Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Janine Harouni: Man’oushe | Mat Ewins: Mr TikTok | Garrett Millerick: Never Had It So Good | Benjamin Alborough: Absolute Monopoly | Josh Baulf: Bulldog
Janine Harouni: Man’oushe ****
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 25 August
There’s no escaping the fact that Janine Harouni is pregnant – on the final Wednesday of the Fringe she’s just 24 hours from her due date. “He might win Best Newcomer,” she quips, just hours after receiving the seal of approval from the Edinburgh Comedy Award judges.
It’s her imminent new arrival that is the inspiration for a precise hour of comedy that opens with a killer line and never lets up, taking in the biographical, continuing through the biological and psychological, and ending with the philosophical.
Stories surrounding the performer’s engagement, lockdown marriage to her Irish husband, honeymoon and eventual pregnancy intertwine with tales of her family’s history, along with a pleasing through line about the meanings of names. Her Lebanese grandmother was on the cusp of stardom in her native land before she sacrificed everything to move to America to offer her children a better future.
Like most elements of this show though, that’s not the whole story. Strands are returned to and fleshed out in expert fashion.
Harouni is an accomplished performer, with a polish that’s unmistakably American and a sassy delivery that positively screams ‘New York comedy club’. But, just when you think you have the measure of a seemingly cozy show sprinkled with pithy one-liners she pulls the rug out from under your feet.
Life and love are replaced with loss as tragedy strikes and she joins a “secret club” of women who have suffered “a death you mourn in secret”. The jokes are uncomfortably dark in places, but are sorely needed to navigate the almost unbearable sadness.
Just as a bright light appears at the end of the tunnel there’s another sucker punch of grief, but a happy ending dangles close enough to touch. David Hepburn
Mat Ewins: Mr TikTok ****
Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 4) (Venue 515) until 27 August
Operating as a sort of late-night, digital adjunct to the Fringe – part of it and yet remote – the mercurial Mat Ewins has settled into a groove of threatening that each festival show will be his last, while wondering if his pratting about with green screen technology and violently silly video sketches appearing increasingly undignified as he enters child-rearing middle-age.
Television and the movies have failed to come calling, though the presence of an apparent Hollywood filmmaker in his audience tonight fires him up a bit, with the hope killing his frustrated, angsty persona. He plaintively showcases his skits, seeking acknowledgment of his talent through all the blood and baked bean-encrusted daftness. No matter, TikTok is where stars are born now and Ewins is revelling in his modest following there, trying to ignore the haters slamming his videos in real time.
With his tech wizardry and extreme mischief continuing to set him apart – you'll never recall the King’s coronation the same way again, and there's a wince-inducingly dark evocation of Auschwitz – it would be unfair to say that Ewins seems to be treading water a little this year. The snappiness of his editing, the slickness with which his assistant-girlfriend can incorporate ad-libs into the show and the feverish, sweaty mania with which he paces the stage continue to mean that he packs a staggering number of gags into his hour.
If this were his debut, it would surely be the talk of the festival. But the wheeze by which he manipulates the audiences' phones even before he's really begun feels just a tad predictable. And this publicity-shy act is starting to seem like a victim of his own cult. Such criticism is likely redundant though, as Mr TikTok is also one of the stupidest, most sporadically hilarious shows at the Fringe. So maybe just shut up and enjoy his mad inventor stylings while you can. Jay Richardson
Garrett Millerick: Never Had It So Good ***
Monkey Barrel at The Tron (Venue 51) until 27 August
Garrett Millerick’s very presence in Edinburgh this year is a triumph, after his doctor told him to clean up his act or face the bleakest of futures. The fact that he only started writing it in July – after sobering up, seeking treatment for addiction and losing an enormous amount of weight – is doubly remarkable.
Setting out to deliver a positive show in the most negative of times, he’s quickly derailed by white-hot anger at everything from Edinburgh and film sequels to Birmingham accents and people going on holiday under the guise of charity fundraising.
It’s all perfectly decent sweary and shouty fun, but things start to take a turn for the interesting when he speaks about visiting a friend in a psychiatric unit. What follows is a deeply personal and impassioned section about mental health that morphs into a love letter to Scotland’s capital in August.
A show never to be repeated, it’s understandably uneven and rough around the edges, but also undoubtedly special: you’re unlikely to see a better three-star show. His vow to return year after year is a promise that Fringe-goers should be grateful for. David Hepburn
Benjamin Alborough: Absolute Monopoly ***
Assembly George Square (The Crate) (Venue 8) until 28 August
As anyone with a passing knowledge of Monopoly's history will know, the classic boardgame wasn't invented to be quite so straightforwardly rapacious when Lizzie Magie created its precursor, The Landlord's Game, in 1903. Nor was it designed to be so often abandoned because a game was dragging on too long. Absolute Monopoly aims to change all that. The brainchild of Benjamin Alborough, this live-action gameshow version offers a cast-iron guarantee that one way or another, the contest is wrapped up in an hour.
Like an analogue version of John Robertson's cult computer game Fringe hit, The Dark Room, Alborough is a capricious ringmaster of a host, the rules this show lives and dies by almost entirely arbitrary, save for its loose connections to the source material. But Alborough is less tyrannical than the Australian comedian, more indulgent of the audience's own whims.
Absolute Monopoly frequently descends into entertaining, unexpected farce. With two competitors plucked from the audience, the “board” is comprised of members of the crowd playing properties through the rudimentary device of them wearing labelled hats. The props are endearingly rubbish and dice rolling has been replaced by a giant game of pass-the-parcel, with playing pieces passed between properties until music runs out. Undemanding, throwaway nonsense, it's a fun variation on this most maddening, family-splitting game. Jay Richardson
Josh Baulf: Bulldog ***
Underbelly, Cowgate (Belly Laugh) (Venue 61) until 27 August
Acknowledging the disparity between the festival's artiness and the more direct quality of his TikTok following, Josh Baulf was clearly suffering Fringe burnout the night I caught him, upset at his tech for failing to bring the house lights down and struggling to connect with the crowd.
That was a shame because he's clearly a crossover talent, a millennial Micky Flanagan with a solid trove of relatable anecdotes and some acute observations on the familiar and mundane. A geezerish, 32-year-old East Londoner, touchy about his small stature and still adjusting to his girlfriend moving in, he's got some stock thoughts on the arrival of extra cushions and candles in his life. But the multitude of his insights on the latter raise it above the hack.
There's an edge to a routine about him wilfully failing to bond with his girlfriend's friend's new bloke. And he's roguishly funny on his partner characterising him as a woke new man, essentially springing from his inability to be a reliable, traditional one.
The jewel in the crown is his closing routine. From the unpromising base metal of looking after someone's dog while they are on holiday, he spins a luminescent tale of degrading twists and turns, forging an unlikely bond with the pooch despite the indignities it subjects him to. Baulf sounds finished with Edinburgh. But he's evidently one to watch. Jay Richardson