Performers who encapsulate the true Fringe spirit have been in worryingly short supply this year, and if this proves to be Peter Buckley Hill’s last hurrah, Edinburgh will be the poorer for it
Last night a haiku saved my life. Strictly speaking it is the afternoon and maybe saving my life is a stretch, but, sitting in a basement, alone except for the determined performer, revelling in the crazy and the funny and the passion that used to permeate the Fringe and which now is in worryingly short supply, my comedy joy comes back to me. More of this anon.
It has been a good day. I spend half an hour in The Titter Truck, parked at the Grassmarket. This is a tiny venue (or van, to be precise) which offers a rolling programme of ten-minute sets from a wide variety of comics for £1 a pop. Kirsty Mann is a smart character comic convinced we think she looks like Reese Witherspoon, Liam Webber is an extraordinary performer with an excitingly peculiar and moreish ten minutes and Lew Fitz is an engaging comic with smart and freshly funny material. They are all young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They grab the gig – short as it is – by the funny bits and nowhere will a pound buy you more laughs. I love the whole idea of the truck and it is being well run by a young, charming team. In the time you would take standing in the queue to buy an overpriced beer you could pop into the van and find your new favourite comic.
En route to the Grassmarket I am flyered by Carey Marx, now a veteran survivor of August in Edinburgh. Carey has just turned 50 and has nothing to prove to a comedy audience. So, thankfully, we don’t get a “coming of age” show. We get a great hour of stand up. Intrusive train announcements, public displays of ear cleaning and the letter “haitch” lead us to Carey’s new alphabet. There is an hilarious tale of accidental in- flight porn and a short but entertaining revisiting of Carey’s 2012 heart attack. He really gets his teeth into Generation Y and their obsession with identity and everyone from the LGBTTQQIAAP community through the Irish to the Jews are held up and mercilessly examined through the light of laughter. We are cool with that but there are sharp intakes of breath when he turns on ugly people. This is great, gutsy stand up. I had almost forgotten what it looks like. The hour never dips, never gets samey and is all about giving an audience a great time. His final story about celebrating his 50th is a gloriously messy delight. If you want to remind yourself how a solid hour of laughter feels, I can recommend Mr Marx.
Shows like this have been like pockets of air in a swamp for me this year. Early on in the month, I sat through Chris Gethard’s show, a memoir of his life with depression, much in the style of a David Sedaris from whom all the humour had been drained. I found the entire exercise irritatingly pointless, especially when we were thanked at the end for making him feel “validated”. Not why we were there, Chris. Turns out there are dozens of shows here, huddled for comfort under the “tears of a clown” blanket. All validating each other like crazy. As it were. Sadly, for comedy audiences, they are, mostly, all tears no clown. The main dictionaries define comedy as being “intended to make people laugh”, which is a not ignoble raison dêtre for an art form, and one which should be respected. Let’s face it, a woman showing us x-rays of her shattered tibia is not going to make it into the Dance section.
After Gethard’s hour, I was feeling decidedly depressed myself, when I happened past La Belle Angele and revived my faith in Fringe comedy. Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians is the show that started the Free Fringe. Rattling around in the cavernous Belle Angele, it is an unpredictable, frequently shambolic fun club, hosted by Peter Buckley Hill and featuring, as promised, Some Comedians. PBH has a guitar and is not afraid to use it. Songs are short and smart/silly and there is some singing from us all. It is a proper Fringe experience and I leave giggling.
Which brings me back to the haiku, for it is PBH who, in the basement of a new permanent comedy club for Edinburgh, is offering an hour of comedy, written entirely in haiku. I get haikus on war and the female orgasm, the Kings of England, religion, the expanding universe, Belgium, celebrity chefs and beer. I get Shakespeare’s plays and the entire Sgt Pepper album recreated as haiku and – in a short diversion from the Japanese verse form – a dustbin sonnet. This is not just a gimmick. No laughs were sacrificed in the making of this show. It becomes enthralling as well as hilarious. And, as an intellectual exercise, it is breathtaking. Within the haiku form, PBH frequently does a most wonderful thing which is to take a phrase or a thought and play with it, twist it, turn it, throw it and see where it goes and squeeze it dry of comic potential. There is an improv game in which you are given a prop and you have to see how many different ways you can use it. That is what PBH does with words. He has such fun with words and it is wonderful to listen to. When he throws in little current phrases like “asking for a friend”, he does so with such a twinkle it is impossible not to giggle. This will be, he tells us, his last Fringe. That is, in my opinion, a tragedy. We will not see his like again. ■
The Titter Truck, ends today; Carey Marx: Hero Of The People, ends today; Chris Gethard: Career Suicide, ends tomorrow; Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians: The Final Aardvark, run finished