but its spirit is still there if you know where to look

Remember how we laughed at the old joke about the light at the end of the tunnel being an oncoming train? Laugh no more, true comedy Fringe fans, because, as we (hopefully) emerge from the long, dark night of Covid restrictions, the first box office to light up belongs to Live Nation. It is simply not possible to imagine an organisation more antithetical to the idea of 'Fringe' performance. But, out in its latest northern outpost, the Corn Exchange, it is offering a month long roster of Big Name Comics coming up for hit and run gigs. Because it can, according to one producer I talked to, “afford to take the financial hit”. To be fair, they are at least offering live performance, and we should, I suppose, now that comedy sound-bites are all too often bytes, be grateful for that. But this is like the Disney Corporation buying the EICC and putting on kids’ shows in August.

There has been much hopeful talk about a 'reset'. About new green shoots and the Fringe rising again from grassroots. This Fringe does not feel reset. It feels like a hideous experiment in Financial Darwinism – wherein the monied and the corporate can adapt and survive and venues without a London income, a Government grant or sponsors with very deep pockets just die out as a species.

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A fringe festival is not a place where only might should be alright, but this is increasingly what the Edinburgh Fringe has become. Certainly within the Comedy section. From what I have seen of programming around the country, much of the joy and the creative passion that used to be here has gone to Brighton and Camden, Buxton and Bath. Closer to home, Fringe by the Sea has a wonderful programme in creative venues. So the true Fringe is still around. Just not so much in Edinburgh.

All the more important, I suppose, to enjoy what is left. Like the Ravens in the Tower of London, were Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians to leave the Fringe would surely fall completely. Luckily for laughter fans, they are here, and at the Canon's Gait where the Free Fringe began. Even better, PBH himself is doing a solo hour each day.

More good news for fans of the unforgettable comes in the shape of A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves, more of an experience than a comedy show, but something else to savour before the metaphorical lunatics are thrown out of the asylum because it is being privatised and turned into a cosmetic surgery clinic.

Talking of lunatics, and of experiences, the Hive, legendary sticky-floored late-night … hive of entertaining activity has, over the years, been home to some of the most outrageous antics imaginable in the name of Fringe Comedy. This year, last lunatic standing is Paul Currie, who is Irish, surrealist, a clown (not aways in that order) and turns crazy into an art form.

Talking of clowns, Malcolm Hardee Award Winning Julia Masli's Choosh at the Monkey Barrel may well be unfathomable, but it will be gloriously so. No, I have no idea what Choosh means.

Less of a clown but just as unpredictable, Trevor Lock brings the participatory fun of Community Circle to Summerhall (bring a cardi', the show is outside) and adds We Are Each Other, which he describes as “similar to Community Circle, funnier, but not as good”. But remember, as with all of his participatory shows, if it is rubbish, it is your fault.

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Edinburgh has always been an adventure playground for political comics, and venues across the city have, in recent years offered laughs in an ever wider choice of political shade. For a full experience, I would recommend seeing Leo Kearse, Kate Smurthwaite and Ivor Dembina because, even if you completely disagree with what they say, they will definitely make you think and probably make you laugh anyway. Call me demanding, but I do want all of that from my poli-comics. Having said which, this August, if Fringe veterens NewsRevue (yes, they are still here … so far) cannot wring an hour of vicious humour out of 2021 then I think they should give you your money back.

Some of the most memorable laughs you will find are not with stand up comics. A couple of years ago Elaine Miller had audiences not p***ing themselves laughing. Largely because the point of her hilarious Gusset Grippers show was pelvic floor control. Audiences left with faces wet with tears of laughter, everything else quite dry. This year, for those who love laughter and ladies, in equal parts (as it were), Elaine had created a new stage show, Viva Your Vulva. Not being the kind of woman to have her curtain brought down by a mere pandemic she will take her Vulva on a laughter packed, educational exploration of ladyparts in surprising parts of Old Edinburgh. Expect the very quintessence of the Fringe in fun, fascinating facts and free gifts.

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The Fringe is still here, in crazy venues made out of car parks, in street performers on pop up stages, in dicing with a soaking to watch your chosen show and in making a beeline for comedy you have never heard of. Use it or lose it. This could be Edinburgh's watershed year. And not just because the forecast is for rain.

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