Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy reviews: Martin Urbano: Apology Comeback Tour | Martha McBrier: Story-tastic | John Tothill: The Last Living Libertine | Ageing Folks Telling Jokes

A confrontational US comic spoofs the worst aspects of toxic masculinity in a daring, taboo-filled show, leading our latest round-up of Fringe comedy. Words by Jay Richardson and Kate Copstick

Martin Urbano: Apology Comeback Tour ****

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 27 August

It takes considerable skill and some fierce joke-writing chops to sustain the character of a paedophile comedian for an hour. Martin Urbano cannot quite pull it off, eventually pulling back and deconstructing the grotesque, outsize persona he's created, just a little bit.

No small indictment of the genuine comedy scene that birthed him, the American is a rancid brew of misogyny, racism and free speech self-righteousness, having his cake and eating it as he evokes taboos but stretches them to such cartoonish extremes that's he's almost loveable, his cheeky nods and winks reiterating that this is all in jest, even while he's spoofing the very worst aspects of toxic masculinity and self-conscious, edgelord stand-up.

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Indeed, it's the incremental suggestion of paedophilia, that ridiculous nuclear option, that can be said to get Urbano fully off the hook of any possible accusation that he's a sick comedian in the vilest sense, simply exploiting abuse with undercooked, ill-thought out satiric intent.

But whether deploying slurs against his own Mexican heritage, wilfully misinterpreting the #MeToo movement or being sexist with almost every literal breath, it's sublimely pulled off in this Fringe debut, with exquisite timing, attention to detail and commitment to the depravity. Most comics would have given the character a different name, the better to keep a firewall between them and the rottenness.

As mentioned, Urbano has to change up the pace of the attack a little about two-thirds in, lest the casually degenerate shtick become too much. And it'll be intriguing to see whether there's more life in the character for future shows, though that may well depend on the magnitude of horrific male behaviour yet to fill the news cycle.

Martin UrbanoMartin Urbano
Martin Urbano

Mind you, the likes of Bill Cosby and Prince Andrew don't appear to be leaving the public consciousness anytime soon, so there's probably scope for an apology comeback to his apology comeback. Jay Richardson

Martha McBrier: Story-tastic ****

Laughing Horse @ Dragonfly (Venue 414) until 27 August

I am sitting in the Dragonfly enjoying one of their fabulous cocktails and the great privilege of having one of Scotland's greatest gifts to comedy and storytelling create wonder and laughter and sadness and memories just for me. While that is a never-to-be-forgotten experience for me, it is a massive fail for everyone else in Edinburgh who wants to laugh, to care, to wonder and – as a special treat – to judge. This latest hour of enchanting taletelling has a clever twist.

At the end of each of the five stories Martha tells, we, the audience get to adjudicate on whether she behaved, in the story, like a "Good Person”, or a “C***”. The stories are vintage, glorious McBrier, and, as such, all absolutely true. They range through the moral dilemma faced in a battle between Kate Bush and a memory foam mattress, accidental budgicide, Satanism, and death threats from a unhinged student in her lifeskills class.

Some of the stories are harsh, because the times they come from were harsh. I almost felt sorry for Johnny Consequences, even though he was probably a Satanist. You have to listen to the woman herself to hear the music she makes with language. There is a laugh pretty much in every line she utters, and not one of them comes in traditional ‘joke’ form.

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This is comedy in its natural habitat, running free through stories and random thoughts. Any one of the tales is worth getting to the Dragonfly to hear, and be prepared for tears as well as laughter. Anyone who knows Cumbernauld is in for some very special moments here. Martha McBrier makes you believe that Thalia actually existed, and that she came from Glasgow. Kate Copstick

John Tothill: The Last Living Libertine ***

Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Below) (Venue 33) until 27 August

A championing of pleasure, of abandon, of Catholicism? In this economy? The puckish John Tothill is not a man you encounter every day. Resplendent in leather trousers, leopard- and zebra-skin, white wine at hand, the primary school teacher casts himself in a centuries-old tradition of libertines, his lushly florid metaphors and gastronomic verbs creating an air of gossipy bonhomie that wafts over and envelops the audience, his exclamatory outbursts beyond self-parodic.

Yes, he's been to Berghain, the infamous, neverending Berlin nightclub of orgy and decadence. But he's more likely to be found peevishly denouncing the legacy of Martin Luther and decrying the Tupperware revolution of pre-planned meals. An insatiable flibbertigibbet, threatened by a scarily vindictive pupil and enchanted by his school's PE teacher, he's like a fantasy figure plucked from romance literature and deposited in Britain's grinding education system, a satyr of perhaps surprising sexuality with a penchant for the clarinet rather than the flute.

He's not without substance, a royalist who can point to a time when the monarchy was progressive in sexual matters, though I fear his exhaustively detailed valorising of the Catholic faith over boring Protestantism is a bit much, even if the ardency of his passion is a big part of the joke. Still, I'd pay to hear him read the football scores, much as he'd despair at that basic, blokeish brutishness. Jay Richardson

Ageing Folks Telling Jokes ***

Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters (Venue 272) until 27 August

Who knew the most glamorous stage on the Fringe is at the Three Sisters? If you want a warm, fun, relaxed and frequently very funny lunchtime show, then this would be it.

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MC Mel Byrun is welcoming, friendly, funny and feels comfortably in charge of things. Must be to do with being a grown-up. Leslie Gold breaks new feminist ground with smart, pointed laundry and pocket-based inequalities. Surreal comedian Stylophobia is a revelation. He is utterly delightful, a lovely mix of cleverly inept and unexpectably strange. Yes there is Stylophone-playing involved. But there are also puns aplenty, farmyard impressions and an adorable Rock'n'Roll Rampage that wipes Jimi Hendrix from your memory.

Adam Reilly is a superbly laconic comic. And a receding ginger. Everyone in the room from the wrinklies, through a party of glamorous Horsham Girls, to a couple of fifteen year olds (and their parents) loved his wonderfully “balanced on a sexual razor edge” material. His crafting of each joke, whether a two-liner or longer is superb. I don't think anyone saw his mum's passport coming. Seriously impressive. And all you want to know about smart toilets you will hear from Sharon VS, who closes the hour.

I went to Ageing Folks Telling Jokes because the show I was supposed to see was not on. And this is the joy of the Free Fringes. I just popped in to the next one along and had a fantastic hour. Kate Copstick