Festival reviews: Rick Shapiro | Pete Johansson | Hal Cruttenden | Trevor Noah

Rick Shapiro. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Rick Shapiro. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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LAUGHTER can be glue, gall

or a load of… genitalia whether you’re watching a comic comeback or an inspired newcomer

YOU can, if you’re lucky, get to see some uniquely intimate comedy at the Fringe. Watching Rick Shapiro was an almost uncomfortably personal experience. Shapiro has always been an “uneven” performer – great torrents of venom would suddenly dwindle into mumbling – but that was his style, along with a variety of recreational additives. Currently Shapiro is recovering from a massive heart attack. And this show feels a little like a broken comic putting himself back together again using his audience’s laughter as glue. And there is laughter. Shapiro is, he says “on more drugs than I was when I was on drugs”, he looks frail, he shakes and trails of thought disappear like wisps of smoke. But there are great lightning flashes of the old Shapiro. There is some sharp writing and it does feel like a sort of privilege to be here. At least it did for me.

Pete Johansson has also changed. There has been some serious personal grooming going on and just for a second I thought it was Marcus Brigstocke on stage. Ten minutes of material about bears later I knew it wasn’t. Twenty minutes of bear material later I was unsure who it was. Thirty minutes of bear material later I was amused, entertained, even informed, but definitely worried I had come to the wrong show. Luckily, at about 35 minutes, Pete gets down to some rimming, gets a hard on and the comedy world settles back on its axis. This is actually a lovely cuddly bear of a show. Into the mix of honest opinion (on, for example, gypsies), family tales (his wife has recently modelled for a men’s magazine) and personal reminiscences (he is now and has always been a slut, he says) we do get a lot of pictures of bears, but every show has its USP. This is a lovely, friendly, funny, genuine hour about racism and aphrodisiacs, sluts and pooperscoopers, fat people and dead pigeons. Oh, and bears.

I have always been a fan of Hal Cruttenden. Albeit my fandom was tested this August by my extreme irritation at his posters, which joined the many that proclaim their subjects to be “star” of every TV show they have ever popped up on, no matter how briefly. Hate to break it to you, Hal, but you were not the star of the Royal Variety Performance. And FYI, the rest of you, Michael McIntyre is the star of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow.

Meanwhile, down in the Cellar in the Pleasance Courtyard, Hal is in his element, and it is an absolute joy to watch. Looking more like a very cheery Michael Ball than ever, if Cruttenden were any camper he’d have to be held down with guy ropes. His hour trips from building sites and mean cities to the repercussions of Scottish Independence for liberals in England and from the “loveliness” of middle class family life to football (yes, really, Hal knows about football – well, he knows a racist b*stard when he sees one), student riots and the unfairness of the “women and children first” rule.

As always with Cruttenden, this is beautifully crafted, cleverly worded stuff. And he gets properly political here, but so, so smartly that you barely notice the sharpness of the barbs because you are entranced by the pretty decorations on the end. He is the first comic I have heard address the question of the Scottish involvement in what has always been seen as the appalling behaviour of the English in the days of the Empire. And makes the topic of inter-UK fighting fresh again. I for one cannot help but adore someone who accuses Edinburgh of being “just a little bit Sheila Showbiz”. Fabulous, sweet cheeks, just fabulous.

And talking of fabulous, I could review Trevor Noah in a single word. Wow. Noah is classier than a vintage Jaguar and smoother than double cream sliding down a mango slice. He is a child of the apartheid era in South Africa, a Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father. Although, watching him glide through a stupendous hour of beautifully wrought comedy from the tough-to-walk path between black and white, you can’t help but think that Will

Smith and Michael Bublé contributed to the mix somewhere. One of the great things The Fringe does is to tempt talents like Noah over here. I realise he hasn’t been on

Mock The Week, but if you really want to see the art of stand up at its best, see Trevor Noah.

I was fingering my Big Critic’s Book Of Superlatives to better my description of Noah as I made my way to Set List, where brave comics take to the stage with no material and conjure a ten-minute set from the eponymous set list of surreal and generally nonsensical topics that they are given once up there. Noah was one of the comics on stage that night. Lurking at the back of the room was Jim Jefferies, who had come to check out the show with a view to taking part. Jefferies was accompanied by his lovely girlfriend and the bump that will be Jefferies Jnr (Hank is the chosen name, apparently.) So loved up and delighted to be a parent to be, Jim was, at midnight, still completely sober, but after watching the show, reckoned he’d have to have a drink to do it.

As ever Set List produced funny, free-falling comedy conjured from nowhere. Stuart Goldsmith was brave and brilliant, even risking some audience banter.

But Trevor Noah was beyond brilliant. He created a proper set out of a list of topics which seemed to be heavily focussed on his genitalia. Not that I was complaining, you understand. Trev’s genitalia turned out to be absolutely hilarious. I could have listened to him talk about his Bathroom Function Overpraise Syndrome and his Masturbation Angel all night long. I don’t know if comedy this month will get better than the combination of Set List and Trevor Noah. Frankly I don’t see how.

• Rick Shapiro: Rebirth, Assembly George Square; Pete Johansson: Utopian Crack Pipe, Underbelly Bristo Square; Hal Cruttenden: Tough Luvvie, Pleasance Courtyard; Trevor Noah: The Racist, Pleasance Courtyard, all until 27 August; Set List, Just the Tonic at The Caves, Wednesday until Saturday then 21-25 August