Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
“Any KGB in?” asks Olga Koch at the start of her debut show. She’s only half-joking. Koch is a Russian-American, born the year after the end of the Soviet Union. The story she has to tell is intimately connected with the story of Russia, from glasnost and perestroika to oligarchs and Putin. It is unusual, timely and fresh.
It begins on 15 June 2014, when her father, Alfred, went to board a flight at Moscow airport and was stopped by border patrol. The next day, he disappeared. From there it spools back to Koch’s childhood in a Russia that was finding its feet – she shows us flickering home videos and hilarious adverts, including Gorbachev’s famous Pizza Hut moment.
Meanwhile, her father is making his way up the ranks from Mayor of Sestroretsk to the very top of government. Overnight, the middle-aged man we have watched goofing about on video camera, becomes the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, before being written out of history.
It is an extraordinary tale and Koch, who trained with Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, is a confident performer. She doesn’t need to end on a song, though; her story and the way she tells it is more than enough.
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Darren Harriott was nominated as Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards last year and this show confirms him as an exciting new voice in stand-up. Don’t be fooled by the friendly smile that never leaves his face, this is a comedian who has something serious to say and he says it very well.
The show really gets going when he starts to talk about the stereotyping of black characters in culture from the Power Rangers he grew up with to Hollywood’s current obsession with the “sassy black woman” sidekick and his own shocking experience of racism on the comedy scene. At the same time, he points out that being black in 2018 is a constant, exhausting, cycle of having to boycott something or someone – be it Dove, H&M or Kanye West.
The thrust of his show is concerned with masculinity – from the gang he formed as a teenager, to his previous job as a bouncer, via Mike Tyson’s toxic brand of machismo to Lewis Hamilton’s gender stereotyping and the effect his own absent father has had on his life.
It’s thoughtful, funny and charmingly delivered by Harriott – a comedian with charisma to spare and a very bright future ahead.
Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
“I’m the bisexual daughter of a Catholic Deacon who has OCD.” How’s that for an opening line? It heralds the arrival of a big new talent in the shape of Catherine Bohart, whose accomplished debut hour takes in Catholicism, mental health, sexuality and family.
Bohart begins with a debunking of the phrase “a little bit OCD” – the clue’s in the name, she points out, you can’t be a little bit obsessively compulsive about anything. For her part, she was hospitalised for four months when she was first diagnosed. While she finds some black humour in her group therapy sessions, this is less a show about her breakdown and recovery than it is about her relationship with her father, who decided to become a deacon right about the time she decided to come out as bisexual.
As such this is a timely tale, a personal take on Ireland’s recent, hard-won battles over gay marriage and abortion. While Bohart makes her feelings on the Catholic Church clear, she also finds common ground between her chosen career and her father’s spiritual reawakening. As she points out, in both jobs “there’s always someone at the end, saying ‘is that all true?’”
Chatty, warm and appealingly at home with an audience, with this hour, Bohart announces herself as one to watch.
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Assembly George Square
In a stuffy Portakabin tucked around the back of George Square, Jon Harvey is hiding the biggest surprise of the Fringe. Until now, Harvey has spent his comedy career behind the camera. He got his break when he was working as a BBC News journalist and started scouring unused news footage for Armando Iannucci to play with on Time Trumpet.
Now he’s stepping behind the microphone with a show that takes brings together his love of current affairs, cult movies and archive footage into a hugely enjoyable hour. He begins with an enthusiastic gallop through some of the worst British films ever made, an exploration of forgotten Marvel characters and – his specialist subject – a trawl through some of the oddest shark movies ever made, shonky special effects and all.
Harvey, dressed gamely in a jacket based on the BBC Testcard, does not look the most natural performer. He seems a little shy, like he prefers watching comedy to performing it. And then comes the twist. The second half of the show is completely dedicated to a prank he pulled off a couple of years that went viral, around the entire world. This is the extraordinary and deliriously enjoyable story of how he did it. He tells it far better than I could, so no more spoilers here except to say that it made me hug myself with glee.
Rosie Jones’s debut full show is not only one of the most original hours of comedy at this year’s Fringe, it is also extremely funny, dark and occasionally just downright wicked.
In the opening section, the comedian proudly tells the audience that her cerebral palsy means she speaks much more slowly than most people. This is why her show is called Fifteen Minutes, she jokes – that’s how much material she has, but it takes her an hour to say it all. Jones turns her slow delivery to her advantage at every opportunity and is a master at playing with the audience’s expectations.
She also incorporates an unusual narrative device into her material, holding a running conversation with “able-bodied Rosie”, the person she might have been had her shoulder not become stuck as she was being born. This twist of fate meant that she didn’t breathe for 15 minutes, affecting every moment of her life afterwards.
Being disabled, she says, means that she is able to say anything she wants and get away with it. She revels in making people feel awkward, whether that is by poking fun at her audience’s preconceptions about disability or simply by lurking outside a disabled loo when an able-bodied person has sneaked in. Do yourself a favour and see Rosie Jones before, as she would say, she wobbles into the big time. CHRIS GREEN
• READ MORE: 12 surprise hits currently wowing Fringe audiences
Assembly George Square
Fans of Search Party will recognise Kate Berlant as the long-suffering publisher, Mia, who takes on Elliott (her real-life comedy partner John Early) and his book. Her Edinburgh debut is a delicious hour of character comedy/ improv/ rubbish clairvoyancy. I loved it.
Berlant’s character, which she inhabits almost to the point of insanity, is a kind of overly sincere, faux spiritual, entirely vapid entertainer, “forced into comedy because of [her] bone structure” but who never gets round to doing any comedy because she is too busy talking about herself and being in the moment. It’s a brilliant spoof on TED talk inspiro-nonsense, spiritual gurus who pretend to care while only caring about themselves and millennial self-obsession.
“What I do is brave”, she tells us, emphatically. When, after 20 minutes of endless digressions, she finally gets round to showing us what it is she does, it turns out that she thinks she has psychic powers. As she tests them out on the audience, resulting in some of the oddest improv I’ve seen, it quickly emerges that she is a terrible psychic.
“I could do a whole hour on grain,” she says in response to one baffled audience member. If she did, I’d watch it: Berlant is that good. A huge comic talent.
• This article originally featured in our sister title, The i